The 5 Mistakes That Boxing Judges Make
By Barry Lindenman
Once again, another controversial decision (Barthelemy – Usmanee) has unfortunately put the focus on boxing judges instead of the fighters where it really belongs. The words “corruption” and “incompetence” are often thrown around after any controversial decision. Corruption? This isn’t the 1950’s. Incompetence? That’s a pretty strong word to toss out at supposedly trained, certified officials. I started thinking of what could cause three experienced officials to judge a fight (and by that I actually mean score a round) that the media and the public at large view as “wrong.” Here’s my take on the five main reasons why a judge might not score a round as accurately as they should:
Lapses of Concentration
I don’t think that using a blanket term such as “lack of concentration” to describe a judge’s behavior is completely accurate. They’re sitting at ringside with the best seats in the house that others would kill for. They’re being paid to do a job in a sport that they are passionate about. Although separated from the fighters by four ropes, they are still very much part of the action in terms of the sights, sounds and bodily fluids (i.e. blood and sweat) that they are experiencing. How could they not concentrate? I think a more accurate description would be brief ”lapses of concentration.” A round lasts for 180 seconds so even a very brief gap of focus could cause a judge to incorrectly perceive what is happening in the ring during a given round.
This is what I refer to as not giving a fighter the proper credit for the punching activity and the effect of that activity onto his or her opponent. It’s not that the judge didn’t see the punch land or the effect that a punch had, it’s that they didn’t feel that the punch did as much damage as another judge might believe it did. Two judges can watch the same flurry of action and come away with differing opinions: “That was a nice combination” vs. “the fighter was busy but he didn’t do much damage.”
Simply put and without going into more specifics, the scoring area of a boxer is the front side of the head and body from the waist up. Punches to the back of the head or those that are blocked by the gloves shouldn’t be “counted” and should not factor into the scoring of a round by a judge. However, some judges might be subconsciously influenced by the sheer volume of punches thrown by one fighter even if most of them are blocked or don’t land in the defined scoring area of the body.
As I mentioned before, a round lasts for 180 seconds, a full three minutes of activity. As such, a judge’s score should reflect all the activity for the entire 180 seconds of the round. The winner of the round should not be determined simply by who had the advantage over their opponent when the bell rang to end the round. The same scoring criteria (clean punching, effective aggressiveness, etc.) is as important to gauge during the first 2:30 of the round as it is during the last 0:30.
Ignoring the Subtleties
In a very close round where the action is fast and furious, it may sometimes be harder (notice I said “harder” not “hard”) to determine who actually deserved to win the round. Some of the more subtle factors that I believe an experienced judge should look for in cases like these are (1) which fighter is initiating the action? (2) which fighter ends the flurry? (3) does one fighter seem more reluctant to fight after a furious exchange? (4) has one fighter’s punch output slowed after a furious exchange? I think that paying close attention to the more subtle factors such as these can sometimes help determine which fighter is inflicting more damage to their opponent.
I’m sure there are other factors (mostly external) that could sway a judge to score a round for one fighter over another (crowd noise, hometown fighter, television lights and cameras, etc.). What I tried to focus on here are more of the internal factors (i.e. what goes on in a judge’s head) as he or she is watching a fight and trying to score the rounds as accurately as possible.