The 68th Round

You know, I sit here and read e-mails from people who complain about some of the “lousy” decisions that have come down in major fights. People have come up with all kinds of suggestions through the years, but thinking that all the while, one of the potential solution is right there in front of us. It's something I wanted to address in the first “Operation Cleanup” book, because it's something I feel unusually inflexible about, and unfortunately, we just didn't have enough room.

Through the years we've been exposed to several different scoring systems. There have been five-point must systems, scoring by rounds, both as a stand-alone and with supplemental knockdown scoring. I've even seen the screwy concept of “style points” used to determine a winner.

Of course, there's also the ten-point must system, which is used in just about every jurisdiction and in all title fights today.

On those infrequent occasions when I have sat down to watch a fight and actually kept a scorecard, I haven't used any of those methods. Instead, I have used the TWENTY-point must system, like they have done in the amateur ranks in the past, though not quite using the same methodology as the amateurs.

I truly believe it is the best, most practical way to score a fight, and I don't mind giving you my reasons.

First and foremost, in my opinion it is the method by which one can most accurately assess the actual outcome of a fight, or at least it's the method that combines accuracy and ease of use.

Since we know that many times there are sometimes razor-thin differences between the performance of one fighter and another in the course of a three-minute round of boxing, it would indeed make sense that the more points you have to use, the more accurately you're going to be able to reflect what's going on in there.

The conventional wisdom in boxing, and the pattern almost all judges have fallen into, is that the winner of a round is awarded a 10-9 score, unless there is a knockdown, in which case the score may be 10-8 or 10-7 (of course, deducted points figure into this formula as well, in the case of a foul).

But a fighter may win a round by a very small margin, and be awarded the same 10-9 score than if he completely dominated a round, without scoring a knockdown. Is that an equitable system?

Let's cite a simple example. We've got a four-round fight, between RED and BLUE (representing the corners they're coming out of).

RED lands a couple of punches more than BLUE in the opening stanza – a true “feeling-out” round. He did enough to get the nod, and all three judges give him a 10-9 score. Since the true margin was not one of major significance, I'll make it 20-19.

In the second round, BLUE completely controls the action, landing solid combinations, pinning RED against the ropes, and hardly allowing RED to connect with any solid punches at all. In this round he has exhibited a distinct edge in class, which has translated into a clear domination. But he didn't score a knockdown, and didn't hurt his opponent badly. So the judges give BLUE the round by a 10-9 score. I see it as having been a more decisive advantage than that, and since I have the latitude to do so, I make it 20-17, which I suppose would be the equivalent of 10-8.5.

In Round 3, RED has regrouped a bit. He's avoiding BLUE, who's trying to advance forward aggressively, but with very little effectiveness. Since RED is taking a safety-first posture, it's a rather uneventful round. BLUE throws a few jabs that hit their mark, but RED lands a light combination or two toward the end of the round, nothing that has much of an effect on his opponent, but enough to have provided the most effective offense in the round. In a rather boring three minutes, he gets a 10-9 from each judge, but once again, since I see the margin as thin, I make it 20-19.

Round 4 begins with BLUE landing a sharp right hand that sends RED back against the ropes. RED, who was stunned a bit, tries to come back, and indeed lands some good shots to the body, but BLUE is able to keep him away for the most part, making use of a solid left jab and lateral movement. RED keeps coming forward, but he's throwing bombs that miss. In the end, it's a solid, but not dominant round for BLUE. All three judges give him a 10-9 round, while I make it 20-18.

So here we come to the decision. The ring announcer calls out the scores, and all three of them have the fight 38-38, a draw. By my scorecard, I have BLUE winning by a 78-75 margin.

At those junctures in the fight when there was a clear difference between the fighters, it was BLUE who held the clear edge. But that wasn't reflected in the judges' scores, which rewarded RED just as much for winning rounds by a hair as it did BLUE for being decisively better.

I see a problem in that.

Even in a ten-round fight, particularly in the cases of judges who do not like to score even rounds (or are ordered not to by their commissions), you could very easily encounter a situation where one fighter wins five rounds by the slimmest of margins, while the other fighter dominates five rounds from beginning to end, yet if you're subscribing to the philosophy most judges do, you're going to score that fight a draw?

That's not fair. It's not just. And it's not reflective of what really went on during that fight. In fact, it can have the effect of disadvantaging the fighter won wins rounds clearly.

With a twenty-point must, the standard score in favor of a fighter who clearly wins a round is 20-18. Then you can go from there – if the fighter wins the round only slightly, the judge has the latitude to score it 20-19. If there is a very one-sided round, without a knockdown occurring, then the score could be 20-17. When knockdowns occur, the judge has leeway as well – 20-16 might be the standard, but if the other fighter were in particularly dire straits, it might be a 20-15 round, or worse.

This way, instead of the scoring system penalizing a fighter who wins rounds by clear margins, it actually goes about doling out the reward much more realistically. At the end of the fight, when some people complain about a decision because of a “sense” that one fighter clearly deserved to win the decision over another, this particular system of judging will be a much more truthful reflection of that “dominance”.

Yeah, I heard the tired old saying, “There's nothing wrong with the ten-point must system. Just make the judges use more of the points they have at their disposal”, meaning, presumably, that the razor-thin round would be graded at 10-9, with the very decisive rounds starting at 10-8, knockdown rounds 10-7 and so on. Well, first of all, they conceivably have the latitude to do that now, but commissions and judges have had to be dragged kicking and screaming into this. And they're still not there.

My system provides for a lot more exactitude. For example, their 10-8 round, i.e., a two-point advantage, would equate with my 20-16, but the two would not necessarily mean the same thing.

The twenty-point system factors in various degrees of fighters' relative performance. Even if it is “modernized”, the conventional does too, but to a much lesser extent. I'm looking to make judges evaluate fights much more closely – to make them really inject their stamp on it. In effect, I want to take them off “auto-pilot”.

I would suggest you sit down and give it a try. I wouldn't expect someone like Greg Sirb to understand any of this. But perhaps more significantly, I think it might be important for a forward-thinking sanctioning body to experiment with.

I honestly can't think of one advantage the ten-point must system would have over a twenty-point system. Unless it's because the twenty-point system requires people to count too high.

Come to think of it, knowing the competence level of some boxing commissions, that might be enough to keep it out.

Indeed, one judge I talked to, who preferred to remain nameless, expressed the opinion that it might be too radical a change for commissions that are too set in their ways.

“Your plan (the 20-point system) would be a good idea,” he said, “But look at it this way – in my state we're actually encouraged to score a round 10-9 unless there is a knockdown. I used a 10-8 a couple of times where there wasn't a knockdown and I caught holy hell. How are you going to convince a commission like that to go to twenty points, with more flexibility for the judge? And how could you expect every commission to get on the same page?

“I think it would be impossible.”

That's a pity.

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