GGG-Canelo: In the Court of Public Opinion the Hung Jury Smacks of Injustice

You don’t have to be a boxing fan to understand the confusion that is sometimes attendant to the intricacies of the legal process. Imagine you’re a regular viewer of Court TV, and you’ve followed a particular case as if it were first-run episodes of your favorite television show. You have dispassionately weighed all the evidence that was presented during the trial and decided that the prosecutor or the defense attorney has indisputably proved his or her case. All that remains is for the correct verdict to be rendered. And then the jury foreman announces that the group – maybe just a single unswayable dissenter to the majority opinion — is hopelessly deadlocked. Nobody wins. Nobody loses. The central issue of who’s right or who’s wrong remains unresolved.

In many ways, prize fights that end in draws are the hung juries of sports. Victory or defeat, beyond a reasonable doubt, has not been established to anyone’s complete satisfaction, so there is no sense of closure. Maybe there’ll be another trial by combat to more definitively settle the matter, and maybe there won’t.

Saturday night’s pairing of  Gennady Golovkin, the WBC, WBA, IBF and IBO middleweight champion, and Canelo Alvarez, holder of the lineal and The Ring magazine titles, for the most part lived up to the breathless hype. After three feel-out rounds that reflected each fighter’s respect for the other’s capabilities, the action began to pick up in earnest in the fourth and the two best 160-pounders in the world thereafter flung themselves at one another for pride, profit and the right to be universally recognized as the best of the best.

The split draw that was announced at the bout’s conclusion, which was witnessed by a raucous, sellout crowd of 22,358 in Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena and the HBO Pay Per View audience, was not a blatant heist by any means, although more than a few reasonably impartial observers believed that Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 KOs) had done enough to merit the decision. Still, Alvarez (49-1-2, 34 KOs) closed strongly, winning the final three rounds on all three official scorecards, so it wasn’t as if a standoff was totally out of the question.

But personal perspective as to what the outcome should or shouldn’t have been was overshadowed the moment ring announcer Michael Buffer read the first judge’s score — a shockingly one-sided 118-110 for Canelo  submitted by Adalaide Byrd – ensuring that some measure of controversy would follow. The air had largely been sucked out of the building by the time the other judges’ scores were announced, with Dave Moretti going with GGG by 115-113 and Don Trella consigning the entire affair to limbo with his 114-114 tally.

Oh, sure, everyone had his own take on what had transpired inside the ropes, but Byrd’s scorecard – she gave Golovkin only two of the 12 rounds – quickly became the main topic of discussion, much of it heated.

“I think she turned in her scorecard before the fight started,” huffed Golovkin’s trainer, Abel Sanchez. “I think she needs to go back to school and learn how to judge a fight.”

Added Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions, who felt that Golovkin, his guy, had been the victim of a heist by pencil: “Scoring it that way for Canelo takes away from the greatness of the performance. Frankly, it is not good for the sport of boxing.”

But it was Teddy Atlas, a frequent critic of judges he believes are incompetent or corrupt, who most loudly mounted a post-fight soap box to declare that something was again rotten in Vegas.

“The sport and the fighters are pure,” Atlas, the longtime fight analyst for ESPN, said with almost uncontrollable outrage. “That doesn’t change. They didn’t cheat us. They never cheat us. They always give us (their) best. It’s the administrators that cheat us.

“(But should) we forget about the robbery because it was a good fight? No, you don’t forget about it.”

Byrd is a Las Vegas-based judge by way of her native Philadelphia who has worked more than a hundred world title bouts and has even served as a Nevada State Athletic Commission-appointed instructor to less experienced judges. Her place in the NSAC’s rotation for high-visibility assignments in the state and beyond probably is unassailable for now, but even one of her biggest supporters admitted that this might not have been her finest moment at ringside.

“Unfortunately, Adalaide was a little wide,” said Bob Bennett, executive director of the NSAC. “I’m not making any excuses. She’s an outstanding judge, and in any business sometimes you have a bad day. She saw the fight a little differently. It happens.

“I’m going to put her right back in. She’ll still be in the business. But she needs to catch her breath.”

