Following Charlie Edwards’ “successful” defence of his WBC Flyweight title this past weekend, there has understandably been a lot of furore about the benefits of instant replay technology in boxing. For those who aren’t aware, the divisive Croydon boxer benefitted from the WBC’s use of an instant replay to overturn what would’ve been a third round stoppage loss. Mexican Julio Martinez landed a clubbing left hook to the liver way after Edwards had taken a knee.
The nature of how it was overturned bordered on farcical (VARcical? Sorry, moving on). WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman channelled his inner Vince McMahon to announce in the ring afterwards that the result would be No-Contest, cue the ring announcer proclaiming Edwards “and still” champion of the world. This would have been bizarre enough, had Sky not interviewed Charlie Edwards himself and Eddie Hearn prior to questioning Sulaiman. Edwards gave a very downbeat interview about his struggles to make weight and his intention to move up, rather than chasing a potential rematch. Eddie Hearn was suitably irate on behalf of his boxer, both reactions which were rendered moot seconds later.
Now, the use of technology in this instance provided the right result. Whether you or I believe that Edwards would’ve gone on to lose the fight anyway is academic. Pure speculation. Martinez was well on top at the time of the “stoppage” but fighters have recovered from similar in the past. The point is that with the benefit of being able to re-run the action, Martinez was correctly deemed to have landed a punch on a downed opponent. As this finishing blow was illegal, the result was overturned and Edwards retained his belt.
My main issue with the decision then wasn’t with how it was reached but how it was announced. To see a decision reversed so definitively and so swiftly is rare within boxing. We as fans are used to long drawn out silences and key decisions made behind closed doors with little to no explanation. It seemed bizarre that the President of sanctioning body acted so conclusively to make a logical decision. So what I originally believed to be distaste at Sulaiman’s impromptu outburst has gradually been replaced with refreshment. Why can’t decisions be overturned there and then by a suitable individual? Could this be a welcome introduction into professional boxing?
Cue the ire of football fans up and down the land! I must now confess that I am one of the few in favour of VAR in football and technology in sport generally. Anything that can help reduce the amount of officiating errors has to be a good thing. The argument of debate and controversy being healthy doesn’t do it for me. Sport is (apparently) competition before entertainment so fair and just outcomes must be the priority. Its introduction into the beautiful game has been far from perfect however, even VAR’s most ardent supporters can acknowledge that. There seems to be a reasoning that because it hasn’t eradicated EVERY incorrect decision it is worthless, which is ridiculous.
Back onto boxing then. The sweet science differs from the beautiful game in countless ways. The ebb and flow of the two sports couldn’t be more contrasting. Yes, boxing bouts can become all absorbing and fast-paced but as in any individual sport, the action can be paused instantly. And it often is. How many times does the ref step in to break a clinch, administer a warning or replace a mouth-guard? Therefore, the flow wouldn’t be disrupted by technology as it is in football. It is worth noting though, that the Edwards-Martinez decision wasn’t actually dealt with during the fight itself. Martinez’ short-lived victory was translated as a No-Contest, which could easily have been confirmed by the WBC in the following days. The fact it was announced immediately post-fight doesn’t really change anything, other than the boxers receiving the news almost instantly.
With that in mind, would technology, in the form of instant replays, really change anything? It would depend entirely on how exactly it would be used. Looking at another slightly controversial example from Saturday night. Joshua Buatsi secured a seventh round TKO victory over the previously un-stopped Ryan Ford. Ford clearly went down from a body-shot indicating that it landed below the belt. The ref either disagreed or didn’t clearly see where the punch landed so he counted out the normally durable Canadian. The commentary team on Sky acknowledged this chain of events and looked flippantly at the finishing punch and basically decided it didn’t really matter as Buatsi was on top anyway. This logic is obviously flawed and hugely hypocritical. The correct decision should be made, regardless of how the fight is going and who gains an advantage from it. What is slightly less clear is how an instant replay would’ve helped in this instance. For example, had the referee counted Ford out, as he did, and then a replay deemed the blow low, would the verdict change? Would a No-Contest be sufficient? Would Ford be given the mandatory five minutes to recover and the fight continue? Would Buatsi be disqualified in hindsight? These questions aren’t intended as arguments against technology, just a reminder that all eventualities would need to be ironed out and made transparent by the governing bodies.
And herein lies the eternal problem of boxing. Governing bodies. Plural. Edwards-Martinez was sanctioned by the WBC (which uses instant replay) whereas Buatsi-Ford was a WBA bout. Both bouts, I believe, were also overseen by the British Boxing Board of Control (in some capacity), as they grant licences to British boxers. Without one overriding power, accountability, and often common sense, is too often found to be sorely lacking.