Boxing once again managed to shoot itself in the foot on Saturday. It is the fighters’ brilliance, in this case, that of Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin which sustains the sport and keeps it limping on despite self-inflicted wounds.
What is all the more discouraging is the timing. Boxing is generally in a state of upward trajectory with great emerging fighters such as Anthony Joshua, Terence Crawford and Vasyl Lomachenko making their mark this calendar year. Even Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather’s fight was a success and drew welcome main stream attention.
At the final bell on Saturday, it seemed that the battle had already been won. The fight was supposed to compound boxing’s victory in 2017. The fight had been advertised as a throwback to the glory days of the later twentieth century, a meeting between the two best fighter of their time at the ideal time. An admonishment of the Mayweather and Pacqiao era which did not see the two men fight while both were at their peak due to the intransigence and brinkmanship of both sides and their promoters which left fans disappointed and disheartened that we never saw the best fighting the best, in other words, competition in its purest form.
In thrilling fashion, Canelo and Golovkin fulfilled their duties as the sport’s representatives. At the end it seemed that a satisfying conclusion had made itself evident. Both fought with exceptional skill and bravery with the overwhelming consensus being that Golovkin won the majority of the rounds. The battle was won, observers satisfied and the fighters told to shoulder arms and go home.
More is the shame then that judge Adelaide Byrd inexplicably decided to score the fight 118-110 in favour of Canelo which resulted in the fight being called a draw. Now, in the immediate aftermath, fans and observers are only mentioning the merits of the fight itself as a preface to the main talking point which relates to the integrity and credibility of boxing. The fact that we are again forced to question this is, sadly, the salient point and the real crime here.
In recent years, observers have cried foul on too many occasions. Of course, the reasons for so many unjust decisions may be relatively benevolent. After all, boxing’s scoring system is subjective. Judges are afforded discretion to give precedence to factors such as ring control, striking volume, damage inflicted and striking efficacy depending on the way in which they assess who should win and who should lose.
Even in a sport with a more objective rule set such as soccer there are controversial decisions and refereeing errors in most games. Consequently, disputed decisions are very common in boxing as, naturally, is human error.
These unfortunate outcomes also have more damaging consequences for fighters which is rather particular to sports such as boxing in which athletes only compete several times per year and do not have a match a week later in which to make up ground. As a fighter, even having one or two defeats on one’s record is damaging. Perception of the fighter often changes among fans and those who pay to market the fighter and place him in lucrative bouts.
There is something beguiling about an undefeated record and the concept of an unbeaten fighter. Promoters will naturally invest in a fighter who has never or rarely been beaten. One only needs to look to Floyd Mayweather to appreciate how effective a marketing tool an undefeated record is.
Extending this generosity to judge Byrd’s almost laughable scorecard would be a stretch. However, she has a history of producing inexplicable scorecards over the years including when she strangely scored Bernard Hopkins as the winner over Joe Calzaghe in 2008. Top Rank promoters were even sufficiently concerned about her record to request that she be stood down for the Lomachenko vs Walters fight eight months ago.
However, aspersions will continue to be cast and more and more fans will be alienated if injustices such as Saturday’s are repeated. The great trainer and analyst Teddy Atlas elucidated the frustration of the many fans who are convinced that this result, others before it and the very landscape of the sport are moulded by the hand of corruption. Atlas pointed out that the lack of a “national commission and federal guidelines” means that the prevailing promoters can be “in charge of who the judges are going to be”. There is nobody, Atlas continued, “to police it, to make sure that there is no corruption.”
Atlas echoed the suspicions of many fans who believe that the fight’s promoters, who are also Canelo’s promoters, may have pressurized the judges into favouring the Mexican given that he is their number one fighter when it comes to attracting pay per view buyers. A Canelo loss would affect his status as a truly great fighter and a rematch with Golovkin would bring the most financial reward, something that would be more difficult to sell to the public in the event of a unanimous decision win for Golovkin.
The fact that betting markets halved their odds of a draw beforehand only increases suspicion as critics point to the undeniable reality that Las Vegas, the central hub of fight betting, is closely linked with the boxing industry. It is also not as though strong claims of corruption have not been made before and some perpetrators caught. The 2016 Olympic boxing tournament was hit by corruption allegations. Further back, famous promoters Don King and Bob Arum were revealed to have partaken in bribery if not outright scorecard manipulation with Arum admitting that he paid in 1995 in order for George Foreman to avoid facing a mandatory challenger.
Regardless of where one stands on the issue of boxing’s integrity, it is hard to deny that boxing was stained again on Saturday. An old, unfortunate and barely stitched wound has been re-opened.