Who would want to be a boxing judge? Criticised and maligned by fans all over the world when their scorecards don't align with what we the fans deem to be the correct interpretation of a bout. Yes, they get to attend all the best fights our sport has to offer and view from the best seats in the house but with that comes a high level of responsibility. The careers of the men and women professionals they judge are in their hands when the scorecards are required. For amateur fighters the judges hold the key to their hopes and dreams for the future.
For this interview I was contacted by Karla Ann (@karla_ann on Twitter) to see if I would be interested in hearing about judging fights from someone who does this regularly. As you will discover Karla judges amateur bouts in Ohio and offers up some fascinating insight into all things related to judging fights.
It is clear from Karla's answers that she cares deeply about the sport of boxing and how it is perceived by others. This is a very detailed and, I believe, interesting piece. In the week when one of the most controversially judged fights of last year holds its rematch the timing of this interview could not have worked out any better. Enjoy the read.
CM: Hi Karla, can you tell the readers about your background in boxing?
KA: My path to boxing was certainly not traditional, and nothing short of serendipitous. Almost six years ago, I had my first personal training appointment since moving to Ohio. At the very end of the appointment, my trainer announced that he was a former Golden Gloves boxer and wanted to work some boxing into our training. He gloved me up and got out the mitts. I don't remember much after he started calling punches, I only know that after a few minutes I had boxed him into some bikes in the corner. The rest, as they say, is history. I owe that man – it was love at first punch. From there I continued training and then it became known around the boxing gym that for years I had been sitting at home with a notebook scoring any televised fights. Without me knowing why my coach would ask me how I scored each fight. This went on for a period of months. At some point he made the recommendation to our local boxing association, and I was asked to come aboard as a judge. I almost said no because I know the stigma attached to judges at times, but I'm glad I said yes. It has been incredibly rewarding and having the best seat in the house certainly doesn't hurt.
CM: As you are currently looking at amateur bouts in your judging do you care to comment on the standard of judging we saw in the Olympic boxing tournament last year?
KA: I watched a lot of the Olympics but did not see the bouts which were regarded as the worst misdemeanors. I can say with absolute confidence that any disciplinary action that took place with the judges for those fights had to have been warranted. It was beyond frustrating to see that happen on any level, let alone at the pinnacle of the amateur code, the Olympics. I am relieved that disciplinary action was taken, but saddened that another blemish was left on our sport.
CM: How do you feel about the general level of judging in professional boxing right now? And as a follow up may I ask how you saw last year's Kovalev-Ward fight?
KA: I have a ton of respect for anyone who is in any way affiliated with the sport of boxing. From the fans, to the fighters, to the writers, to the referees, judges, promoters and media. It takes a special kind of crazy to love a sport where the object is for one person to give another person a concussion. That being said, I truly believe the sport of boxing has a perception issue right now, and when a questionable card is turned in it adds to the problem. Most of the time the judges get it right, as they should, but when a card gets turned in that the whole boxing community disagrees with it makes all judges look bad which is unfortunate.
As for Kovalev vs. Ward, Kovalev won that fight. I wasn't sitting in the judges seats so I may not have seen what they did, but this is one of those fights that people were outraged over. I have now watched that fight seven times and saw it the same way every time. I also did not agree with the judges all being American. If it were my fight I would have fought for more diversity.
CM: It seems to me that the same names keep cropping up when it comes to turning in poor scorecards in professional boxing. Do you think the repeat offenders should be held more accountable, receive additional training or be sat down from the position?
KA: I absolutely believe that repeat offenders should be held accountable in the pros and the amateurs; whether they receive additional training or are suspended, disciplinary action is necessary. In our local boxing association, you will definitely be reprimanded and subsequently removed if you are not judging to their standards – there is little margin for error. I watched a certain NBA finals game the other night where the referees made some pretty outlandish calls. My guess is that those referees involved will not be refereeing the finals again, and that some sort of action will be taken. It seems to happen in other sports as well, such as the NFL, and I know how much it upsets me, so I understand the frustration with boxing.
CM: You are placed in charge of training all new boxing judges. Outline how you would teach them. What are the key elements to look for in a fight for instance?
KA: I think it is important to note that judges are to be judges, not just punch counters. I am going to give you some of the criteria that we use in the amateurs and then address some additional criteria that I feel is necessary. Here are some of the criteria that judges look for in rounds in the amateurs:
* Number of quality blows on target area – these are punches landing correctly following the legal blow criteria.
