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Rules changes for the future of Boxing

By Glen Anglin: The sport of boxing has always competed against the ‘major’ sports for fans. Boxing had a larger share of fans in previous decades. Prior to the 1950’s when the NBA and NFL exploded onto the national scene, only baseball and college football were a greater fan draw than boxing.

One reason professional basketball and football have grown in popularity is that they have made effective rules changes over the years to promote the watchability and aesthetics of their sport. The NFL is constantly tinkering with its rules in order to make the game more fan-friendly. The NBA has changed the key, added shot clocks, made defensive restrictions and touch rules to promote the games play and add to fan appreciation.

Currently, with TV audiences dominating the viewing, boxing barely registers in the top 10 of viewed sports. Whatever boxing can do to attract new fans and create more interest will add to the viewing opportunities for us hard core fans.

So the question begs: What can boxing do to improve its watchability and more casual fans to the hardcore type? In my experience, most casual fans are put off by the perception of corruption, based upon controversial decisions by judges and referees.

One improvement that is growing in popularity now is to add instant replay to review knockdowns and fouls in order to correct a referee decision that is obviously wrong as demonstrated by a viewing angle that was unavailable to the referee. As long as this review process is only used at the end of a fight and does not impact the flow of the match or cause delay during the match, I am not opposed to it. If it will add to boxing’s credibility to the casual fan, so much the better.

However, in my view, boxing has two, more obvious, Achilles heals: 1) poor judges’ scoring, and 2) how referees punish/ignore the illegal tactic of holding. The appeal and fairness of boxing would improve dramatically if boxing rids itself of both of these blights.

Let’s start with judging. We have all seen fights, many of them in fact, in which the judges’ unfathomable scoring made it seem like the judges were watching an episode of Bonanza rather than the fight in front of them. I have watched fights were I disagreed with the judges on 10 of 12 rounds. Except in rare cases, I don’t think that these discrepancies are due to corruption. Part of the problem is that there are times when the TV cameras give a better view of the action, even in real time, than sitting on the ring apron. But more important than that is the extremely difficult job that the judges face. Currently, the judging of a professional match is based upon 4 criteria: Clean hard punching, effective aggression, ring generalship and quality defense. Judges must dispense their personal prejudices and subjectivity and apply these four unfortunately-chosen criteria to a swirling, changing, hard-to-see boxing match. Not an easy task. I have judged many local amatuer boxing matches and I am here to tell you it requires all of your focus and mental discipline to avoid becoming distracted by the fighters style, personality or your own prefight prejudice.

In fact, I have judged boxing and refereed baseball, basketball and football. Judging a close boxing match accurately is far and away the most difficult task of all of these, followed by refereeing basketball.

As I look at the four judging criteria for boxing, all I see are gray areas and confusion. What could be more subjective than ‘ring generalship’? After all, one judge’s ‘ring generalship’ is another’s sprinting and running. One judge’s effective aggression is another’s ‘leading with his face’. There is an ocean of subjectivity that must be applied when using these nebulous criteria to judge a round of boxing. I have lost count of the times I have heard: ‘He made the guy fight his fight’. What in the world does that mean? I know what THEY think it means, but in reality, it is meaningless when measured against who landed the best punches in the fight.

To my mind the ONLY judging criterion of a boxing match should be: effective punching. Landing good punches is the only criteria that I care about when judging a boxing match. After all, what is boxing if it is not a fistfight with rules? If you are the fighter who landed the most effective punches in the match, then it is a good bet that you have also shown the best defense, ring generalship and effective aggression. Generalship, aggression and defense are skills that you use to land more effective punches than your opponent, but should not be a judge’s criteria in and of themselves. It is analogous to judging the winner of a basketball game by best shooting form, strongest box-out and fewest personal fouls rather than points scored. It is true that the criteria of ‘effective punches landed’ is also subjective, (eg: how many clean jabs to the face are worth hard hook to the liver? Two, three, four?). Even so, ‘effective punches landed’ is a much easier criterion to focus on and quantify than concepts as ill-defined as ‘ring generalship’ or ‘effective aggression’. Whether a boxer backpedals and stays behind his jab the entire round or is a swarming windmill constantly moving forward, the only thing that matters is who is landing the preponderance of effective punches. In terms of judging, nothing else should matter; not footwork, technique, hand speed or conditioning. When judging, the only thing that should matter is effective punching.

In the rare case when a judge cannot choose who landed the most effective punches, then his/her secondary criteria can be to award the round to the fighter who is ‘making’ the fight, that is, to that fighter who is initiating the action. If nothing else, this criterion will encourage action and discourage static posing contests. If the judge still cannot find a difference, then that round can be scored even.

The sooner we make the judging of a boxing match less subjective and more straightforward, the sooner boxing will have better decisions, less controversy and will attract more fans. JGA

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