Ever since this fight last Saturday, I’ve been hearing a lot of the same discussion. It tends to revolve around the same three points.
- Manny Pacquiao won the fight.
- The judges screwed Manny Pacquiao.
- Boxing is rigged.
I have to admit, after watching this fight twice, I can see valid arguments for all three points. But rather than makes this all about gut reactions, I thought this would be a perfect time for another Dubsism-style break-down. As I am prone to do, let’s go through this on a point by point basis.
1) Manny Pacquiao won the fight.
In order to truly understand what happened here, one must have an understanding of how boxing is scored. Short of a knockout, or the referee or ringside physician stopping the fight (a “technical” knockout), boxing is judged on a completely subjective basis. I’ve written before about how events without an objective scoring system cannot by definition be called sports. The reasons for that are laid out in the linked piece, but the important part for purposes of this discussion is the fact a subjective system leaves the outcome up to the whims of the judges.
You read that right. Boxing judges at the professional level can decide a fight however they damn well please. Since everything is a judgement call, there’s really no way to say they are “wrong,” even when they are clearly, blatantly, obviously wrong. This is an important distinction because it doesn’t work this way at the amateur levels. In the amateur world, fight judging is actually a fairly straight-forward process as their is a criteria upon which to judge; whoever lands the greater number of punches wins. Granted, that system is still subjective and clearly not fool-proof, but at least everybody knows the deal up-front.
That’s why it is all subject to intrepretation. In a fight with no knockout, it all becomes whatever the judges feel like. With the knockout being the only real standard, there’s a fat load of nothing dictating anything beyond that. When you couple that with the fact boxing has so many different styles; some guys fight backing up, while others are “counter-punchers.” For some reason, these styles are often penalized because they both seem as though a fighter is retreating or simply reacting. Other judges love guys who just throw a lot of punches and don’t pay any attention to how many of those thrown pouches actually landed.
In professional boxing matches are scored round by round. The fighter winning the round gets 10 points, and the fighter who loses the round gets nine points. Every time a fighter is knocked down, he loses a point. This means a round with one-knockdown would be scored 10-8, however a seriously lopsided round without a knockdown can also be scored is also scored 10-8 completely at the judge’s discretion. Referees can also deduct points for holding, low blows, or other rule violations. Not to mention, the judges can take points away from a fighter for no other reason than they want to. from giving a fighter fewer points just because they think it should be so, although it’s frowned upon. At the end of the fight, the fighter with the most points wins.
What does this all mean? It means you are asking the question “did Manny Pacquiao win the fight” you are asking the wrong question. He didn’t because the judges said he didn’t, and there’s nothing anybody can do to change that.
I’m not saying it is right; I’m saying that’s the way it is.
2) The judges screwed Manny Pacquiao.
The first thing one must understand here is that there really are no qualifications for being a boxing judge. One would like to assume they would be people with a background in boxing; that they would be knowledgeable when it comes to the “Sweet Science.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Judges aren’t ex-fighters or referees; they don’t even need to know a goddamn thing about boxing. The only requirement to be a judge is to be selected as one by one of any number of state boxing commissions. Much like the judges when scoring fights, these boxing commissions have nothing solid upon which to determine who would make a good judge. In other words, a judge can be anybody who may or may not be familiar with boxing, and they then are allowed to decide the outcome of fights based on little more than whatever they feel like.
They have virtually no guidelines or penalties for poor performance, which means there is no way they could have screwed Pacquiao, because that presupposes Pacquiao had a legitimate claim to victory. Remember, it doesn’t matter what anybody who wasn’t a judge thought…as previously mentioned, the judges are the sole arbiter of who wins and they are the sole arbiter of deciding how a fighter wins. If they said Pacquiao lost the fight, he lost the fight. Forget about knockdowns, knockouts, or who landed more punches. If the judges decide the fighter wearing the blue trunks is the winner because they like blue, that’s it.
Again, I’m not saying it is right; I’m saying that’s the way it is.
3) Boxing is rigged.
At the same time, I think this statement is both ridiculous and accurate.
As far as ridiculous is concerned, just look back at the two previous points. You can’t rig something that essentially has no rules. As far as accurate is concerned, it is really more of a misuse of the word “rigged.” It’s like saying professional wrestling is “rigged;” it’s not “rigged” so much as it is scripted. In the case of boxing, there isn’t a vast conspiracy out there to fix the outcome of fights, rather there is an epidemic of incompetence coupled with a complete lack of regulation and accountability.
All of the people who are screaming this is the worst judging catastrophe in boxing history simply do not know boxing history. The history of boxing literally drips with these sorts of shams. This one just so happens to involve boxing’s biggest star. Ask anybody who has been watching boxing for any amount of time and they will tell you of this sort of thing happens all the time. It means it is really time to understand why this keeps happening.
It keeps happening because there is no one regulatory body to ensure it doesn’t.
First, you have the aforementioned patchwork of state boxing commissions, which while they vary in terms of quality and/or competence, they all share the same characteristics of not holding judges accountable. As a rule, judges are not made available to the press before or after fights, and in many states they aren’t held to answer for their decisions. Granted, some commissions will get rid of some of the biggest dopes, but in most states judges have near complete impunity.
This means boxing itself is left to deal with the failings of its judges, which are really more a symptom of an enterprise controlled by individual promoters willing to do anything to protect their turf rather than have an interest in the game’s long-term future. This is why nobody does anything about terrible judges, and until they do, this is what boxing has been and what it will continue to be.
In other words, it may be petty, self-centered, possibly even corrupt, and arguably in it’s death throes in terms of popularity, but boxing isn’t rigged. You have to have rules to break for something to be rigged.