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Will PunchForce Carry Much Force in Boxing?

Posted on 06/29/2012

by Charles Jay

At some point in the future, you are going to be introduced to a concept called “PunchForce” on an HBO boxing telecast. It has already been approved by the Nevada Athletic Commission and, believe it or not, the Federal Communications Commission, which had to give it the OK because there are sensors transmitting data right out of a fighter’s glove and that sort of thing. The objective is to measure the speed and force of punches that a fighter is throwing.

Will the inclusion of “PunchForce” into boxing analysis make a difference?

That’s a good question, and the best way to answer may be to say that like the Compubox numbers themselves, they will sometimes give you a pretty good picture of what happened in a fight, and sometimes they won’t.

Either way – and we know that it is open season on judges right now – it is not going to be a substitute for the human element of evaluation that is made at ringside.

Even if it was a perfect technology, the boxing commissions would not allow that to happen. And it would not change with any legislation establishment of a national commission, which would not intrude on anything done by local jurisdictions.

All of this may sound elementary to you, but there are some people, outside the sport, who believe this could be a miracle pill of sorts. Somebody from the Wall Street Journal wrote that “… could help this struggling sport fix one of its nagging flaws.”

Could it?

Well, there is a theory behind the thing that would seem relatively solid. In other words, we are going to find out how hard a fighter is landing wit his punches compared to his opponent. Pro boxing is different than amateur boxing in that all scoring blows aren’t supposed to carry equal “weight” with the judges. So in a situation where the scoring punches are virtually even, when Fighter A has been hitting Fighter B which more of a force in his punches, he should be given the edge.

That’s theoretical.

While folks should be applauding HBO for moving toward some form of innovation, one has to wonder whether something like this could distort the picture when evaluating what is happening in a fight. On the one hand, you’d sure like to know if one guy is landing with punches that have “bad intentions” as opposed to the proverbial “love taps,” and surely this would have supported anyone who thought that Manny Pacquiao was the winner over Timothy Bradley.

We don’t know a whole lot about the device and how it will register data, since this is still something of a mystery that HBO is not letting out completely, but it would seem that a boxer without a big punch might be naturally disadvantaged by this if he was fighting a heavy-hitter. This could be magnified if he had an advantage, at last to the human eye, in terms of scoring blows but was not determined to hit hard enough to satisfy the PunchForce device.

And does it matter if a blow was thrown hard, but landed someplace that was not commonly considered to be a scoring area? What about those punches that miss their target and hit someone on the shoulder or the elbow? That may have a cumulative effect as the fight progresses, and perhaps there is some value in that regard. But judges usually don’t take those into account as “clean” landing punches. Would those register with PunchForce as a positive result?

When folks want to introduce numbers into the equation, what they may not understand is that there is a human element very prominently attached to that as well. People are going to be at ringside counting punches. They input that data as the fight is being waged. That’s how Compubox works. Now there is going to have to be another level of coordination with the data, in that the determination would have to made as to whether a clean AND forceful below was landed? Even with the “automation” that is supposedly provided by the PunchForce device, there is a lot of data that has to be processed into something that, well, means something. Remember, some of the scientists who have worked on this, and some of the executives who have placed a certain value on it, may not know all that much about ring generalship or defense.

One person who did research and development on this project for HBO says that “Numbers don’t lie, and people having access to that data in real time can shine a light on the sport.”

Well, in boxing, numbers CAN lie, and we’ve pointed out certain ways where that could be the case. As far as shining a light on the sport, there could be something positive if PunchForce serves to generate some more interest on the part of people who will have access to information the judges are not privy to and want to make a “judgment” for themselves. Whether that causes more disarray than was intended remains to be seen.

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