By Bill Calogero

In January, New Jersey became the first State to allow promoters to provide instant replay for Professional Boxing. Since that announcement, not much has been talked about the issue; at least not to me.

To my knowledge, there are basically five rules or criteria, which could be subject for review using instant replay for pro boxing events held in New Jersey. They are as follows:

1. If a cut was caused by a legal punch.

2. To determine a knockdown or a slip.

3. A punch that occurred prior or after a bell.

4. To determine if an illegal blow was caused accidentally or intentionally.

5. To determine if a fighter beat a count.

If one of the above five were to be questioned, then the fighter’s chief second would appeal to a ringside commissioner for a review. This is to take place in between rounds and could delay action up to three minutes. Again, to my knowledge, this is how New Jersey’s Instant Replay system for boxing will work.

First of all, the use of Instant Replay in sports can work either in a positive or a negative way. It can help and it can hurt. The NFL has proven over time, with several modifications, that instant replay works for Pro Football. There is always opposition to calls, even after a review, but for the most part the replay system in the National Football League works. The most important factor in its success is the fact that when a coach wants to challenge a referee’s decision, they are forced to gamble a time out on the call. If they are correct, the play is over turned and the game resumes. If the coach is wrong, and the referee upholds his original decision on the call, then the challenging coach’s team is charged a time out. In addition, they are only permitted two challenges per game. This keeps unnecessary challenges from happening, which keeps the game going.

It does work in football. I am not sure it will work in boxing. As a matter of fact, for the record, I feel it can never work effectively in pro boxing. At least the way it’s currently set up to operate. Football is a team sport and there are variables involved like boundaries, complete or incomplete passes, fumbles, etc. Because of the structure of the game, mistakes made in determining the result of a single play can directly affect the outcome of a game. Overall, in most cases, the original calls are correct. This is a direct result of the use of quality referees. They know the game and the rules.

Boxing is a one on one combat sport. The ring is the boundary. Punches thrown that do not connect are generally caused by superior defensive skills or fatigue. Bad calls in boxing can certainly determine who will potentially win or lose a fight, but I really believe it’s just not the same. If ALL of the referees used in Pro Boxing were good, then there may not be as many questionable calls to argue about.

I think that most of the calls that become “issues” are a direct result of an inferior referee either not seeing the call in question, or simply not doing anything about it when it happens. The referee has to be ready to make a decision quickly on the spot. They also have to be close enough to the action to see what’s going on in the first place. More often than not, today’s referee is too far away from the action to see things, as they should. In boxing, the action is fast paced and a punch landed happens in less than a second.

My biggest concern with New Jersey’s instant replay system is this: What will prevent the chief second from challenging calls, punches, etc. to gain extra time? What is preventing him from questioning EVERY call? (The name Stony comes to my mind!) At this point, (the way the system is currently set up) there is nothing to lose and everything to gain, in terms of time for rest for the corner challenging a call. We all know that the spitting of the mouthpiece, or the loose glove tape, or corner-men unable to locate tape, water, etc. to gain time is done in almost every fight we see. These “stalling” tactics are as old as the sport itself.

How will these BS challenges, which ultimately become stoppages, be policed? It will be difficult to say the least but there must be a way to prevent unnecessary challenges. We need to limit what can be challenged.

Out of the five challengeable calls defined by New Jersey, in my opinion, the ONLY one that would be something that should be able to use instant replay effectively is to determine if a legal punch or an unintentional head butt caused a cut. The other four may cause more problems than they are worth, but the truth is; only time will tell.

If instant replay is to work in boxing, I strongly believe that there should be some type of risk involved to challenge a referee’s call. I have thought about this and I think the best thing to put up would be the round itself. In other words, if a call were to be challenged, then the challenging corner would have to risk the round in which they are challenging. If the chief second challenges the call and is correct, then the call is reversed in their favor.

However, if they were wrong, then they (the challenging corner) would lose the round. If the judges had scored the round 10-9 in the challenging corners favor, then that score would be changed to a 10-9 round in favor of their opponent. If the round was scored 10-9 in favor of the opponent, and the referee’s decision is ruled correct, then the score would become 10-8 in favor of the opponent.

Another solution would be to simply subtract a point from the challenging corner’s fighter. If the judges had him winning the round at 10-9, the score would become 9-9 for the round. If the judges had him losing the round, then it would become a 10-8 round.

I feel that if a risk factor were involved like potentially losing the round, then a corner would be forced to think before challenging a call thus assisting in policing bogus challenges for the sole purpose of gaining “time”. The corner would have to be certain that the call was wrong; otherwise they would put their own fighter’s chance of victory at risk.

The other important factor that can help instant replay work in pro boxing is that it should NOT be up to the chief second to question. If ANYONE should be able to use instant replay to reverse a call made during a round, it should be the referee himself. If the call was close, he would have time to review it in between rounds and if need be, reverse the call. To me, this makes the most sense. There could also be someone assigned to a monitor to review the call so he can alert the referee that he may want to review his call. Then the referee can review the call himself and change his decision if need be.

With technology improving on a daily basis, the use of video could become helpful determining questionable calls in boxing ONLY if it was set up correctly. As long as there was a risk involved with challenging calls, abuse would be kept at a minimum. But in my opinion, the best solution to help keep the calls correct and or accurate, the most feasible way would be to ensure that only skilled and qualified referees are used in bouts. After all, they are the ones making (or missing) the calls. If we can improve the third man in the ring, we may eliminate some of the poor decisions concerning the bad calls we have been subjected to.