Part II: Judging the judges- Controversial Scorecards Revisited
14.11.05 - by Barry Green : Why do we get so many awful scorecards? Are judges merely incompetent or do they lack real objectivity? Is the lure of judging future fights influencing their viewpoint so they get re-hired by boxing organisations and promoters alike? What follows is the second part of my list of the worst 'scorecards' that have been handed in over the previous 30 years, even though in some cases the other two judges rightfully disagreed or the fight ended by KO or stoppage; although more often than not these scorecards have lead to an outrageous decision. Numbers 25-13 featured last week, here is the Top 12 countdown.
Article posted on 14.11.2005
12. Leon Spinks vs. Muhammad Ali I
Judge: Art Lurie. The Ali magic lived on- in the eyes of Lurie that is who rewarded a badly beaten champion with a decision win, despite being hit repeatedly for 15 rounds (that's Ali not Lurie by the way). Fortunately he was overruled by the other two judges and Spinks was the new king. How Lurie thought Ali won is anybody's guess. Maybe he was star-struck?
Spinks attacked the fading champion from the outset, trapping him against the ropes and pounding away for most of the fight. Although the champion mustered some movement and jabbed a little between the 10th and 14th, Neon Leon finished stronger and had Ali out on his feet at the final bell. This time 'rope-a-dope' was never going to work, not when there was no real offence to back it up.
Afterwards, and even years later, Lurie was steadfast in his opinion that he thought Ali won that night. How one can score a fight for a fellow that impersonates a punch-bag is beyond me, as Ali was there for the taking on that February day in Las Vegas, 1978 and it could have been almost anyone in the other corner beating up the ageing legend that evening.
Indeed, if it weren't for Harold Buck and Lou Tabat (the judges that weren't wearing their rose-tinted glasses) Ali wouldn't have received the chance to become the first man to win the heavyweight crown three times- which is duly did later that year. But as scorecards go, Lurie's is up with the worst in recent memory.
11. Axel Schulz vs. George Foreman
Judges: Jerry Roth & Keith McDonald. This was a bad decision with Schulz is ripped off and Foreman later 'stripped' of his title by the IBF for refusing an immediate rematch (a sure sign that something was amiss).
What was Axel Schulz doing fighting for the title in the first place one might say...and with good reason. Schulz, whose biggest win at that time came against a Bonecrusher Smith that had just been flattened by Lionel Butler a few months before. Still, this was enough for the German to receive a high ranking.
I remember seeing this fight and there being a satellite link back to Germany where fans of Shulz had gathered in a city square to witness the robbery on a big screen in the early hours of the morning. But they shouldn't have expected anything else as Big George star shined so much brighter than a man who was easily dominated by none other than Doctor Octopus himself- Henry Akinwande.
Comedian Richard Pryor once amusingly described Foreman's fighting attitude as: "Tell me which one is the referee...right I'm gonna kill the other mother-f*cker." But this was no peak George, this was the old, ponderous hamburger-chomping version who looked a little bit like The Thing from the old Marvel comics. But Foreman still had one of the best chins in the business and was almost impossible to knock-out.
After this fight, Big George's head was just a swollen blob and Axel Schulz became the first German heavyweight champion since Max Schmelling.
10. Felix Sturm vs. Oscar De La Hoya
Judges: Dave Moretti, Mike Glienna & Paul Smith. Another of our Bavarian friends feeling the power of the box-office. Did you really think they'd have given the fight to a German on the 60th anniversary of D-Day? These judges penned exactly the same scorecard of 115-113. The act of forgiveness was not forthcoming on this day as De La Hoya set up his meeting with Bernard Hopkins.
This was one of those fairly close fights where it was evident that, despite there not being much difference in rounds won, there was a definite winner (see Duran-Leonard I and Holmes-Norton for further examples). This also makes the Top 10 because it's my least favourite 'type' of bad decision: the 'warm-up-before-the-superfight' shafting that is all too common in boxing.
Sturm controlled this fight with superior use of the good old fashioned jab. He beat De La Hoya to the punch constantly, getting his shots in first and looked like the definite winner at the end of the contest. Oscar has since admitted he didn't win this fight to his credit but that doesn't make it any easier to watch again.
Is this one of the worst 10 decisions of recent years? No. But it's still terrible and is ranked so highly because of the almost 'manufactured' scorecards that were handed in. Sturm, born "Adnan Catic," apparently named himself 'Felix' after the cartoon cat- and here he ended up on the wrong end of a Mickey Mouse decision.
