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Subverting Expectations Isn’t The Same As Winning


By: Sean Crose

Boxing judges can be a lot like film critics. After seeing pretty much the same thing over and over again, both sets of professionals can sometimes be unduly influenced by the unexpected. Not something particularly good, mind you, just something unexpected. Boxing judges, like film critics, appear to love it when someone subverts their expectations. Unfortunately, many fans aren’t as impressed with originality for the sake of originality as judges and film critics seem to be. Take last year’s Star Wars film, The Last Jedi. Critics went nuts for it because it was so unlike other Star Wars flicks. Many fans, on the other hand, were far from impressed.

Boxing itself recently went through a similar experience. Most fans believed Gennady Golovkin clearly bested Canelo Alvarez in their Vegas middleweight title rematch earlier this month. Yet the judges, like film critics, saw things differently. Canelo, once again, walked out of a big fight with the blessing of authorities and a nearly perfect record. Why? My opinion is that the judges may have been impressed that Canelo did something he wasn’t expected to do against Golovkin, and that’s be aggressive. No matter that many didn’t feel he did enough to earn the victory. The fact Canelo subverted judges’ expectations might have been good enough for them. Again, it’s just my opinion, but I think there’s more than this one example available for me to build my case upon.

Gennady Golovkin knocked a lot of people out before meeting Canelo for the first time in 2017. A lot of people. He didn’t knock Canelo out in that first match, however. Canelo played defense and kept from being the Kazakh’s punching bag – in a sense, subverting expectations. The Mexican star walked away from that fight with a draw – even though most feel he lost that battle, much as most people feel he lost the rematch. That’s telling. Yet the power of subverting expectations can go back even further than this decade.

Way back in 1987, when Ray Leonard came back with eye trouble from a long hiatus to take on middleweight king Marvelous Marvin Hagler (his full, legal name, by the way), many, if not most, felt Leonard was doomed. The thirty year old Leonard made a great showing of himself against Hagler, though. He was slick, energetic and impressive. Leonard won the bout on the cards that evening, even though many felt his performance, impressive though it was, wasn’t good enough for the decision. The fact that Leonard survived, however, that he had managed to hold his own, certainly subverted expectations. Hagler, likewise, didn’t live up to expectations by failing to completely demolish his popular counterpart, just like Golovkin didn’t live up to expectations by not completely dominating Canelo decades later.

A piece of advice for judges – leave the expectations at the door, and just judge the fight on its merits. Hell, try pretending you don’t know the men or the women competing in the ring if you have to, just try to go the extra yard to be fair. Exhausted fans will thank you for finally subverting their expectations.

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