Boxing’s Hard Problem: Observations from the Wilder Fury Fight
By: Rahat Haque
Any new fan who becomes interested in boxing learns quickly that the sport is immensely subjective in nature, and that judges take a lot of heat regularly for controversial decisions. It makes sense then, to score every fight, as you would want a basis of comparison in case there was public outrage over a decision. Learning the art of scoring and then practicing it via judging fights gives the viewer a certain weight of expert authority compared to the fan who does not partake in judging. However, it does not address the root cause of controversial decisions, which arise because of varied opinions between judges and fans alike. It does not address the issues of subjectivity, which permeates the sport. As long as there is boxing, there will be subjectivity.
One should try to be a human compubox, keeping a mental tab of punch count. But no one ever gives you straight answer on how to assign weightage to the quality of punches. Should a light jab be worth ¼ of a more thudding power shot such as a hook or cross? Should a cleanly landed punch be worth twice than that of a punch landed half landed and half absorbed the glove? We do not have such conversations in boxing, that is, the quantifying of something that is supposedly subjective. But without a quantitative framework, we cannot continue to act as if there is a right or wrong score. This is a real problem of boxing which never is discussed, as it exposes the sweet science’s lack of scientific rigor when it comes to assessing performance. When scoring fights, one should also consider the three other main factors in scoring, namely: aggression, ring generalship and defense. But again, it is absolutely shocking how certain media personalities will simply say that judges favor one over another, when in reality, they are supposed to take all three into account! One can even hear Max Kellerman say, that the way to score a round is to assess “who would you rather be in that round”. It is as subjective a criterion as there could be! It is madness.
Let us turn our attention to the fight that took place on Dec 1st. Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury. I scored it 114-112 for Wilder. Does that shock you? Well, if you did not score the fight, and 99% of the viewers do not profess to have any method which they use to score, then you must forfeit your right to be shocked. In a round by round sport, it is critical that one assesses a winner for every round. If one do not participate in this process, then they check in their right to be shocked at another scorecard at the door. If one did score the fight, then the next logical question arises: what was the criteria of scoring? To which, there is no universal agreement.
I gave rounds 1, 2, 4,9,11 and 12 to Wilder. Rounds 9 and 12 of course were 10-8 rounds because of the knockdowns. Hence, my score was 114-112 to The Bronze Bomber Deontay Wilder. I thought I would find some commonality with my scoresheet and Alejandro Rochin’s scoresheet, the only judge who had it for Wilder. While he gave all first four rounds to Wilder, to my surprise, he gave rounds 8 and 9 to Wilder as well! This is not the first such case either where a judge who scored it the same as me had different rounds for different fighters. This demonstrates the subjectivity that exists even amongst judges who have the same result.
As long as we have the three judge panel, we will continue to have decisions that people will disagree with. Whether it is a classified a robbery or not depends the percentage of people who did not agree with the decision. What this also means is that there are “robberies” every weekend in the perspective of those who are in the less popular cohort of a decision. The solution to all this, if there needs to be one, is another matter. Perhaps I will write a piece in the future about how to reduce the subjectivity in scores in boxing, thus ensuring a more accepted and trusted method agreed upon by all. However, let us assume for a minute that nothing is going to change. What is the best scenario in such a case? If things continue the way they are now, one hopes that every fan embraces the subjectivity of the score and takes it upon themselves to score the fight. Is that what is happening now? No. Does the media play a role in swaying the fans one way or another? Yes, most vehemently!
The boxing media despite being in the same ecosystem as everyone other stakeholder of the sport, seem to think that they are beyond subjectivity. We can argue about our scorecards, if you also happened to score the fight. Like with the Wilder-Fury fight, we can go back and forth as to why scored a certain round for a certain fighter. But to say that one party is somehow committing a grave sin if they do not agree with another is unacceptable! Yet, that is precisely what the Showtime commentators did for the whole fight. They all seemed to be in unison over Fury’s success, which is all right. But to then impose their own subjectivity to the whole world as the real McCoy was not right. It surely swayed many fans who might have been otherwise on the fence. Many of those fans then surely parroted what they heard on their TV screens, thus enhancing the drumbeat of the robbery narrative. The Wilder Fury fight was only one example of course. This will continue to happen unless we all first address the hard problem of boxing, the subjectivity of scoring.
