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Judge dread: Will external factors influence the scoring of Diaz-Malignaggi II?

07
Dec

You’ve heard Harold Lederman read his judging-criteria script so many times by now that you know it by heart:

“Jim, real quick, the four criteria that the judges will use to score each individual round: clean punching, effective aggressiveness, ring generalship and defense, with a strong emphasis on clean, effective punching.”

It’s a reasonable enough set of criteria, but it’s more idealistic than realistic. The reality-based version would continue with the following:

“Judges might also take into account whose hometown it is, which punches the crowd responds to more loudly, who each fighter’s promoters are, what style of boxing the judge holds a personal preference for and a variety of other intangibles that can be lumped together as symptoms of basic human nature and human error.”

Going into his first fight with Juan Diaz back on Aug. 22 in Diaz’s hometown of Houston, Paulie Malignaggi predicted that the latter set of criteria would influence the outcome more directly than the set Lederman uses, and to varying degrees, the brash Brooklynite was right. In a fight nearly everyone agrees was close, judge Raul Caiz turned in a reasonable card of 115-113 for Diaz, David Sutherland had a 116-112 card for Diaz that began to flirt with absurdity, and Gale Van Hoy saw it 118-110 for Diaz, a score that had Bernie Madoff angrily screaming, “Scam!”

As they prepare for a rematch on the neutral turf of the UIC Pavilion in Chicago this Saturday, Malignaggi is not predicting that the second set of criteria will play a major role. As he told RingTV.com last week, “I haven’t been complaining because there’s nothing to complain about. I haven’t needed to say anything because I’m very satisfied with the way both camps have handled the situation, I’m very satisfied with the way the Illinois commission has handled the situation and I believe the circumstances are set that the better fighter can win the fight this time around. I believe it’s a neutral enough set of circumstances and I’ll get a fair shake.”

Hopefully Malignaggi is right and the better fighter will win, plain and simple, no controversy. But the fact of the matter is, even with no home-ring advantage in either direction to worry about, the potential for factors beyond Lederman’s basic four to influence the scoring still exists. And one of those factors actually favors Malignaggi.

Call it the “rematch sympathy” element. The judges in Chicago will be aware of what happened in Houston. They’ll know Malignaggi predicted a screwing and they’ll know their officiating brethren made his prophecy come true. They can be the most fair, unbiased judges on the planet, and human nature will still dictate that, even if only on a subconscious level, they’ll be susceptible to scoring close rounds for Malignaggi because they don’t want to see the same fighter get jobbed twice.

It’s not like it’s never happened before. In 1999, Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield fought twice for the undisputed heavyweight championship. In their infamous first bout at Madison Square Garden, Lewis won clearly and went home to England with only the belt he brought to the ring, taking the raw end of a draw that launched a New York State Senate hearing. In the rematch in Las Vegas eight months later, the action was much closer. Some ringsiders scored for Holyfield, some scored for Lewis, and some scored it a draw. All three judges had it for Lewis, including a 116-112 tally from Chuck Giampa and a 117-111 score from Bill Graham that suggested Holyfield was going to have to dominate the fight to prevent Lewis from getting a make-up call.

The following year, Erik Morales received a split decision over Marco Antonio Barrera. It was one of the decade’s 10 greatest fights. It was also one of the decade’s 10 worst decisions. The rematch came two years later, and when it was over, as with Lewis-Holyfield II, opinions were split as to who had won. The judges were unanimous in scoring for Barrera. It certainly wasn’t a robbery, but it was impossible not to wonder if sympathy affected the scoring.

For an older example, the Kid Gavilan-Billy Graham four-fight rivalry that played out in the 1950s stands out. Gavilan seemed clearly to win their first bout over 10 rounds, but the judges gave Graham the split decision. According to the New York Times, the decision should have been “a mere formality ÔǪ there seemed no room for doubt that Gavilan landed the heavier blows oftener and inflicted greater damage.” In their third fight, with the welterweight title at stake, the score sheets may as well have been filled out before the fighters stepped into the ring, as Graham put on a clinic and Gavilan received a split decision. The question shrouding this one was whether the mob determined the outcome more so than sympathy for the fighter who got the short end the first time.

“That’s tough to answer,” said promoter, manager and boxing historian Don Elbaum. “I think if Graham and Gavilan fought 10 times, every time would be right down to the wire because of their styles. But in these cases, absolutely, both of those fights went to the wrong guy.”

Another classic case of a make-up call came on June 21, 1932, when Jack Sharkey outpointed Max Schmeling for the heavyweight title. Schmeling had captured the title from Sharkey via controversial disqualification two years earlier, and in the rematch, a split decision went to Sharkey.

“Cynics called it justice,” wrote Steve Farhood in The Ring: Boxing The 20th Century. “Everyone else called it the worst decision in heavyweight title fight history.”

Leading into this weekend’s Diaz-Malignaggi rematch, can the judges be expected, either intentionally or subconsciously, to exact some form of “justice”?

