By Corey Erdman
If boxing is considered to be a form of physical art, then perhaps it stands to reason that the work of its artists are all too often misinterpreted and unappreciated.
On Saturday, two high level boxing matches ended in robberies—that is, that when it came time for the judges to pick a winner, they picked the wrong one. Both Ryota Murata and Kiryl Relikh should have walked away with victories on Saturday, but instead, Hassan N'Dam and Rances Barthelemy had their hands raised.
But what explanation could there be for judges making such egregious mistakes? Picking the winner in these bouts seemed as easy as deciding whether a Rembrandt or a child's crayon drawing is the better picture. There wasn't much room for subjectivity.
Murata, the Olympic gold medallist, thoroughly dominated N'Dam and seemed to have the vacant WBA middleweight strap all but around his waist. That is, until two judges turned in unthinkable scorecards of 116-112 and 115-112. The third judge saw the bout 117-110 for Murata, which was in line with reality. The first half of the fight saw N'Dam dropped and hurt numerous times, as Murata marched forward and harassed the Frenchman. Over time, N'Dam managed to create more distance by retreating to the perimeter and avoiding combat altogether.
Even if somehow you view aversion to not just being punched, but landing punches as “ring generalship” and saw the entire second half as being dominated by N'Dam, there still wasn't five knockdowns in the first half of the fight to justify a 116-112 scorecard.
“First of all let me apologize to Ryota Murata, Teiken Promotions and all Japanese boxing fans. I feel angry and frustrated for not being able to serve the sport with the right decisions.After judging the bout my scorecard is 117-110 for Murata. I will demand the championship committee to order a direct rematch," said WBA president Gilberto Mendoza on Twitter.
Whether you believe the actions of a sanctioning body to be altruistic or not—and most do not—one still has to admit that even the shadiest of operators wouldn't want to publicly admit that their representing champion is undeserving of the belt he's holding. Only in the wake of the most glaring of errors would they decide to take that route.
Twelve hours later and across the world, Kiryl Relikh had seemed to upset Rances Barthelemy and be on his way to a junior weltweight title shot, but instead saw scorecards suggesting he'd been handled easily by his Cuban opponent. While Barthelemy winning this fight may not have been as egregious as N'Dam defeating Murata, the lopsided nature of the scorecards may have actually been more absurd.
Showtime boxing analyst Steve Farhood scored the bout 114-112, which taking a general gander at online reactions following the bout, seemed to be in line with the majority of home scorers. Compubox credited Relikh with 248 landed punches, as compared to Barthelemy's 137. The official judge's view of the bout? 117-109, 116-110 and 115-111 in favor of Barthelemy.
Perhaps the best indication that this was a poor decision is that Showtime's Al Bernstein, who is typically noted for his fair and diplomatic approach to broadcasting, immediately lambasted the judges' scoring.
Farhood surmised that the poor scoring could have been due to the judges' lack of experience, having only a handful of 10 and 12 round fights between them. That said, the Twitter scorecards, filled out by people with zero bouts underneath their belts managed to be correct or at least closer to reality than the ones filled in by professionals.
The sad irony is that people in boxing are almost trained to expect injustices. As I watched the Relikh decision unfold with my friend, herself a local boxing trainer, she remarked, “even in the amateurs, you know that if you're fighting on a club show, that club's fighter is going to win unless you knock them out, basically. I'd say maybe one out of three of our fighters actually won the fights they win when we host shows.”
From the day people begin in this sport, they're conditioned to expect bad decisions. For pure spectators, the stain of mob involvement and any number of past bribery scandals have never been fully scrubbed away, leaving an inherent distrust in all boxing officials, and the assumption that the sport is corrupt.
However, this weekend's bad decisions make it difficult for even the zaniest of conspiracy theorists to come up for a common reason why the judges' decided what they did. Sure, Relikh was ripped off in a fight he was supposed to lose to Barthelemy, who was the A-side, the promoter's fighter and the one with years of American television exposure. The bad decision in this case produced the expected and “desired” result in the eyes of the powers that be. But Murata was robbed in Japan, his homeland, in front of a sold-out arena plastered with big money sponsorships, to the chagrin of the sanctioning body overseeing the event. What reason could there have been to want that?
Almost all issues within boxing can be explained with the same blanket statement: There are no barriers of entry to the sport. When it comes to puzzling decisions, that explains it, too, however you want to actually explain them. Do you think the judges are simply poor? You're right. A collection of inexperienced judges was tasked with presiding over a 12-round title eliminator bout. Are judges simply biased? They could be. Everyone in boxing has interpersonal relationships that could cloud their judgment—from reporters all the way up to promoters and network executives. Complete impartiality isn't monitored the way it is in an actual courtroom. Could it be offshore bookies cooking up results for big paydays? That's possible too. Hang around boxing long enough and the number of people you interact with who engage in only on the books financial activity will be in the minority.
Unfortunately, boxing requires more than bit of credulity, or we'd never be able to enjoy the bell to bell action. But that doesn't mean we should throw in the towel and stop asking questions, or wanting justice for the men inside the ring.