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Yet another boxing controversy underlines need for judging reform, but cries of the fix being in are off base

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

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Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. argues with referee Lou Moret after his win over Bryan Vera. (Getty)


Scoring controversies are going to be as much a part of boxing as jabs to the nose and hooks to the body, no matter what efforts are made to educate the judges and improve the process.

Boxing is one of the few sports in which every call is completely subjective. People are never going to interpret what they see exactly the same.

However, the recent intense focus on the competency of the sport's judges has unfairly taken the spotlight away from its revival and off the series of great fights that have occurred in 2013.

But on Saturday in Carson, Calif., the big news after a major fight was, for the second time in three weeks, moaning about the credibility of the judges. This time, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. earned a dubious unanimous decision over Bryan Vera in a bout at the StubHub Center that most in the boxing community felt Vera deserved to win.

California judges Gwen Adair (98-92), Marty Denkin (97-93) and Carla Caiz (96-94) all called it for Chavez. On Sept. 14 in Las Vegas, it was C.J. Ross, who inexplicably judged the Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez fight a draw, though virtually the rest of the world saw it as a runaway win and virtuoso performance by Mayweather.

On both occasions, the announcement of the scores angered the crowd, stunned the media and lit up the Internet with complaints.

After the Chavez fight, there were, as there usually are whenever fans disagree with a call, cries of corruption. Judges are accused of being on the take and fights fixed.

Though there is undoubtedly a fight that is occasionally fixed, the number of fixed fights is clearly small. For someone looking to fix the outcome, it's much easier to get one fighter to go along with the scheme and take a dive than it is to convince three judges to improperly call the match.

The frequent cries of fixing are grating and don't help the sport. Something, though, needs to be done to at least lessen the intensity of the outrage against the calls. 

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Manny Pacquiao reacts after his fight against Timothy Bradley. (Getty)

Numerous massive road blocks stand in the way of a fix, of course, not the least of which is that boxing is a worldwide sport that is overseen by various agencies, both governmental and non-governmental.

There is no commissioner or central ruling body which runs the sport, so there is no one individual who can quickly react to problems that arise.

Many fans in the U.S. advocate the formation of a boxing commission, but that commission, if ever created, would only have jurisdiction over fights in this country. There are many significant fights that occur outside the U.S. that a commission would not be able to impact.

Some fans encourage the use of open scoring, in which the judges' scores are announced publicly at the end of every round. That has been definitively proven not to work and would rob the sport of some of its drama after a close, hard-fought fight.

The issue with open scoring is that it clearly alters the fighters' game plan and could impact the referee. For proof, let's say early in the fifth round of a 12-round fight there is an inadvertent head butt that opens a cut on Fighter A's forehead.

If Fighter A is unable to continue, the bout would go to the scorecards, since the rules say that is what happens when an inadvertent foul causes a bout to be stopped after four full rounds are complete.

In most cases, the fighter would argue with the referee or doctor and ask to be allowed to continue. But if he knew that after four he was ahead and that by quitting he would get a win, how many fighters do you think would continue? Very few, and the ones who didn't quit would be fools. Honorable, perhaps, but fools nonetheless.

In another scenario, imagine a bout which is extremely entertaining between Fighter C and Fighter D. But for the sake of discussion, let's assume that Fighter D is doing just a bit more each round and is fairly up 8-2 after 10.

In the 11th round, Fighter D catches his opponent with a punch that hurts him, and then jumps on him with a flurry as Fighter C covers up. If the referee knows that Fighter D has already won the bout on the scorecards, he may well step in and stop a fight that he otherwise wouldn't have done in order to save Fighter C. That would rob Fighter C of the chance to get the dramatic final-round knockout.

There are plenty of other scenarios that prove the same point, but it's safe to say that open scoring is a bad idea.

Consensus scoring has also been proposed as a solution. In that case, the opinion of two of the three judges would be decisive in a round. So, if Judges 1 and 2 scored a round 10-9 for Fighter A, and Judge 3 scored it 10-9 for Fighter B, the round would go to Fighter A, 10-9.

That seems like it works, but it has its problems, which are exacerbated if one judge is having a bad night and his scoring is all over the lot. In Saturday's Chavez-Vera fight, consensus scoring favored Chavez, 7-3. In the hotly disputed 2012 bout between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley, which most felt Pacquiao clearly won, consensus scoring went Bradley's way, 7-5.

Neither of those options are the answer. But there are some things that could be done.

First is to slightly alter the scoring criteria. Presently, the criteria to judge a pro boxing match are clean punching, effective aggressiveness, ring generalship and defense.

My proposal first off would be to dump ring generalship and defense as scoring criteria. Ring generalship is far too nebulous and it differs widely from person to person.

And boxing is an offensive sport, so points shouldn't be awarded for defense. A boxer's good defense puts him in position to score his own punches, and limits his opponent's chances to score.

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Embattled judge C.J. Ross looks on during Tim Bradley's win over Manny Pacquiao. (Getty)

What should be proposed is making the scoring criteria based upon clean punching, punching impact and effective aggressiveness. It won't be enough for a slick defensive boxer to make his opponent miss. He'll also have to throw the counter and make him pay.

That would take a lot of the guesswork out of what is going on.

The training, development and oversight of the judges needs to be dramatically improved. An organization needs to be formed and charge all those seeking to work as a judge an annual fee to join.

Then, just like a doctor who has to take continuing medical education in order to refresh skills and stay up to date, the judges should be required to attend three scoring seminars over any 24-month period in order to maintain a license.

Also, at the end of a fight, the judges should be required to submit one extra sheet to the commission overseeing the bout in which they pick the winner. Ross, for example, said she felt Mayweather had won the fight when she left her ringside seat and talked to members of the Nevada Athletic Commission.

Her cards were taken at the end of each round by the referee and given to a person who transcribed it onto the scoresheet. In that case, she didn't keep track of her score. So though she had it 6-6 in rounds, her sense was that Mayweather was the better fighter and should win. She didn't realize she had it a draw until Nevada commission executive director Keith Kizer told her.

So, at the end of the fight after the final round is scored, the judges should turn in one more card in which they either pick a winner or call it a draw. A fight would only then be a draw if a majority of the judges scored it a draw and then wrote draw on their sheet.

But as in the example cited with Ross, even though her card was a draw, if she said Mayweather won, the fight would then have gone to him unanimously.

The judges have a tough job and it is more difficult than many fans imagine. Where the judge sits is often a factor in how he scores a fight.

If much of a bout is fought on the opposite side from the judge with a lot of in-fighting, he or she doesn't have a great angle and his or her score won't be as precise.

The key is that those with a financial interest in boxing need to take steps to halt the flood of complaints and cries of corruption. It's never good for business when the customers think something is fixed, even if the allegations of corruption are more imagined than real.

The Association of Boxing Commissions loosely regulates the various state athletic commissions in the U.S., but the group has basically proven worthless.

Perhaps the ABC could be given broader authority and oversight power and could undertake steps to at least improve the judging in fights in the U.S.

It's never going to be perfect because, after all, humans are doing the judging and humans aren't perfect.

The goal should always be to give the fighter who deserved to win the bout the victory and, sadly, as Manny Pacquiao and Bryan Vera could attest, that doesn't always happen these days no matter how well one fights.

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