I recently caught up on two fights that aired during times I was unable to watch. The first was the Tomasz Adamek-Steve Cunningham heavyweight bout. The compubox numbers showed that Cunningham landed more total punches, most of them being jabs, but that Adamek landed more power shots. In fact, Adamek probably managed an even greater advantage in power shots than Cunningham did in jabs. Either way, I remember feeling that the fight was unexciting but competitive, with Adamek coming out stronger, quicker and more accurate in the early rounds. At the end of each round, Adamek’s plan was the push the action. He did just as he planned for most of the fight, and more than once was able to stun Cunningham slightly. About halfway through the fight, Cunningham’s vastly superior reach started to wear on Adamek and more straight punches started getting through to smaller fighter. I remember thinking that Adamek let it get too close in those late rounds and that he might even have been lucky to get the decision with the way judges score late rounds sometimes. In the end though, Adamek came out on top, just barely, and Cunningham was left distraught. Cunningham insisted “Real men cry, real men shed tears, you can’t knock everyone out. We did our thing in the ring. It saddens me. I can’t be getting cheated like this. It’s sad, man, it’s sad.” I didn’t actually see the tears so I can’t attest to the masculinity of this real man, but the scores were close, like they would have been if Cunningham had won, and I think they went the right way. Adamek’s trainer was quoted saying “It all depends on what you were looking at[…]If you looked at effective punching, which is what the judges saw, they would have give this to Tomasz. If you liked running and being a stylist, then you wanted Cunningham. I think the more effective puncher won this fight, and that was Tomasz.” This outraged some boxing fans whose judgment I normally hold sacred, but I really think his trainer was just referencing the subjective nature of scoring and the first and most important of the boxing scoring criteria: effective/clean punching. Whether you’re more comfortable with the phrase “effective punching” or “clean punching,” it means the same thing. The punches can be more or less clean based on the impact of the punches, their effect on the fighter, and how well the opponent defends against them. In other words, one fighter lands more punches but they don’t affect the other guy, his opponent lands fewer punches but manages to beat the guy up and visibly stun him, and the decision goes to the guy whose punches had greater effect. This can be controversial when the fighter who lands more often is extremely accurate and efficient, and is not discouraged by the opponent’s power. In this case the audience could argue that the volume puncher had control throughout the contest, and therefore even if he is more bruised or bloody, he is the winner. That wasn’t the case with Adamek-Cunningham, though. The two fighters were about equally bruised and bloodied, and Adamek’s punches were more effective for all but a few rounds. No controversy to me.
The other fight I watched was the first ESPN Friday Night Fights broadcast of 2013 between Arash Usmanee and Rances Barthelemy. Another totally un-thrilling but competitive bout showed Barthelemy demonstrate superior accuracy, range and footwork for most of the rounds, while Arash Usmanee was able to make a somewhat inspiring comeback in the late rounds. Not only did Usmanee use his power to break through Barthelemy’s defense, but he broke down his stamina to the point that Barthelemy was unable to maintain distance at all, at points stumbling around the ring looking for sanctuary. This excitement all occurred within the last few rounds of the fight, however, and when the close decision came for Barthelemy the ESPN broadcasters initiated one of their patented tirades against the judges. Led by the venerable and singular Teddy Atlas, Joe Tessitore derided the judges themselves and both commentators referred to 2013 as another year of the same bad judgment. I normally love Teddy’s tirades, but that’s because I usually agree. His outburst about the Emmanuel Augustus-Courtney Burton fight was classic, simultaneously entertaining and cathartic. In this case, unfortunately, I think he was way off base declaring “HAPPY NEW YEAR!! SAME LOUSY JUDGES!” Supporting my theory, ESPN.com’s Brian Campbell posted an article today about the fight. Campbell criticizes Barthelemy from the outset for giving away his reach and losing steam so dramatically toward the end, but says the reason he wrote the article is that after having sided with the mob about the judges misconduct, he gave Barthelemy’s co-promoter the benefit of the doubt, who asked outraged fans to watch the fight again before making their decision. After re-watching the fight he had to admit he was mistaken. As bad as the judges can be in boxing, and as bad as some decisions are, this was no Paul WIlliams-Erislandy Lara. As a result of that entirely outrageous robbery a precedent was set as all three judges were suspended pending further investigation and remedial training. Until that point, no judge had ever been penalized that way for a decision. There have been a plethora of frustrating decisions and blurred lines throughout boxing history, but I think this shows that sometimes we get a little too eager to yell at the TV just because we know the scoring is fallible. I’m guilty of it too, that’s why the sport is so commonly referred to as employing revisionist history. Possibly more than any other sport, boxing is guilty of this flaw, but true fans know it’s good enough to get by, most of the time.