9. Eusebio Pedroza vs. Rocky Lockridge I
Judge: Rodolfo Hill. The Panamanian judge in a show of defiance to his fellow countryman gave Lockridge just ONE round of this fight, in a contest that was so close it warranted an immediate rematch (although that didn't take place until 1983- three years later). This wasn't the first time Rocky was hard-done by in the eyes and pens of the judges, the next one, featured later, was even more scandalous.
Pedroza, despite being a great fighter and fantastic boxer, was also one of the dirtiest fighters in ring history. He would hit low, elbow, headbutt with alarming regularity, yet possessed the silky skills that would earn him many a unanimous decision and help him on his way to one of the greatest championship reigns of all-time.
Rocky Lockridge was always going to be robbed on this night irrespective of how the fight went, even though he was probably edged out by the crafty Panamanian, whose technical smarts counter-acted Rocky's indefatigable assault. For Pedroza it would be another five years till he was beaten again (by Barry McGuigan); for the game, courageous Rocky, even worse was still to come.
And for Rodolfo Hill, he would be allowed to judge at Pedroza's title defence against Jorge Lujan...this time learning his lesson- he gave TWO rounds to the challenger instead of one. Also, it has to be noted that the previous time Hill judged a Pedroza fight he didn't award a single round to Korean challenger Sa-Wang Kim. So at least there was some progress by the time Pedroza reached his 20th title defence.
8. Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Marvin Hagler
Judges: Lou Filippo & Jose Guerra. Viva Las Vegas again. A showbiz town with showbiz scorecards. We'll come to Lou Filippo in a moment and first give it to the judge that has received the most flak for this verdict- Jose Guerra. Here Guerra gave Hagler just rounds FIVE and TWELVE. A terrible excuse of a scorecard. By the way, Ring magazine's Jeff Ryan fared little better- he gave Hagler just rounds five and seven. I know I'm as baffled as you are.
What is rarely discussed however is that after five rounds of this eagerly awaited contest, judge Fillipo had actually Hagler AHEAD on his scorecard, when he had hardly thrown a decent shot thereon in. Even the most ardent Hagler fan (and let's face it we're all Hagler fans) thought the Marvellous one took until the fifth to get going. Before that, Hagler looked awkward early on and it was only until he reverted back to southpaw that he started clawing back rounds.
The fight itself was extremely close and, even if you think Hagler won, no way is it a 'robbery' in the classic sense, just ridiculous scoring made it seem that way. If you ask 100 people who won this fight they'd be split about 50/50 (my brother scored this for Hagler, my sister for Leonard). Me? I have to bit my lip here, being a big fan of Marvin, but I felt that Leonard eked out a decision against a Hagler that was ready to be taken- in a fight that was five years too late in the making.
If one uses the criterion for scoring a fight, Leonard came out on top in most of those categories. He showed better defence and ring smarts and controlled the tempo of the fight. Basically, Hagler allowed him to fight HIS fight. What most people forget was that this was not a great fight by any means, although it was intriguing because of the charisma of the participants. Still, that doesn't hide the blatant bad scoring chalked up by Guerro and Filippo any more palatable.
7. Buster Douglas vs. Mike Tyson
Judge: Ken Morita. Morita must have thought he was judging a sumo wrestling contest when he had Tyson ahead going into the fateful 10th. Japan's very own Masakazu Uchida was almost as blinkered in having the fight EVEN! Larry Rozadilla's 82-88 was an accurate reflection of how the fight was going as the unheralded challenger dominated the lack-lustre champion whose mind seemed elsewhere. Maybe he had a premonition of his fight with Evander Holyfield, which was scheduled for the summer of 1990.
One has to wonder who these judges would have scored the 10th had Tyson survived instead of searching for his gumshield like it was hidden treasure? My guess is that it would have been a 10-9 but with a point deducted from Douglas for not being famous enough, so 9-9 it is then. Sounds silly? But with judges like these that may just be plain logic and maybe we're the dumb ones for not recognizing celebrity enough. Of course, I jest but one has to wonder how afraid this pair were to actually score against a man of Tyson's stature.
James 'Buster' Douglas' fought the fight of his life that night against a Tyson who was either A) Unmotivated or B) Finally pitted against an opponent who would hit him with more than one punch at a time. I feel it was a bit of both.
Following the fight, Don King spoke of Tyson claiming back the title over the long-count technicality.
Meanwhile, Douglas gave up the title while laying on his back. But on this night he fought the fight of his, or almost anybody's life, fortunately we were saved the embarrassment of the judges scorecard tallies by a knockout in the 10th round.
