By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Amid journalistic response to the first score Jimmy Lennon Jr. read Saturday night in Las Vegas have been calls to hunt down judge C.J. Ross, examine the outfit that gave her license to judge fights in the first place and righteously trot out the haughty “See, this is what’s killing boxing!” phrase.
But we really ought to thank Ms. Ross for an unintended contribution to the cause.
By watching the 12 rounds of interaction between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Saul Alvarez and deeming it a dead-even encounter – then having the chutzpah to insist she got it right – the stern-faced lass with the initialed name has created the exact flashpoint angst needed to topple ineffective regimes.
Before that torment wears off and the great media horde goes back to obediently feeding at the promotional trough, it’s high time to take another run at revolution. And, because the marketing folks that labeled recent Middle East tumult as the “Arab Spring” seem to be on to something catchy, I’m going to co-opt their hard work and call this one the “Boxing Autumn.”
Not exactly Hemingway, I concede… but I was absent the day they taught SEO at beauty school.
Anyway, the lone plank in my reformist platform directly addresses the stenches that tend to rise from venues like the MGM Grand Garden as often as not these days, thanks to suspect judging.
For the record, I believe most judges on all levels are excellent. They know their craft. They pay careful attention. And there’s not a hint of impropriety in the way they do things.
Nor am I suggesting there’s anything the least bit unseemly Ms. Ross did her job Saturday night.
The pictures I’ve seen suggest she was watching what we all were watching. Her view from ringside wasn’t the least bit obstructed. And there’s no sign of a highball glass in any frame I’ve reviewed.
No. If all is as it simply appears to be, she just got it wrong. And in this case, that’s enough.
Because after all these cases, and in spite of her quality cohorts, that’s got to be enough.
In the last 15 months alone – since Ms. Ross and a colleague, Duane Ford, formed a two-thirds majority that stripped Manny Pacquiao of his WBO welterweight title – boxing has been dogged by enough suspect calls to keep Congress busy with investigation from now until the rapture.
But whether a collectively bad verdict like the Bradley-Pacquiao affair, or the singularly awful scores that render clear-cut nods like Broner-Malignaggi or Mayweather-Alvarez as mere majorities or splits, the outlying totals only seem to make column or Twitter grist until the next cool cat video arrives.
At that point, both the furor and the results it could prompt are gone.
This time, though, it can’t be allowed to get away that quickly.
While the right guy won Saturday night in spite of Ross’s faux pas and the speeches surrounding him in Canastota come 2020 probably won’t mention her, the scoring disaster came far too close to replicating Pacquiao-Bradley on a far bigger stage with far graver consequences.
And if a loosely run sport can’t get its act together in front of the biggest live gate of the year and potentially the largest- or second-largest pay-per-view audience ever assembled, well, chances are there wouldn’t be too many more opportunities to get it together afterward.
Hardcore fans are sick of it. Casual fans are turned off by it.
And the executive wing ought to be terrified about it.
That’s precisely why a crusading media needs to take the responsibility out of Ross’s hands, and take it into its own – by pushing to make writers the official scoring authorities for all world title fights.
Eighty-six media members polled after the Mayweather-Alvarez fight had Mayweather winning, with a composite average of 11 rounds to one, or 119-109. Twenty had it a full-on shutout – including heavyweights like Lance Pugmire (L.A. Times), Chris Mannix (Sports Illustrated) and Dan Rafael (ESPN) – and none on the list had it any closer than Doug Fischer (Ring magazine), at 116-113.
Accuracy like that is hard to ignore, and it shouldn’t be forgotten.
More often than not when it comes to title fights, the men and women covering the events as journalists have seen more boxing – on its highest levels and elsewhere – than any other people in the building. They know more about it. They care more about it. And they have more of a vested interest in seeing it survive and thrive than any moonlighting insurance salesman, paralegal or bus driver.
All but a very small handful of writers polled after the Pacquiao-Bradley debacle had the Filipino earning a wide win, a consensus verdict most of the public, most of the promoters and most of the fighters in the aftermath agreed with. The same was true Saturday night in Vegas, where the only person who seemed to see anything other than a decisive victory for Mayweather was Ross.
So the only thing to do is take the bat – or in this case, the pen – out of her hands.
I’ll let the smarter people in the room figure out the mechanism necessary to suit logistics, but I’d imagine it could involve simply checking a box on an application for a media credential that would indicate whether or not the applicant would be interested in being selected as a judge.
On fight night, make it a blind draw of three or five or seven who clicked yes – the more the better, to override any bad apples – and presto, they become the official scorers for the night with a seat far more comfortable and far less cramped than the sardines jammed into press row.
The track record of the two fights I mentioned, as well as the press score samplings frequently included on HBO and Showtime broadcasts, is awfully good when it comes to the writers getting it right, particularly when the judges get it wrong. And putting them in the decision position full time couldn’t help but ensure the need for a few less “this judge needs to be de-licensed” columns.
If nothing else, that’ll open up a lot more time for cat videos.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
No fights scheduled.
Last week's picks: 3-1
2013 picks record: 53-31 (63.1 percent)
Overall picks record: 516-183 (73.8 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.