Understanding what went wrong at the most controversial boxing match of the year
The arguments about scoring boxing matches on TV are exactly as old as the broadcasting of fights on TV. When I came of age watching Muhammad Ali on television, my father would quote to me from the Bible, Joe Williams TV Boxing Book, which was published in 1954.
"TV," wrote Williams, who was thought by many of his peers to be the most knowledgeable writer on the fight game, "does not give a complete picture of the fight. Instead, in certain circumstances, TV tends to distort and confuse. One of TV's most serious deficiencies is its lack of dimensional depth, which makes it impossible to measure the true force of a blow ... Very often one blow may seem to be no more destructive than another."
That was certainly true when Williams wrote it, less true in the 1960s and 1970s, and absolutely not true today with high-definition TV and multiple camera angles. In fact, having written about fights after watching from both ringside and reviewing them on the small screen. I can testify that the only time the ringside viewer has the advantage is when the action is happening directly in front of where he is seated, and not always then.
One famous passage, however, from Williams' book rings true nearly 60 years later. Regarding the various methods of scoring a fight, he said:
The plain truth is that one system is about as good as another. Vastly more important than the system is the competence and honesty of the men who interpret it. There never has been and never will be devised a system by which completely satisfactory fight decisions can be reached. The matter of who wins or loses in a ring contest not terminated by a knockout must always come down to opinion. And no system is going to make an incompetent official competent, or a dishonest official honest, whether he scores by rounds, by points, or by promptings form the spiritual world.
It isn't possible for us to say whether the three men who scored last Saturday night's Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley championship fight were incompetent and dishonest. That is, I couldn't judge their competence until I saw their judgments on other fights. I can say without hesitating that I've never seen any scoring for a fight that seemed more dishonest.
I didn't even know how atrocious their scoring was until about an hour later; assuming that Pacquiao, the defending champion, had won the 12-round by 10 or possible 11 rounds, I flipped over at the closing bell to watch the highlights of the final playoff game between the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics. When the phone rang and a friend of mine told me in disbelief that two judges had scored it 115-113—in other words 7 rounds to 5 with none even, my jaw dropped. You mean, I asked, that two judges thought Pacquiao only won by two rounds? No, he said in what has proved to be the most astonishing sports news of the year, it means two judges thought Bradley won by two rounds.
First, let's be clear. To write off Bradley's split-decision victory to a bad decision is to miss the point entirely. God knows there have always been bad decisions in boxing history—the first Joe Louis-Jersey Joe Wolcott fight in 1947 (which has recently been making the rounds on ESPN Classic), in which Louis was awarded a split decision despite hitting the canvas twice, is certainly one. Another is the second Oscar de la Hoya-Shane Mosley fight in 2003, in which Oscar stole Mosley's lunch money and then had it stolen back by the officials' seeing-eye dogs—I thank the late great Bert Sugar for inventing that gag.
MORE ON BOXING
What happened last Saturday night, though, wasn't in the same quadrant of the galaxy as those decisions.
First, some numbers: ESPN.com's Dan Rafael, probably the best boxing beat writer around—and I'd say that even if he didn't score the fight the same way I did on seeing it a second time—saw it 119-109 for Pacquiao. That's using the 2 point "must" system, which means that unless one fighter scores a knockdown, has an otherwise exceptionally good three minutes, or has a point deducted by the ref on a foul, he gets 10 points for winning a round and his opponent gets nine points for losing it.
HBO's unofficial judge, Harold Lederman, probably the best astute scorer in boxing, also had it 119-109.
I'm going to put this to you in the simplest, clearest language I can: There is no way Dan Rafael, Harold Lederman, and I can see a man as winning a fight 11 rounds to 1 when he actually lost.
The CompuBox numbers, which calculate the number of punches thrown and landed, back us up, showing that Pacquiao landed more punches than Bradley in at least 10 rounds. Manny connected on 253 of 751 punches thrown (that's 34 percent accuracy) while Bradley landed just 115 of 839 (19 percent). Many of those punches by both men were jabs, which certainly count for something in the scoring but are not supposed to count as much as the so-called "power shots," i.e. punches thrown with what the late legendary trainer Angelo Dundee called "mean intent," i.e. punches thrown with weight behind them. Pacquiao landed 82 more of those than Bradley.
A lot of purists have a genuine prejudice against CompuBox scoring; simply landing a punch, they'll tell you, doesn't meant that it was harder than any other punch. Or, stated another way, one punch from, say, Rocky Marciano could negate several dozen thrown by somebody else. That's fine, but there is only one Rocky Marciano to a century, and the vast majority of fighters at any weight don't punch like he did.