6. Sven Ottke vs. Numerous
Judges: Manfred Küchler, Luca Montella and Manuel Maritxalar. What bad scorecard list if complete without an entrance from our some of our Benelux friends? And Ottke being the prize guy in the bad decision league with a glut of horror shows that tarnished the vast majority of his world super-middleweight title fights. There are just too many to declare that I'll just have to stick to the aforementioned. This'gruesome threesome' crop up in astonishing TWENTY-THREE Ottke world title fights between them.
Ottke's ring nickname as The Phantom, 'phantom' being the best way to describe the bad scoring at most of his fights. If one of the better super-middles of the 1990s (e.g. Roy Jones, Nigel Benn) had to face Ottke in Germany I feel they would have been given a much fairer shake. The likes of Robin Reid, Byron Mitchell and Charles Brewer etc, just aren't big enough names to wrestle the verdict away from the 'homeboy'.
Another judge, who also refereed one or two Ottke fights, was Raffaele Argiolas. When Ottke controversially beat Mads Larsen two years ago, Argiolas had the audacity of scoring the fight a draw!
That is not to say all of Ottke's fights were all bad decisions. If truth be known he deserved the nod in a few...well, one or two maybe. And if Kuchler and co, weren't bad enough, adding the list of Ottke's 'special friends' was one Franz Marti, he of Whitaker-Chavez fame, who gave Britain's Robin Reid just three rounds when he was robbed against the monotonous German champion in 2003.
Sven Ottke fights have become synonymous with bad, jaundiced scoring and it's predominantly down to these three men. Do I think these fights fixed? No.
5. Pernell Whitaker vs. Julio Cesar Chavez
Judge: Micky Vann. Despite no deduction from the referee, Vann decided to penalise Whitaker a point of his own for an apparent low blow, scoring directly against the Queensbury Rules in favour of the err.. 'Kingsbury' Rules. This would eventually cost Whitaker the decision, which he wouldn't have won anyway as Franz Marti was the other comedian who scored this fight a draw.
Despite Vann's ludicrous admission of the point deduction (in round 6), he still managed to award this stanza to Chavez, notwithstanding Whitaker's domination of said round. Shouldn't the score have read 9-9? Of course, but maths are obviously not Vann's strong point.
What was so impressive about Whitaker here was that he outboxed Chavez not by circling around the Mexican(which many felt would happen) but by planting his feet at ring-centre, while jabbing and slipping his way in.
The sports magazines had a field day after this fight, ranging from headlines such as: 'Sweet Pea Shafted' and 'Was The Fix In?' but perhaps the most telling one came from Boxing Illustrated, which read: 'Don't Buy This Magazine If You Think The Fight Was A Draw'. Very powerful indeed.
This was actually a mismatch when one thinks of it. Regardless of whom you may rate higher in an all-time list out of these two great champions, and it could go either way, but I think Whitaker would always come out on top against Chavez style wise and this fight more than proved that was the case.
4. Lennox Lewis vs. Evander Holyfield I
Judge: Eugenia Williams. Is this a worse decision than Whitaker-Chavez? Hard to say, but Ms. Williams' scorecard of 115-113 for Holyfield is worse than the ones handed in by Laurel and Hardy...I mean, Vann & Marti. In the 5th round, Lewis landed the hardest blows of the fight, one in particular took the wind out of Holyfield, who felt the big Brit's lethal power for the first time. Williams subsequently scored the round for...HOLYFIELD! Which would eventually lead her to award the fight for the Real Deal.
After the fight an inquest was called by the Manhattan District Attorney and before a grand jury Williams claimed she could not see properly because "Lewis's back was in the way of her view and therefore she found it difficult to score the fight".
British judge Larry O'Connell scored it a draw as did some boxing journalists, inc: The Sun's Colin Hart and Jeff Ryan of Ring. Ryan also scored the rematch in favour of Holyfield so it's fair to say he is not the most objective of boxing hacks. Holyfield won three rounds at best and maybe shared one or two others. A scorecard of 117-112 seemed about right. But if anything, that's giving Evander the benefit of the doubt.
I remember my old gym teacher Mr Hesketh refereeing the school soccer matches and was so afraid to be thought of as too partisan, he gave decisions that were so unbelievably biased 'against' his own school that the only time we ever won a game was when we played away from home.
A rematch was called, Don King was happy and Lewis won the return, in a fight that was a lot closer than the original.
3. Chris Eubank vs. Mauricio Amaral
Judges: Torben Seeman Hansen, Cesar Ramos & Ismael W. Fernandez. The three blind mice congregated to award the decision to Eubank despite the champion's worst ever showing. No one knows what they were up to during fight time, maybe they were playing bingo on their scorecards? Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't this fight they were watching.
