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“We Wuz Robbed”: A look at some of the worst scored fights in modern boxing history

Canelo Alvarez Evander Holyfield Gennady Golovkin Lennox Lewis

By Alden Chodash: On June 21, 1932, heavyweight champion Max Schmeling lost his title to Jack Sharkey by split decision. Very few boxing writers believed Sharkey had done enough to win the title, and shortly after the decision was announced, Schmeling’s manager Joe Jacobs yelled “We wuz robbed” in frustration.

85 years later, fans, writers, and handlers alike are still expressing their frustration at the kind of decisions that cast a black eye on the sport. To this day, Fight fans still scratch their heads as to whether poorly judged fights are a result of a systemic problem in certain boxing commissions, or whether such incidents arise from a particular judge’s incompetence on a given night. Judging fights is not a trivial endeavor; the point system in boxing is not as black and white as passing an endzone in football, or sinking a bucket in basketball. The unified rules of the association of boxing commission define four criteria to guide scoring: (1) effective aggressiveness; (2) ring generalship; (3) defense; and (4) clean punching. All four of these guidelines can be very subjective, which is why three judges score the fight from three separate locations around the ring. For this reason, it isn’t fair to criticize judges for scoring for the “wrong” fighter when they are within a certain margin of error, particularly in a closely contested contest. For example, Don Trella’s 114-114 scorecard in GGG-Canelo is an acceptable scorecard given the nature of the bout, even if you had GGG up by 7-5 or 8-4 margins. However, when an official widely differs from the public in how they perceived a fight, an extensive evaluation is always warranted, and should be encouraged by the commission itself. Historically, this has not been the case, as boxing continues to suffer from a lack of federal oversight.

While robberies in boxing have a big impact on bringing casual sports fans into the game, the bigger tragedy is the impact it has on the life and career of the boxers. Boxing is a sport that is becoming increasingly unforgiving to its “losers”; unblemished records are becoming almost all that matters for certain fight fans. The impact of a loss, whether from a robbery or not, can be devastating to a fighter’s progress as they ascend up the ladder, and can result in years before they receive another shot at a notable fight. For athletes who are known to leave their families for months at a time to train in very harsh conditions (i.e. Big Bear, California), the least our officials can do is reward them with a fair shake for a good day’s work.

With commissioners reticent to weigh in on the issue, let’s take a look at some of the worst scorecards in the last 30 years of boxing:

1. Lennox Lewis vs. Evander Holyfield 1

How it was scored:

Stanley Christodoulou, 116-113 Lewis
Eugenia Williams, 115-113 Holyfield
Larry O’Connell, 115-115 Even

How it went down:

In a battle to create the last undisputed heavyweight champion of the 20th century, the two most accomplished heavyweights since Larry Holmes squared off in Madison Square Garden in their long-awaited showdown. Holyfield, who made it clear to everyone that he was ordained to win via 3rd round knockout, started slow but opened up on Lewis in the 3rd, gunning for the outcome he promised. While Holyfield won the 3rd round decisively, he didn’t get the knockout he widely predicted, and Lewis began to control the fight in the center of the ring with his terrific jab, size, and ring generalship. When the final bell rang, it seemed clear who would be leaving the arena with all 3 belts. HBO commentator Jim Lampley was already beginning to allude to Bob Fitzsimmons as the last British fighter to hold the distinction. Holyfield himself was seemingly too distraught with his performance to even raise his hand after the fight, whereas Lewis had prematurely celebrated before he even heard the last bell.

How it impacted the sport:

When the decision was announced, the initial reaction was shock and boos which culminated in Lampley’s classic line, “Lennox Lewis has just been robbed of the heavyweight championship of the world. He won it, and didn’t get it”. The reaction from the international boxing community followed suit, and NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani claimed the fight was a “travesty”. Following the debacle, defamed judges Eugenia Williams and Larry O’Connell ended up stating that they disagreed with the way they scored the fight. While Williams hid behind excuses such as being distracted by ringside photographers, O’Connell perhaps more respectably admitted his mistake and stated he felt “sorry for Lennox”, as he should. While Lewis went on to win the undisputed crown later that year, boxing was forced to move on without so much as an indictment handed down from subsequent local and federal investigations.

2. Roy Jones Jr. vs. Park Si Hun

How it was scored:

Bob Kasule, 59-59 Nod to Park
Alberto Duran, 59-58 Park
Hiouad Larbi, 59-58 Park
Zaut Gvadjava, 60-56 Jones
Sandor Pajar, 60-56 Jones

How it went down:

Roy Jones Jr. was one of the most talented fighters on the 1988 US Olympic boxing team, if not the most talented. He was fighting to join Kennedy McKinney, Ray Mercer, and Andrew Maynard as fellow 1988 Olympic boxing gold medalists, and to do so he would have to get by South Korea’s Park Si-Hun. Park had previously received a gift in the quarterfinals against Italy’s Vincenzo Nardiello, and seemed no match for Jones’s speed right from the get-go. Jones was landing multi-punch combinations almost at will, and was the ring general throughout. The punch-stats showed Jones out-landing Park by an astounding 86-32 margin, and as far as most if not all observers were concerned, the decision was a mere formality.

