By Terence Dooley
Have you heard the joke about the Englishman, the Belgian and the American? You know the one, its punch line rang loud and clear around Glasgow’s SEC live on Sky Sports on Saturday night when the three wise men judging Ricky Burns’s WBO lightweight title defence against Raymundo Beltran somehow conspired to conjure up a draw despite the fact that many felt the visitor had more than won the fight. This result has whipped fans into yet another apoplectic frenzy. Even worse, it has besmirched boxing; the noble game has once again been dragged into the gutter after a result and controversy that people won’t forget for days.
Belgium’s vastly experienced Andre Van Grootenbruel turned in a score of 115-113 for Beltran, who broke Burns’s jaw in round two, floored the titlist with a left hook in the eighth and won his rounds bigger than the champion did, Brooklyn’s Carlos Ortiz Jnr. handed in a highly bemusing score of 115-112 in Burns’s favour and Richie Davies of the U.K. secured the split draw with a 114-114 scorecard. Cue mucho pathos as fans rallied to the Mexican’s cause.
Beltran, 28-6-1 (17), clearly deserved to win the fight and his dignity when reacting to a draw that probably feels like a defeat — he comes away with nothing but a broken heart — puts a lot of losers, and some winners, to shame. However, the verbal and written garlands from the fans can’t and won’t make up for the fact that the 30-year-old is not sitting atop the WBO’s lightweight rankings with the word ‘Champion’ to the left of his name.
First things first, Burns, 36-2-1 (11), has had a titanium plate inserted in his jaw and although many fighters have recovered from breaks, the word on the street is that he may not fight again — I’m cautiously optimistic over his chances, though. As for the fight itself, the 30-year-old Coatbridge fighter cannot control what goes on outside the ring, he just fought the fight, albeit badly, and then left the result in the hands of the judges, so any ire that’s thrown his way is misdirected.
When Muhammad Ali broke his jaw in the first Ken Norton fight, the future great boxed on for round after round despite the injury and his superhuman courage became the post-fight story of a close bout that went Norton’s way. Once the dust settles on this result, and it always does, Burns might find that a few more people focus on his bravery, but while reserving the right to discount the rest of his performance, which was pretty shocking and cannot be put solely down to injury.
No, Burns deserves some respect. Many men would have quit under the same circumstances, boxers tend not to do this and jaw injuries are viewed as part-and-parcel of the roughest trade in the world. This isn’t tiddlywinks after all.
Still, it is hard to make a case for Burns winning six rounds, and even if you did you would have to put one round down as a 10-8 session for Beltran, which would hand him the decision on most cards. In fact, you would have to make Burns a 7-5 winner just to give him a bit of daylight, and there is no way he won seven of the 12 rounds.
In fact, and concentrating on Ortiz’s card, the score of 115-112 for Burns only makes sense if you flip it, 115-112 to Beltran, and take the knockdown into account. When looked at the other way, Burns only losing four rounds, presuming the judge scored the eighth 10-8, and Beltran losing eight, the card makes about as much sense as a nun at a rock concert.
Yes, scoring is a subjective business, but where is the case for Burns? In punches landed? No, the statistics, although not to be used as a sole measuring criteria, don’t bear this out. In rounds taken? Again, Beltran won more rounds on many cards, and he won them big, this makes this seem more like a robbery than yet another case of poor scoring. Although Burns took some rounds himself, he grinded them out and didn’t impress. Let’s not even lower ourselves enough to include the “If it’s close then the win goes to the champion” nonsense that often gets spouted.
Upon commencement of a fight, the belt is placed with the officials, the champion is briefly stripped of his title and is fighting to defend, and keep, his belt. The opponent is there to take it. Not to take it by two clear rounds, just take it. The scores are jotted down and added up, the winner, by however many points, gets the title. The idea that our, seemingly incompetent, officials have to somehow factor in this unwritten rule during their calculations is a frightening thought. No one deserves extra points just for their status; title fights should be fair contests.
There is no conceivable way that Burns won the fight, not just for me, but for pretty much all who watched and scored it. The Fightscorecollector, @thefightscore, a blogger who collates aggregate scores, has collected cards from most of the journalists who are a) on Twitter and b) love to give out their opinions, i.e. all of them, and there isn’t a single ballot for Burns.
Sure, there are some close ones, and you can conceive of a scenario where both men took six sessions, at a push, and Beltran’s knockdown still sealed the deal in this scenario, but not a single person has scored it for Burns. This, coupled with the raw data of Compubox suggests a mistake, so how did the officials get it so wrong?