* Landing with the knuckle portion of the glove – not the side, heel or inside of glove – nor the open glove or any part other than the knuckle part of the closed glove – no slapping.
* Weight of body or shoulder is behind landed punches – they don't just merely connect.
* Punches are landed in the scoring area – not the arms, back etc.
* Infringement of rules.
* Effective aggressor or who has done most of the leading off.
* Competitiveness – willing to engage and score points.
* Defense – who has been better at blocking, parrying, ducking, side-stepping etc., causing the opponent's attacks to miss or not be as effective.
* Style of boxing/clean boxing.
* Technique and tactical superiority/ring generalship – how the boxer maneuvers around the ring and puts themselves in position to gain the advantage over the other boxer with tactic and discipline while showing skill and superiority.
* Domination of bout – who had the most control from bell to bell.
I am a very big believer that ALL judges should have ring experience despite age, sex, etc. By ring experience, I do not mean hitting the bags or the mitts. I mean true ring experience; sparring, drills and the like. If it were up to me regular sparring would be mandatory. That may seem really harsh but I stand behind it. There is no better way to understand what landing a scoring blow looks like and what a scoring blow feels like than sparring. You know if someone is connecting or if they are slapping because you can see it, you can feel it. If you think about it referees in other sports have played the sport that they are officiating, such as the NFL and NBA, so why isn't this the case in boxing?
It was interesting, an AM Sports Radio station had me on to speak about boxing, and the host presented me with this question: how do I feel about judges being placed in so-called soundproof boxes during fights? The question caught me by surprise as I had never considered it, but do I oppose it? Not at all; I see the advantages and why a case could be made for it. Do I think it is necessary? I actually don't. I think judges can turn the noise off and they definitely should not be swayed by the crowd. One of the first things you learn as a judge is to tune that crowd right out.
CM: I have noticed a trend in boxing where the general consensus is for example Fighter A won by four rounds. Two cards concur but the third is wildly out. Any thoughts or an explanation for these frequent rogue scorecards?
KA: I can only speak from experience judging ringside. Judges have the best seat in the house – no question. A person in the front row might see the fight differently than the judge, the person sitting high up might see the fight differently than the judge. Those of us at home watching might see a different fight than the judge sees, but people need to realise that judges are positioned where they are for a reason. To your question of a third card being way off from the other two, a number of things can be in play: The most common thing I have seen personally is fighters who for some reason stay and fight in the same area and stance for a period of time. What can happen is that one fighter may have their back to one judge; therefore that judge can only score what they can see. The fighter that has their back to them might be landing scoring blows but they cannot see it, and may be able to see or only partially see what the fighter facing them is landing. Judges cannot assume a scoring blow has landed because they hear gloves touching skin, a head goes back or the crowd roars. Judges can only score what they see. I have leaned across the front of the ringside doctor or timekeeper when a fighter has had their back to me because I cannot see what is happening on their side. Fortunately we use five judges more times than not. As for what happens in the pros I cannot speak to that. I am sure that they run into the same thing that we do in the amateurs, or there is something else in play which we have no knowledge of.
I am aware of a fight that transpired recently where it appears that a judge mistakenly flip-flopped the fighters and subsequently scored the fight incorrectly. I did not see that fight, and there is no excuse for what went down, but it can happen. In the amateurs, we have to be very careful not to do that. Fortunately in the amateurs, the red corner will wear red gloves, and the blue corner will wear blue gloves. What can complicate things is when the red corner has on blue headgear or blue shorts and vice versa. You have to be aware of who is who, and since your eyes are to be on the gloves, that should be fairly easy.
CM: Finally, back to yourself Karla. What are your ambitions when it comes to judging?
KA: I am not looking to make a name for myself in boxing, but I am most certainly looking to make a difference. I spend a lot of time in the ring which I believe helps my ability to judge, and I treat every single amateur fight that I judge like the winner is getting a pro contract at the end. Having that mentality can put a lot of weight on your shoulders, but the last thing I want to be responsible for is dashing a young boxer's dream. I get to see a lot of young talent – these are the young men and women that are the future of boxing – the future Lomachenkos and the future Golovkins. One bad decision has the ability to alter their path – we cannot allow that to happen – not in the amateurs, and not in the pros.