Before I took up judging I thought I could score fights from TV footage or anywhere in the arena. I was wrong
I started boxing seven years ago after a serendipitous chain of events. A personal training session started out as expected, with weights and plyometrics, but ended with boxing. It was love at first punch. Over the next four years I boxed a few times a week and absorbed everything I could about the sport. Weekends were spent sitting at home, scoring televised fights in a notebook. Word got out and I was approached to judge amateur boxing. My initial reaction was “hell no” but deep down I knew the reputations judges have and I wanted to make a difference. My fate was sealed.
Nearly three years and 528 fights later I have no regrets but the road has not been easy. Initially, those in the boxing community could not figure out what I was doing at the judges’ table. With no relatives who have boxed in the past and no children who were boxing in the present, my presence often caused confusion and questions. Slowly but surely, they began to accept me and realise that I was not going anywhere.
The first thing I learned when I became a judge is that the only place a fight can be scored accurately is from the judge’s chair. That was a hard pill to swallow, considering I had scored from home, the first row, several rows back, or from the stands at live venues. I remember challenging the chief of officials on this subject and he bluntly told me I was wrong and would understand when I began judging. He was right.
We have all seen fights where we have disagreed with a judge’s decision. I cannot speak for fights that appear to be blatant robberies but I can speak for those fights that are too close to call. If the fight is remotely competitive and the two boxers are exchanging, the only people who can accurately score the fight are the judges – not the referee, not press row, not those sitting ringside and not those sitting at home. There are a number of judges around the ring (three for pro fights, five for amateur fights) for a reason: judges seated on various sides of the ring have the best vantage point for scoring rounds accurately. I am constantly challenged on that statement, but I stand behind it firmly.
When scoring a fight, a judge must consider three things:
1) Number of quality blows on the target area
2) Domination of the round by technical and tactical superiority
This may be stating the obvious, but these factors should not to be used to score a fight:
- A boxer’s record
- Their previous performances
- If they are a belt holder
- If they have a new coach or trainer
- Their nationality
- Their behaviour out of the ring or police record
- If they made weight or had a drastic weight change overnight
- If they have ever failed a drug test
- Their social media posts
- Their physical appearance
- If they have received a “gift” decision or been “robbed” in the past
- If it is their first or final professional fight
Scoring a fight is said to be subjective, but the criteria does not leave much room for interpretation. After sitting in a judge’s chair for nearly three years, I can confidently say there are a number of things judges can see that others cannot. Here are a few:
The force of a punch
Sometimes a punch lands much harder than what is seen by those sitting ringside or at home. Conversely, sometimes a punch doesn’t land with the intensity that is perceived by those not judging. Sometimes the punch just rolls off the opponent’s arm or shoulder.
If a punch landed
Sometimes it looks like a punch landed but in reality it came within inches or less. That happens. When fighters are in close or locked up, no one can see what punches land and count better than the judges – even then, only some of the judges can see depending on where the action is in the ring. Again, this is why there are three (pro) to five (amateur) judges. Even the best camera operator may not capture what is truly happening.
If a punch landed in the scoring zone
This is definitely a pet peeve and it happens in both the pros and amateurs. Sometimes people think punches that land on the arms are scoring blows. In the pros, you will hear the crowd go wild when, in reality, the punch did not land in a scoring zone. If anything, the other boxer is exhibiting good defence, which is part of a judge’s scoring criteria.
For those of you who like to play along at home, it is worth remembering that you cannot score a fight accurately if:
- You are playing on your phone at all (most people sitting ringside)
- You are eating, drinking or sleeping at any point
- You are writing during the rounds (write your notes between rounds)
- You are talking (shut up and watch the fight)
- You are moving around the room (screaming at the TV or shadowboxing).
- You have consumed alcohol or drugs (which eliminates most of boxing Twitter).
- You blinked – just kidding (but not really)
- You have never thrown a punch, hit a mitt, or spent time in a ring
- You are not sitting in a judge’s chair (yes, I’m saying it again)
- You would not be willing to score rounds against your own loved ones (the word you are looking for is biased)
I know what I’ve said will be challenged, so I spent the last few months performing an experiment to see if actual scoring scenarios would back up my words. There was no better place to conduct this experiment than an amateur boxing card. For those of you who have never attended an amateur boxing card, you truly don’t know what you are missing. The action is intense; there are no feeling-out rounds and the punches are non-stop.
Full props to my fiancé, Matt, for cooperating in this experiment without fully knowing what he was doing or why. This is not a perfect science but it should give you some food for thought. Between September and November of last year Matt, who is not a judge, scored amateur bouts in person and on video at home. He scored 10 from a judge’s table at ringside, five on the same side as me and five from the opposite side. He scored 10 fights while seated in the first and second rows at various angles. He scored 10 fights while seated more than 10 rows back from the ring. And he scored 10 televised bouts from home that I had judged in person.
Of the fights scored at a judge’s table, all his cards matched the official results. From the first or second row, eight of his 10 scores matched the official results. From more than 10 rows back only seven of his cards matched. The fights he scored from home matched the official scores eight times out of 10. I take notes religiously after each round because, firstly, I am a nerd, secondly, they will help if I ever have to explain a decision to our headquarters. I asked Matt to do the same during the experiment and, when he was seated at the judge’s table, his notes were uncannily similar to mine.
There have been some truly controversial decisions in boxing, when a fight was not remotely competitive yet the decision went to the other fighter. Those decisions make me want to crawl in a hole and hide; I am embarrassed, incredulous and angry. It puts a dark cloud over the sport we all love and it has to stop.
Boxers are some of the most passionate and determined people you will ever meet; they have tremendous heart. It is often their heart and not their training that earns them the victory in the ring. Boxers enter the ring hoping to knock out their opponent but also with the expectation that, if the knockout doesn’t happen, the judges will score the fight accurately and fairly.
A “controversial” decision can alter a fighter’s future, crush their dreams and jade the most passionate of boxers. Each round should be judged as if a professional contract or gold medal is on the line. Each round should be judged knowing there is no margin for error or bias. And every round should be judged as if the boxer’s career depends on it, because it does.