Well, only two of them did, referee Phil Edwards, who allowed Burns to hold an awful lot without taking a point, and Ortiz, the judge who handed in a wide card for Burns. Davies turned in a card that, although many feel was still wide, was at least explicable and Grootenbruel handed in the 113-115 card in Beltran’s favour. Although that one was still a bit close, I had it 112-115 — there are no drawn rounds on my card, ever.
Out of the two officials who should shoulder some blame, Edwards can be given a by as he could and should have issued warnings and a -1 in the deduction column, but we can’t just dish out our own deduction anyway as Burns, who is a smart boxer, probably would have toned the holding down had he received a warning.
This leaves Ortiz, the American judge with the weirdest card. During 2013, Ortiz has worked two world title fights, the Burns one and Darren Barker’s split decision win over Daniel Geale last month, when he handed in a 113-114 card in Barker’s favour — maybe he just really loves British boxers and appreciates their fighting style. His other title action was Curtis Stevens’s first-round KO of Saul for the vacant NABA middleweight title in August; obviously his services weren’t needed for that one.
The rest of Ortiz’s 2013 ledger consists of approximately 24 scheduled four rounders, nine six-round fights, eight eight-round fights and five over 10, with the title fights thrown in for good measure. Ortiz is busy, and therefore a respected ref, but that’s a lot of four round fights, and the two title fights came relatively late in the year, and eight-months after his last one — Omar Andres Narvaez’s straightforward decision win over David Quijano in December — so if we argue the case for inexperience and rustiness in fighters then surely we should ask if these factors can also affect officials? The Barker fight may have shed some of Ortiz’s cobwebs, but enough to make up for all those smaller fights and his relative inexperience? Maybe, maybe not.
In his other recent title fights, Ortiz has tended to turn in consensus cards that don’t differ too much from the other two. So it could be either that he simply saw a different fight to the other judges or he’s still learning his trade at this level, as opposed to the vastly experienced Davies and Grootenbruel. Judges aren’t born imperfect— they have to work on it over time.
For those who think it incredible that a judge watching from a different angle can see a totally different fight shouldtake a look at the scorecards for Choi Tseveenpurev versus Abdu Tebazalwa in October 2007. Victor Loughlin, an excellent judge and referee, saw something from his vantage point that on one else saw, or had a bad day at the office, and turned in a card that was the odd one out, 113-114 as opposed to two scores of 119-110 and 118-110. It happens, it isn’t nice, and fuels the cries of the “robbery” and “home cooking”, but it is by no means a hanging offence.
At a push, Ortiz’s card should be closely examined by the WBO, and, if they are to continue using him for big world title fights, he needs more than one or two a year, purely to keep his eyes keen and counter the effects of scoring four rounders and other non-title contests, which can carry drawn rounds and fights without creating too much of a fuss.
Ortiz has turned in five drawn cards already this year, although some are the 38-38 types that you get after a four round fight, this could be an indication that he’s spending too much time on the small hall circuit — and his scoring is suffering as a result.
As for the WBO themselves, well they’ve got a chance to step up and be the heroes. Burns is going to be out for a long time, his glamour mandatory defence against Terrence Crawford at Madison Square Garden is gone, for now, and the WBO title will be left on the shelf for a while. We all know that the WBO love an interim title, so why not push Beltran forward for the interim strap against Crawford. The winner gets Burns, if he comes back and if he stays at 135lbs — two big ifs.
WBO Rules state that the World Championship Committee has the right to make fights, the WBO’s website notes that the Committee’s role is to: ‘To determine if an Interim Championship is warranted and to sanction an Interim Championship Bout; and (19) To determine the contestants for an Interim or Vacant Championship’.
Even if they didn’t have this rule in place, all the governing bodies have their own version of Directive Four, namely that their Executive Committees can make any fight they want to whenever they want to. With Burns out of the way the governing body could easily make Beltran-Crawford, which could take place in Madison Square Gardens, right around the corner from where Ortiz is based.
It would be the perfect end to this story. Beltran, a Mexican by birth who operates out of Phoenix, is welcomed back into the U.S.A., the country of the judge who aggrieved him the most, and handed the mantle of a wronged man desperately seeking justice. The WBO gives him this justice, in the form of an interim title shot, and then it’s down to 12 rounds, three judges and a third man. If we’re really gunning for redemption we could draft in Ortiz, the man who gave the fight to Burns, as either the ref or a judge.
You couldn’t script it.
Alternatively, you could cry “Robbery” until you burst a blood vessel. Or save your breath for when Floyd Mayweather wins on points against Saul Alvarez — if it is close then you can bet your right arm it will be deemed “controversial”. Alternatively, just eke it out until the next hullabaloo. Let’s face it, that’s increasingly what it is all about. No analysis of how or why, just shouts of “How very dare they”. It’s getting as tedious as the poor officiating.
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