By Tyson Bruce
Boxing is not an easy sport to score. You often hear terms like, “effective aggressiveness” and “ring generalship” getting thrown around, but how many fans, let alone judges, can really define ring generalship? The 1929 New York State Athletic Commission defines the concept as follows:
“Such points as the ability to quickly grasp and take advantage of every opportunity offered, the capacity to cope with all kinds of situations which may arise; to foresee and neutralize an opponent’s method of attack; to force an opponent to adopt a style of boxing at which he is not particularly skillful.”
Basically, it boils down to the fighter that best controls the territory of the ring and the flow/pace with which the boxing match is contested. This of course is not always an easy task because boxing scoring is purely subjective. We also know that many factors that shouldn’t play a role in how a bout is scored often do, such as scoring the facial damage, crowd noise, pity scoring in the early rounds and, last but not least, unconscious bias for the heavily favored boxer.
Few fights, however, have the wide-ranging disparity of scores that the Provonikov-Algieri fight had last night. Why did so many people, including one the judges, see the fight so differently? It immediately brought to mind the first Pacquiao-Marquez fight, which like last nights fight, the harder puncher scored multiple knockdowns in the first round, yet was largely tactically outpointed for the remainder of the bout. The decision in that fight, a draw, was widely disputed, with two of the official judges having polar opposite views on how the fight was scored.
Last nights bout was the very same, with about half the viewers preferring the boxing skills of Algieri and the other the more hurtful punches of Provodnikov. Yet, two of the judges turned in an identical score of 114-112 for Algieri, reflecting the appropriate closeness of the bout, and the other, Max Deluca turned in a bizarre 119-109 score for Provodnikov. How can three people, sitting mere feet from the ring, see the same fight so differently?
A close inspection of the Deluca card reveals a lot less than you might expect. Like virtually everyone else that scored the fight, he gave Provodnikov the first round by a 10-7 margin—the equivalent of losing three rounds. Deluca then gave the next two rounds to Provodnikov, which differed from his two colleagues that gave those rounds to Algieri. Boxing is scored round by round. And neither the theatrics of the previous round nor the facial damage is supposed to factor in. However, Deluca appears to have let this affect his judgment.
After the first round everyone thought it was just a matter of time before Provodnikov put the hapless Algieri out of his misery. His face also looked like it had been through a whole twelve rounds after just one. Yet if you go back and rewatch the tape its quite startling how quickly Algieri shakes off the cobwebs and gets into a boxing rhythm. Yet, Deluca gave Algieri just three rounds in the entire fight, the fourth, fifth, and seventh. That seems completely out of touch with how many viewed the bout.
Still, did Algieri really deserve to win the bout? Provodnikov and his team, excluding Freddie Roach, bitterly disputed the results, “To me it feels like he was running all night and just jabbing.” And yet this claim is challenged by the fact that Algieri managed to get off 993 punches and land nearly 300 of them. “Running” or going into survival mode is what Oscar De La Hoya did in the last four rounds of the Trinidad fight, not what Algieri did last night.
HBO’s Max Kellerman, in the wake of the controversy over the Pacquiao-Bradley fight, deconstructed scoring by stating that it essentially boils down to which fighter you would have rather been at the end of the round. While that theory is an oversimplification it can be a very effective tool, except when it creates bias for the harder punching fighter. People that scored the fight for Provodnikov sited that his punches were simply way harder than Algieri’s.
While that might be true, just how many of those bombs was Provodnikov really landing per round? Perhaps two or three? The rest of the time he was plodding forward ineffectively (on the British broadcast Malignaggi described the way he fought as a “caveman”) and being out-boxed by the more athletic Algieri. The question then becomes did Algieri win eight of the next eleven rounds after the disastrous first round, which is what would be required of him to win the fight.
The two judges, Tom Schreck and Don Trela, saw the fight virtually the same, turning in identical scores of 114-112 in favor of Algieri. They gave Provodnikov exactly three rounds after the massive opening round. Interestingly, however, the rounds they gave Provodnikov varied widely. Schreck gave Provodnikov rounds 6, 9 and 11, while Trela gave Algieri rounds 2-9 and gave the final three rounds, when Algieri began to show noticeable fatigue, to Provodnikov. This clearly reflects just how tough this fight was to score.
Personally, I gave rounds 1, 2, 6, 10 and 12 to Provodnikov, making my scorecard 113-113, a draw. However, in rounds I had the bout scored 7-5 for Algieri, and I thought the rounds he won were obvious, while the four rounds, after the first, I scored for Ruslan were scrappy and contentious. If someone had scored those rounds for Algeiri I could understand why—the other rounds were clearly Algieri’s. His jab and footwork made Provodnikov look wholly ordinary and considering how strong and indomitable Provodnikov has been, it’s quite a special achievement.
In the end I was surprised and pleased that the judges awarded the fight to Algieri. It’s very rare that the house fighter, in this case Provodnikov, doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt. After one round Algieri had everything going against him: only one functional eye, a three round deficit on the scorecard, and the world’s most useless cut man. Yet, he managed to expose Provodnikov for what he really is: a tactless brawler with a massive punch and a granite chin. Algieri showed world-class boxing skill but more than that he proved that he has the courage of a true fighter.
The results of the bout, given the closeness and difficult scoring hurdles involved, does not demand our outrage. What it does demand is a rematch and probably in both guys next fight. Provodnikov may have underestimated Algieri’s talent (I know I did) and considering how unknown Algieri was before the fight he probably owes him a return bout. For Algieri its a chance to prove that his victory wasn’t a fluke or a one-of. If he can outbox Provodnikov a second time then people will know he is truly for real. Count me in.