Scoring in boxing can be very subjective. 34 years after the decision was announced, people still debate who won the Marvin Hagler-Ray Leonard fight. 24 years after the verdict was turned in, fans and media alike argue over who should have gotten the nod between Oscar De La Hoya and Pernell Whitaker.
These are examples of fights that were close contests with many swing rounds that could have gone to either fighter, ultimately leading to a controversial outcome. Then you have examples of scorecards that were turned in and you wonder if the judges even watched the fight.
I never quite got over Evander Holyfield receiving the gift of a draw with Lennox Lewis in a fight where he won no more than three rounds or Timothy Bradley getting awarded a decision over Manny Pacquiao in a fight where amongst 125 experts covering the fight all of three had Bradley winning.
Some fights are of course easier to score than others. The criteria for scoring each round is supposed to be clean punching, effective aggressiveness, defense and ring generalship. Some judges might like a couple of these criterias over another and prefer the defence and ring generalship of a Whitaker over the eye-catching clean punches that De La Hoya did land on his opponent on that 1997 night. Whether it was incompetence, corruption or both, there was absolutely nothing that Holyfield did better than Lewis the first time they met.
This past Saturday night saw a similar verdict turned in after what seemed to most all to be a 12 round boxing clinic put on by Mykal Fox against Gabriel Maestre. Fox came into this fight as the B side, meaning he was expected to lose. With a 22-2 record entering the bout and freakish height for a welterweight at 6'3 1/2, Fox was a test who had put together a very good but not spectacular career. Fox is perceived as having a lack of punching power, he had only 5 career knockouts to his credit. And he took this fight as a last-minute replacement on three days notice after signing on weeks before as a designated sub—so most people were picking Maestre to win.
Maestre only had three fights under his belt entering this bout but was a highly decorated amatuer standout, competing in both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, winning the bronze both times.
As a pro he has been fast-tracked with his three fights coming against opponents with a combined record of 63 wins and 9 losses. He knocked all three of those opponents out in four rounds or less.
If Fox was expected to be a test for the Olympian then it ultimately ended up a test that Maestre failed… miserably.
Fox easily outboxed and more often than not outpunched Maestre round after round, highlighted by a second round knockdown coming when Fox deposited the Venezuelan living in Colombia on the canvas with a short left hook. Fox dictated the pace of the fight behind a long busy jab which he often followed up with volleys of punches on a frustrated and confused opponent who could not cut off the ring or get any real momentum going all night.
When the bell sounded to end the fight it seemed like a forgone conclusion that Fox would have his hand raised in victory.
The scores were read and the decision was unanimous. Unanimous in the wrong direction, as Maestre was declared the winner.
One judge by the name of Gloria Martinez Rizzo had the fight a landslide at 117-110 with the other two scorecards reading a closer win for Maestre in a fight that was not close and that he did not win.
This fight was broadcast during prime-time on a Saturday night on Fox affiliates. So, many a casual observer tuned in, only to be disappointed by an outcome that anyone with a functioning brain could come up with, which should have been a walkover win for Fox. This is exactly why the sport cannot grow its fan base. But there's more…
Only two weeks earlier over on Showtime a similar robbery without a gun took place. Philadelphia's Shinard Bunch (15-1 with 13 KOs) put on a dominating performance over the undefeated Jenelson Figueroa Bocachica.
Bocachica, of Detroit Michigan, had put together a 17-0 record with 11 of those wins coming via knockout. He would be making his third appearance in a row on Showtime against Bunch, so going in, the onlookers were familiar with Bocachica, which is exactly what helps drive viewership. This one may have been even less competitive than Fox-Maestre.
Bunch seemed to bank round after round behind a pistol-like jab and slick defence. When Bocachica wasn't eating the Bunch left jab he was swinging at air as Bunch was two steps ahead of his opponent the entire night.
Late in the bout, heading into round 9, it seemed fairly obvious to anyone watching that Bocachica would need a knockout to avoid his first loss. Instead it was Bunch who closed the show in impressive fashion, letting his hands go often while repeatedly driving home combinations on a Bocachica who seemed content to hear the final bell. Bunch took rounds 9 and 10 to close out the fight. A fairly obvious unanimous decision victory for the kid from Philadelphia right? Wrong! Once again the sport of boxing soiled itself as the scores were read. A split decision draw.
One judge got it right, with a 97-93 scorecard for Bunch, who won as many as 8 rounds but no fewer than 7. The remaining two scorecards read verdicts of a 95-95 draw and inexplicably a 96-94 card for Bocachica.
That's two highway robberies in three weeks.
Both of these events were broadcast live, one on Showtime, the other on Fox, and left every viewer shaking their head while wondering just when something will be done about these horrific scorecards. In both fights, Bunch and Fox demonstrated the four criteria of scoring touched upon earlier. They did so round after round after round over desperate opponents who were outgunned the entire night, only to be rescued from defeat by shady scorecards turned in from faceless names. No accountability to be had from the Gloria Martinez Rizzos of the world, who will continue getting assignments and making money doing a job they have proven to be unqualified for.
Bunch and Fox should have signature victories and the momentum from those victories moving them to bigger opportunities and paydays. Instead, a draw and a loss replace perceived wins for both men after they put on impressive performances…and that is the biggest problem in the sport.
What makes boxing so interesting is never knowing what might happen. Fights are not fought on paper but in that ring where anything can happen and either man can win. Larry Merchant famously referred to boxing as “the theatre of the unexpected.” Upsets are good for boxing, the underdog overcoming the favorite is good for the sport and help keep the sport interesting, dramatic in a good way.
If something is not done soon, though, there might not be a fan base, and enough legitimate media to defend against these injustices, as every robbery costs the sport a few more fans.