Boxing: Close call that fuels a rethink: Harry Mullan believes that the scoring system in boxing needs refining

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The Independent Online
THE WORLD Boxing Organisation can't be all bad if they succeeded in driving Don King into the state of incandescent rage which so enlivened the post-fight proceedings in the King's Hall, Belfast, last Saturday after Chris Eubank's photo-finish victory over Irish challenger Ray Close. King's fury - which of course had nothing to do with the fact that he hoped to do future business with the bankable Irishman in America - was sparked by the revelation that the tally sheet on which the WBO supervisor, Mrs Alice Richardson, kept the running total of the scores of the the ringside judges could not be found.

King has never felt inhibited by the laws of libel or slander, but the carefully edited gist of his allegation was that some of the individual scoresheets (which the referee collects at the end of each round and passes to the supervisor) had no round numbers on them and thus could not be properly checked against the mysteriously missing tally sheet. That may be evidence of incompetence, but not of anything worse.

Nipper Read, representing the interests of the British Boxing Board of Control, told me as King was in mid-rant that he had personally checked the cards and found everything in order. The man who put the Krays away could surely be relied upon to detect a bit of minor villainy like a doctored scorecard, but King and his co-promoter Frank Warren remained unconvinced.

At least the controversy should ensure that Close gets a third title chance, either against Eubank or the WBC champion Nigel Benn, which is no more than he deserves after a spirited and disciplined challenge. Close is not a spectacular performer, but he underlines the old truism that even the best of champions will eventually come up against one troublesome opponent whose style he can never quite subdue.

Muhammad Ali had three desperate struggles with Ken Norton, whose technical gifts were far short of his own, and even the immaculate Sugar Ray Robinson, for my money the best pound-for-pound of all time, lost to inferior opponents like Randy Turpin and Carmen Basilio. Styles are everything in boxing, and Close's will always give Eubank fits.

The more serious issue last week was of the competence of the American judge Gene Glen, who gave the challenger only two rounds with a card of 118-112. Roy Francis, a no-nonsense London referee whose judgment is not in question, had Close ahead by three points at 117-114, and a discrepancy of nine points in a 12-round fight simply should not happen at this level.

Many of the rounds were difficult to score, and perhaps some of the controversy could have been avoided with a more elastic scoring method than the 10-9 (or 10-8 in the event of a knockdown) currently employed. A 20-point must system would allow judges more room to differentiate between a narrowly-won round (20-19), one in which one man was clearly superior but did not have his opponent in trouble (20-18), and a round in which one or more knockdowns were scored (20-17 or 20-16).

But any scoring system is only as good as the officials operating it, and the WBO seems to have more than its share of judges who would have struggled to find a winner at the Little Big Horn. In this country, judges must first have worked their way up through the various grades of refereeing before they are permitted to operate as judges for any of the four major controlling bodies, but no such qualifying standards apply elsewhere. Scoring fights is always a subjective exercise, but some verdicts are so outlandish that you wonder whether the official concerned had even seen a fight before, let alone judged one.

Saturday's fight was a long way short of the 'robbery' alleged by some of the Irish Sunday papers, but it came as a grievous disappointment to the capacity 8,000 crowd who had packed the hall and generated an atmosphere reminiscent of the great McGuigan nights a decade ago. They were convinced Close had won, and their magnificent sportsmanship on hearing the news that he hadn't deserves to go on record.

Of course, living in Belfast probably helps develop a sharply-defined sense of perspective: whatever Don King would have us believe to the contrary, there are many more important things in life than the result of a boxing match.

(Photograph omitted)