The Travelin’ Man: the rocky road to Bethlehem-part II
Saturday, August 9: It’s a scene veteran boxing fans have witnessed hundreds of times: an unheralded and overlooked boxer produces the fight of his life against a top-rated contender only to be denied his just due by at least two of the three people entrusted with rendering a fair and reflective verdict. On this night, the boxer in question was Derric Rossy and the majority decision that went against him was painful to absorb because, by a majority of measures, he deserved to be declared the victor against number two-rated heavyweight Vyacheslav Glazkov.
“It is hard to get the words together,” a disheartened Rossy told NBC Sports Network’s Chris Mannix. “I am disappointed. Ultimately, when you have scores like that, you just got to try and find out what they’re looking at, what they’re scoring. I feel like the criteria is that if a score is way off and if the people know it’s a little absurd, there’s no accountability; there’s no liability. It comes down to [they’re] messing with people’s lives and livelihoods. They’re messing with people’s dreams and I don’t think they get the immensity of the judge. That is the most vital part of boxing there is; there is nothing else. We get in here and we work. [Glazkov] fights his heart out; I fight my heart out and I know I won at least six of those rounds, at least. The kid is a great fighter and that was a great fight. You’d think the judges – some of them had it real close; you can’t dispute that – but when it’s very askew, you just got to wonder: Where’s the accountability? Who answers to whom?”
Those are good questions. Good people can agree to disagree about many issues and though my mind’s eye perceived Rossy to be a 97-93 victor, I can grasp the general reasoning behind the scores turned in by Ron McNair (96-94 Glazkov) and John Poturaj (95-95) because there were a couple of rounds that fair minds can interpret differently. But I challenge anyone to adequately explain the scorecard of Pierre Benoist, whose 98-92 margin indicated that Rossy merited only two of the 10 rounds.
I have watched tens of thousands of fights over more than 40 years and I believe this level of experience combined with my journalism training has enhanced my capacity to score fights without bias. Those sensibilities indicate that Benoist’s resounding margin for Glazkov was nothing short of absurd.
Professional judges are charged with assessing fights based on four criteria: clean punching, effective aggressiveness, ring generalship and defense. Judges score each round individually and rely on their own observational skills without the benefit of statistics. However, in the post-mortem, statistics can be used to back up several general observations:
In an overall sense, Rossy fulfilled the first category by outlanding Glazkov in every phase – 184-159 overall, 62-51 in jabs and 122-108 in power connects – and the margins would have been even wider had Glazkov not outlanded Rossy 33-23 overall and 29-19 power in the final round, only the third time Glazkov exceeded Rossy’s total in a given round. In an age when volume-punching is looked upon with particular favor, Rossy achieved another statistical sweep by out-throwing Glazkov 738-400 overall, 338-158 jabs and 400-242 power.
In terms of effective aggression, one can make a case for either man. Glazkov showed his by constantly marching forward, landing the more forceful punches and doing so at a far higher rate (40%-25% overall, 32%-18% jabs, 45%-30% power). Though he was the one on the move, Rossy showed aggression by maintaining a far higher work rate as well as initiating and finishing most of the exchanges.
Rossy was the unquestioned ring general in the majority of the rounds as his strategic movement forced Glazkov to wage the long-range battle the New Yorker wanted. It wasn’t until the very end when Glazkov finally achieved the toe-to-toe slugging match that suited his interests but by then, that shift had a “too little-too late” feel to it.
Defensively, although Glazkov enjoyed significant gaps in terms of connect percentage, a strong case could be made for Rossy because his movement made him a difficult target to pin down, which was reflected by the fact that Glazkov’s per-round output dropped from 48.3 in the Adamek fight to 40 here. Separately from this point, Rossy didn’t hesitate to fire punches at Glazkov as he averaged 73.8 per round, far more than the 43.2 he averaged in his loss to Joey Dawejko in January and the 53.1 he produced in beating Joe Hanks in May.
Thus, one can argue that Rossy won at least two, if not three, of the four judging criteria yet Benoist’s round-by-round assessment added up to an overwhelming margin for Glazkov. Unfortunately for Rossy, that lopsided scorecard will be part of the permanent record, a record that, in this case, is contextually deceptive.