Eubank, defending his WBO Super-Middleweight title for the 11th time, hardly threw a punch in anger all night and was easily outfought and outboxed by this unknown Brazilian, who I, and many others felt won this fight by a wide margin.
Britain's grip on the WBO belt has been in operation for a long while now. In the organisation's early days, it seemed that only the UK and Kronk gym wanted anything to do with this ugly new addition to the alphabet boys. The WBO was like Zeppo Marx, not really part of any the major scenes, just 'there'.
After this debacle, Eubank picked up a few more million in meaningless title defences, while the extremely unlucky Amaral secured a shot at the WBA title the following year but was easily outpoint by American Frank Liles. Amaral then soon faded into the obscurity from whence he came. But on the night in question he beat Chris Eubank...and quite easily too I must add.
2. Pernell Whitaker vs. Jose Luis Ramirez I
Judge: Newton Campos. Oh dear, Mr Campos, how could you live with yourself after this. According to him, Sweet Pea won only TWO clear rounds of this fight (giving him a share of just three others). His final tally of 118-113 set up a Ramirez-Julio Cesar Chavez clash, in which the latter dominated his countryman on a scale that Whitaker did in the first place. Even 118-113 for WHITAKER would have been too close a scorecard! Ramirez probably won about two rounds, maybe three at a stretch.
Rumor has it that the WBC insisted Whitaker, should he win, fight Chavez with immediate effect. The Duva's declined as Sweet Pea was just 15 fights into his professional career and perhaps a bit too green for a man of Chavez's calibre at that stage. It appears that by not signing that agreement they blew any chance of earning a decision win.
Fighting a Mexican in his adopted home town for the WBC title when Don King has plans for an all-Mexican showdown is not the most appealing aspect in retrospect. One has to think that if Whitaker knocked out Ramirez that night then he would have been disqualified somehow and with the combined strength of the Ramirez beard and the none-egg breaking power possessed by the fleet-footed American, that was a scenario that was not going to happen. Not in this lifetime.
Some judges and fans alike feel you have to 'take the title away' from the champion. Pardon my French here but this is absolute bollocks. The guy who wins the most rounds wins the fight. How complicated is that? Close rounds should not be automatically scored for the champion, which they often are. Louis Michel also pleased his bosses at the WBC by voting for Ramirez to set up the Chavez fight. Harry Gibbs, a judge not easily bribed it seems, scored for Whitaker: 117-113.
In this bout Whitaker was so dominant that even the French fans applauded the skills of arguably the best defensive fighter of the past 30 years. If anyone feels this should have been Number 1 in the list then I won't argue, I had a tough time deciding for myself which was the worst decision of them all. But I've placed this at two because my # 1 fight has long been forgotten as one of the worst decisions.
1. Rocky Lockridge vs. Wilfredo Gomez
Judge: Marcos Torres & Humberto Figueroa. For my money this is the one. The worst judging that I have seen in a world title fight (as at least one judge voted for Whitaker remember). Still, that doesn't make the robbery any easy to digest.
Lockridge didn't lose any of the first 10 rounds and was on the verge of stopping the legendary Puerto-Rican in the 9th and 10th. The reason this gets the nod over Whitaker-Ramirez is that Gomez probably only won the same amount of rounds that Ramirez did...the big difference being that here there were 15 of them!!!
The champion had everything in his favour 'scoring wise'. He was the aggressor, landed many more cleaner punches, controlled the tempo, dominated ring centre, fighting like the challenger. This was a great action fight by the way, which may have detracted people from realising how bad the decision was (i.e. Barrera-Morales I for a similar example, albeit a much closer fight than this one).
In round 10 itself, Lockridge, pounded the great Puerto-Rican with bombs left and right, Angelo Dundee later said he was thinking of throwing in the towel at the end of this round as Gomez was out on his feet, if not a 10-9 round, then surely a 10-8 round, if anything. So Torres showing his very own take on objectivity, then marked the round EVEN!
After those 10 rounds, which Lockridge didn't lose any, judge Torres gave Rocky just FIVE of them. Jesus! Admittedly, the champion did tire through rounds 11 to 13 but regained the initiative to finish the stronger, while Gomez desperately holding on, which he had done through large sections of the bout, till the seconds ticked away.
This fight also featured just about the longest delay from final bell to decision announcement that you will ever see. Possibly the 'old switcheroo'coming into place with different scorecards being handed in? Quite possibly methinks.
The Puerto-Rican was dethroned as featherweight champ the previous December when he was overwhelmed by the great Azumah Nelson. What happened next? He was quickly installed at Number 2 in the WBA junior featherweight rankings and immediately awarded a title shot- on home turf to boot. Lockridge had no choice but to go into the lion's den of San Juan.
