Judging The Judges: Looking Back at The Scoring of Marquez-Pacquiao

20.01.06 - By Kevin Purcell: Throughout the history of boxing, many superb fights have been tainted by a controversial decision from the judges at the end. Cries of ‘fix’ are often heard which sometimes prompt investigations, e.g. Lewis-Holyfield 1. Then there’s the old ‘hometown’ decision, where the guy fighting in his native city gets the nod from the judges despite obviously losing. Scott Harrison – Victor Polo being a recent example..

But I believe there is a bigger contributing factor to questionable decisions than a set-up or home decisions. It lies in the difficulty and faults of actually scoring the fight in the first place. Having followed boxing closely for just four years, only in the last 12 months or so have I actually tried to judge every round I see. It’s not easy. And a fight that really tests your judgement was the compelling encounter in May 2004 between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez.

Manny Pacquaio had exploded onto the boxing scene the previous November with his 11-round demolition job of Marco Antonio Barrera and had now set his sights on part 2 of ‘The Mexican Job’, Marquez. ‘Pacman’ was favourite but many insiders felt that that the skills of Marquez, combined with his durability and stiff, accurate punching, could stop the Filipino fireball in its tracks. But the southpaw appeared to have confounded the critics once again, clubbing Marquez to the canvas three times in the opening round, and despite surviving until the bell, the omens didn’t look good for the Mexican. Pacquiao won round 2 but crucially, didn’t finish off or even really hurt his opponent and thereafter, Marquez clawed his way back into the fight before asserting himself from the middle rounds on.

Now, I thought at the time that Marquez had clearly done enough from round 3 on to warrant a victory and was annoyed when the draw was announced. But having watched the fight again with a slightly more educated eye, I arrived at a slightly different conclusion.

Firstly, listening to the commentary can seriously cloud your judgement. Watching boxing on Sky Sports means listening to Ian Darke and either former Lennox Lewis opponent Glen McCrory or the ex-Scottish pro Jim Watt. These partnerships are usually excellent, very informative and in the case of McCrory, sometimes really funny. But I have disagreed with them on occasion. When Darke and McCrory did Barrera-Morales 1, they talked a lot in the early rounds about Barrera’s achievements so far, then gave him the rounds while ignoring Morales’ excellent bodywork.

Getting back to Marquez-Pacquaio, Jim Watt repeatedly praised the counter-punching of Marquez and his ability to make Pacquaio look clueless. The Sky team in the studio all agreed and had the Mexican victorious by 3 points or so. Now, Marquez did at times make Pacquaio look a bit lost before drilling him with counter-punches. So these rounds were clearly his. But on closer inspection, in some rounds Marquez didn’t really do much counter-punching while Pacquaio landed some decent shots. They never had the same devastating effect as in Round 1 but he didn’t deserve to lose these rounds. So I scored them even. Unfortunately I’m no longer in possession of the tape but, as far as I remember, I gave Round 1 10-6 to Pacquaio, Round 2 10-9, and Round’s 4,6,9 and 11 to Marquez which means Pacquaio wins 116-115.

But I certainly don’t preach about victory for Manny. In all likelihood, the next time I view the bout, I might pick up on a couple of things that will sway my decision again. It was extremely close and hard to say who won for definite. But I definitely feel that a large reason I had Marquez victorious first time I saw it was due to the commentating. Then I wonder what I’m doing disagreeing with Jim Watts’ opinion, an excellent former boxer with huge knowledge compared to a 20-year old who only took up the sport 4 months ago. (Of course, the best solution would’ve been a rematch but that’s a different story).

But this is where the judges come in. They can’t go home and analyse the fight overnight, then email their decision back to the arena the next morning after a leisurely breakfast. They’ve got to decide almost immediately. In my eyes, under the current system, this makes consistently fair scoring virtually impossible. Not that a decision shouldn’t be reached shortly after the fight. The tension and excitement this creates can be almost unbearable and it’s a vital ingredient to boxing. So scoring fights will never be perfect but I think there’s a few things that could be changed to help reduce the number of bad verdicts.

Firstly, one of the judges watching on TV somewhere with the sound turned off. I wonder sometimes how a judge at ringside peering up can see more than what you see on TV. If two fighters are up close on the far side of the ring, it must be really difficult to gauge which fighter is getting the better of the exchanges. A TV judge has a much better overall view. And it could help with hometown decisions too. Without volume, a judge won’t be influenced by the roar of the crowd every time the away fighter gets pawed with a soft jab.

Secondly, the Sky commentators also tell us that judges in America very rarely score a round even. If this is so, then that’s absolutely ludicrous. What’s wrong with scoring a round even! When I’m judging a fight, the combatants have to earn their 10-9. This was the case in Pacquaio-Marquez. I wasn’t going to give Marquez a round because ‘Pacman’ missed with a lot of punches. I scored these rounds even. And in general, if a round is very close with one of the fighters landing perhaps 1 or 2 extra jabs, I’ll score it even. When judges award rounds based on that, it means we have the ridiculous scenario where a fighter winning rounds in this fashion is akin to one guy beating the other around the ring for nearly 3 minutes without a knockdown.

This is an area which could have a big impact on the Morales-Pacquaio rematch this Saturday. I predict a lot of thrilling and very close rounds in which both men have fought brilliantly but neither has really claimed the round outright. So 10-10 is appropriate. But if the judges are compelled to award rounds, they will do this on their whim of whom they prefer. This appeared to happen with Pacquaio-Marquez, in which a very tight encounter diabolically saw one judge have Marquez winning 115-110 and another judge having it 115-110 to Pacquaio.

As I’ve said before, I’m really a complete novice when it comes to judging fights and I expect many disagreements with what I’ve said. But because of some atrocious decisions that fans – and more importantly, fighters – have been subject to, I think it’s clear that some sort of review of the judicial system needs to be made, hopefully leading to some changes that result in more consistent scoring,

Thoughts or comments?

Article posted on 20.01.2006

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