How it impacted the sport:

“The winner is, on points, 3-2, in the blue corner. Park Si-Hun Korea!”. The decision for Park became one of the most controversial calls in the history of Olympic boxing, if not all Olympic sports. As something of a consolation prize, the Olympic committee awarded Jones with the Val Barker Outstanding Boxer trophy, but the 19 year old Jones was still devastated as his Olympic dreams were shattered. Unlike Lewis-Holyfield 1, this decision had serious implications for amateur boxing officiating, for better or for worse (turned out to be the latter). Amateur boxing began to undergo a shift towards a computerized score system, which was implemented in Olympic boxing the following 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics. As for the judges, the three who voted for Park were given 6 month suspensions before they were cleared. Later investigations reveal, however, that the officials had received money from South Korean organizers aiming to influence the outcome.

3. Tim Bradley vs. Manny Pacquiao 1

How it was scored:

C.J. Ross, 115-113 Bradley
Duane Ford, 115-113 Bradley
Jerry Roth, 115-113 Pacquiao

How it went down:

There was no secret going in that Pacquiao’s best days were behind him, particularly after he eked out a very controversial majority decision 7 months prior against Juan Manual Marquez. Fans of the sport were just hoping Manny would be able to hold on long enough to finally get in the ring against Floyd Mayweather in a dream fight which was then 3 years in the making. Unbeaten Tim Bradley, like Miguel Cotto for Mayweather one month prior, was considered to be sizeable test for Pacquiao but not too much a risk to warrant significant concern. From about the 3rd round, this seemed to be the story of the fight as Bradley put up enough of a fight to keep Pacquiao attentive, but not concerned. While Pacquiao fought in spurts, Manny put significant distance between himself and Bradley when he chose to, and seemed to be the ring general for the majority of the fight. While Bradley began to come on late, it seemed to be more of a result of Pacquiao stepping off the gas pedal in a fight he had already won than anything else. By the end of the fight, the reasonable score seemed to be anywhere between 8-4 to 11-1 Pacquiao, depending on how much credit you gave Bradley for seldom clean punches landed on Pacquiao’s arms and body.

How it impacted the sport:

Like Lewis-Holyfield 1, this was another example of a travesty that was not investigated by the commission, which in this case was the increasingly infamous Nevada State Athletic Commission. While the judges were not reprimanded by their superiors, they all received widespread criticism from the public, and none of them had very extensive careers to follow. C.J. Ross delivered another dubious scorecard when she scored Mayweather-Canelo a draw the following year, and by that point the overwhelming protest from the sport led to her immediate retirement. The decision may have impacted Bradley more than anyone else, as he claimed that his family received death threats in the aftermath. The idea of systemic corruption in the Nevada State Athletic Commission were explored by boxing experts such as Jim Lampley and Teddy Atlas, but no solid evidence was ever uncovered as was the case in the Jones-Park aftermath. Once again, the boxing community was forced to move on.

4. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vs. Gennady “GGG” Golovkin

How it was scored:

Adalaide Byrd, 118-110 Canelo
Don Trella, 114-114 Even
Dave Moretti, 115-113 GGG

How it went down:

In one of the most wildly anticipated fights of 2017, GGG-Canelo was finally set to go down after almost 18 months of waiting. Fans of the sport looked forward to it as the kind of war that could make the sport bigger than it had been previously. After 12 hard fought rounds, fans weren’t disappointed as Canelo and GGG engaged in a very exciting back-and-forth battle. While most watching had GGG winning the fight, scores between 115-113 Canelo and 116-112 GGG all seemed reasonable. GGG had Canelo backpedaling for most of the fight and threw and landed more punches, while Canelo landed arguably the cleaner punches.

How it impacted the sport:

If Adalaide Byrd’s scorecard had been within reasonable margin of public perception, a draw would not be nearly as impactful as it was. Of course, any draw in a big fight is inherently a disappointment, but both fighters were effective in different ways and neither ever felt particularly out of the fight. Unfortunately, Byrd’s scorecard was indicative of a one-sided contest, which is a shame considering the reality of the situation. GGG-Canelo was not only an opportunity to showcase two of the best fighters in the world finally squaring off against each other, but it was a chance to crown the first undisputed middleweight champion of the world since Jermain Taylor earned that distinction with a 2005 decision over Bernard Hopkins. A 118-110 score for either fighter is outright disrespectful to the combatants and those that invested so much emotionally and financially in making the event what it was. Now because of one judge’s incompetence, fans are forced to wait bitterly for an undisputed middleweight champion to be crowned in a rematch, as are the fighters.

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