As a UK boxing fan, I am in a pretty privileged position; between the various different broadcasters I have the ability to watch almost every meaningful card from either the US or Europe as well as our own domestic events, to say nothing for the opportunity the internet has provided for me to watch obscure cards that are not officially televised over here. Partly because of this it is remarkably easy to become self-righteous about the nature of events in different countries, notably regarding the judging and refereeing. It almost goes without saying that when a fighter goes to Germany they’ll hype the fight by mentioning that “I know I have to knock him out to win“, as the perception (fuelled it must be said by a considerable body of evidence) is that the German-based fighter supported by the promoter who organised the show will always win if it goes to the judges. The US has had a number of controversial decisions in recent times (the most notable one in the near-past being Campillo/Cloud) and it’s been all to easy to sit on a high-horse as a British boxing fan and say that yes, we do occasionally have poor reffing and poor decisions but on the whole we’re pretty much a fair bunch, certainly better than those we mock.
But I’m not so sure that’s the case anymore.
The bizarre early ring-bell in Enzo vs McPhilbin is the most obvious example, bringing back shades of Danny Williams vs Konstantin Airich, and, thankfully, hopefully one that will be fully investigated by the BBBoC (although there is a worrying trend in the way that it is being written off as a “mistake” while corruption was the first thought in the Williams/Airich bout) but there have been a number of others which have also occurred recently… and none of which will be victims of the same scrutiny which, quite frankly, is very close to being a disgrace and brings a real danger of sullying British Boxing’s reputation, already somewhat tarnished by the Haye/Chisora shenanigans.
The one that first leaps out at me, and the one that encouraged me to write this, is Kerry Hope vs Grzegorz Proksa.
This should be the sort of story we can all get behind. Kerry Hope was a massive underdog, a prospect who had seemingly been found out in 2008/2009 when he faced fellow prospects and lost badly and who had taken over a year off from the sport and faced no-one of real note since returning. He was across the ring from Proksa, the next big thing at 160lbs, a destructive man who had found his power, fresh from demolishing former world champion Sylvester. Worse Hope had only had a couple of weeks to prepare for the fight, a relatively late notice opponent.
If you just looked at the result and Sky’s post-match analysis and commentary you’d have thought this was the sort of heart warming performance that boxing sometimes produces; Hope, given no chance before the bout used heart, desire toughness and workrate to beat the physically superior Proksa, mugging the UK based Pole, outhustling him on the inside and never giving up to take a deserved win.
But that’s not the bout I saw.
Scoring in boxing is obviously a subjective process but there are (supposedly) criteria that judges are meant to stick to when scoring a bout. The British Boxing Board of Control holds that points should be awarded for:
For “attack” – direct clean hits with the knuckle part of the glove of either hand to any part of the front or side of the head or body above the belt.
The “belt” is defined as an imaginary line drawn across the body from the top of the hip bones.
For “defence” – guarding, slipping, ducking or getting away from an attack. Where contestants are otherwise equal the majority of points will be given to the one who does most leading off or displays the better style.
(From Rule 3.31 of the Rules of Boxing, which can be found here
In general however the rules that appear to be most applied are those used by the Association of Boxing Commissions in the US. They list the scoring criteria of boxing as being:
The scoring shall be done on a TEN POINT must system. Judges are to score each round using the following scoring criteria:
1. Clean punching (power versus quantity).
2. Effective aggressiveness.
3. Ring generalship.
(From its Regulatory Guidelines document found here
Obviously simply give names to the criteria doesn’t offer much in the way of clarity. If I may suggest my interpretations:
Clean punching is the simplest and probably just about the most important. A clean punch is exactly that… a punch that lands cleanly (i.e. not blocked, deflected, picked off or obviously rolled with while landing on a “target” area such as the stomach, ribs or face.
Effective aggression doesn’t mean charging forward like a maniac and winging punches. It has to be effective. What that means is from the front or back foot the boxer is being aggressive, throwing punches that land at his opponent. A counter puncher can still do well under my “effective aggression” criteria if he not only makes an opponent miss but makes him pay although it’s easiest to see with someone coming forward… but coming forward and not landing punches doesn’t do anything for you.
Defence is what it says on the tin. Blocking, ducking, rolling, bobbing, weaving, picking, dancing… whatever it takes that means that your opponent isn’t landing clean punches… and in a perfect world isn’t landing at all.