Gomez remains the classic example of why there are so many weight divisions in this day and age, as opposed to the classic 'eight' of yesteryear. Formidable at 122 pounds, the best ever in fact, he struggled badly when faced with decent opposition at featherweight and above. He was comfortably beaten by both Salvador Sanchez and Nelson before this fight.
For what it's worth my scorecard on re-viewing the fight read: 147-139. Still not convinced? The report from the San Juan Star read: "Gomez was unavailable for comment Monday, following the brutal beating he received on Sunday from the ex-champion."
After the fight, Lockridge, never one for an excuse to his eternal credit, accepted the decision as one he expected if it went the distance. He had the 'I knew they'd do this to me' look that befell Pernell Whitaker that night against Chavez at the Alamodome, as yet again, the bigger name fighter was awarded a decision they truly did not deserve.
Although I have to take my hat off to Wilfredo Gomez for showing amazing courage and a champion's heart in lasting the full 15 rounds, he clearly lost this fight in what I regard as the worst decision in a world title fight of the last 20 years. And this, just like ALL the Top 5 decisions (and quite possibly a few others in the list) could easily be regarded as nothing
else but a fix.
What we have seen down the years is, not so much hometown decisions, but 'marquee' decisions. That is, if you're fighting in someone else's hometown, make sure you're fairly famous- and you'll probably get a good deal.
If you look at the all-time greats when they have ventured out of their continent to take on a hometown her, e.g. Ali fighting in Germany, Frazier in England or Monzon in Paris, they always received more than a fair shake- not that they needed one, mind. But my contention has always been that 'hometown' decisions take a back-seat to 'marketing' decisions.
Some judges like Mickey Vann and Art Lurie stick by their guns and insist they were right all along, while others like Zack Clayton, and even Eugenia Williams later admit they were wrong, even if their excuses were beyond feeble at least they came clean eventually. But by then the damage was done.
Dan Goosen, currently working the corner of James Toney, once said that the reason judges often get decisions wrong is that they're "only human and can often get carried away when a big name fighter is in action." But my argument to this is the opposite. Surely if judges do display 'humane' qualities than wouldn't it be the underdog that gets the decision more often
I'm sure if you or I were judging a big fight, and even if we tried to be as objective as possible, IF some personal foibles came through and we scored a fight on a 'human level', maybe, in our heart of hearts, we might just want the guy with no money, no fame and no chance to win. Wouldn't we? THAT is more of a display of humanity than voting for the multi-millionaire with a 10-fight HBO contract with a convicted felon as his promoter. So my guess is that many judges don't often work on the basics of humanity.
My thinking is that too many judges just want to keep their employer happy. Fighters with TV contracts and who are tied to one of the bigger promoters are going to get better treatment than a journeyman with a record. If you want a pay day then keep your employers happy. These judges are so afraid of upsetting the organisation that hired them that they will gladly score for the fighter that is meant to win.
There is an old joke concerning Custer's Last Stand when the General opens a bottle to find a genie has granted him 'one' last wish...the only downside being that whatever he chooses the Indians have to have double the amount. The genie explains that if he wants a gun- the Indians get two; if he wants a hatchet- the Indians get two; if he wants a knife- the Indians get two and so on. Custer pauses for a moment and give the genie his answer, saying: "I'll have a glass eye". Yep, that is basically how I often see some of the judges at these big fights- as possessing a couple of marble peepers.
Three main thing to be learnt from this exercise. 1. Don't fight in the other guys home town. 2. Don't fight against a guy more famous than you are. 3. You can argue amongst yourselves about the order they are in but you surely have to question the validity of all these scorecards.
It seems that the only answer to the predicament boxing is in is, if you're a fighter, make sure you win EVERY round (ala Winky Wright vs. Felix Trinidad) or only fight in a neutral venue. I guess that means from now on the only way of seeing a decent scorecard is if there is a worldwide media ban and all world title fights take place in 'Switzerland'!
But as long as us fans keep it real and retain just a modicum of objectivity (which I suppose may not always be possible) then the contents of a fight will always be discussed ahead of merely looking at a record book or surfing the web for sites like Boxrec. On the whole, our boxing news comes to us via newspapers, magazines and sites like Eastside Boxing, where were read for ourselves what really went on in the ring during a fight.
And if you own a copy of any of these fights by all means watch them at your leisure...just make sure you switch off the television before the decision is announced. And as for the awful robberies in the recent The Contender TV show? Before we had our doubts but now we know that it is not 'real'' professional boxing until the bent judges and the gift decisions surface once again. In that respect, The Contender finally belongs.
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