Is it time for instant replay?
The idea of instant replay in boxing might seem like a no-brainer. After all, everyone wants to get it right.
Proponents will point to many instances in which replays confirm or refute the decision of a referee and say, “Look, this is a means of ensuring the fairest possible outcome.” And there’s a precedent: New Jersey recently OK’d the use of instant replay, although apparently it hasn’t been used in a boxing match.
However, detractors, who are equally interested in fair outcomes, suggest that instant replay doesn’t lend itself to boxing as well as it does to the stop-and-go nature of NFL games.
Here’s how New Jersey does it in a nutshell:
The state allows for instant-replay reviews of six issues: knockdowns vs. slips; accidental vs. intentional fouls; whether cuts are the result of legal punches; whether fighters beat the count; low blows; and whether punches land before or after the bell.
A referee’s decision can be reviewed only between rounds when the chief second of one fighter requests it. A commission official would then have up to three minutes to make a ruling.
And instant replay is used at the discretion of the lead promoter, who must provide the necessary technology himself or rely on television cameras. He or she is not compelled by law to use instant replay.
There are problems with New Jersey’s approach.
For example, three minutes is too long to interrupt a fight except in cases of fighter safety. A ruling should be made in no longer than the minute between rounds or not made at all, which would preserve the nature of the sport.
And we wonder whether chief seconds would abuse the instant replay, perhaps trying to extend the one-minute break to give a fighter rest or allow him to recover after he’s hurt. A commission official should OK the use of replay only when appropriate.
Reviews also shouldn’t be limited to challenges. A referee should have the option of using it if he or she was admittedly unable to make the correct ruling for whatever reason.
Still, proponents would say that a workable instant replay policy lay somewhere in New Jersey’s system.
HBO broadcaster Jim Lampley, a passionate proponent, said referees constantly make split-second judgments that profoundly affect the outcome of fights and the careers of fighters. Usually they get them right; often they don’t.
He cited several examples to support his position. One was the Humberto Soto-Francisco Lorenzo fight last August in Las Vegas, in which Soto was winning easily but was disqualified by referee Joe Cortez for hitting Lorenzo while he was down. Replays showed that the punch wasn’t flagrant.
Thus, Soto unjustly suffered a significant setback in his career.
Another example was the high-profile Juan Manuel Marquez-Marco Antonio Barrera fight in 2007, in which referee Jay Nady ruled Marquez went down because of a slip but replays showed that it was a knockdown.
“Barrera, in an extremely close fight, clearly knocked down Marquez,” Lampley said. “And Nady ruled it a slip. I began screaming hysterically, ‘Why don’t we have instant replay? Why don’t we have instant replay?’ It was as clear as it possibly could be.
“All you needed to do was have someone look at the monitor between rounds and tell Nady it was a knockdown. Then the scoring could be adjusted. Simple as that.”
Lampley’s partner, analyst Max Kellerman, is baffled by opposition to the idea of instant replay.
Kellerman is OK with limiting the review to the 60 seconds between rounds because he believes that’s more than enough time to use replay to get to the truth in the vast majority of instances.
He pointed to the recent Sergio Martinez-Kermit Cintron fight as an example. Martinez hurt Cintron with a big punch that was so damaging Cintron thought it was a head butt. Replays showed instantly that Martinez’s fist, not his head connected with Cintron’s face.
“If the technology is there and you don’t have to pause the action, because they’re already taking a one-minute break, why not get it right? It makes all the sense in the world,” Kellerman said.
Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, doesn’t rule out the possibility of implementing instant replay but says he and the majority of his fellow commissioners nationwide believe there are inherent problems.
For example, he said a referee’s decision shouldn’t be reviewed after fighting has resumed – even between rounds – because to do so could mislead a fighter, who might base his strategy on the ref’s initial call.
He used football as an example to make his point. The Falcons are losing to the Ravens by two points with 20 seconds left and try a field goal, which is no good. The Ravens get the ball with seconds remaining and take a knee. Game apparently over.
Then, after a review, it’s determined that the field goal WAS good and the Falcons win by a point. The Ravens then say, “Hey, wait a second. Had we known the field goal was good we would’ve tried a Hail Mary pass and who knows what might’ve happened?”
He also provided a boxing scenario.
Fighter A believes he wins two of the first three rounds of a four-round fight. In the final round, Fighter B puts Fighter A down but it’s ruled a slip. The fight appears to end in a draw. However, after the final bell, it’s determined by review that the slip was actually a knockdown, giving Fighter B a one-point victory.
Fighter A could then say, “Had I known I was down a point, I would’ve had more incentive to risk slugging it out.”
“That’s the equivilant of the Hail Mary pass,” Kizer said.
Of course, the other option would be to call time out at the time of the disputed call. However, again, that would radically alter the nature and rythym of boxing, which is three minutes of fighting, one minute rest.
“Then you ask yourself, ‘Is the cure worse than the disease,'” Kizer said.
That said, Nevada officials have discussed implementing instant replay for years and will do so again this summer – but only as it applies to fight-ending controversies.
“That’s what’s being reviewed,” he said. “A guy gets cut and immediately the fight is called because the cut is too bad. ÔÇª Then you can determine with a replay whether the cut happened because of a butt or a punch and know whether it should be ruled a no-contest.”
Lampley and Kellerman have difficulty embracing such logic.
They acknowledge that instant replay couldn’t possibly be perfect but would ask: What is?
“If you wait for something to be perfect, you’ll be paralyzed,” Kellerman said. “Nothing is perfect. That should never be the standard. The standard should be: Is it better than what we have now?
“Instant replay clearly would make things better.”
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]