In Defense of Open Scoring

29.05.07 - By Eric Sloan: Truth be told, I am not yet an advocate for open scoring because such would make Harold Lederman moot, spoil Jim Lampley’s speculative fun, and cause Larry Merchant to shout nothing but “I can’t stand this incompetence” at something other than Steve Smoger. Alright, perhaps I am closer to picking up the open scoring flag than I first made out; however, at this stage, I will simply defend the idea.

The reality is that during the month of May two championship fights were resolved by split decision. The good news was that neither fight resulted in a draw. The bad news was that one fighter lost his title and another missed a realistic chance at taking one. I firmly believe that De La Hoya and Spinks would have changed their respective game plan under an open scoring system. This is not to say that either outcome would have been different, but it would have been spectacular television to watch the fight adjustments from round to round.

The counterargument, however, was the open scoring “experiment” in Miguel Cotto v. Oktay Urkal earlier this year. Urkal was so far behind that he gave up, Cotto didn’t press the fight in the later rounds, and the result was precisely what Jim Lampley warned against—a snoozer. I suppose an argument could also be made that “accidental” head butts might be more common in an open scoring environment given that a fighter will know that he can win early if the fight is stopped by a cut. Fair enough.

With regard to Urkal, he didn’t need the benefit of open scoring for incentive to quit before the final bell. He would have given up regardless. The current environment, call it closed scoring, does not guarantee an exciting fight. Fighters make exciting fights. The bigger issue concerns illegal blows. In that respect, as always, fighters must protect themselves at all times and know their opponents. Every weight class has its bad boy club, and there will always be a Zab Judah or Andrew Golota looking to gain advantage outside of the rule book. Such has always been a part of boxing and it will remain that way.

Yes, there is also the issue with judge independence. Frankly, fight judge ethics and scoring standards concern me more, but that is a topic for a different day. Thinking positively, judges score fights from an individually subjective perspective. They do not communicate with the other judges between rounds. They do not have access to Compubox statistics. Some judges favor flat-footed aggressors, while others favor dancing jab artists. Some of them, unfortunately, seem to decide rounds via coin toss and complete the 10s and 9s accordingly. A fighter’s corner, therefore, can never predict how three judges will score a fight in a closed scoring environment, and fights have been lost when a corner gets it wrong (see Trinidad v. De La Hoya).

In order for open scoring to be a useful tool, however, scores must be shown at the end of every round. The concept of identifying scores every three or four rounds does not give a corner time to react properly. It also reduces the fight to a series of mini-bouts, which simply makes no sense. The most efficient way to do this is to adopt an electronic scoring system. Final bell rings, scores are punched in, and reported for everyone to see. There is no need for Michael Buffer et al to call out the scores between rounds. If the technology is not available, then the idea of open scoring should be placed on hold.

Now if boxing purists want to argue that boxing has always been about closed scoring and it should remain that way, then I say Amen. Bring back fifteen round championship fights and smaller rings, as a starter, and I will agree to stop defending evolutionary ideas. Until such time, I feel obligated to defend ideas that are pro-fighter. Open scoring is a pro-fighter concept because it provides the ability to react to available information. It represents a bold new direction for a sport that resists change like no other. Sanctioning organizations should consider leading the way rather than being forced fed the idea from athletic commissions such as Puerto Rico. As for Harold Lederman, well he can continue to recite the rules of the bout.

Article posted on 30.05.2007

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