CompuBox: 30 years and (still) counting
Thirty years ago today, WBA titlist Livingstone Bramble and former champion Ray Mancini engaged in one of the best lightweight slugfests of the 1980s. For 15 pulsating rounds, “Boom Boom” and “The Pit Bull” swapped punches at a furious rate and in the end, Bramble barely retained his belt by a one-point margin on all three scorecards.
Bramble-Mancini II had been preceded by thousands of punch-a-thons but for the first time, viewers were provided statistics that confirmed the mayhem their eyes just saw. According to “Punch Stat,” Mancini out-threw Bramble 1,349-1,220 (90-81 in terms of average volume per round) but Bramble landed more (674-381), connected more frequently with jabs (255-152) and power punches (419-229) and did so far more accurately (55%-31% overall, 51%-24% jabs and 58%-33% power). Thanks to a video analysis conducted before the rematch, Bramble-Mancini II proved to be a continuation of Bramble-Mancini I in that Bramble prevailed 464-336 in total connects but Mancini out-threw the then-challenger 1,408-880.
Just three years after Time magazine declared the computer its “Man of the Year,” it now had staked a claim in the boxing world, thanks to an amalgamation of people headed by Bob Canobbio and Logan Hobson, who then were boxing editors for Sports Information Database of Hasbrouck Heights, N.J. The controversial decision and the age-old volume-versus-accuracy argument in terms of judging philosophy provided critical and much-needed attention to the Bramble-Mancini II punch numbers.
“The numbers were used by Sports Illustrated and USA Today and I didn’t see too much negative reaction,” Canobbio recalled. “The feedback from HBO was positive because the next thing we knew, we were talking (Larry) Holmes-(David) Bey [on HBO’s next telecast]. They told us that they were happy with the job we did and that we’d be back for another fight. Things just fell into place.”
That’s an understatement. Over the next 30 years, Punch Stat would be known by several different names – “Count-a-Punch” at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and “ShoStats” on Showtime to name two – and the venture that eventually morphed into CompuBox, Inc. would be ringside for hundreds of the most important fights in boxing history. Its operators tracked punches for 17 RING magazine “Fights of the Year” (including the last four) and 16 RING Upsets of the Year, including arguably the most shocking surprise in sports annals, James “Buster” Douglas’ knockout of Mike Tyson. In addition to working cards in more than 40 U.S. states, CompuBox operators have traveled to Canada, England, Wales, Germany, Japan, Puerto Rico, South Korea and Argentina to place their statistical stamp on the proceedings.
The combination of longevity and believability has allowed CompuBox to become a staple of boxing telecasts and, in recent years, its sphere of influence has widened. Showtime added CompuBox to its telecasts in December 2011 and Al Haymon’s “Premier Boxing Champions” will incorporate punch stats into all of its shows that will air on NBC, CBS and Spike TV while the company retains its long-time associations with HBO and ESPN. In addition to boxing, CompuBox has expanded into the kickboxing and mixed martial arts worlds with its CompuStrike program as well as into the fantasy game realm with Throwdown Fantasy.com, a draft-style venture in which points are awarded based on the fighters’ stats.
“I can only look at my schedule but every year, we seem to be doing more shows and I don’t see CompuBox going anywhere,” said Canobbio. “I don’t see a drop-off in demand, especially now with the ambitious plans of Premier Boxing Champions. They are aggressively getting involved in boxing and CompuBox will be involved on those shows. That means more eyeballs for the sport and more demand for stats and if the [Floyd] Mayweather-[Manny] Pacquiao fight gets made, it would be boxing’s Super Bowl. The immediate future looks pretty rosy.”
Longtime HBO blow-by-blow man Jim Lampley agrees. When asked how he would describe CompuBox’s place in boxing, he replied, “permanent, entrenched, hard to dislodge.”
“I can’t imagine somebody coming up with a better system for establishing what happened in the fight,” he said. “It has lasted 30 years because fans want it. When I was a child and read box scores, I wanted to know this kind of information about a boxing match and before CompuBox, nothing told me. A void was filled. Writers would not be able to tell the stories of Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield I or Johnny Tapia-Manuel Medina in the same way without those numbers. It has been embraced by media as evidenced by its visibility in the leads of writers’ stories, in my own commentary and the commentary of others. It see it staying basically right where it is, not larger or lesser in the future. It likely will be a permanent fixture.”
The best ideas are often simple and sensible and the genius of CompuBox can only be best appreciated in hindsight.
“This sport existed for 90 years and was tremendously popular without a stat profile,” Lampley said. “How much more dominance would it have enjoyed if such a system had been in place during those years? What would Grantland Rice have written? If we did numbers on Willie Pep’s fights, we would have received epic fight stat evidence that he was one of the greatest defensive fighters who ever lived. Roberto Duran’s fights have already been counted and his story is right there in the numbers.”
As for the story of CompuBox, it began one late summer afternoon in 1984 when a potential client walked into the offices of Sports Information Database (SIDB), a news service that provided statistics for its clients.