© Roey Haque
An Explanation for All These Controversial Scorecards
By: Ben Sutherland
Adalaide Byrd’s recent 118-110 scorecard at the Canelo v Golovkin fight was seemingly outrageous. It left many out there, including myself, pondering the legitimacy of the whole thing. More fuel was added to the fire at last weekend’s heavyweight title fight between Joseph Parker and Hughie Fury who were contesting the WBO world title. In what was a close fight which could have gone either way, Fury probably didn’t do quite enough to definitively dethrone Parker. However, as the scorecards were read out, another 118-110 card appeared in favor of Parker. Fury and his team were livid and spent the rest of the night speculating about corruption in the sport to any media outlet that would listen.
Photo Credit: USA Today
Thanks to fights like these, boxing fans have recently been become increasingly disillusioned and disenfranchised with a sport that seems to often be predetermined. However, what if there was a more innocent explanation?
Boxing is subjective. Some judges prefer better technical work and boxing ability whereas many other judges will look for work rate and punches thrown. In this way, it is possible for two separate judges to view a close in favor of a different fighter. On the assumption there are no knockdowns each round would be scored 10-9 to whichever fighter each judge selected.
Boxing scores do not leave space to account for how close each individual round was. In one round, a boxer can be punched around the ring, take heavy body shots, big uppercuts and spend the entire 3 minutes tucked up or staggering around the ring but provided they don’t hit the canvas, the round is 10-9. In another round, the contest could be incredibly close with both fighters throwing similar numbers of shots, landing similar numbers of shots and evading similar numbers of shots. However at the end of it, one fighter still wins the round 10-9. There is obviously a massive difference in these two rounds but this is just simply not reflected on the scorecards.
Let’s take this a step further. For this hypothetical I will use Parker and Fury as my fighters. In this hypothetical scenario, one judge marginally prefers technical boxing ability and the other has a slight inclination towards work rate. The first round could be ridiculously close and the two judges in question could give the round to a different fighter. So after round one, one scorecard has Parker up 10-9 and on another Fury is up 10-9. If the second round is also very close, there is no logical reason why the judge would give the round to the other fighter this time. Perhaps he could worry that his scorecard might not reflect how close the fight is and give the round to the other fighter for this reason. However, it would be professionally dishonest for the judge to give the round to the other fighter simply because he was fearful of controversy. If the fight carries on playing out in this close fashion, the judge would carry on giving the rounds to the fighter he prefers by a miniscule margin. If we extrapolate this over the course of 12 rounds, it is therefore possible for our unbelievably close fight to be scored 120-108 to Parker by one judge and 120-108 to Fury by the other judge.
Any assumption that a close fight should be scored 114-114 is simply illogical. This type of thinking reflects the flawed logic in what is known as the gamblers fallacy. This is the idea that because you flip a coin once and it lands on heads, it is more likely to land on tails the next time. In reality, the chance of landing a tail the next throw is identical to the first throw – 1 in 2. The parameters of each throw have not changed and the fact that the coin landed on heads the first time does not change the coin in any way and so it is no more likely to land on tails the next time.
This same logic applies to boxing. Just because Parker scraped the first round by the skin of his teeth does not mean that if the next round is really close that it should be given to Fury.
Perhaps then, both the Canelo v GGG and Parker v Fury scorecards were symptomatic of a close fight. It just seems very difficult to reflect that in the scoring system. Whilst a 10-10 round is a possibility, it is used infrequently both official scorecards and TV scorecards. Perhaps it is time to get a bit more trigger happy with it?