Boxing: Why judging remains an inexact science: Recent decisions in world title contests have drawn criticism but a standard interpretation is proving elusive. Ken Jones reports

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The Independent Online
AS neither man carries a heavy punch, there is every chance that conclusions arrived at by the three judges will determine the outcome of tonight's contest in Cardiff between Steve Robinson and Colin McMillan for the World Boxing Organisation featherweight championship.

In view of recent events, especially the draw that was called when Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank disputed two versions of the super-middleweight title, it is possible that in a close fight, the official scorecards will reveal startling discrepancies.

For example, the judges only concurred on four of the 12 rounds Benn and Eubank endured and nobody at ringside, including a number of former world champions, agreed with Carol Castellano, of Las Vegas, who, astonishingly awarded Benn the second half of the contest. The scoring of fights will never be an exact science and because of distortions brought about by a two-dimensional effect, judgements based on television pictures are inevitably flawed.

Further confusion is spread by the adoption of different systems. In all world championship bouts scoring is the responsibility of judges placed on three sides of the ring, leaving the referee to concentrate on administering the rules. In contests for European Boxing Union titles, the referee scores along with two judges. In British title fights, only the referee scores.

Larry O'Connell, who refereed Benn versus Eubank, prefers the British system above all others. 'The Americans argue that it isn't possible to arrive at an accurate decision while controlling a contest, but I don't see a problem. From my experience of judging world championships there is a great deal of difference between sitting just outside the ring and being close to the action. In there, you get a 'feel' for the way a fight is progressing.

'Of course, you must always bear the fundamentals in mind, a clearly defined target area and correct punching, but there are other factors that can influence the scoring of a round. For example one man can be going forward all the time without actually doing any effective work. You take evasive skills into account but only if they are combined with a positive attitude. Then there is quality of punching. It's impossible to record every blow so it isn't just volume that counts. One man can connect with a lot of light jabs and still fall behind against a less active but more solid puncher.'

Depending on which side they sit, and this equally applies to other occupants of the ringside seats, judges may be watching a different fight although only gross incompetence came to mind when Pernell Whitaker had to settle for a draw in defence of the World Boxing Council welterweight championship against Julio Cesar Chavez, recently in San Antonio. As Chavez's army of Mexican supporters seemed to accept that he was way behind, Whitaker's despair was understandable.

The integrity of judges and referees cannot seriously be called into question but the authorities agree that there is room for improvement. Going back to 1981, Sugar Ray Leonard, in common with numerous members of the audience, was astonished to discover that when he stopped Thomas Hearns in the 14th round to retain the WBC welterweight title, the Nevada judges had the challenger ahead by at least two points. The difference recorded by one of them, Chuck Minker, was an alarming 125 points to 121.

By any reckoning, Minker's figures indicated what one writer referred to as an 'irrational application of a system that gives 10 points to the winner of a close round and is meant to reflect his superiority in the lower total allocated to the loser'.

Controversy sometimes arises out of individual preferences. Leonard's cleverly applied tactics gained him a narrow decision and the middleweight title from Marvin Hagler in Las Vegas in 1987, but people who favoured the defending champion's more aggressive style hotly disputed the verdict. 'There is still a bit of a problem with this,' O'Connell said, 'although I think we are getting closer to a standard interpretation.'

With that in mind, the executive chairman of the Nevada Athletic Commission, Mark Ratner has instituted a system of immediate post- fight seminars. 'Because of the importance Nevada has in championship boxing it is our duty that standards of refereeing and judging are of the highest order,' he said. 'After every promotion we sit down with all the judges, not simply those who have been involved in the main event. We go through their scorecards and questions are asked of them, particularly if the conclusions are puzzling.'

Puzzling for the 41,000 spectators at Old Trafford was the delay in announcing the decision. The British Boxing Board's general secretary, John Morris said: 'The judges' cards are passed to the inspector, in this case, Ray Clarke, after every round. If the referee has ordered a deduction as Larry O'Connell did after warning Benn for a low blow, it is taken off at the end, not from the running total. It was a very close fight all the way and the cards are always checked thoroughly.'

No matter what system is applied, points decisions will always be disputed. To this day there are people, Henry Cooper included, who believe that he was hard done by when Harry Gibbs raised Joe Bugner's hand at the end of 15

rounds for the British, European

and Commonwealth titles in 1971.

An outrageous decision in 1956 had serious consequences for the referee, Ben Green, and the winner, Peter Waterman, who was adjudged to have outpointed the former world welterweight champion, 'Kid' Gavilan. Green was suspended by the British Board, and not long afterwards Waterman was severely beaten in a foolishly undertaken return. One of the best educated men to win a British title, he was never the same again and died prematurely.


Harringay Arena, February 1956: Ben Green awards Peter Waterman a points victory over 'Kid' Gavilan in a 10-round welterweight contest. The verdict was widely condemned and Green was subsequently suspended by the British Board.

Wembley Arena, March 1971: referee Harry Gibbs controversially awards Joe Bugner victory over Henry Cooper in their British, European and Commonwealth heavyweight title contest. To this day, Cooper believes the verdict was unjust.

Las Vegas, September 1981: Sugar Ray Leonard retains his world welterweight title by stopping Thomas Hearns in the 14th round. Leonard was shocked to learn that the judges had Hearns ahead at the time by a margin of up to four points.

Las Vegas, April 1987: Sugar Ray Leonard (left) on his way to a narrow points victory over Marvin Hagler to win the world middleweight title. Leonard had fought conservatively and many felt that the more aggressive style adopted by Hagler should have given him the verdict, which was hotly disputed.

San Antonio, October 1993: Pernell Whitaker (left) and Julio Cesar Chavez fight out a draw in their WBC welterweight championship fight. Most ringside observers considered that Chavez had lost and even the Mexican's supporters were surprised by the verdict.

(Photographs omitted)