At its core, boxing is the purest of all sports. Two combatants, half-naked, square off in a one-on-one competition that tests their skill, courage, and resolve. Sadly, over the years, the essence of boxing has been undermined by greedy, incompetent, corrupt officials. Much of what one needs to know in order to understand why boxing is now a niche sport in the United States was on display on Saturday, June 25th.
The cornerstones of any successful professional sport are (1) recognized champions and (2) public confidence that the competition will be fairly conducted.
Boxing today meets neither of these criteria. The sport is plagued by phony belts. The four world sanctioning organizations exist in large part to support the lifestyles of their controlling parties. The ranking of fighters, the sanctioning of title bouts (and sometimes even their scoring) are based in significant measure on the sanctioning fees that particular fighters generate.
It’s significant that the Word Boxing Council refers to its championship strap as “the green belt.” Green is the color of money. Anyone can go online and buy an “authentic WBC championship belt” from a WBC merchandise site for $3,867.
Would Wimbledon put “authentic” championship trophies on sale? Would the Olympics sell “authentic” gold medals to the public? No organization that oversees a sport and respects its participants should sell its symbols of athletic supremacy to the public. Championship belts should be won in the ring, not bought.
By any credible accounting, Sergio Martinez is the middleweight champion of the world. He won the title by decisioning Kelly Pavlik and successfully defended it with dramatic knockout victories over Paul Williams and Sergei Dzinziruk.
But the WBC middleweight “champion” is Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. His road to the title was paved by WBC president-for-life Jose Sulaiman (who oversaw the process by which Martinez was stripped of his title).
Dmitry Pirog is the World Boxing Organization middleweight “champion.” That wasn’t expected to happen. Like the WBC, the WBO stripped Martinez of his belt to make way for a favored fighter (in this case, Danny Jacobs). But Jacobs couldn’t hold up his end of the bargain and lost to Pirog.
Daniel Geale of Australia pays middleweight “championship-fight” sanctioning fees to the International Boxing Federation.
The World Boxing Association has three middleweight “champions.” There’s “super champion” Felix Sturm, “world champion” Gennady Golovkin, and “interim champion” Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam.
Except for Martinez, all of the above are phony champions. Just how phony was evident on June 25th.
Sturm fought Matthew Macklin in the “champion’s” hometown of Cologne, Germany. The bout was televised in the United States live on Epix. It was understood going in that, if there was an outrageous decision, it would be in Sturm’s favor. Felix might be a better boxer than Matthew. But on Saturday, Macklin fought a better fight. He clearly won eight of the twelve rounds. Two more were close.
I scored the fight 117-111 for Macklin. Judge Levi Martinez scored it 115-113 for Matthew, which was a bit of a stretch in Sturm’s favor.
Then came the obscenity. Judges Roberto Ramirez and Jose Ignacio Martinez each scored the bout for Sturm by a 116-112 margin.
The decision was unfair to Macklin, who has made every sacrifice necessary to get to the point in his career where he was positioned to win a belt. The only consolation he has is that, had he won, he wouldn’t have been a real world champion. That distinction, insofar as the middleweight division is concerned, still belongs to Sergio Martinez.
Meanwhile, Sturm is no longer a phony champion. He has been downgraded to the status of a phony phony champion. The outrageous scoring wasn’t his fault; he didn’t judge the fight. But he didn’t win it either.
Meanwhile, look for Roberto Ramirez and Jose Ignacio Martinez to get more lucrative assignments from the WBA in recognition of their judging talents.
The tarnishing of the sweet science continued on Saturday night with a three-fight offering on HBO Boxing After Dark from St. Charles, Missouri (a suburb of St. Louis).
The HBO telecast began with 40-year-old journeyman Ray Austin vs. Bermane Stiverne for the WBC’s phony “silver heavyweight championship.” To put matters in perspective; Stiverne has been knocked out by Demetrice King, which is like losing a beauty contest to Roseanne Barr. Then, to prove that the loss to King was no fluke, Bermane fought to a draw against Charles Davis (another 40-year-old heavyweight, who has won 19 of 44 fights; scored a total of four knockouts in his career; and emerged victorious (drumroll, please) in none of his last six fights.
Austin-Stiverne was beyond horrible. Austin came into the fight out of shape, lumbered around the ring like his feet hurt, and exposed Stiverne as a club-level fighter. The primary drama attached to the bout was whether or not Ray’s trunks (which kept sliding beneath his protective cup) would fall off. Leading on points, he was knocked out in the tenth round.
The WBC collected a sanctioning fee for Austin-Stiverne. Bermane is now the mandatory challenger for its phony heavyweight championship belt.
Next on the HBO telecast, Tavoris Cloud predictably knocked out Yusef Mack.
Then came Devon Alexander vs. Lucas Matthysse. Matthysse landed more punches than Alexander. Matthysse landed harder punches than Alexander. He also scored a knockdown in round four.
Alexander-Matthysse was not a championship fight. The judges were appointed by the Missouri State Athletic Commission. Did I mention that Alexander is from St. Louis?
Like Sturm, Alexander was awarded a gift decision. It wasn’t as bad as the decision in Sturm-Macklin, but it was pretty bad.
Brett Miller scored the bout 96-93 for Matthysse. But he was overruled by Carlos Colon (96-93) and Denny Nelson (95-94), both of whom favored the house fighter. Fight fans might remember that Denny Nelson cast a 116-112 vote in favor of Alexander in his dubious win last year over Andriy Kotelnik.
In most professional sports, bad calls by officials are assumed to be good-faith errors in judgment. In boxing, particularly when it comes to the judging of fights, there’s ample evidence to support the view that bad calls are often the result of something worse.
I can’t reach into the hearts and minds of the judges who scored Sturm-Macklin and Alexander-Matthysse. I will say that their scoring speaks for itself.
Meanwhile, phony champions and mediocre officiating continue to undermine boxing.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His next book (Winks and Daggers: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) will be published by the University of Arkansas Press in August.