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Who judges the judges? by Peter Leopeng

When Floyd Mayweather was handed a unanimous decision to relieve Jose Luis Castillo of the WBC lightweight title some time back and also when Timothy Bradley was judged to have outpointed Manny Pacquiao, the resulting controversy brought back arguments and debates that had been part of boxing for as long as anyone can remember.

Many fans and experts felt Mayweather had not done enough to win the fight and in the Pacquiao fight the majority of scribes were of the opinion that he was a wide winner. The decisions were debatable, to say the least, but not as bad as some other well-documented results.

South Africa has also had its share of poor decisions. One of the worst in recent years was the split-decision win awarded to national super middleweight champion André Thysse in his fight with Xolani Ngemtu.

Possibly one of the most scandalous international decisions was when Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield drew. The SuperSport Zone’s Peter Davies, then writing for Sports Day, wrote from New York: “It was meant to produce the undisputed champion of the world, but at Madison Square Garden the only matter clarified was that boxing remains mired in a cesspool of controversy and corruption. ‘Home town decision’ doesn’t begin to describe what will surely go down as one of the worst decisions ever given in a fight of this magnitude”.

Many observers will say the split verdict awarded to Joe Louis in December 1947 over Jersey Joe Walcott was even worse than the one after the Lewis-Holyfield fight.

The Brown Bomber retained his crown by virtue of the votes of two judges, Marty Monroe, who gave Louis nine rounds to six, and Frank Forbes, who voted eight rounds to six and one even. Referee Ruby Goldstein made Walcott the winner, seven to six and two even.

The challenger lost in the eyes of the officials, but in the eyes of more than two thirds of the press and fans who attended the fight, Walcott should have received the verdict. Louis himself thought he had lost. Immediately after the final bell he tried to leave the ring, but was called back by his handlers.

Many fans also shook their heads after bouts between Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker, Marvin Hagler and Sugar Leonard and, Oscar de la Hoya and Felix Trinidad.

One may ask: are the judges entirely to blame?

Critics and fans hardly ever applaud judges for a job well done, but when a decision goes in an unexpected direction, the judges are accused of many sins, shortcomings and involvement in all sorts of conspiracies.

I do not know of any recent reported cases of judges being paid off in cash, but it is well known that some promoters request that certain judges be appointed for certain fights. Now one has to ask: can judges be influenced by promoters?

It has been rumoured that some promoters wine and dine judges and insure that their families have good seats at the boxing. So who knows?

Sometimes the problem lies with the fans; not with the judges. Fans are more readily influenced by media reports and commentators and are not trained to watch every round of a fight objectively. Judges are taught to concentrate to watch three minutes of every round.

It has been suggested that boxing bosses should introduce full-time and well-paid judges. This will cut down on the number of judges and enable the best to make a career of it.

But no matter what adjustments are made or what rules are introduced, judging a fight will always be subjective, and different people will always be influenced differently by different types of fighters.

To find a scientific, electronic method of judging fights seems impossible at this stage, but there is much to be said for more efficient rules to be applied more rigidly by all judges.

However, the action in the ring will probably remain a matter of perception and the verdicts a matter of opinion for years to come. Which means some results will be debated and debatable as long as most present boxers and officials are alive.