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18 JUNE 2018

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"Bad" decisions or confused interpretations?

The public’s continued outcry over “bad” decisions in boxing may simply be a result of confusion or misinterpretation of the unified rules on how to judge a fight and score a round.


As a reminder, the Unified Rules of Boxing lists the following four criteria as factors to be used by ring judges to score a professional boxing match:

  • Clean punching: “Clean” punches are punches that land on the face/side of the head and the front/side of the torso.
  • Effective aggressiveness: A boxer demonstrates this trait when he consistently and successfully moves forward in a controlled manner.
  • Ring generalship: The judges favor the fighter who controls the pace and style of the bout.
  • Defense: Boxers that skillfully incorporate defensive maneuvers receive credit in this area.

For a moment, let’s forget about the three lesser points of the Unified Rules of Boxing and focus on what really matters: landing clean punches on your opponent.


Herein may possibly lie the problem that some judges face and most fans perceive when they watch and score a round. Nowhere in the “clean punching” category of the Unified Rules of Boxing do you find the words “powerful,” “strong,” “significant” or “effective.”


That in a nutshell may be the problem. Since “clean punching” is only defined by the area where the punches land (face, head and torso), no distinction is made between the impact that these landed punches have on their opponent.

This is where the human element of judges comes into play where one judge may favor a light hitting boxer who connects often to his opponent’s head, face or torso (“clean punching” according to the Unified Rules of Boxing). 


On the other hand, another judge may favor a heavy puncher who may not land as often as his or her opponent, but at the same time may be inflicting significantly more damage with the few shots that do land.


Unfortunately, this distinction between quantity of punches and quality of punches is not clearly spelled out in the Unified Rules of Boxing. Because of that, this decision is left in the hands of the individual judges who actually score the bout and the type of boxer that they favor.


Perhaps a possible solution would be to simply add a word or two to the Unified Rules of Boxing that helps to remove this ambiguity in the scoring criteria. A suggestion might be to follow the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) as they define strikes to your opponent.  Specifically, it is defined as follows:


“Effective striking is judged by determining the number of legal strikes landed by a contestant and the significance of such legal strikes.”

Allow me to pick apart this definition a bit as I believe a similar statement for boxing might help clear up any uncertainty that may exist in the minds of boxing judges. First, it specifies both the quantity of punches (“number of legal strikes landed”) and the quality of these punches (“the significance of such legal strikes”).


Now granted, legal strikes in MMA can also incorporate elbows and kicks in addition to punches but I think the fact that both the number of punches and the effect of these punches is specifically called out in their rules is important.


However, for me the most important word in MMA’s definition of effective striking isn’t “number” or “significance.” It is “and.” If you read the definition slowly, it clearly states that strikes (punches in boxing) should be judged by determining both the number AND the significance of these strikes.


That clearly means if one contestant lands a whole lot of pity pat punches but do no damage, they should not be scored that heavily. The ultimate objective in boxing is to knockout your opponent. If that is not possible, the secondary objective is to inflict significant damage to your opponent and to prevent him or her from doing damage to you.  I think the late boxing trainer Gil Clancy said it best: “You’ve got to deliver the goods and not stick around for a receipt.”


My simple point of all this is to suggest that the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) should consider revising the wording of their “clean punching” definition to include such possible words as “damage,” significant,” “substantial,” etc. that might help clear up the confusion that some judges have when scoring a round.


The World Boxing Council (WBC) to its credit reminds judges in its fundamentals of scoring about “the scoring of clean punches with power, number and accuracy.” I think that the ABC should seriously consider revising their Uniformed Rules of Boxing as they seek to better define “clean punching” and should follow the lead of the WBC.


Barry Lindenman
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