At a time when the United Kingdom finds itself divided over Brexit, there’s one age old issue that unites the nation. Regardless of political persuasion, the majority of British boxing fans agree; our judges are the world’s worst.
As the country’s premier attraction struggles with new technology in an attempt to more accurately officiate the beautiful game, our oldest pursuit remains painfully predictable in deciding its victors. The randomness of VAR has been driving football (soccer) fans insane since arriving this summer. Fight fans, on the other hand, continue to be tormented by atrocious human decisions that have plagued the sport for decades.
Callum Smith and John Ryder put on a terrific show in Liverpool Saturday night; a full blooded domestic dust-up well worthy of the Super-Middleweight title they fought for. Rather than analysing the two gutsy performers in the ring, Sunday’s discussion once again centres around the three fellas sat beside it.
Challenger Ryder – as big as 20-1 by the first bell with some bookies – had no qualms travelling up from Islington to Smith’s Merseyside home for his first world title tilt. He took the fight to the unified champ from the off. Mixing up swarming attacks with a compact defence, ‘The Gorilla’ was able to nullify Smith’s huge reach and size advantage, frequently getting up close to land both the fight’s most eye-catching and hurtful combinations. Smith dug in like a champion and responded with some tasty shots of his own. But he never really hurt or discouraged his opponent, a view reinforced at the final bell by the majority of twitter’s boxing fraternity, as well as Sky Sports’ Johnny Nelson.
Nowadays, no British fight fan is shocked at the bias shown on a Matchroom scorecard. It made what followed no less difficult to sit through. Smith – on home soil and defending champion – may have received some of the closer earlier rounds and was certainly competitive, yet the wide unanimous decision read out by David Diamate was too terrible not to have been pre-determined. 116-112 twice was bad enough, Terry O’Connor’s 117-111; an utter mess.
We’re told judges ‘like what they like’. But British judges, particularly those hired by Eddie Hearn, seem to like whatever the more lucrative fighter is doing. O’Connor – a notoriously controversial referee and scorer – seems to lack a preference of fighting style, or have any clear pattern of consistency in awarding a round. With no framework for how a fighter should impress him, O’Connor’s ability to preside over a championship fight should be investigated.
It won’t be.
Outside of Nelson’s favourable scorecard for Ryder, Sky Sports were busy doing their bit, rolling out the cliches and go-to explanations, for years the standard procedure for their post- fight breakdown. Home advantage. View from ringside. Rip the title from the champion. Even the classic ‘crowd reaction influencing judges’ made an appearance, regardless of Ryder’s sustained success having quietened the local fans early. The not so insignificant chorus of boos that greeted the decision and post fight interview was also conveniently ignored.
So how are we arriving at these decisions? How is the ‘house’ fighter – on Matchroom cards in particular – consistently being awarded egregious, lopsided victories, when a fight goes the distance?
Social media will have you believe Eddie Hearn is straight up bribing each official with lumps of cash in brown envelopes. That’s probably not true. But as the show’s promoter, he is , in essence, paying them. Terry O’Connor is one of several revolving judges used by Hearn. O’Connor, along with his colleagues, know the financial implications connected to a loss for one of Hearn’s premier stars. With a potential mega payday against Canelo in the pipeline for Callum Smith and Matchroom, can we expect a judge – who will be in contention to work Smith’s future fights – to score impartially and give the less renowned Ryder a fair shake?
Eddie’s more financially capable fighters never lose a close decision on his shows. Check the records. It never happens. Ever. Does that mean Hearn is guilty of explicit corruption? No. But the arrangement is majorly conflicted and has turned Britain into the most difficult location for fight fans to witness a fair result after 12 rounds.
The solution for disgruntled British supporters is unclear. Eddie’s cards make up the majority of domestic tv output, while fights fought away from the Matchroom banner can throw up similar results, as Kash Farooq found out last week in Glasgow.
Hearn has breathed a lot of life back into boxing since he took the Matchroom reigns. Ryder-Smith was another enjoyable, close contest, refreshingly free from PPV. It was completely ruined by yet another decision that patronises domestic viewers into feeling like they’re unwillingly watching a strand of sports- entertainment. Part of wrestling’s appeal is how the pre-scripted action unfolds. Eddie smirking about a decision backstage, like a big, bastard child of Vince McMahon, isn’t what fight fans signed up for.
If post-Brexit Britain means a continuation of head scratching decisions and favouritism in boxing, fewer and fewer of us will remain.