As do fans who wonder why accountability is such a murky area when it comes to the officials selected to work a particular fight. Judges who prove to be persistent contrarians sometimes find themselves dismissed or disciplined, and sometimes they are not. When another female judge, C.J. Ross, submitted a 114-114 scorecard for Alvarez’s Sept. 14, 2013, fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., which most saw as a fairly emphatic win for Mayweather (Ross’ colleagues that night, Craig Metcalfe and Moretti, favored “Money” by respective margins of 117-111 and 116-112), Atlas went viral with his contention that she was unqualified to work such a high-interest and important bout. He pointed out that Ross had gone way against the grain once previously, seeing Timothy Bradley Jr. as a 115-113 winner in his June 9, 2012, scrap with Manny Pacquiao (Bradley won a split decision) that most observers felt that Pacquiao had won going away.

“I’m not chauvinistic, but you see some of the women who are sitting in these positions and you’re, like, `What the hell?’” Atlas said at the time. “What does someone like that know or care about boxing” And the guys, a lot of them, are no better. But if you put a woman in there, at least put in a woman who has some background in the sport, and not just because she knows somebody. It’s disgusting.”

Such comments, past and present, are not apt to make Atlas popular with the National Organization of Women, but he is spot-on when saying that the appearance of impropriety can be as damaging to boxing as the actuality of it. Promoters, like attorneys, can use their full complement of peremptory challenges to dismiss potential jurors in the hope of finding those more favorably disposed toward their cause. In boxing, such cherry-picking is commonplace by promoters, raising concerns that a particular judge’s scorecard can be influenced if not bought outright.

New Jersey-based judge Eugenia Williams caught much flak when she submitted a scorecard that favored Evander Holyfield by a 115-113 margin in his March 13, 1999, heavyweight unification bout with Lennox Lewis in Madison Square Garden. Although that fight, which ended in a split draw like GGG-Canelo, was also close enough to justify such an outcome, Williams’ giving of the seventh round to Holyfield, in which he was hurt badly and appeared to be on the verge of being knocked out, was called into question. She claimed her view was obstructed at times during that round by ringside photographers jostling for position and the broadness of Lewis’ back.

“I have no qualms about anyone disagreeing with me,” she said a few days after the furor regarding her scorecard arose. “Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. But I know what I saw and I’m standing firm that I did the right thing. I have no regrets.”

Clear conscience or not, Williams nonetheless was called to testify shortly thereafter before a Grand Jury empaneled by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office as to benefits she ostensibly received from Holyfield’s promoter at the time, Don King. That practice remains intact and largely unregulated.

“The environment, the landscape of this sport, is set up to be corrupted,” a clearly agitated Atlas said after the GGG-Canelo decision was announced. “There is no separation of church and state. The promoters are allowed to pick judges and (decide) who does judge and who does not judge.

“There is no oversight in boxing. There is no national commission, no federal guidelines, nobody looking and saying, `Ah, you can’t do that. The promoter can be in charge of who the judges are going to be.’”

Atlas is, without directly saying so, directing some of his ire at the lead promoter, Golden Boy chairman and CEO Oscar De La Hoya, for whom Alvarez is the company’s bell cow. As the more popular and marketable of the two principals, Canelo entered the ring second, an honor that by all rights should have gone to the multi-belt-holding Golovkin.  A Mexican national hero, Canelo also was guaranteed a larger purse and he and his team demanded and got a preferential date (during Mexican Independence weekend) and site (he was fighting for the 10th time in Vegas while Golovkin was appearing for the first time there).

None of that matters, of course, once the bell rings and the red-haired, bearded master counterpuncher gave as good as he got most of the way against Golovkin, whose 19th consecutive middleweight defense puts him within one of the division-record held by Golden Boy executive Bernard Hopkins.  The fight was as good, or nearly so, as anyone could have anticipated.

Instead of poring over the punch statistics (Golovkin landed 218 of 703, 31.5 percent, to 169 of 505, 33.5 percent, for Canelo) and assessing the strategies employed, the focus has, unfortunately, shifted to one judge’s determination that everyone else should have seen what she did. It is exactly the kind of misdirection move the biggest fight of the year didn’t need or want.

So now it’s on to the rematch, something both fighters insist they want although, again, the power to make it happen appears to rest with Golden Boy. Here’s hoping that any do-over settles the question as to which of these superb fighters is the better man, and leaves no room for the angst and confusion that hangs over the deliberations of any hung jury.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Golden Boy Promotions

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