Boxing must clean up or die

Manny Pacquiao was robbed. The welterweight wasn't able to knock out opponent Timothy Bradley, and in boxing that means the winner is determined by the scorecards of three all-too-human judges.

Subjectivity is undermining what is left of boxing's (struggles to keep a straight face) integrity. Fighting was once an almost-noble sport, and midcentury cigar-chompers made boxing the NFL of its era. However, boxing has not had that kind of cachet since around the time Mike Tyson dined on Evander Holyfield's ear. And that was well before the emergence of face tattoos.

The sport and its approximately 475 organizing bodies need to figure out how to turn their image around before boxing goes the way of cockfighting and theatrical wrestling.

AP Photo/Chris Carlson

In a sadly familiar boxing story, Manny Pacquiao, right, appeared to dominate his fight with Timothy Bradley, but the judges said otherwise.

But boxing has an unlikely role model in ... figure skating.

Stop laughing.

Pummeling another person into unconsciousness may not on its face seem to have a lot in common with a sport that involves triple lutzes, Bach and sequins.

But look a little deeper. Both sports have to rely on subjective scoring and, with it, the risk of corruption. Both have had major scandals at the Olympic Games. Roy Jones lost to Korean fighter Park Si-Hun by decision at the 1988 games in Seoul after landing 86 punches to Park's 32, according to The Guardian.

Similarly, ice skating was rocked by a 2002 scandal in the pairs competition. After Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier took the silver and Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia won the gold, some commentators felt the judges had made a mistake. Later, when French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne broke down and confessed she had been pressured to favor the Russians, the scandal widened. She later recanted the confession, but the damage was done and the IOC awarded both couples gold medals.

After the Jones debacle, Olympic boxing changed to a more objective judging system that focuses on total punches landed, but given all the governing bodies, there is not a singular voice to make things right in the professional ranks.

Figure skating, on the other hand, from the Olympic level on down, was cleaned up. There will always be some way to cheat the system, but figure skating officials have adopted more objective scoring, called the international judging system (IJS). Not everyone endorses the changes -- some judges even retired rather than learn the new rules -- but the sport has moved forward and put accountability at the forefront.

AP Photo/Paul Chiasson

Figure skating officials implemented a new, more-objective scoring system in the wake of a scandal in the 2002 Olympics that nearly cost Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier a gold medal.

"With IJS, the sport has become more measurable," Mitch Moyer, U.S. Figure Skating senior director of athlete high performance, said in a statement. "The athletes are provided more detailed feedback as to the way their performance was evaluated by the judges. While not a perfect system, the athletes and coaches can take this feedback and make adjustments to improve for the next competition."

Artistry is difficult to measure, and it is not emphasized as much in the new system. Judges instead quantify artistry in ways that can be measured, such as "rhythmic knee action and precision of foot placement."

So it isn't perfect.

Everyone knew what a 6.0 meant, and the new system is just inscrutable enough to open the door to fraudulent scores if judges are anonymous. But isn't an attempt to name the unnamable better than allegedly taking a bunch of boxing judges to dinner in Korea and winding up with a fixed decision?

So what in a boxing ring can be measured and put into an objective system? Punches landed and standing eight-counts would be a natural place to start, and would have delivered Jones his deserved gold medal.

Or boxing, with its alphabet soup of belts, could do nothing, and dive after shrinking payouts as it becomes less and less relevant on the sports landscape. Horse racing, boxing and baseball were three of the most popular sports last century, but only baseball can make that claim now.

Baseball has dealt with scandals of its own, but it isn't the storm that's most important, it's what happens in its wake.

There is no need for boxing to act like it's the 1880s and J.L. Sullivan is still waxing his mustache. As USA Today columnist Christine Brennan noted, if you added a few well-placed sensors to a boxing glove, you could measure the speed and power of each punch. Those could be calculated into the overall score.

Technology can solve some problems that subjective scoring has presented in sports. Some will lament removing the human element, but we're all pretty cool with instant replay at this point, right?

Boxing will learn an old lesson soon enough: evolve or die.

Sponsored Content

Related Content