by Mark Lorenzana
This year alone we’ve seen several controversial decisions in boxing: Jeff Horn winning an upset over Manny Pacquiao in Australia, Wisaksil Wangek Rungvisai dealing the once-invincible Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez his first loss (and his second, via knockout, in the rematch but that’s another story—or blog post), and Saul Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin settling for a draw (after an exciting fight that lived up to its expectations as one of the most must-see bouts of 2017 between two of the best middleweight fighters in the game today).
But that’s the thing, and there goes the rub: the reality is, boxing is a very difficult sport to judge, as everything is subject to one’s own personal interpretation (add to that the fact that personal biases also come into play).
For instance, I remember back when Manny Pacquiao fought Tim Bradley for the first time; I scored that fight a close victory for Bradley and in the immediate aftermath posted my thoughts on social media. I was horrified and aghast, however, when I saw the reactions on social media/blog posts from boxing analysts immediately after the fight—they claimed that Pacquiao, indeed, should have won.
Majority of the boxing writers saw Pacquiao winning that bout, with only a couple of scribes giving the nod to Bradley, one of whom is highly respected veteran boxing journalist and author Thomas Hauser. To be honest, it made me feel a little better that a writer of Hauser’s caliber got it “wrong.” I was still contributing to boxing websites at that time and was even a resident boxing/MMA writer in one of the sports websites in the Philippines when that happened (and also ran, on the side, an award-nominated sports blog that is now since defunct), so I was understandably upset. I immediately put out a blog post explaining what happened and why I thought Bradley won that fight and admitted that it was an off night for me, scoring-wise. Regardless, the “damage” was already done—both to my nonexistent credibility as an unknown boxing/MMA “analyst” and to my ego as a “writer.”
So let me ask you: in a fight between a defensive-minded counterpuncher and an aggressive brawler or boxer-puncher, which style are you going to favor? Are you going to lean toward that aggressive, come-forward fighter who throws many punches, more punches than the defensive fighter, even if those punches miss a lot and hit nothing but air and/or the opponent’s arms or gloves? Or are you going to lean toward the counterpuncher, especially if he lands the cleaner blows, even though he doesn’t throw as much as his more aggressive opponent?
Take the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight. I know quite a few knowledgeable boxing fans from the Philippines who believed that Pacquiao should have won that fight, even though he wasn’t the unstoppable whirlwind of years ago who humiliated Oscar de la Hoya, one-punch-kayoed Ricky Hatton, TKO’d Miguel Cotto, punished the bigger and stronger Antonio Margarito in the course of 12 brutal rounds (and broke his orbital bone), made Sugar Shane Mosley and Joshua Clottey forget about their own offense just to survive, and broke Juan Manuel Marquez’s nose in the last fight of their epic four-fight saga before getting knocked out himself because of his recklessness. Pacquiao had stalked Mayweather the entire fight, and Mayweather being Mayweather fought a brilliant defensive fight for 12 rounds, landing the cleaner shots even though he threw fewer punches. I scored that fight for Mayweather, who unsurprisingly won via unanimous decision. Immediately after the fight, when Pacquiao was interviewed in the ring by HBO’s Max Kellerman, Manny said he thought he won the fight, to Kellerman’s surprise. Freddie Roach, for his part, was more diplomatic but hinted that his fighter indeed lost the fight.
With the Pacquiao-Horn fight, I gave Pacquiao the nod by two rounds, as I felt that it was indeed a close fight but that the Filipino did enough to retain his belt. Immediately after the fight, though, there were howls of protests that Pacquiao should have won a wide decision (I didn’t understand that, though, as, like I said, I felt that it was a close fight). Bob Arum, for his part, thought that it could have gone either way (although it’s understandable for Arum to feel that way because he promotes both fighters); and Freddie Roach, although he said he thought that Pacquiao should have won, never protested the decision vehemently and even went so far as to suggest that Manny’s retirement isn’t that far off, perhaps believing that his prized pupil could have done more but was hampered by the physical deterioration in the ring brought about by age (after all, when was the last time Pacquiao looked like the relentless dynamo of yesteryears that gobbled up his opponents?), his senate “responsibilities” that limited his training and his sparring, and the comforts of the high life that almost always affects a boxer’s hunger to train and to destroy his opponent (a problem that Roach has actually harped on for several years now, what with Pacquiao’s penchant for letting the judges decide the outcome of his bouts, with his killer instinct seemingly evaporating into thin air after his impressive TKO win over Miguel Cotto an eternity ago). The point is, perhaps the judges in the Pacquiao-Horn fight felt that the latter’s aggressiveness and, yes, his seemingly “dirty” tactics helped neutralize the former’s once-impressive offensive attacks—indeed, aside from a ninth round where Horn was close to hitting the canvas, Pacquiao for the most part was often stymied by the bigger, stronger, and “dirtier” fighter who didn’t mind taking a page out of the MMA stylebook and repeatedly used his forearms, shoulders, head, and even his elbows to his advantage.
With the Rungvisai-Chocolatito fight, I scored the fight for Chocolatito but also admitted to myself that the Nicaraguan, one of my favorite fighters of recent years, didn’t look as sharp as he had been, especially when he was still campaigning in the lower weights and blasting all comers, making a case for himself as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. In that fight, the bigger and stronger Rungvisai never let Gonzalez intimidate him and, like Horn, decided to make it hard for Chocolatito by resorting to borderline illegal tactics to frustrate the Nicaraguan. And, to the judges at least, it worked—they thought the Thai did enough that night to wrest the titles away from Gonzalez. Perhaps the judges thought that Gonzalez, being the brilliant fighter that he was, should have been his always-impressive self and that anything less than Chocolatito blasting away Rungvisai was not enough for him to retain his belts? Was Chocolatito unfairly judged because of the lofty standards that he set for himself and that, because he failed to live up to these standards, the opponent was judged “good” enough and therefore deserving enough of the win?
With the Canelo-Golovkin fight, I thought that Canelo won by a couple of rounds although I don’t think that a draw is unreasonable, as well as a scorecard that awarded Golovkin a win by two or three rounds, because the fight I saw was a close fight wherein GGG was the aggressor throughout but with Canelo banking on his better boxing skills, much-improved movement, and superb counterpunching to land the cleaner blows. (I have a problem with Adalaide Byrd’s card, though, that only saw Golovkin winning two rounds; it’s a fucking travesty that deserves its own separate blog post). With that said, a lot of people also saw Golovkin winning by a wide margin, because of the way they perceive how a fighter should fight in order to win: go forward and attack, attack, attack. This is not a wrong way of seeing things, as it is also not wrong to favor the fighter who, although is backpedaling and moving and counterpunching, lands the cleaner blows and is perceived to be outboxing his opponent. Personally, I thought Golovkin missed a lot and wasted a lot of punches.
Boxing decisions will continue to be controversial as long as the judges themselves have their own perception of what a winning fighter should do in order to deserve the nod. After all, we all have our own way of seeing things (and not seeing things, for that matter)—even the most seasoned boxing judge, who’s had hundreds of title fights under his/her belt.
But Juan Manuel Marquez knew the perfect remedy for that, though, after being on the short end of the stick three times against Manny Pacquiao—just go for the damn knockout.