Commentating on and judging boxing bouts are two vastly different jobs that require vastly different skills. So why do we – TV broadcasters – insist on having the same people do both?
Anyone who has ever watched lived boxing has had an opinion on who has won. We know what we’ve seen and we know what we like. We’ve witnessed boxers get off to good starts before tiring down the stretch. Batter their opponents early before fading themselves. Or stand toe to toe, trading leather for 12 full blooded rounds without taking a backwards step.
The problem is, none of that is relevant when it comes to scoring rounds in isolation. And don’t get it twisted, that is all scoring is about. Isolation. Block out any background noise. Any excited commentary, over-zealous cornermen or raucous fans (easier than ever in the current climate). Block out the distractions and focus solely on the action between the ropes. 2-3 minutes of action. Who has had the better of it? 10-9 to that man (or woman). Simple concept?
Time and time again we see commentators fail to do this consistently. During recent Matchroom Fight Camp cards, Matthew Macklin and Adam Smith have enraged viewers with their seemingly biased
babblings. Now, I’m actually going to defend the pair. I don’t believe it is conscious bias. I do believe there is an element of over familiarity which subtly blends into their subconscious. For example, Shannon Courtenay demonstrated good head movement in the early rounds to slip the jab of Rachel Ball, working her way into range and going to work against her taller opponent. Macklin astutely picked up on this and rightly praised her for it. The issue for many was that he seemingly looked out solely for this pattern in the action and neglected to notice any punches Ball herself landed. This resulted in a closely fought contest sounding like a Courtenay masterclass.
This is far from an isolated incident. Nor is it specific to Matchroom and Sky (despite what many critics would have you believe). Apart from infuriating viewers, it also leaves the commentators themselves with egg on their faces. They spend the duration of the fight fixated on one very specific element and when the cards are announced we hear “it’s what you like”, “subjective” and “close rounds”.
Again, I don’t entirely blame the commentators for this. They are multitasking. They’re trying to fill the silence while concentrating enough to produce a scorecard. Scoring a fight accurately is hard enough without having to hold a conversation. One solution would be for commentators not to say as much during a fight. Point out the odd example of what is happening, what a fighter is trying to do and why. Then leave the viewers to enjoy the action. This, however, doesn’t seem to be the remit for boxing’s unseen storytellers.
I’m sure some viewers enjoy the narrative building and hyperbole but it just isn’t for me. I want my ex-pros to focus on the punditry. Tell me what is going on and why. Focus on the moment. Point on subtle nuances that I otherwise wouldn’t notice. We often hear that unless we have boxed at a high level, we can’t possibly understand how it feels or what it takes. Use your platform to explain to the uneducated. I hypocritically – considering the existence of BBB – tend to avoid pre-match press coverage. Unless I’m personally invested in a particular boxer I’m not interested in the whole backstory or narrative. Especially not during the fight!
Sometimes you say it best, when you say nothing at all.