Alan Dawson – London
Questionable judging has long dogged boxing. It is almost common to see at least one high-profile contentious decision a month; one that arouses the ire of the defeated fighter, the boxing industry and fight fans in general. Last weekend was no different as Steve Cunningham and Gabriel Campillo were dubiously out-pointed by Yoan Pablo Hernandez and Karo Murat. On The Beak caught up with renowned boxing judge Harold Lederman to debate the issue of reform.
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HBO's ringside judge Lederman at the Khan - Judah bout in Vegas. Credit: S. Verbeek - Maple Avenue Boxing Gym, Dallas
In an official capacity, Lederman has provided the scoring for world title fights involving Vitali Klitschko, Marco Antonio Barrera, Nigel Benn, Evander Holyfield, Julio Cesar Chavez, Larry Holmes, Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali. In 1999 he retired yet continues to work for HBO where, for over 575 televised prizefights, he has broadcast his score and take on the night’s action speaking in his distinctive New York accent that was made to air.
What are the main things Lederman, an experienced amateur and professional judge, looks for in any fight?
“You want to see who landed the clean punches – that’s 90 percent of scoring,” he said, concisely. “If you can punch you have an advantage over a boxer. Paul Malignaggi is a boxer, Yuri Foreman is a boxer… they have to win decisively and not get hit to win a fight against a guy who is a big banger. You want to see who is the more effective aggressor, who showed better ring generalship and defence, who blocks more punches and who slips more punches, but clean punching is 90 percent.”
Easy to talk to, I got the impression that Harold could have chatted boxing all night with me. A clear lover of the sport, Lederman had no qualms on providing me with an education on why it is not the judging system that needs to be reformed but, rather, the actual appointment of scorers at ringside.
“I don’t see how much more they can do, except… it’s the appointment of officials that is very important,” the World Boxing Hall of Fame inductee said exclusively to On The Beak. “When you have a high profile fight whether that’s Dereck Chisora and Tyson Fury or Victor Ortiz and Floyd Mayweather, you take the best three judges. In boxing, they do the opposite! They sometimes have inexperienced guys [at world championship fights].
“They need to be more careful about who you put in. You can give new guys a chance but you have to work your way up. Inexperience can lead to bad decisions. If they watch the appointments more carefully, they’re made because the sanctioning bodies [WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO] want to use their people. With high profile fights, like Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye, you have the three best judges regardless of sanctioning bodies they are affiliated with and that’s the end of the story. Controversial fights are scored because of the appointments.”
Controversial scoring is not exclusive to one country. While Cunningham and Campillo appeared to be duped out of a deserved win in Germany, there have been just as questionable decisions scored in England (Obodai Sai versus Jamie Cox), Northern Ireland (Breidis Prescott against Paul McCloskey) and the United States (Lucas Matthysse versus Devon Alexander and, most infamously of late, Erislandy Lara against Paul Williams).
Key – Total punches landed/thrown per round. Source: Compubox
Key – Final Compubox stats.
In each of those cases, it was the home fighter who benefited from the decision. I asked Harold whether factors such as crowd noise can affect the judging: “Let me tell you something… judges are human,” he said. “There’s no doubt that judges hear the crowd. Any judge that says they don’t hear it – they’re lying!
“You’re always going to hear the yelling and the screaming, it’s close, they might lean toward the home name… it’s part of the game. Judges try like heck to be honest but the truth of the matter is you’re always subject to what’s going on in the background and it may take some effect but will they effect the judge to make a really bad decision, you follow what I’m saying? [Regardless of the noise level it] shouldn’t sway the judging from making a good decision to a bad decision.”
In the cases of the aforementioned contests, despite winning by a tight or sometimes just an inaccurate score, the victor is elevated to a healthy position in the global rankings while the recorded loser has to go back to a position where they are, effectively, pushed back one year, perhaps two. In that space of time they have to take a fight, two fights, maybe three, taking 200, 400 or 600 clean punches in the face or body in order to get back to the position they were in – that high profile fight.
The fact that incompetent judging can send a fighter through an unnecessary physically grueling schedule is one of the main catalysts for the calls of reform and, with the rise of technology, scoring systems like Compubox have become increasingly popular as a way of determining who was the more effective puncher in terms of punches thrown, landed and accuracy – but not in terms of damage.
“Let me tell you something… HBO uses Compubox,” began Lederman in response to whether boxing would miss the human element of judging if it was replaced with technology. “It’s fun for fans watching the fight at home but it shouldn’t effect the scoring of the fight.
“Paul Williams is gonna throw 100 punches every round but the question is: do his punches really mean that much? Do they do that much damage? Against Lara without question, anyone at ringside or at home could tell that Lara was landing the cleaner, more effective and the more solid shots. He did more damage for nine out of the 12 rounds and, at the end of the day, that’s what you’re there to judge – who hurt who more in that round? And that’s who you give the score to.
“Compubox systems are fun but their statistic doesn’t necessarily provide you with who won that round,” warned Lederman.
“I don’t see Compubox numbers until the start of the next round,” added Harold. “It’s a tremendous addition to the sport, though. Everyone can appreciate them but, you gotta remember, the guys who count the punches are subject to the same thing the judges are. The ref may get in the way and the guy might have his back to you. The aggressor… you can’t count what you can’t see. You have to take that into consideration. Compubox is really good but it shouldn’t replace the judge.”
Harold was equally opposed to a compromise of two human judges and a computer: “I like what we have now,” he maintained. “Three human judges.”
He concluded: “The situation is… the way we have it now is the best way.”
The three judges' scorecards for Williams/Lara. Credit: Mariano A. Agmi
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