One of the more memorable quotes ever attributed to a Supreme Court Justice was authored by Potter Stewart in 1964, when the respected jurist weighed in with his thoughts on “hard-core pornography” in the Jacobellis vs. Ohio obscenity case. Unable to give a clear, concise legal interpretation on what clearly was a subjective matter, Mr. Justice Stewart settled on “I know it when I see it,” a quote appropriated by Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger that same year. Asked what he knew about gold, suave superspy 007blithely replies, “I know it when I see it.”
Potter Stewart left this world in 1985, but Connery is still among us at 81, and looking fit enough to throw down with operatives from SPECTRE and SMERSH if need be.I’m nominating the best of the movie Bonds to head up any international commission charged with teaching boxing judges how to properly score fights, a seemingly simple task that apparently is more difficult than becoming fluent at Sanskrit or unlocking the mysteries of quantum physics.
Because some guys clearly don’t know it when they see it.
Exhibit 984 (the list actually might be much longer) in the thick book of unexplainable verdicts rendered at ringside was the split-decision victory awarded to Timothy Bradley Jr. in this past Saturday’s pay-per-view megabout with WBO welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Despite overwhelming statistical and aesthetic evidence to the contrary, two of the three judges (that would be relative newcomer C.J. Ross and veteran Duane Ford) submitted scorecards declaring Bradley as the winner by identical margins of 115-113. To his credit, another seasoned judge, Jerry Roth, had Pacquiao ahead, 115-113, although Roth’s fingerprints and DNA are all over any number of questionable decisions in high-visibility bouts, most recently the Brandon Rios-Richard Abril scrap for the vacant WBA lightweight title on April 14, in which Roth saw Rios as a 116-112 winner when most of the world saw Abril as having won easily. Thanks to a supporting 115-113 vote for Rios from judge Glenn Trowbridge, Rios left the arena with a championship that a host of know-nothing spectators and media members thought should have gone to the loser.
But to hear Ford give us his reasoning as to why he scored Pacquiao-Bradley as he did, those questioning his eyesight and judgment – that would be promoter Bob Arum, HBO’s unofficial judge Harold Lederman (who had Pacquiao winning by 119-109), ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael (119-109, Pacquiao) and Yahoosports.com’s Kevin Iole (117-111, Pacquiao) – should go back to reading their comic books and leave the important business of scoring multimillion-dollar fights to astute professionals such as himself.
“You’ve got to put the ball in the basket and Manny didn’t put the ball in the basket enough,” Ford told Las Vegas sports writer Steve Carp. “This isn’t American Idol. If I judge for the people, I shouldn’t be a judge. I went in with a clear mind and judged each round. I don’t look at the punch stats (CompuBox had Pacquiao outlanding Bradley, 253 to 159). I saw Manny miss a lot of punches and Bradley win a lot of the exchanges.
“I’m comfortable with my performance. I thought Bradley gave Pacquiao a boxing lesson.”
That explanation apparently is satisfactory to Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, who didn’t think much of Arum’s call for the scoring for Pacquiao-Bradley to be investigated by the Nevada attorney general’s office. Arum also probably wants to know who was standing on the grassy knoll outside the arena when this stinker of a decision was announced. Hey, if you thought those drawn-out negotiations to pair Pacquiao with Floyd Mayweather Jr. were difficult before, coming up with a plan that would satisfy all parties is now as impossible as a 400-pound sumo wrestler pole-vaulting over the moon.
“I hope boxing recovers, because this isn’t arguing about a close decision,” harrumphed Arum, who long ago perfected the art of displaying indignant outrage. “This is something that’s an absurdity, that’s ridiculous. Everybody’s that’s involved in boxing should be ashamed.”
I wasn’t seated in close proximity to Lederman, Rafael and Iole for this latest departure from common sense, but was 2,700 or so miles away, in the lovely village of Canastota, N.Y., for the festivities in which Thomas Hearns, Mark Johnson and 11 other boxing greats were enshrined as members of the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s 23rd annual induction class. Those seated on the dais along with the honorees – a group that included returning Hall of Famers Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Carmen Basilio, Ruben Olivares, Aaron Pryor and Carlos Ortiz – might or might not have been ashamed, but they could have expounded at length about perceived injustices they endured from judges who, to paraphrase Mr. Justice Potter, didn’t know it when they saw it. Those who did catch all or part of Saturday’s pay-per-view telecast from Las Vegas were of the opinion the victorious Bradley had somehow been rewarded for using his face to beat up Pacquiao’s fists.
In legend and lore, a sizable percentage of the most odious decisions are handed down in Texas, where running counter to the grain of public opinion is as admirable as, say, sheriff Gary Cooper taking on a gang of sinister gunmen in High Noon. There sometimes seems to be a Wild West aura to judging bouts in Texas, where up can be down or wrong can be right, and dang it if the outside world doesn’t like the outcome.
But questionable scoring has been a part of the fight game since the first time two men deigned to punch one another to settle a disagreement. “Home-town” decisions are frequently decried by visitors to local jurisdictions who leave town convinced their losses on points were based more on officials’ biases than their opponent’s skill, and you’ll find no shortage of imported fighters who insist that the only way to beat a German in Germany or a South Korean in South Korea is to knock him unconscious – and then hope that the referee doesn’t find a reason to disqualify the man left standing.
Given Las Vegas’ popularity and desirability as a site of big-time boxing events, the hopeful mantra frequently recited by fight folks plying their trade there is that the Nevada commission is somehow immune to all the standard controversies. But, as Pacquiao-Bradley again demonstrates, no state is above periodic reproach. Put it this way: As a fight fan, you might see a zebra as a white animal with black stripes, and you’re going to scream bloody murder if the person parked at ringside and being paid to register round-by-round scores onto a sheet of paper decides what he’s just seen is a black animal with white stripes.
It is, of course, easy for a member of the media to criticize a judge or a referee. The press always have the luxury of playing Monday morning quarterback, and a sports writer’s take on the outcome of a particular boxing match is no more sacrosanct than that of the individual appointed by a state commission or world governing body. Human beings are not infallible, and there is always the possibility of an error in judgment.
That said, steps should always be taken by those holding places of highest authority to ensure that the number of errors, and the magnitude of them, be kept to an absolute minimum. The 71-year-old Roth keeps getting high-visibility assignments, but to my knowledge he has never been questioned for the scorecards he submitted favoring Felix Trinidad over Oscar De La Hoya in 1999 and George Foreman over Axel Schulz in 1995, fights whose decisions were as eyebrow-raising, or nearly so, as Bradley over Pacquiao. Few would question the integrity of the Pacquiao-Bradley judges, and I certainly won’t do so, but you have to wonder: How many times can a huge majority of people see a fight one way, and one or more judges see it completely differently?
Given all their differences, maybe Pacquiao and Mayweather weren’t meant to square off in any case. If they do now, which seems unlikely, the stakes and interest from the public are sure to be at a much lower level. All of which stamps the Pacquiao-Bradley scoring as a potential $100 million gaffe.
Just a guess, but I have to believe Mr. Justice Potter would have known what to do with this fight had he been around to see it.