Can Boxing's Judging System Be "Fixed"?

By now, you’ve probably already seen or heard of the drama-filled fight between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury for the WBC heavyweight title.

The fight was nothing short of exciting with several individual moments setting social media ablaze, from Wilder knocking Fury down twice to Fury pulling off his best Undertaker impression and recovering from the second knockdown in the final round.

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But perhaps no moment was more significant in the fight than the announcement of the final result and that was that no one won the fight. The contest was ruled a split draw after Alejandro Rochin scored the fight 115-111 in favor of Wilder, Robert Tapper scored the fight 112-114 in favor and Phil Edwards scored it a 113-113 draw. It was Rochin’s 115-111 card that has caused the most amount of attention on social media and not in a good way.

For many, Fury was the rightful winner of the fight after outboxing the long-time American champion throughout most of the contest. After all, Wilder’s trademark knockout power was rendered useless in the first eight rounds after landing just 47 total punches (13 power punches). The whole dynamic of the fight changed when Wilder scored those two knockdowns, putting everyone’s scorecards in disarray.

Regardless of whether or not one thinks Wilder deserved the victory, the thought of Wilder winning five rounds other than the ninth and 12th rounds (where Wilder scored the two knockdowns), is dubious and flawed in nature.

The announcement that the fight ended in a draw has once again brought up the question on how to “fix” boxing’s judging system. After all, this isn’t the first time a big fight has ended on a sour note after controversial judging. In the last few years alone, we’ve had:

As it stands, it doesn’t appear that anything will change in the aftermath of Wilder vs. Fury. The same routine of the 10-point must system will remain with three judges in each boxing fight. But what if there was a way to make slight alterations to improve the judging?

Now, I'm not saying these are bulletproof ideas on fixing this singular aspect of boxing, but given what's happened recently, it's important to at the very least explore some of the alternatives for fixing the flawed judging with the sport:

1. Change the judges’ vantage point:

Now for those that are not in the know, all three judges score the fight being place on one side of the ring apron, scoring the fight looking up. If anybody has seen a fight or a pro wrestling event from the floor level, they can tell you that you’re not exactly getting the optimal vantage point.

Not only is watching a fight up not ideal, but also potentially prevents them from watching certain angles of pivotal moments of the fight. Say that you’re a judge and a fighter scores a big uppercut to the body, but you’re watching the fight from the angle of the opposing fighter’s back being in front of you. If that is the case, then you wouldn’t be able to properly see the punch being thrown well and could potentially mean swinging the round for the other fighter.

I remember a conversation I had with Hall of Fame referee Joe Cortez about this exact problem and he told me what he would do if he had the power to change the judging style in boxing.

“I think that the position of the judges have to be changed. I think the judges are on the wrong position. [Their position] have to be raised up a little higher like they do in tennis. They have the referee up on a higher chair to look down and see better angles. Mauricio Sulaiman, the president of the World Boxing Council, is in agreement with me. By moving the judges’ position, we get better angles and less controversial fights,” Cortez said.

Cortez, through his “Cortez 20/20 System,” is actively looking to make changing the judges’ position into something the sport fully adopts. On paper, it’s an improvement from what we currently have. I too have never been a fan of how judges look at fights from their current position. I can safely tell you, after watching hundreds of fights from ringside and from an elevated position (at least on eye-level or higher), the latter is a much better indicator of how to properly evaluate fights.

2. Do away with judges scoring fights involving their fellow countrymen:

There really shouldn’t be much of an explanation for this change, as there are plenty of examples of fighters being given controversial scores by judges who re from the same country as that fighter. There are too many to list here, but one prominent example from last year was Horn getting that controversial victory.

The other controversial score from December 1 came from before the Wilder vs. Fury fight occurred. The WBC light heavyweight title bout between Adonis Stevenson vs. Oleksandr Gvozdyk may have ended with Gvozdyk getting the knockout win, but he was down on one of the three scorecards badly. Despite many believing Gvozdyk was winning the fight (at worst maybe winning half of the rounds), judge John Woodbury actually had Stevenson up 98-92 at the time of the knockout. Out of the three judges who scored the fight, guess which one was from Canada, the same country Stevenson is from? Woodbury.

Now I may hear you already typing away in the comments or simply thinking “what about all the big title fights involving Americans on American soil? Are you going to have all three judges from out of the country for each fight?” Well, I want to say yes, but I do realize a lot of the best judges in the world are from the United States and it wouldn’t be fair to leave them out of big fights for this purpose. In that instance, you could simply have American judges do All-American fights only if the fighters don’t come from the same state as the judges are.

It’s not perfect, but something’s got to give.

3. Have five judges score a fight:

This has been one suggestion I keep hearing ever since the fight on December 1 and quite frankly, it's not a terrible idea. I'm not sure if adding two more judges would resolve all the issues this current system has, but it would certainly make for a much harder time for controversial results such as this.

However, let's not forget that more doesn't always mean better. Remember that Pacquiao vs. Horn fight that saw Horn win the title? Well the WBO ordered the fight to be reviewed by five independent judges and those five still collectively scored the fight in favor of the young Australian, so really having more judges score a fight does not automatically equate to better scoring. It just leaves an equal amount of chance for more good and bad scores being given.

4. Keep the three judges (with a caveat):

Here's something I don't hear too often: keep the judging exactly as it is. While you'll probably never hear a knowledgeable boxing fan utter those words, there is a way you can keep things mostly intact yet still improve upon it. While Cortez has his ideas, I have my own: a fourth tiebreaker judge in case of a similar situation as the one we had between Wilder and Fury.

Now here's how this would work: You can have the three judges score the fight in the manner that we're accustomed to, but whenever you have a situation where one judge scores the fight for boxer A, one for boxer B and the third scoring it a tie, you have the fourth judge the tiebreaker. Now this judge would be in a completely secluded area in the arena (or undisclosed location) and watch the fight through a television monitor with no commentary or crowd noise. The fourth judge would only be brought in if the fight does initially end in a split draw.

This could potentially eliminate scoring being influenced by commentary or the audience that might cheer louder for one of the fighter's landing punches no matter if it's a strong or clean punch. The WBC had a similar idea with the incomplete welterweight tournament that the WBC had with Bernard Hopkins' Real Deal Sports and Entertainment, but that is too small a sample size to determine if it is a more efficient method for successfully scoring boxing fights.

So really, is there one solution, or even an amalgamation of different methods to implement and fix the judging in boxing? Well, not really. At least not entirely.

The fact of the matter is, judging will always create some controversy because the human element will always be there. It's the same with umpiring strikes and balls in baseball and pivotal calls being made/not made in football before the implementation of video replay. Even then, it's not always perfect.

There are ways to help improve boxing and the judging, but so long as we have the human element in play, we're going to get these types of calls one way or another. And even if we get bad scores ruining the nights of many a boxing fan, if there is any silver lining to all of this, it's that we wouldn't have these gems without controversial boxing scores.

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