By Marc Ratner
Judging is once again on the front burner for the nation’s boxing fans. The last couple of televised fights on HBO have ended in controversial decisions that have riled the announcers, writers, and fans. One of the tasks of an Athletic Commission is to appoint the judges for the fight cards; including the championship fights. The idea sounds easy, and most would think we just put three people ringside and say, “Judge the fight.” However, we have a history of each judge who has worked in the state, how many rounds they have worked, how many times they voted with the majority, how many times they were on the minority side of a split decision, and how many even rounds they have judged. We also have a history of out of state, or out of country officials with the same variables. We try to make an educated choice for each fight card and championship bout.
When the Athletic Commission is presented with a championship fight, we also take into consideration whether or not any of the judges (and referees) that we might select have had any controversial history with either fighter. Obviously if there has been some controversy, then we will not put that official back into the fight. During the selection process, we try to obtain as much feedback about the prospective officials as possible. We ask the sanctioning bodies for a list of their officials; and then we, the Commission, make the final selection. We also allow the promoters to have some input, so if there has been a problem with an official that we are not aware of, we can have additional knowledge to assist with the selection process.
There is an axiom that says, “styles make fights.” It also applies to judges. Some judges like aggressiveness, some like jabbers, and some like movement and defense. If we know the upcoming bout will have a puncher and a dancer, then we certainly don’t want judges who only favor punchers, or who only favor defensive movers. We try to select the best judges for that particular fight. It is an inexact science at best, but most of the time there is not a problem, and the rightful winner of the bout gets the decision.
We are trying to get a commonality of philosophy where the judges are on the same page in what they are looking for. Occasionally we get wide disparities in scoring, where one judge has it four points one way and another has it four points the other way. When we have this disparity, the judges are not seeing the fight philosophically the same. In a 12-round fight, our goal is to have a minimum of seven unanimous rounds, but preferably eight or nine rounds the same. It is a rare occurrence when all three judges have the exact same score round for round. One valuable way to work on the commonality of philosophy is our post-fight critique where we have judges discuss their scoring, and discuss what they were looking at during their fight. Those who can really articulate what they are watching are usually the judges who have the most consistent scoring.
We constantly strive for upward mobility of the judges, so that no one becomes complacent. We cannot reward judges who are continually wide with their scoring on the wrong side of split decisions. We also must move judges up. Judges are like prelim fighters. They start in the amateurs, and then with four and six-round fights. They then move up to do eight-round bouts and main events. After a while, they do minor title fights, and then world championship fights. It is a slow progression, but with patience and fortitude, judges will rise and become part of the championship mix.
I expect judges who are not assigned to a specific card, come to the fights and score. I also expect our judges watch televised fights elsewhere and score them at home. This is the best way to stay sharp. Officials must have a code of ethics they follow. No matter how they feel about a decision, they should not criticize their fellow official. They should not be at the weigh-in and hang around the fight camps, and on fight night, they should not be in the pressroom talking with reporters.
When there is a decision that is considered controversial, I believe it is important for the judges to sit down with the Athletic Commission to discuss scoring and philosophy. Since the sport is so subjective, the more input one receives, the more the judges learn. This will ultimately help their decision making process in the future.
As I stated in the opening paragraph, judging boxing is back in the negative spotlight over controversial decisions. Certainly the Mayweather-Castillo fight was controversial. It was an interesting bout with Mayweather having a good first half, and Castillo coming on strong in the late rounds. If judges only scored the fight when it was over, instead of round by round, you could easily come up with a different winner. In this particular fight, the Athletic Commission decided to select two foreign judges from a list of several names. We felt the judges we selected were three of the best in the world. They had seven rounds the same out of 12. As I said before, we would like to have eight rounds or more scored unanimously. The judges gave credence to the defensive fighter who blocked and slipped a lot of punches. Therefore, they scored the fight in favor of Mayweather for most of the first six rounds. During the fight, neither fighter was in serious trouble, and there were no knockdowns. Castillo landed and threw more punches. However, if that were the only determinant of who one or lost, then we would let the punch stat people determine the winner. I believe the punch stats are a useful tool for the announcers and television fans. Most of the time the judges concur with the stats, but not always. The judges must have a consistent philosophy to make a decision on who won the round as soon as the round is over.
As a regulator, my fervent desire is for the fighter who wins the fight in the ring get the decision. Sounds simplistic and easy. But it is not as simple as it seems.
When the fans, announcers, or writers watch a fight, they seldom concentrate for the complete three minutes. They talk among themselves; they write; they eat and drink; and then give the round to fighter A or B. The announcers guide the television fans. Even though the commentators are at ringside, they are watching monitors and having a director talk in their ear. They cannot concentrate 100% when the fighters are fighting. Judging will always be subjective, and will never be perfect. We will always strive to make judging more objective than subjective, and keep working for decisions that are just and fair.
Marc Ratner started as an Inspector for the Nevada State Athletic Commission in 1985. He became Chief Inspector in 1987. With the ultimate passing of Chuck Minker, Marc became Executive Director in 1993.
Marc Ratner resides in Las Vegas, Nevada. He has been with the Nevada State Athletic Commission for over 17 years. Mr. Ratner was appointed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission in 1992 to serve as Executive Director. Although he is the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s Executive Director, all of the views, opinions, and/or recommendations contained herein are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Nevada’s Commission. All readers are strongly cautioned that the information contained herein is not intended to, and never should, substitute for the necessity of seeking the advice of a qualified medical, legal, or financial professional whenever a boxer or his/her representatives have specific questions regarding the best course of action that a boxer should take. Furthermore, since it is possible that general information herein may pertain only to a law, regulation, rule or acceptable standard of practice for a particular jurisdiction, a boxer or his/her representatives must always inquire with the appropriate licensing jurisdiction to determine the applicable laws, regulations, rules, and acceptable standards of practice for each jurisdiction.
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