Josh Warrington’s latest defence of his IBF Featherweight title saw yet another scoring controversy plague the world of top level boxing. Kid Galahad can consider himself hugely unlucky to come away without the strap after a tense twelve round encounter. With any split decision ruling, there will be a degree of disagreement. There will be those who side with the judges who deemed Warrington pressed forward enough to win. Or Galahad negated his opponent sufficiently. Or that neither man really did enough and a draw was the logical conclusion. In truth, there is a valid argument for any of those outcomes.
Herein lies the problem of subjectivity.
The criteria are there. A boxing bout is to be scored over 4 areas:
- Clean punches
- Effective Aggression
- Ring Generalship
Taking Saturday night’s main event as the topical example, anyone who’d seen these two box before could identify which man would be doing what. Warrington loves to come forward, outworking his opponent with volume and ferocity. Effective aggression. Galahad on the other hand is comfortable on the back foot countering and potshotting his way to a win. Defence. Ring generalship isn’t as clear cut to score. Many will claim that if you are forcing your opponent back then you are controlling the space. However, if your opponent’s Plan A is to box and move (often backwards) who is actually in control? From the outside looking in, this is almost impossible to distinguish. Many a boxing lesson has been taught from long range. Yet, to many, moving backwards is interpreted as a loss of initiative. It is often confused with an unwillingness to engage or even worse, to fight.
If a boxing match were based on who is more intent on causing harm, Warrington beat Galahad comfortably. It’s not though. There are far subtler nuances than being the one “wanting to fight” as manager Steve Wood proclaimed. Making your opponent miss and of course, landing cleaner punches. These should, in theory, be the easiest of the four to score. As usual in boxing though, “should” doesn’t always translate to certainty. I haven’t looked at any statistics and I’ve only watched the fight once (live) so I may be way off with my next assertion. I don’t think there was a lot between the men in terms of how many clean punches landed. Warrington marched forward but was made to miss wildly on occasions and Galahad countered but nowhere near frequently enough to dominate, as many claimed.
There was inevitably talk of a “hometown” decision and the old (ridiculous) adage that you “have to rip the belt from the champion”. Neither of these should have an impact on scoring but they obviously do. Where possible, judges must remove themselves from the moment. Block out the atmosphere and focus solely on the boxers. Once that has been managed they then hone their senses on the action and base their scores on the here and now. Or do they? Linking to the previous point about knowing what to expect from Warrington and Galahad – does prior knowledge come into judging? It shouldn’t (spot the theme) but it was impossible for any boxing fan to notice that Warrington wasn’t as effective this weekend, as he was during his breakout wins over Selby and Frampton. He wasn’t able build sustained momentum as successfully. Does that translate as superiority for Galahad? More importantly, do judges, subconsciously or not, take that into consideration? Because the challenger had more joy than many expected, it’s easier to give him the rounds. Now, this isn’t how fights should be scored of course, however when the criteria rely so much on human interpretation the judgements are rarely going to be consistent.
When George Groves fought James Degale, many – including Degale himself – expected Groves to come out aggressively looking for big shots. When the “Saint” chose to box cagily and use his patience he was accused of “nicking it” rather than dominating the then British champion. Admittedly this was levelled by Team Degale in one of the more obvious case of sour grapes but he felt that he had controlled the action as Groves hadn’t been able to fight his natural fight. Again, this is not a theory I adhere to but if a professional boxer is pedalling it, you can see why fans might agree.
Preconceptions must not play a part in boxing scoring but it’s hard to deny they might. The tired rhetoric of “it’s what you like” irritates me no end. And it usually results in what I don’t like.
Subjective scorecards and exaggerate cries of “robbery”.