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The CompuBox era

Posted 10-23-2008 at 03:24 PM by Scott9945
Thanks to computers and media advances, sports like baseball and football have been enhanced with more detailed statistics over the past decade. These stats are usually both informative and interesting. Boxing's answer to this is CompuBox, which has been with us for about 20 years now. HBO and ESPN pay a good amount of money for this service. But do these numbers really enlighten us the way other sports statistics do? I have serious doubts about it.

Boxing is the only sport where the outcome can be in doubt when it is over. All other sports can be determined by a glance at the scoreboard. It is as simple as seeing who has more points or runs. The only other exception besides boxing would be horse racing, which is settled by a panel that studies a photo finish if the race is close or video footage if there is a claim of foul. But boxing is a totally subjective sport. Fights that go the distance are decided by humans who may use any number of criterias or agendas. No technology will ever prove who really won the Leonard-Hagler fight. It will forever remain a controversy.

What CompuBox offers is a breakdown of punches thrown and landed. It breaks down how many of the punches are jabs or power punches. It discriminates body punches from head shots. While these stats are generally interesting, they can't be taken as the last word in any case. First of all, they are counted by humans, not measured by stopwatches. Anything gathered by humans is obviously vulnerable to human error. When you are tabulating anything that goes over 1,000, you are likely to get a different count after examining a replay. The CompuBox people have no second chance to examine their tabulations. At the rate punches are thrown in a boxing match you have to be constantly alert to count the next punches rather than re-examine the previous ones.

Of course the ringside judges don't have the stats at their disposal, so it can't taint any official decision. But what is disturbing to me is the television announcer's dependence on them. Jim Lampley, who does a terrific job of anchoring an announcing crew, is maybe the worst abuser of this. At the beginning of every round he recites the previous rounds numbers as if they were gospel. It seems to effect his analysis of the fight, which may be why so many people watching the fight on TV thought Oscar De La Hoya beat Shane Mosley in the rematch, while the press covering it live generally observed Shane landing the much harder punches. ESPN's Joe Tessitore dutifully gives out the punch stats before going back to his comfortable mode of setting up Teddy Atlas with questions the entire round.

My point is that boxing matches are best scored by watching rather than tabulating. Years ago I stopped scoring fights because I found it deterred from my enjoyment of them. I believe that HBO would be better serving their viewers by evaluating what they are seeing rather than trying to measure it. Having their own judge, Harold Lederman, is quite adequate for keeping the viewers with a perspective of how the scoring is progressing. I just don't have blind faith in other humans frantically counting and evaluating punches without the benefit of review.
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