By Jason Pribila: As we look back at a mostly forgettable 2016 for the sport of boxing, we have come to “Worst Decision of the Year”. While it is common in the immediate aftermath of a prize fight, the team who comes up short on the scorecards instinctively yells robbery. After the dust settles, we often go back and watch the fight again, and while we may not agree with the decision, we concede that it was a close fight.
When Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev agreed to meet in the ring, fight fans were treated to a rarity in boxing. We had 2 undefeated fighters in their prime willing to risk perfect records for the chance at greatness. We did not have a blueprint on how either fighter could be beat, because no one had ever had their hand raised when facing Kovalev or Ward.
That, however, does not deter fight experts from all levels to write their pre-fight narrative. While the majority of boxing scribes noted that Kovalev’s power is a wild card, most felt that Ward would take a few rounds to figure out what he had in front of him. Once he figured it out he would force a frustrated Kovalev to abandon his game-plan, and burn up his energy by swinging – missing – and being countered.
On fight night, Kovalev scored a knockdown and dominated the first four rounds. However, Ward had steadied himself to the point that he did not seem to be in danger of returning to the canvas any time soon. Therefore, at a certain point, I believe that the majority of folks watching the fight felt that although Ward was competitive he needed at least a knockdown to have any chance at lifting the belts from his toughest foe to date.
What we saw in the second half of the fight was a series of closely contested rounds. Ward’s best round being the seventh, while Kovalev’s was the tenth.
HBO boxing analyst Max Kellerman stated after watching the fight alone he felt that Sergey Kovalev won the fight 114-113. Kellerman gave each fighter 6 rounds, but Kovalev earned the extra point for knocking Ward off his feet in Round 2.
He also admitted that he could see scores ranging from 115-112 for Kovalev to 114-113 for Ward. According to Kellerman, the most rounds either fighter could have won were 7 rounds. No matter how you slice it, this was a competitive fight. However, it only becomes a robbery when we look closer.
Sergey Kovalev clearly won rounds 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. He scored an extra point for the knockdown. This means that Ward not only needed to win the last 6 rounds, but he would need to sweep them on John McKale and Glenn Trowbridge’s scorecards. Judge Burt Clements had somehow given Ward Round 6, and his score midway through the fight was 58-55 Kovalev.
At the midpoint of the fight, the judges seemed to be watching the same fight as those who were not only watching from home, but also from those in the boxing media who were credentialed to sit ringside.
When a fight is televised, the audience is viewing the fight from the same side of the ring as the HBO commentators, Harold Lederman, and in most cases the credentialed media. For the sake of argument, we would all be looking at the ring from the Southside of the Ring. The three official judges are placed in the center of the ring in the North, East, and West sides of the ring.
I have had the opportunity to sit next to official judges, and when the action is directly in front of you, it is tough to see if every punch that was thrown landed. If we are staring at the back of Kovalev, we may not even see Ward, and there are brief exchanges in which a judge could be influenced by the crowd’s reaction, because his/her view is obstructed. This should be the number one reason why we see differences on scorecards, especially during evenly contested rounds. Judges A and B should be able to clearly see any action that was obstructed from Judge C.
This is why you will often hear a commentator say during a closely contested fight that he/she would not be surprised if the scorecards are all over the place. The reason why Kovalev-Ward is so controversial is due to how eerily unanimous the scores were all in favor of Ward.
At the end of each round a judge hands his score for that round to the referee. A feel-out first round is as valuable as of a round of the year candidate. It is important that each judge views each round independently. However, there is a human element to judging that will often reward a fighter for doing better in a certain round than he did in the previous rounds. This could be how Ward was given 10 points in round 6 on Throwbridge’s card.
It is also human for a judge who gave “Fighter A” 10 points in a close round 7, give “Fighter B” the nod in a close round 8.
During the final 6 rounds of Kovalev-Ward there were 18 rounds to be judges. 17 of those 18 rounds were judged in favor of Ward.
If we would look at this as 2 separate fights, would anyone find that Ward dominated fight 2, more than Kovalev did in Fight 1? However, of the 18 rounds judged during rounds 1-6, judges only scored 14 of 18 for Kovalev.
It is not a crime for one of three judges to score round 3, 5, or 6 for Ward. It only becomes a controversy when none of the same three judges could find a way to give Kovalev round 10.
After losing rounds 7 thru 9, Kovalev seemed to steady the ship by returning to his jab in round 10. CompuBox also clearly favored the round for Kovalev who landed 21 of 58 punches to Ward’s 16 of 35.
The final round was even thru the first minute until Kovalev again landed a left to Ward’s body that momentarily froze Ward. If everything else was even, the fact that Kovalev hurt Ward should have tilted this “championship round” in favor of Kovalev.
Certain judges like certain styles. No one is going to confuse the styles of Kovalev and Ward, therefore, all the judges had to do is score the second half of the bout with the same eyes as they used during the first half of fight. If they unanimously give Kovalev the 10th round, he is a 114-113 winner. Even though it’s only a matter of changing the score on 3 of 36 rounds, I guarantee that we would be writing about a different fight in this space.
If Kovalev wins the fight 114-113, we are all banging the drum for an immediate rematch. Many will still favor Ward in the rematch, banking that he will not fall behind in the rematch and fight on even terms from the opening bell. Others may feel that Kovalev will enter the ring with even more confidence. He knows that he could win by boxing or banging, and he also knows that Ward’s power is something he can’t walk thru.
Instead, we again frustrated a fan base that was already reluctant to open their wallets to pay for prize fights. Many of them again have ammunition that judges score fights to go along with the pre-fight narrative.
As much as I would like to see the rematch, if I am Team Kovalev, I move on rather than fight Ward in Oakland.
Not the sentiment that an amazing prize fight deserved. A post-fight feeling that could have easily been avoided had the judges stayed focused on the action taking place in the ring.
Prib Notes: I believe that boxing promoters need to get together and do everything in their power to make sure that boxing fans are never treated as they were in 2016. Yes, once upon a time a promoter could allow fights to marinade so that they could guarantee that the fight was made at a time it could earn the maximum. However, boxing fans have shown with their wallets that they will only pay for fights that the fans deem pay-per view worthy.
Fighters need to look at guys like James Toney and not Floyd Mayweather. Toney was on the pound for pound list and would take non-title fights to remain sharp, and while allowing his fan base to grow. There’s only one Money Mayweather, and he’s retired. I don’t see a fighter in 2017 who will come close to $1 million PPV buys unless he’s matched with “GGG”. Yeah, I’m talking to you Oscar/Canelo.
I, for one cannot wait to put 2016 in our rearview, and with Frampton – Santa Cruz 2, and Joshua-Klitschko signed, 2017 is off to a great start.
RIP George Michael. I would have loved to see a tour with Queen, but I’ll cherish your performance at Wembley forever.
Jason Pribila is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He could be reached for questions or comments at email@example.com or followed on Twitter.com @PribsBoxing