Ring generalship: Do you want to bully your opponent into the corner and trap him there? If you can that’s ring generalship. Do you want to make your opponent miss, never being there when he punches leading to him following you around like a headless chicken? If you can that’s ring generalship. The most obvious example is someone taking and holding the centre of the ring… but even then if the opponent is happy to sit on the outside and potshot the man in the centre off then I’d probably give it to him… as would someone who does the rope-a-dope.
Using the above criteria (and between them those have to be how the judges make their decisions on fights) how did two of the three judges give the bout to Hope, especially considering the point deduction?
It’s dangerous to use the punch-stats for an entire fight and extrapolate from them who should have won (because a bout is scored round by round… someone could produce incredible punch-stats for a single round but then do far worse in the next three… and punch stats can sometimes be deceptive… they take no account of whether a punch was a pitter-patter shot that did no damage and a perfect blow that sent the opponent reeling) but they often are indicative of what happened in a general sense. I do not have the exact punch-stats for the bout but, from memory, Hope threw a lot more and eventually landed a lot less (although at around the mid-point he’d landed a handful more punches) than Proksa, with the corresponding drop in accuracy.
What does that tell us?
Looking at the British Boxing Board of Control criteria it tells us that in general Proksa should have got the nod in “attack” as he landed more shots in scoring positions and should have also got the nod in defence as he essentially neutered Hope’s wild efforts. Under the Association of Boxing Commissions criteria he should likely have got the nod under clean punching (landing more shots), effective aggression (landing with a higher accuracy) and defence (Hope landed at a low percentage, missing a lot of shots with even more being blocked by Proksa). The only criteria that may be even is Ring Generalship… and that comes down to whether you favour Hope leaping forward or Proksa being happy to fight off the ropes (where he was effective).
It’s also worth noting that it’s not as if Proksa’s punches were the light pitter-patter shots mentioned earlier; the most hurtful blows came from him, repeatedly staggering Hope, sending his head from side to side with hooks or up and down with upper-cuts.
In short Proksa landed more shots, was more accurate, the shots he landed were better than those of Hope and he made Hope miss repeatedly. Most rounds followed the same pattern, with Hope lunging forwards and throwing crude combos which Proksa slipped or blocked for the most part. Proksa would then counter effectively, beating Hope up on both the inside and outside landing the highlight punches and more punches in general.
Yet, despite a point deduction, he loses the decision… and only gets a draw on one card. Ignoring the point deduction the judges thought he lost the bout 116-112, 113-115 and 114-115. Howard Foster thought that Hope won the contest by 8 rounds to 4. That is a completely ridiculous result which I struggle to see any explanation for.
Poor decisions are an unfortunate part of boxing and one that broadcasters can do little about in and of itself. What it can do however is have commentators who point out these mistakes and attempt to hold judges to account. In recent controversial bouts in the US the commentators have been willing and able to put pressure on the judges who have delivered such results (see Cloud vs Campillo or Williams vs Lara). British commentators aren’t unwilling to do the same… references are often made to the judging standards in Germany and during the US card on the same night as Hope/Proksa the Sky commentators were more than willing to criticise the referee in the Magomed Abdusalamov vs Brian Pettaway contest. Where they are strangely silent is when the same situation happens with British judges. Instead of noting that Proska was far more effective with his punching and defence we instead have talk about “Hope looking the boss”, “Hope being busy” (without any comment on how little actually worked despite how busy he was) and no criticism of the decision. Frankly we deserve more than such poor commentary… or at least an explanation of why the judges decision should go against all available evidence. Even in the “Second Shout” segment Sky hosted, Johnny Nelson and John McCrory said nothing to indicate the decision was in any way questionable, instead saying that “arrogance” cost Proksa the fight. Unfortunately “arrogance” isn’t a judging criteria and what actually cost Proska the fight was terrible judging.
It may be a vain act to expect a broadcaster to be critical of its own broadcast (not that such an act has ever stopped Showtime or HBO in the States), but what hope is there to improve the judging if the the broadcasters won’t make an issue of it?