The CompuBox numbers are not a solution; they're a tool toward a solution. I like them because I want to know if the men doing the recording of the punches can confirm what I saw. And in this case, they did. Neither Pacquiao nor Bradley scored a knockdown, but Manny landed far more total punches and far more "power" punches.
So here's how the officials scored it. Judge Jerry Roth said 115-113 Pacquiao—that's 7 rounds to 5. Officials C.J. Ross and Duane Ford both had it 115-113 for Bradley.
Here's what I think of their scoring: If Roth thought Pacquiao won only 7 rounds of the 12, his boxing license should be suspended. And that will tell you what I think of Ross and Ford's evaluations.
On my side in this matter is the fight's promoter, Bob Arum, who after the fight told reporters, "I couldn't believe the decision. I had it 10 rounds to 2 for Pacquiao."
It's great to hear honesty like this from a fight promoter. Except that ...let's not forget who benefitted most from what happened. Sure, there's more than $100 million to be made on a fight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr., which is clearly the fight that fans have been waiting for for nearly three years now. But Mayweather is currently languishing in jail for charges of domestic battery—not his first brush with the law—and it's now apparent to even the most fervent followers that Pacquiao-Mayweather is not going to happen.
So, a new financial bonanza has suddenly reared its head: a rematch between the two participants of the year's most controversial fight. Which, by coincidence, had been set for November 10 and for which—talk about planning ahead—a poster had been made up and tickets printed. And Bradley had tweeted a photo of the rematch poster was early as May 28! Quelle surprise!
Unbelievable as it seems, there are some in the boxing media who are buying into this scenario by suggesting, after reflection, that Bradley not only held his own but won.
Here's Brian Mazique on Bleacher Report:
I have a challenge for you fight fans. Watch a replay of the Timothy Bradley vs. Manny Pacquiao bout with the volume down, and then score the fight. Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman, Emanuel Steward and especially Harold Lederman, drastically slanted the perception of this bout for the public.
It is very difficult not to become a slave to the commentary. We respect the announcers' opinions and resumes, but at the end of the day, they reflect only one vantage point, and one opinion per person."
That's what judging a fight has come to: Harold Lederman, the best scorer in the age of televised boxing, is now offers no more than "one opinion per person"—his counts for nothing more than anyone else's.
Mazique says that HBO's Max Kellerman "said he spoke to three people at ringside whose opinion he trusts and they said they had Bradley winning the fight." I wouldn't trust Max Kellerman's judgment if he stood face-to-face with Charlize Theron and called her blonde. I put more stock in three unnamed people that someone said Kellerman said he talked to than I put in Bob Arum's outrage.
Mazique says he had Bradley wining the fight; so far he's the only one I know of who has put this opinion into print. His judgment is based on a strange reading of the CompuBox fiures: "Look at the total punches thrown in the last three rounds," he writes, "Bradley was the more active fighter in those rounds. In the ninth round, Pacquiao the more punches, but Bradley landed more."
Even acknowledging that Bradley might have won the ninth round, this statement is baffling. To single out one point, in the last two rounds Bradley threw 164 punches to Pacquiao's 134, but he landed a total of 11 fewer, 30-41. One of Mazique's criteria for scoring a fight is "who was more active?" and in the Round 11 and 12, where Bradley was more "active," Bradley "stole with his activity."
As far as I know, this is a unique method for judging a boxing match: activity. Bradley simply threw more punches in those rounds, as indeed he did throughout the fight. That they had no discernible effect on Pacquiao seems to be beside the point; for that matter, the fact that Bradley failed to land the vast majority of them doesn't seem to matter either.
I submit to you that anyone who claims that a fight should be judged on the basis of "activity" is perpetuating a sham. If Pacquiao landed more punches, what difference does it make how many he threw? Why does it matter in the 11th and 12th round if Manny threw no more than 41 punches if all 42 landed?
What I'm asking is how anyone can give credit to a punch that was thrown and not landed? If this same kind of idiocy was applied to other sports, scoring in baseball would be determined not by how many times the batter hit the ball but how many times he swung at it. Should we devise a new scoring method for football based not on touchdown and field goals but how many plays a team runs?
I'm not suggesting that the kind of scoring Mazique advocates was the one adopted by the scorers in Vegas last week; I think he is woefully misguided, and I think the men who judged the Pacquiao-Bradley fight were as straight as ... well, as straight as Bob Arum's protest over the their scoring. In fact, exactly that straight.
The World Boxing Organization is "reviewing" the fight, and Bob Arum submitted a formal request to the Nevada Attorney General's office on Monday asking for an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the fight. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, also has asked for an investigation.
HBO is re-airing the match on Saturday night at 10:00 Eastern—investigate it yourself.