The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

On The Scoring System And Mainstreaming

I’ve seen this said in like 10 places including Max Kellerman’s cloudcoocooland commentary on the actual broadcast, but since I can link to it and it’s pretty mainstream, let’s pick on Michael Rosenthal at The Ring: “…his score of the Cotto-Clottey fight –- 116-111 in favor of Cotto –- leaves you scratching your head. That score means he had Cotto winning eight of the 12 rounds, a margin too wide for a fight this close. I had it 114-113, or 6-6 in rounds, Cotto’s first-round knockdown being the difference.”

For the love of God, realize what you’re saying: in a close, competitive fight with many rounds which could have been scored either way, you’re telling me the difference between your own unimpeachable score and another which clearly was unjustly and ridiculously wrong was TWO ROUNDS? That’s bonkers, and I can only think it’s motivated by the same sort of basic non-comprehension of the scoring system that has some people claim after every close fight that “it should have been a split decision”. Listen: the way the scoring system is set up, it is entirely possible for an incredibly close fight to be legitimately scored 120-108 in favor of one of the fighters, provided that that fighter was minutely, fractionally better than his opponent in each of the rounds. That looks and seems unjust; after all, wasn’t it a close fight? But that is nonetheless how such a fight SHOULD be scored, since each three minute round is essentially a tiny contest of its own for scoring purposes. In a fight in which, say, one fighter CLEARLY dominates 6 rounds, the other CLEARLY dominates 5, and one is fuzzy, a 116-111 card would in fact be very hard to justify since it would involve almost certainly a misjudging of one round which dramatically favored one of the fighters. But that’s not what we had Saturday- that was the sort of close fight in which many of the rounds could have been scored for either man depending on what you saw, what you were looking for, how you define ideas like ring generalship, etc. That’s why it’s possible to say that a defensible case for either man as winner could be made- because so many of the rounds were close. They score them as they come, they don’t go back at the end and think “gee, this felt like a 116-111.”

To put this in perspective, would it have been wildly unjust to come away from that fight with a 115-112 score for Clottey? I wouldn’t say so- and that’s the exact same two round swing away from Rosenthal’s card which he’s castigating. If you believe that that’s also “too wide a margin” but that Clottey could have been given the fight (a possibility Rosenthal accepts in his blog) then you’re left arguing that there’s only three legitimate scores for a fight with a huge number of competitive rounds: 115-112 Cotto, 114-113 Clottey and 114-113 Cotto. Given that different judges look for different things (which is a legitimate part of judging) and see the fight from different parts of the ring, that’s just unrealistic in general, all the more so in a fight like Saturday’s. Sometimes a lot of small advantages add up to a big advantage; that’s boxing.

To put it another way, the two judges’ cards which Rosenthal does NOT criticize were 115-112 Cotto and 114-113 Clottey- cards which are the same two rounds apart from each other! Or to put it another way, if 115-112 passes without comment and 116-111 is singled out, is the difference between legitimate and illegitimate judging really only one round?

This is one of the things which kills me about boxing- that a sport with enough headaches and issues, most of them self-inflicted, is also afflicted with a class of commentators and opinion-makers who often simply don’t understand the actual scoring system in use, or are so enamored of their own opinion that they’re unable to accept divergent views without calling them corrupt or incompetent. Beyond the fact that that’s simply wrong on the face of things, it also means that when there’s an actual robbery in boxing or an actual ridiculous and corrupt piece of judging or refereeing, there’s almost nothing left to say since all the bile of the press has been expended on waging war over tiny little scoring differences like this. In essence the press becomes an unwitting aide to the scummier forces in boxing by allowing them to blend into the background of general outrage over every little disagreement.

And let me draw a further distinction here: I think Rosenthal is wrong and I’ve given my reasons here, but I don’t at all suspect him of bad faith since he’s written many good pieces before and because he’s a print writer who’s already made it to the peak of print journalism about boxing- writing for The Ring. In the case of someone like Max Kellerman, though, you wonder: his opinions on things have changed wildly over the years, his quality of analysis has gone down tremendously, and he’s shown some signs of wanting to make it as a mainstream sports talk personality with Around the Horn, his radio shows, etc. It’s possible that he’s simply dumbing down things for the comparatively large and casual audiences of HBO broadcasts, or has sincerely come to believe and argue things he never would have back in his Friday Night Fights days, but as I watch him of late I can’t help but wonder if part of what’s going on with him is an attempt to use boxing as a springboard to bigger things. For someone who came up as a boxing commentator essentially the only way to sell yourself as a mainstream act these days is to set up shop as an internal critic of boxing, to be the “boxing guy” who bravely rails against corruption, who Calls It Like It Is, who in essence confirms the mainstream presumption of boxing as the perpetually corrupt fever swamp of sports and does so by aligning himself with the mainstream against it. You’re certainly never going to break through to Sportscenter on the basis of your in-depth knowledge of proper footwork or your ability to name every title defense and result for Sugar Ray Robinson as a middleweight, so for an ambitious young broadcaster the incentives are very strong to criticize boxing at every turn and thereby establish the persona that offers greater options outside the niche-sport ghetto.

Is that what’s going on with Kellerman? I don’t know, and it’s possible I’ve severely misjudged the man and the situation. I’ve read and heard that he’s done impressive publicity work for boxing through his radio shows, so I am by no means certain as to whether the process outlined above is actually in operation. But the next few times you listen to him on HBO telecasts, tell me if the thought doesn’t cross your mind as well.

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June 15, 2009 - Posted by | Boxing

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