Boxing in Jeopardy of being KO’d by the IOC

By Coach Walker – 1904, the hubbub of social life is St. Louis, this is when and where boxing became an official Olympic Sport. Americans proved themselves to be the most prolific boxing team by winning all seven gold medals. An even more monumental testament to America’s boxing potency is that in this Olympic Games they won 19 of the 21 total boxing gold, silver and bronze medals. The U.S. even had one fighter, Oliver Kirk, win bantamweight and featherweight gold in the same Olympics. A feat that still stands as Kirk is the only fighter in Olympic history to win two titles in a single Olympics. Of course over time other countries would become more skilled and much more competitive.. 

The Olympic boxing forum, for the last 105 years, has been a catapult for future world champions such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman, the Spinks brothers Michael and Leon, Evander Holyfield and many others. But the boxing days of those fighters were different from now. Boxing, aptly named the sweet science, is a finesse and power sport where there is nothing more satisfying than seeing two elite boxers play a game of square circle chess. Unlike other sports where scoring is definitive boxing’s scoring is subject to human error. Judges are sworn to impartiality regardless of affiliation yet we have all seen episodes of bias, favoritism and occasionally prejudice but for the most part the sport has been true to its fighters.

All that changed immediately following the 1988 Seoul, Korea Olympics. The American team packed with talent included Ray Mercer, Riddick Bowe, Andrew Maynard, Michael Carbajal and Kennedy McKinney. An excellent class to say the least especially when you consider all of the aforementioned fighters won world titles with the exception of Maynard. Though successful, none of them experienced the dominance of American fighter Roy Jones Jr. He was hands down the best fighter of the games thoroughly dominating his opponents and the tournament so completely that it earned him a finals berth and the coveted Val Barker Cup which is given to the outstanding boxer of the Olympic tournament.

The system leading up to the 88 games was simple: 5 judge scoring, contact with the white portion of the glove scores points by landing on the head or torso, and each judge was responsible for marking points on their own scorecard. Simple right? A bit too simple, maybe. I mean to screw up something this simple you’ve got to really try. You would have to add the element of human stupidity to get this type of scoring muffed up. Human stupidity or should I say revenge was on deck during Jones’ finals bout. Jones would face South Korea’s Park Si-Hun and put on a dominate performance by out landing his opponent by an official score of 86 to 32. Yet he remarkably lost a 3-2 decision (judges against Jones were from Morocco, Hungary and Uruguay). Shortly after the decision an investigation was launched into the circumstances surrounding the match and the three judges who sided against Jones were ultimately barred from boxing amidst corruption and bribery evidence.

As a symbol of their embarrassment the International Olympic Committee (IOC) awarded Jones the Olympic Order in 1997. This award is given to individuals for particularly distinguished contributions to the Olympic Games. Still the IOC refuses to officially overturn the decision and award Jones Olympic Gold.

Jones’ fight is credited sometimes with changing the Olympic boxing format. Truthfully, that is actually not the case. Though it may have been the catalyst that turned up the flame on the IOC to quickly make the move it is noted that electronic scoring was already in the works. The Los Angeles Times on September 27, 1988 quoted then AIBA President, Anwar Chowdhry, “At our world championships in Moscow, in September 1989, we will introduce electronic scoring. Each judge will have two buttons in front of him, each representing a boxer. For each scoring blow a judge will push a button and that punch will be shown on the scoreboard next the judges’ number. For the first time in boxing the public will see blow by blow scoring.”

The major significance of this is that Jones’ fight with Park Si-Hun was not until October 1, 1988. It seems that the move to electronic scoring was already in the works. However, the implementation of the three out of five process is really where things got screwy. The IOC came up with this nonsensical idea that three of the five judges must agree that a blow is a scoring blow and press the fighter’s button within one second of each other in order to score a punch. This has proven to be worse for boxing and has created a lack luster atmosphere that is more based on run and tap, than bob and weave or jab and counter.

Could the bribed judges have picked a more blatant farce than the one-sided Jones/Si-Hun fight? Experience has taught us that decisions in close fights lean toward hometown fighters, in this case Korea, but this wasn’t a close fight. This was the 100 meter sprint where Jones got a head start and Si-Hun is forced to run backwards. The victory was so lopsided and the decision so atrocious that it almost ended Jones’ pro career before it ever started. What the decision did was help usher in the current system of international boxing. International boxing is no longer a sweet science it is a tap, tap, hug, hug, run, run sport.

Even heavyweights experience knockouts less frequently under the current scoring system which attempts to make boxing an objective sport. But boxing is not an objective sport. Many things must be considered when scoring a round such as ring generalship, technical effectiveness, accuracy, defense, affective aggression and yes, body work too. Until the IOC understands that boxing rounds should be evaluated in whole and that it is a subjective sport then they will continue to fall short of excellence and boxing will continue to be less and less noticeable against the dynamic landscape of the Olympic Games. If we don’t force change then it won’t take long before boxing is only shown in Olympic highlights and is ousted as an Olympic Sport altogether.

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