Inept Judging Nearly Ruins Showtime’s Mini-Tournament Plan – Generating intrigue in a boxing event is often a difficult task for a promoter or television network. Sometimes fighters drive the promotion themselves, as was the case when Adrien Broner spawned copious amounts of publicity for himself in the run-up to his most recent bout thanks to weeks of headlines and social media content about his salacious out-of-the ring behavior. Other times the promoters have more work to do.
Saturday’s Showtime-televised event at the same venue where Broner last fought, Washington D.C.’s Armory, was an example of promoters trying to find a concept to create interest in some 168-pound fighters that have little-to-no mass appeal. The angle that Showtime used wasn’t particularly novel, but is rarely executed in boxing.
The simple idea of taking some of the best fighters in a division, matching them against each other, and then obligating the winners to meet at a later date is not commonplace in the sport. An era of splintered world titles and lack of central authority has let to constant disorganization. But Showtime managed to get elite super middleweight fighters Badou Jack, Lucian Bute, James DeGale, and Rogelio Medina to agree to a mini tournament.
It is a concept Showtime used several years ago for its “Super Six” tournament among the best 168-pounders. However, logistical issues and the length of time it took to complete the tournament eventually dampened interest in that competition. But the current mini-tournament has been viewed as an opportunity to build a narrative around an otherwise unglamorous mix of participants and to make some clarity in a sport in which fans rarely know at the end of a show who a winning fighter will face next.
However, from a live attendance perspective Saturday’s event featuring Jack-Bute for the WBC version of the world title and DeGale-Medina for the IBF’s version produced far less interest than Broner’s outing against an overmatched Ashley Theophane earlier in April. An announced 4,135 turned up on Saturday versus a capacity 8,172 for the Adrien Broner show, which was accompanied by a weak undercard.
The smaller attendance was hardly a surprise, especially given that none of the fighters are from the United States. Moreover, none are particularly charismatic or claim a significant fan base. Prior to Saturday the 32-year-old Jack, a Swedish native now based in Las Vegas, had failed to live up to his early-career hype with some lackluster, if effective, performances in building a 20-1-1 (12 KO) record. His opponent, the Romanian-born Bute, was formerly a superstar in his adopted home of Canada, but three losses in his last five outings before Saturday had taken the steam out of his 32-3 (25 KO) career.
In the co-headliner, DeGale, 22-1 (14 KO) before Saturday, should seemingly be a major attraction in his native England. But despite being a world titleholder and Olympic gold medalist, he has failed to connect with the public, likely due to an aloof personality and lack of dynamic punching power. His opponent on Saturday, Medina, was largely regarded as an obscure Mexican fighter who had scored an upset of former prospect J’Leon Love, but had otherwise suffered six losses to somewhat mediocre opposition which had dropped his record to 36-6 (30 KO).
Unlike with Broner, who spent his pre-fight interviews in April discussing topics such as an outstanding arrest warrant for assault and a verbal feud with Floyd Mayweather, the four 168-pounders all made unimaginative comments in the final pre-event press conference. Among the highlights from each of the fighters were phrases like “my opponent is a good fighter” and “I want to prove how good I am”.
Despite the lack of outside-the-ring fireworks, Showtime’s plan of putting top quality fighters in evenly-matched bouts paid off as both fights were hotly contested affairs. DeGale-Medina was a tough battle in a classic clash of styles. The Mexican fought aggressively for the entire 12 rounds, constantly walking forward while throwing powerful shots that landed with unexpected regularity on the more defensively-minded DeGale. The titleholder landed a plethora of power shots of his own, particularly a head-snapping right uppercut, which he also mixed in with some sleek movement.
Similarly, Jack-Bute was a competitive bout through all 12 rounds as the former titlist managed to roll back the years to produce a spirited effort that troubled the favored Jack. Bute began the contest with an emphasis on swift head movement and sharp combinations, which seemed to puzzle the stiff Jack. Alas, the aging fighter wasn’t able to maintain the spirit of his youth and as the rounds progressed his reflexes dulled and he became an easier target for Jack’s textbook jabs and right crosses. Bute still managed to stage a desperate rally in the final two rounds that somewhat dented Jack’s controlled performance.
Yet at the conclusion of both fights there was a twist that showed why boxing does not always reward those who deserve the most. The Jack-Bute bout was somehow declared a draw by the three judges, with two turning in scores of 114-114, while the other had a more reasonable 117-111 for Jack. The inexplicable result stunned ringsiders, and even caused Jack to finally show some emotion via his comment that the result was “bulls***”. Jack’s promoter Floyd Mayweather added that: “We want to be treated fair. We need to get some new judges because this is not right for the sport of boxing.”
While not as egregious, the judges also added some sourness to the conclusion of DeGale-Medina. Two judges saw it by overly-wide scores of 117-111 and 116-112 for DeGale, while the other had it by 115-113 for the Englishman, which ringsiders agreed more accurately reflected the competitive contest. The crowd loudly booed the scorecards, upset that the spirited effort from Medina went unrecognized by the judges.
At least the overall outcome of DeGale-Medina was palatable, but the Jack-Bute draw took some of the gloss off Showtime’s tournament format. Ultimately, Showtime executive Stephen Espinoza was forced to say that the network would go ahead with a DeGale versus Jack unification fight later this year as Jack had effectively defended his title with the draw, even if he was not declared victor.
Showtime, in conjunction with Mayweather Promotions and Matchroom, attempted to bring some small amount of order to the sport with the mini tournament but nearly had their plans scuppered by inept judging. Similarly, the fighters’ efforts were not acknowledged by the erratic scorecards. As the example of Adrien Broner will attest, boxing, like any other business, isn’t always fair.
Ronan Keenan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rokeenan