One arm beats one eye

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The Independent Online
EVEN people who have no great interest in boxing are probably aware of the dissatisfaction that was expressed in Manchester last week when a contest between Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank for two versions of the world super-middleweight championship was declared a draw.

Doubtless understanding that it was always extremely difficult to determine which of the warriors was ahead over 12 furious rounds, and clearly having enjoyed the intense activity, a large audience did not quibble with the verdict.

The fuss began when Benn, who was defending the World Boxing Council title, angrily claimed to have been cheated, foolishly implying that one of the promoters, Barry Hearn, was culpable. In refusing to make the official scorecards available, the WBC inspector, Ray Clarke, did not help matters, especially as their subsequent production, common practice in the United States, revealed a startling divergence of opinion in the course of the bout.

The judges - Harry Gibbs of Britain and two American officials, Carol Castellano and Chuck Hassett - only concurred on four of the rounds. If only for the fact that some notable former champions at ringside awarded the final two rounds to Eubank (the World Boxing Organisation champion clearly won the 11th) it was disturbing to discover that Castellano gave Benn every one from the sixth onwards.

You might suppose that everyone close to the ring will, more or less, come to a similar conclusion even when the pace is as relentless as it was at Old Trafford. After all, there is a clearly defined target area and, in order to count, blows must be delivered cleanly with the knuckle. The difficulty arises out of interpretation. For example, a fighter can sustain an aggressive momentum without actually doing much effective work. A big disadvantage of watching fights on television is that when seen in only two dimensions, punches often look better than they are, and professional boxers hit each other with far more force than the medium usually conveys.

To avert the danger of straying off course, let me go back to a time in British boxing when points were awarded up to a maximum of five for each round. Under that system, a round narrowly won would produce a score of 5 against 43 4 , the difference widening to 5-4 1/2 if one of the contestants went down or took a great deal of punishment.

This gave rise to a scam in the mind of an acquaintance who for an obvious reason went by the name of 'One-Arm' Lou. A con man of sorts, although a generous soul, Lou normally augmented his earnings by selling tickets at well over the official price for Tottenham Hotspur's home matches. One day, when ordered to keep moving by the police, Lou jumped up and down on the spot and was taken into temporary custody for insolence. But I digress.

It occurred to Lou that potentially there was a profit in the close observation of mannerisms distinctive to a referee whose vanity prevailed over myopia. As still practised under the rules of British boxing in contests other than those for world titles, the scoring was entirely in the hands of the referee. The man shall remain nameless, but for weeks Lou trailed him around the circuit, watching closely when he marked his card between rounds, being forced to hold it at arm's length in order to see clearly.

Finally, Lou came upon a pattern. The number five was briskly written with an accompanying full stop. The lesser figure was entered more laboriously, the fraction applied with a flourish. Once Lou established where the fighters were set on the card, he had a good idea of how the contest was officially progressing.

By now you may have guessed that this amounted to a betting opportunity, not one of any great import since it could only be worked in close bouts that looked like going the distance, the odds by then probably no better than evens. smaller London promotions. Sure enough, everything went as he had described, and half-way through the final round Lou took the price against a draw. He was paid out under a sign that said 'BETTING PROHIBITED'.