“That possibility never really dawned on me,” Malignaggi said. “All I know is, it can go both ways – they can be so conscious of the idea of giving me sympathy rounds, that they give close rounds to Diaz so it doesn’t look like they gave me sympathy rounds. You don’t want to overcompensate one way, so you end up overcompensating the other way.”

Indeed, that outcome isn’t out of the question. With the scoring of a Diaz-Malignaggi fight, nothing is out of the question.

One thing Malignaggi has to concern himself with is the fact that some judges just don’t like slick boxers and will always score close rounds for a guy moving forward ineffectively rather than a guy giving ground but landing cleaner.

“That’s always something to be aware of,” Elbaum said. “I make a study of how judges judge. Do they like boxers or punchers? I keep track of that and, when I handle fighters, I do what I can to line up judges who’ll appreciate their style.”

Malignaggi also has to concern himself with the fact that he’s exceptionally outspoken, which could turn him into a perceived enemy of the establishment. In two cases over the last quarter-century, an outspoken fighter who was not overly popular with the powers-that-be most definitely did not get the make-up call in the rematch. There was Larry Holmes, who lost a close decision to Michael Spinks the first time and suffered a far greater injustice via split decision in the rematch. And there was Bernard Hopkins, who lost a highly controversial split decision to Jermain Taylor in their first fight and then came up short by unanimous decision in a rematch that could have gone either way.

Malignaggi is optimistic that his mouth won’t come back to bite him when the Chicago judges fill out their cards.

“Whenever I’m outspoken, I say it from my heart,” he said. “I’m not trying to purposely blast people. I don’t have my own personal agendas. I just want the right thing done. If you don’t do the right thing, I feel like I need to call you out on it. Gale Van Hoy was a terrible judge even before Diaz-Malignaggi I. The record spoke for itself. Yet he was still inserted in as a judge. Somebody has to speak up and make sure people like that don’t work fights, because he obviously has his own agenda. I feel like I had to do it. But it’s nothing against any other judges. I don’t think judges should look at each other like a brotherhood. Just because I’m dissing Gale Van Hoy doesn’t mean I’m dissing all the other judges or the establishment.”

In scoring Diaz-Malignaggi II, the judges can let any number of external factors influence them. They can hold a grudge against Malignaggi for questioning the integrity of some fellow judges. They can make his battle more-challenging by simply preferring Diaz’s style. They can enter the fight ready to give Malignaggi close rounds because he didn’t get them last time. Or they can try so hard not to fall into that trap that they end up giving Diaz all the close rounds again.

Or they can just ignore all of that and follow Harold Lederman’s four criteria for judging a fight. That’s what Malignaggi is asking for. And that’s what boxing needs most from this bout.

RASKIN’S RANTS

ÔÇó So what’s the most blatant “make-up call” in boxing history? It didn’t really fit into the above article, but it has to be Roy Jones Jr. getting the Val Barker Cup at the 1988 Olympics despite “losing” his gold-medal match.

ÔÇó Officially, I got my ballsy Sergio Martinez-Paul Williams upset pick wrong, but I take pride in the fact that I opened several emails Sunday morning congratulating me on a great prediction anyway. I hope nobody discredits Williams because he struggled against an underdog; the reality is, this might have been the most impressive performance of Williams’ career, rallying the way he did from a 30-27 hole against an outstanding opponent. For the record, I had the fight 114-114, and if Pierre Ben-Heist thinks anybody won that fight 119-110, then I’m filing for a restraining order to ensure that he’s never allowed within 500 yards of a pencil again.

ÔÇó We’ve seen some lousy scorecards this year, but maybe the worst overall decision I’ve witnessed was the Fariz Kazimov-DeMarcus Corley fight on Nov. 28 in Russia. I got a DVD of the fight last week, and “Chop Chop” got thoroughly ripped off by both the judges and the ref. Referee Viktor Panin warned Kazimov for low blows at least seven times but never took a point, and judges Sergei Bausov and Semen Stakheev both scored the fight 97-93 for Kazimov. I had it 97-93 for Corley – and it didn’t even feel that close. It was a horrible injustice that wasn’t televised in the U.S., so all I can do as a journalist is spread the word and hope that the boxing community thinks of Corley as having one fewer defeat than his record shows.

ÔÇó A quick note on Bernard Hopkins’ assertion that a legend like Roy Jones Jr. deserves more of a chance to fight back before the referee stops it: If Jones had never been KO’d before, B-Hop would have an argument. But with Jones’ history of getting knocked silly (particularly the frightening way he crashed against Glen Johnson), ref Howard John Foster was just doing his part to save a man from getting caught with that one big shot he feels for the rest of his life.

ÔÇó Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao is all but signed for March 13. It should be a fun next three months on Pardon The Interruption, watching Tony Kornheiser squirm without his “Boxing is dead” rhetoric to lean on every time the sport is discussed.

ÔÇó If you haven’t heard last week’s “Ring Theory” audio show yet, you can still access it at https://www.ringtv.com/blog/1384/ring_theory_raskindettloff_audio_show. Fans of Tom Bergeron won’t want to miss his guest appearance on this episode.

Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected]

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