It’s not as if this was a one-off. From the top of my head Ashley Sexton’s “draw” with Shinny Bayar, a bout that Shinny was clearly in control of up to the headbut induced cut in the 9th round and even then the bout was still competitive, Ian Nappa’s “loss” to Jamie McDonnell, Erick Ochieng vs Luke Robinson, George Jupp vs Raffi Khan and Jamie Cox vs Obodai Sai all spring to mind and I’m sure with a little more thought I could think of more. Without publicity these terrible decisions will continue to happen… and that is not good for British boxing which is quickly gaining the sort of international reputation for suspect judging that no-one wants. Ironically it’s not as if it’s always the home-fighter who gets the nod: some of the scorecards in Jon Thaxton vs Anthony Mezaache were far wider than they perhaps should have been and I think Carl Dilks can be genuinely aggrieved that he lost to Charles Adamu for the vacant Commonwealth belt.
A final point on commentating and the seeming inability to criticise UK referees. As mentioned above the Sky commentators were rightfully critical of the referee in the Magomed Abdusalamov vs Brian Pettaway contest and his refusal to stop the fight earlier. In contrast, during Frampton vs Ankrah, Howard John Foster (fresh from his unfathomable scorecard in Proksa/Hope and introduced, if I recall correctly, with something banal like “best referee in the country”) missed the fact that the finish was the result of three clear punches to the back of the head and a push. The commentators commented on this once… and then ignored it.
Going back to the BBBoC rulebook:
3.38 The following acts shall not be permitted during a Contest:-
(a) hitting below the belt:
(b) using the “pivot blow”:
(c) hitting on the back of the head or neck:
(d) kidney punching;
(e) hitting with the open glove, the inside, or the butt or the back of the hand, or with the wrist or elbow;
(f) holding, butting, or careless use of the head, shouldering, wrestling or roughing:
(g) not trying;
(h) persistently ducking below the waistline;
(i) intentional falling without receiving a blow;
(j) failing to break when so ordered, or striking or attempting to strike an opponent on the break;
(k) deliberately striking a opponent when he is dropping to the floor or when he is down;
(l) hitting an opponent after the termination of a round;
(m) any other conduct which a Referee may deem foul;
1. If an accidental foul causes an injury severe enough for the referee to stop the bout immediately, the bout will result in a TECHNICAL DRAW if stopped before four (4) completed rounds. Four (4) rounds are complete when the bell rings signifying the end of the fourth round.
It was an accidental blow to the back of the head (thee times) and was serious enough for the referee to stop the fight therefore, as per the rules of boxing, it should have been a technical draw. Ankrah was clearly outmatched and in truth should never have been in the ring with Frampton to begin with but that doesn’t mean that the rules should be ignored… and we should expect commentators to note that and make a comment.
The quality of reffing is a topic that also keeps raising its ugly head. British refs have a somewhat deserved reputation for stopping fights early. Partly that’s because they often make their bones officiating over the sort of one-sided scrap that needs a ref to step in and stop it but if you’re watching UK boxing broadcasts with boxing fans from the US they’re normally aghast at what they see as premature stoppages which rob one fighter of his chance. They dislike it even more when it appears to be a hometown decision.
I like Tyson Fury. I like his potential, I like his ability right now, I like the way he fought dangerous competition from virtually the moment he stepped out of the amateur ranks. I like his willingness to fight anyone (with the possible exception of when TV deals get in the way) and I like the fact that he showed a lot of improvement early on (although that has stalled somewhat, ironically since he appears to have got a full-time trainer).
But there was no doubt in my mind that he was struggling for much of the two bouts he had with Firtha and Pajkic… and that the stoppages were a little early, a little soft and very, very welcome to a Fury who had been badly hurt in one fight and dropped in the other.
In short, to conclude what is coming scarily close to an essay, I want more from British boxing. Not from the fighters… we continue to produce a near perfect combination of world level talent and domestic champions to drive the sport forward in exciting bouts. Not necessarily from the promoters, who are putting on more and more excellent shows. Not from the choice of broadcasters itself; they put on a huge variety of shows across all levels.
But from the ref’s, who should make sure that justice isn’t just done, it’s seen to be done.
But from the judges, who should at least be able to explain their scorecards and how they were reached under the criteria that they have to judge on (something I struggle to see anyone in the Proksa/Hope bout being able to do)
And commentators/analysts to hold those above to account if they fail to do that.