By Michael Rosenthal
Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez won’t be the only ones facing intense scrutiny on September 15 in Las Vegas. The judges also will be under a microscope.
The reason is obvious: The decision in the fighters’ first meeting – a split draw – was met with derision by most of those who watched the fight. The score of Adalaide Byrd – an absurd 118-110 (10-2 in rounds) for Alvarez – was particularly egregious, as even Alvarez’s camp acknowledged.
The last thing anyone wants is another scoring controversy, which might be the reason Nevada officials were particularly careful about choosing judges for the rematch.
Obviously, Byrd, who has continued to work as a judge, was out. Don Trella (114-114 in the first fight) also won’t be working the rematch. Instead, officials chose Dave Moretti (115-113 for Golovkin in the first fight) of Nevada, Steve Weisfeld of New Jersey and Glenn Feldman of Connecticut, highly respected judges all.
That should give everyone involved confidence in the system … but you never know.
One of the worse decisions I’ve witnessed was Felix Trinidad’s majority-decision victory over Oscar De La Hoya in their 1999 superfight in Las Vegas. I thought De La Hoya won eight of the first nine rounds, which, in my opinion, should’ve been enough to give him the victory even though he ran the final three rounds.
Instead, judges Jerry Roth (115-113) and Bob Logist (115-114) scored it for Trinidad while Glen Hamada had it a draw (114-114).
This is what might’ve happened. Las Vegas had become De La Hoya’s town. He was the superstar, he was the one filling the seats, he was the one bringing many millions of dollars to Vegas twice a year. And, for what it’s worth, his promoter, Bob Arum, has lived in Vegas for many years.
The perception going into the Trinidad fight was that it would be difficult for the Puerto Rican star to win a decision in Vegas even if he deserved it, which was a hot topic of discussion leading into the fight.
I always suspected that the judges were so determined to prove the doubters wrong – to prove they could be fair to Trinidad – that they bent over backward to give him every benefit of the doubt, which is what he needed to win a decision in that fight.
Could that be what happened in the first Golovkin-Alvarez fight? Alvarez, who is promoted by De La Hoya, was the bigger star, the one putting the majority of butts in the seats, the one who generates the biggest windfalls for Vegas when he fights there.
We’ll never know what was in the judges’ heads – especially Byrd’s – but such favoritism seems possible.
And I wonder whether it could happen again in the rematch – only in reverse and for a different reason. Consensus was that Golovkin got screwed, which didn’t reflect well on Nevada. Officials don’t want the judges to screw him again, meaning they could feel pressure – whether conscious or subconscious -- to give Golovkin every break they can.
We know the result when that happened in the De La Hoya-Trinidad fight, at least according to my theory.
I’m not saying I anticipate a controversial decision, however that might look. I’m not that pessimistic. I have faith in all three judges, two of whom (the East Coast judges) have no connection to Nevada other than occasional assignments. They’ll probably do a fine job a week from Saturday.
That said, I don’t have to tell you that anything is possible when fights go to the scorecards. Crazy decisions are part of the fabric of boxing, sometimes when we least expect it.
The fans always demand fair decisions but, because of what happened in the first Golovkin-Alvarez fight, they’ll flip if we get another scoring controversy. Indeed, the judges will be under an unusual amount of pressure to get it right.
Just imagine how thick the tension will be between the final bell and the moment the decision is announced. Even if the fight turns out to be one-sided – particularly if Triple-G appears to have won – cynical fans won’t believe justice will be served until they see the right man have his hand raised.
Who knows, though? Maybe the judges won’t have to decide the winner. Maybe the fight will end in a knockout, which, if it’s clean, is the best way to avoid a controversy.
Michael Rosenthal is the most recent winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Nat Fleischer Award for excellence in boxing journalism. He has covered boxing in Los Angeles and beyond for almost three decades.