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25 JUNE 2018


The Commission

By John Lumpkin: This past Friday, we witnessed something new in boxing. The fight between Anthony Thompson and Ishmail Arvin was officially ruled as a TKO stoppage victory for Arvin due to a cut on Thompson that prevented him from continuing. The ruling would have made perfect sense as the referee had previously ruled the cut to be from a punch. However, unlike most fights, the broadcast team intervened on the behalf of Thompson in the belief that they had proof that the cut was caused by an accidental head butt. The tape they replayed did in fact appear to show that the cut was caused by a butt.

The broadcasters showed the tape to the referee before the official verdict was to be read prompting the referee to ask the Commissioners from the District of Columbia Boxing and Wrestling Commission at ringside to make a ruling as to what should be done. The Commissioners, to the outrage of many, after viewing the tape multiple times, elected to ignore the obvious evidence on the tape to the contrary and ruled the butt a result of a punch giving the victory the Arvin.

The Commissioners did the right thing for the right reasons. One of the most difficult things for people who are not engaged with the legal system to understand is that fact is not always admissible evidence. The Commission is a body whose purpose is to administer our sport under the prescribed rules and regulations for the area they serve. These rules specify procedures that need to be followed and determine what can and cannot be considered.

There simply was no provision for instant replay and it would have been grossly inappropriate for the Commission to ignore the rules because this opportunity presented itself during the contest. We should be applauding the Commission for having the fortitude to stick to its rules and regulations during what was most certainly a high pressure and highly public situation. It is this type of integrity that many of us repeatedly claim that boxing is lacking. Had they ruled otherwise, it would have been tantamount to making up a new rule on the fly.

Under the current Municipal Professional Boxing and Wrestling Regulations of the District of Columbia Boxing and Wrestling Commission, the appropriate mechanism for handling this type of situation is a hearing. Anthony Thompson and his representatives will have the opportunity to present the video tape evidence to the Commission in an offer of proof that the cut was indeed caused by a head butt. The Commission will then have the responsibility to review the tape and make a determination if there is ample evidence to overrule the referee’s call.

The Commission’s decision is not necessarily the final decision. The aggrieved party has the right to seek a ruling from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals which could uphold or reverse the opinion of the Commission. Appeals courts, however, do not reinvestigate the actual case. Their focus is on whether or not the Commission followed the rules when they made their decision. If they were to find that the Commission’s ruling was not consistent with its own rules, it could reverse the decision made by the Commission.

There are two interesting side notes to this situation. First is the action of the broadcasters. The broadcasters stepped outside their role as journalists whose responsibility is to cover the event and instead tried to influence the event. According to the code of ethics published by the Society of Professional Journalists, they were correct in reporting the discrepancy, but incorrect in trying to influence the District of Columbia Boxing and Wrestling Commission to violate their own rules. They essentially were trying to do the right thing in the wrong way.

The second item of note is the use of instant replay in boxing. In this particular situation, it does appear that having the benefit of instant replay can be an excellent tool. There are, however, several challenges to widespread use of the tool. The most obvious is that not all boxing matches are filmed. This is not a simple thing to address in our sport because it is not conducted under one body or jurisdiction. The best we could hope for is partial acceptance.

If the sport is to adopt instant replay in some limited fashion, the people responsible for the filming need to be officials and not random reporters. It is nice that ESPN was able to capture the exact sequence of events that created the controversy, but it is not the duty of the network to perform this function. It is not a good idea to give a network the ability to determine who wins or loses a fight. We also need to be cautious of films from other non-official parties as this may introduce questions of authenticity or doctoring.

Without official support of instant replay, the best method of handling those situations in which a film may show a different interpretation of an event is through a hearing. It is not as satisfying or expedient as an instantaneous ruling, but we must remember that the situations in which instant replay could be effectively utilized in boxing are much more complicated than whether or not a ball is on or off a line. And boxing is not the type of sport where a timeout is appreciated.

Lastly, we have to consider whether or not boxing has the capacity to support instant replay. Instant replay places two burdens on the sport that it may not be able to address. First, and probably the best argument for using the networks as the source of instant replay, is that it is not simple or cheap to create the quality of film necessary for instant replay to be effective. Second, the use of instant replay is bound to significantly increase the number of protests. Not all commissions have the personnel or budget to support such an increase.

Instant replay can be a great tool, but it is not without its challenges and repercussions. There are certain situations in which it can make a significant difference and the recent contest between Thompson and Alvin is great example. What will be interesting is what the Commission will rule if they accept the evidence on the tape as accurate. The right thing would be to overturn the TKO and go to the scorecards. Commissions, however, frequently favor rematches over reversals.

August 20, 2008

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