The worst part about what happened to Rossy was that if he had been granted the victory many thought he deserved, the 34-year-old veteran’s life and career path would have been transformed in a most positive way. When Alex Leapai stunned the boxing world by out-pointing the 33-0 Denis Boytsov last November in Bayern, Germany, he received an instant title shot against three-belt heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. Yes, “Dr. Steelhammer” destroyed Leapai in five rounds when they met the following April but the Samoan’s pain was assuaged by two factors: first, the larger-than-usual paycheck that comes with being a heavyweight championship challenger and second, the memory of his triumphant upset over Boytsov, which was properly scored by judges Zoltan Enyedi (98-90), Gerhard Sigl (96-92) and Matteo Montella (96-92). In the end, that correct perception by the judges made it possible for Leapai to experience a career-defining fight.
Although Klitschko’s dance card is filled for the time being – he is scheduled to meet IBF mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev on Sept. 6 – WBC counterpart Bermane Stiverne doesn’t have an opponent yet. Had Rossy won, perhaps Team Stiverne would have seen fit to arrange a voluntary defense against Rossy, whose nationally-televised performance against the number-two rated Glazkov would have justified the rating needed to authorize the match as well as a reason to sell the match to the public. While Rossy would have been a profound underdog, he still would have been granted the chance to fulfill his ultimate dream. But because of what happened this night, that opportunity may never come to pass.
Benoist’s scorecard wasn’t the only one that forced fans and scribes to scratch their collective heads and wonder if sanity has been lost. The second fight of the Showtime Extreme telecast saw Zachary Ochoa and Luis Cervantes engage in a highly competitive six-rounder that featured the best two-way action of the six-fight Showtime Extreme/”Showtime Championship Boxing” telecast. While unofficial ringside scorer Steve Farhood saw Cervantes a 58-56 winner, a score I felt reflected what unfolded between the ropes, the three judges saw a far different fight – 59-55 (Frank Lombardi) and 60-54 twice (Tony Lundy and Carlos Ortiz Jr.) for the now 8-0 (4) Ochoa. For Lundy and Ortiz not to give Cervantes a single round despite landing nearly as many punches (Ochoa led 126-124 by CompuBox count), effectively pushing the fight and landing the harder punches makes one want to ask the same questions Rossy posed in his post-fight interview on NBCSN.
This confounding dynamic also was in play following the strawweight title unification bout between WBO titlist Francisco Rodriguez and IBF counterpart Katsunari Takayama. The bout was hailed by many as a potential “Fight of the Year” candidate due to its ferocious and nearly constant exchanges. While Rodriguez did have the better of the action – he scored the fight’s only knockdown in round three – John Madfis saw fit to turn in a 119-108 scorecard, meaning he believed Takayama won just one of the 12 rounds. Fellow jurists Waleska Roldan (116-111) and Glenn Trowbridge (115-112) more accurately gauged Takayama’s contribution to the proceedings but, human nature being what it is, their good scores were overshadowed by Madfis’ lousy one.
While suspect scoring is a recurring problem in boxing, scorecards that utterly defy logic are few and far between. That said, their relative rarity should not stop the powers-that-be from taking appropriate action every time they occur. A brief search of boxing’s recent past reveals that this can be, and has been, done.
Four days after Paul Williams’ highly controversial majority decision over Erislandy Lara in July 2011, the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board indefinitely suspended all three judges – Hilton Whitaker III (115-114 Williams), Don Givens (116-114 Williams) and Al Bennett (114-114). According to BoxRec, only Whitaker returned to the judging ranks and even then his next assignment didn’t take place until 15 months later. As for Givens (age 76 at the time) and Bennett, Williams-Lara was the last bout they ever judged.
New Jersey’s Eugenia Williams took massive heat after the first Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield fight in which she saw “The Real Deal” a 115-113 winner despite the overwhelming sentiment that Lewis was an unquestioned victor. According to BoxRec.com, Williams’ next assignment didn’t take place until four years and nine months had elapsed. Larry O’Connell, who saw the bout 115-115, didn’t judge another fight for eight-and-a-half months while Stanley Christodoulou, the only jurist to see Lewis a winner, next judged a fight six months later but was refereeing three-and-a-half months later. The quality of Christodoulou’s work as a referee and judge merited his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004.
Then, of course, there is the case of C.J. Ross, whose 114-114 scorecard for the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Saul Alvarez fight ignited criticism so severe that she stepped down from her position six days later.
