By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Every now and then, the tinkering mood just hits.
I’m feeling bored, introspective, forward-thinking… whatever, and I begin pondering ways in which I can make the things I truly enjoy even better.
It struck again over a holiday weekend away from the classroom.
For a lot of guys, that’d probably mean loading up the pickup truck and heading to the nearest Lowe’s or Home Depot location. But to guys like me, who are far more capable with a keyboard than a screwdriver, it becomes far more a cerebral pursuit than a hands-on one.
And in this case, the thing I’m angling to improve is boxing.
Now, some things about our sport are simply unchangeable through the actions of one middle-aged writer on the Southwest Florida coast. Big fights are still going to be constructed by executives in corner offices as much as they’re made based on logic. And networks will still lean toward car-crash titillation far more than sublime brilliance when it comes to where they point their cameras.
Examples of those two points are clear enough without naming names.
Regardless, a new idea popped in my head on Saturday night as I watched a 30-year-old replay – for probably the 30 millionth time – of the second fight between my all-time favorite, Tommy Hearns, and his career’s most signature win-loss nemesis, Ray Leonard.
It was a lousy decision if you ask me, and I was chagrined to realize that the annoyance I felt upon hearing it hadn’t changed on viewing No. 30,000,000 any more than it had from Nos. 1 to 29,999,999. But that’s not why it struck me this time. In fact, the fight itself was merely a catalyst because of its so-called “draw” result, not because any other specifics about it link to my would-be suggestion.
Instead, while hearing tired phrases like “you’ve got to take the fight to a champion” and “you’ve got to do more than a champion to win his title” ring in my ears, I came up with something else entirely.
How about, in cases where championship fights end in draws, the titles are declared vacant?
My logic is simple. Once a champion unwraps the title belt from his waist or pulls it down off of his shoulder before a fight, he’s no longer in possession of that trinket. It’s up for grabs. So the two fighters subsequently competing for it in the ring should be viewed as equals, not in a pecking order based on their past results or accomplishments.
If the Super Bowl is tied after four quarters next February, the refs won’t hand the Lombardi Trophy back to the New England Patriots thanks to their incumbent status. Nor, in play for hockey’s Stanley Cup – for the eight people out there that watch hockey – will the Washington Capitals be again awarded the silver chalice at the end a tied Game 7, simply because they earned the championship last June.
Instead, those champions would have to play to maintain their kingdoms.
But even in the absence of a suitably similar OT mechanism in boxing – unless we’re resurrecting the old 13th-round idea from the ESPN tournaments of the 1980s, that is – it’s still a simple fix.
If assigned judges can’t come up with a verdict sufficient to declare one of the fighters as superior, then they should continue to be viewed as equals afterward. Automatically make them contenders 1 and 1a for the title and order an immediate rematch before either moves on. And if one balks at the idea of another get-together, bump him out of the queue and promote contender No. 2 for a shot.
Of course, if the status quo isn’t quite ready for vacating titles in the event of draws, I get it.
And if that’s indeed the case, then the only remaining solution is to discard the draw as an option.
Toward that end, have an additional judge in the building scoring the fight in real time along with the official trio. And if the verdict is locked up after the tallying of the first three scores, go automatically to No. 4 to break the tie. Or if folks are feeling particularly progressive, have a media pool cast the deciding vote – with the consensus tally of a predetermined collection of media scorers serving as a unified scorecard to be used in the event of the, errr… most hung of hung juries.
Anything would be a better ending than a draw, and they’re all better, too, than Hearns-Barkley I and II, which just make me want to hang myself instead.
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This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
Vacant IBO super middleweight title – London, United Kingdom
Chris Eubank Jr. (No. 1 IBO/No. 4 IWBR) vs. James DeGale (No. 5 IBO/No. 3 IWBR)
Eubank Jr. (27-2, 21 KO): Fifth title fight (3-1); Held IBO title at 168 (2017-18, two defenses)
DeGale (25-2-1, 15 KO): Seventh title fight (4-1-1); Two reigns as IBF champ at 168 (three defenses)
Fitzbitz says: If matched at their peaks, there’s a terrific chance DeGale wins in a scorecard rout. But it seems Eubank, though flawed, might be closer to his zenith than Chunky. Eubank by decision (85/15)
Vacant WBC super middleweight title – Minneapolis, Minnesota
Anthony Dirrell (No. 1 WBC/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Avni Yildirim (No. 2 WBC/No. 5 IWBR)
Dirrell (32-1-1, 24 KO): Third title fight (1-1-1); Held WBC title at 168 (2014-15, zero defenses)
Yildirim (21-1, 12 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Five straight wins since lone career loss (5-0, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Yildirim has strung together a collection wins since he was blown out by Eubank Jr. for the IBO title, but it feels like Dirrell is a step beyond what he’s capable of beating. Dirrell in 9 (90/10)
Last week's picks: 1-1 (WIN: Santa Cruz; LOSS: Licona)
2019 picks record: 12-3 (80.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,024-346 (74.7 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 [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.