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Save the Sport of Boxing from Dubious Judging
by David L. Hudson, Jr.
Its roots come from ancient Greece and Rome. Banned in 500 A.D. by the
Emperor Theodoric it resurfaced twelve centuries later in England. John
Milton praised it as a noble art for building character in young men. In
recent American vintage, sports writers such as A.J. Leibling have
affectionately dubbed it "the Sweet Science." Many of its major
protagonists, such as Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali, have become transcendent
figures representing historical periods as near-mythic giants.
The sport is boxing. Its spectacles have enthralled some of the
finest writers of our generation: Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, and
Gerald Early to name just a few.
However, something's rotten in Denmark. The sport has been besieged
by incidents of horror, disgust, and corruption. Deaths, fixed fights,
dubious judging, and mismatches have plagued this sport. It has no
overarching body to ensure control, but rather has become burdened by a
veritable alphabet soup of organizations. Boxing has received so many
black eyes its face looks worse than Tex Cobb's after eating Larry Holmes'
jabs. To me the continuing line of bad decisions that plague boxing
represent its nastiest welts. Unfortunately, the parade of horribles
includes the Whitaker-Chavez "draw," the Tiberi-Toney debacle, which led to
a call for federal legislation, and Holyfield-Lewis I.
Last May, the U.S. Congress passed the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform
Act, which amended numerous sections of the Professional Boxing Safety Act
of 1996. A provision in the recent law provides: "No person may arrange,
promote, organize, produce or fight in a professional boxing match unless
all referees and judges participating in the match have been certified and
approved by the boxing commission responsible for regulating the match in
the State where the match is held."
This represents a step in the right direction but it does not go far
enough. Right now, fight promoters with vested financial interests in
certain fighters pick judges. There remains at least an aura of impropriety
where a fight promoter with huge financial ties to a certain fighter selects
How many times have you heard boxing announcers mention that
such-and-such fighter has ties to an influential promoter? Furthermore, for
every bad decision at a major fight, such as Lewis-Holyfield I, there are
hundreds and perhaps thousands of bad decisions at local arenas. The phrase
"hometown decision" carries enormous significance in boxing. Local fight
cards are often nothing more than record-padding turnstiles for would-be
contenders over washed-up journeymen.
As a licensed boxing judge in the state of Tennessee and as an
ardent boxing fan, bad decisions disgust me. Fight judges must have the
independence of mind and integrity to score a fight fairly and accurately.
Once when I scored a fight in my hometown of Nashville, Tenn., for a
journeyman over an up-and-coming prospect, the promoter literally cursed at
me. That's why independent bodies must select judges to remove the built-in
bias for one fighter or the other.
A possible solution to this persistent problem is to have judges selected by
the state boxing commissioner and no one else. The boxing commissions should
evaluate judges' cards on a yearly basis to determine whether the scorecards
are reasonably accurate. If a judge turns in a scorecard like Williams did
in Lewis-Holyfield I that judge would not be used again.
Other sports, such as football and basketball, carefully evaluate their
referees and use only the best during the playoffs. Why can't the sport of
boxing employ a similar system and use judges who consistently judge fights
Everyone knows that there is inevitably some level of subjectivity
in judging fights. Experts differ on how much to reward effective
aggressiveness and ring generalship. However, I have attended fight cards
with scores so bad that it made me want to shout louder than Bobby Czyz and
Steve Albert did after Holyfield-Ruiz.
Boxing represents the courageous combat of individual versus
individual, the epitome of the human struggle, and, at times, the sheer
triumph of the spirit. But boxing needs help; it needs a process in which
participants are judged fairly. Otherwise, "the Sweet Science" may well
become a sour alchemy.
--- David L. Hudson, Jr. is an attorney, writer and boxing judge based in
Nashville, Tenn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org