Professional sports leagues are reluctant to reveal subsequent penalties against their officials, but when the level of offense demands it, they do so in the name of public relations. A big reason why boxing no longer has the same cache as the NFL, NBA or MLB with the general public is because of logic-defying judging and, in part, the lack of public accountability. If boxing wants to regain some of the ground it has lost over the years in terms of credibility with the masses, the various heads of state commissions should make it known that those judges who turn in suspect scores were at least called into the office to explain their scoring. If the suspect score is submitted following a highly-publicized pay-per-view bout, as was the case with Ross, the degree of scrutiny and transparency by the powers-that-be should be amplified accordingly. If done, this will create a foundation of commonality with the public, for when they perform poorly at their jobs, their supervisors usually exact swift and decisive discipline against them.
While bad scorecards should be publicly admonished, excellent judges should be given due credit by the opinion-makers. For me, Julie Lederman, daughter of HBO’s longtime “unofficial official” Harold Lederman, is the best and most consistent boxing judge on the planet and I know I am not alone in that opinion. Her body of work speaks for itself and because of that, she rightfully is in high demand to work cards at all levels of the sport.
At its best, boxing is the ultimate meritocracy. Despite the administrative and political sewage that swirls at its periphery, the action inside the squared circle usually reveals the superior athlete. Similarly, time also reveals the very best judges and their rewards include assignments at the highest levels of the sport. Hopefully, the frequent seminars used to sharpen the skills of existing judges also will attract a crop of new jurists who are willing to learn from the best of their peers. But if a judge renders too many verdicts that cast aspersions on the sport they are supposed to serve, the end result should be just as decisive and direct – permanent expulsion.
Boxing is a tough enough sport for those who choose to engage in it. The immediate pain they feel during a fight and the subsequent damage they incur over time makes it the most demanding athletic endeavor. Because of the issues they regularly encounter during the heat of competition they, in turn, deserve judges who will perceive their work justly, fairly and professionally.
I have met many judges during my travels and I have found them to be knowledgeable, conscientious and professional. In that vein, it must be acknowledged that good judging takes place a vast majority of the time but anything that can bump up that percentage even more must be pursued with passion and vigor. That means recognition for the good and accountability followed by punishment for the bad.
If that proactive weeding-out process occurs, then scenes like the gut-wrenching injustice felt by Rossy and by those who watched his fight with Glazkov will become an extreme rarity rather than another excuse to shrug and say “Well, that’s boxing.”
Sunday, August 10: The trip home proved to be nearly as eventful as the route I experienced two days earlier (The Travelin’ Man: the rocky road to Bethlehem-part I). The aeronautical part flowed smoothly as my turbo-prop from Allentown to Philadelphia and my first-class seat aboard the Philadelphia-to-Pittsburgh leg departed on time and touched down early. Only when I hit the road in my trusty Subaru, did things go awry.
After grabbing lunch at a drive-through and taking my usual exit to Interstate 70 West, the usually free-flowing traffic came to a sudden stop. The nature of the delay soon became apparent as an ambulance and two large fire trucks required us to pull off to the curb and create a lane for them to pass through. I listened to various radio stations in the hopes of getting an update on traffic conditions but that report never came. Spotting a Budget rental car truck to my right, I rolled down the window and asked one of the occupants if he had heard anything on his scanner. He shook his head no.
When it became obvious that the traffic jam wasn’t going to loosen anytime soon, many of the motorists around me climbed out of their vehicles to assess the scene. One motorist was a dead-ringer for President Obama, which prompted me to roll down the window and say to the Budget rental car guy, “Hey, now that the president’s here, maybe he can do something to clear it up.”
For me, that didn’t happen until 70 minutes had passed. The emergency personnel did a masterful job of cleaning the wreckage because other than rubber from a damaged tire seven miles down the road, I saw no signs that an accident had taken place.
I pulled into the driveway a little bit past 4:30 p.m. and spent the rest of the evening watching the riveting final round of the PGA championship as well as re-recording the first of the 11 boxing shows I stored on my DVR while I was away.
As of this writing, I don’t know when or where my next journey will take place but I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough. In any case, I can’t wait for it to begin.
Until then, happy trails.
Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 12 writing awards, including nine in the last four years and two first-place awards since 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales From the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics. To order, please visit Amazon.com or email the author at [email protected] to arrange for autographed copies.
Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images