“Someone had come in with a demo of a stat-driven program for another sport and when Logan and I saw it, it was as if a light bulb went on in our heads,” Canobbio said. “We immediately thought a similar application could be used for boxing, which had no stats outside of the tale of the tape, wins, losses, draws, knockouts and so on. The program was developed at SIDB and over the next three months, thanks to John F.X. Condon, we went to the monthly boxing shows at Madison Square Garden to work out the kinks.”
Once those bugs were removed, Canobbio and Hobson pitched their idea to various broadcast outlets, including the Big Three networks.
“We were making the rounds, calling ABC, NBC and CBS,” Canobbio said. “ABC expressed an interest but I’m not sure why it never took off with them. CBS was in the game too but they turned us down because, pretty much, it was a budget issue with them. We did do some NBC boxing in 1986, our second year, and they hired us to work the amateur tournaments leading up to the 1988 Olympics in Seoul as well as the games themselves.”
But the man who opened the first door for CompuBox was Ross Greenburg, who had produced fights for HBO since the summer of 1978 and was just a few months away from being promoted to executive producer. They already knew of each other because when Canobbio was with Sports Illustrated, he and Greenburg worked inside the Time-Life Building that housed both entities. Canobbio had sent a tape of the MSG shows, he and Logan worked and Greenburg, a visionary who would go on to win 51 Sports Emmys and eight Peabody Awards, was impressed enough with the results to schedule a meeting with the duo.
“Bob had worked for me as a researcher for a couple of documentary projects in the early 1980s,” Greenburg said. “He was working for Sports Illustrated at the time and he and Logan came up with the software for CompuBox. I was familiar with Bob and he came into the office with this hardware and said there was a way to track punches. I immediately took to it because I was always looking to innovate as a producer. We were the first to put microphones in the corners between rounds, the first to place an overhead camera to see the ring from above, the first to do simultaneous translations and the first to hire an ‘unofficial official’ to score the fights. I was constantly looking for ways to take the sport to a new level and Bob came to my office and pitched this statistical analysis.”
“He called us in to see exactly what the machine looked like and how it worked,” Canobbio said. “We showed him the four keys we used – jab miss, jab connect, power punch miss and power punch connect – and explained the criteria to him. He asked, ‘What’s a scoring blow?’ ‘What’s the scoring area?’ He said, ‘What if a fighter blocks the punch with his glove?’ and we replied, ‘That’s a miss because we have to give credit for defense.’ He was feeling us out.”
It didn’t take long for Greenburg to say yes. In fact, he hired CompuBox on the spot.
“I loved it,” he said. “It was a no-brainer. I knew it was innovative and I knew it would stick. Boxing never had a statistic [counting method] and it seemed logical that if you could count the number of punches and count those that landed, it would work. It was a logical conclusion. I was 30 years old and I tended to want everything on the spot. In fact, I might have trusted Bob too much (laughs). But there is a risk/reward equation in the TV business and any of the innovations I made in the early 1980s could have been disastrous. But to succeed, you have to have a certain amount of risk-taking.”
The handshake and the request to work Bramble-Mancini II in a few weeks’ time left Canobbio breathless.
“I was stunned,” he said. “I remember walking out of his office into the elevator and I looked at Logan and said, ‘Wow, we’re in business!’ It was a surreal rush. [The hiring] happened right there at the conclusion of the meeting. Everything fell into place and we soon got calls to arrange our travel. All of it was new to us and it happened so fast. We then realized that it was time to knuckle down and do whatever preparation needed to be done.”
All the moving parts – in terms of mechanics and the people who would be involved on fight night – looked so perfect that it seemed guided by fate.
“[Ross] knew of my work as a researcher for the ‘Boxing’s Best’ series and being at the live shows; he was confident that we could deliver this product based on the work we had done,” Canobbio said. “He knew the passion was there with Logan and me. Before coming to SIDB, Logan was a writer for UPI [United Press International]; he was at ringside for two or three years and Ross knew that. He knew I’d had a taste of being at ringside as well and he knew we wouldn’t be blown away by the moment. Also, HBO had the production people and the budget to do it at this time. HBO was really getting into big-event boxing and they were really committed to it. What also helped us is that there were no commercials with HBO; with that one minute between rounds, they had the time to bring in another graphic element while at a network, you had to put in the numbers coming out of commercial. The stats fit right in to the format of HBO Boxing.”
Now that HBO had committed to the punch stats, Greenburg turned his attention to two areas. The first was finding an easy-to-understand format to convey the numbers.
“I was intrigued but nervous about how about how we would graphically show them on the air so it would be seen in its simplest form,” Greenburg said. “In the wrong hands, that software could be deadly because if you start to spray the screen with statistics it could be damaging. The trick was to work with Bob and figure out how do we really want to handle these numbers. We decided to go with punches landed and thrown as well as jabs. At that point, we didn’t use power punches as part of the formula. The beauty of that software was that we were able to instantaneously get the results and post them between rounds. There definitely was a need for speed and CompuBox provided that for us.”
Not only did HBO display stats for punches thrown and landed in the round, it also flashed graphics comparing and contrasting each man’s numbers from fight one to fight two. Although they remained on the screen for just a few moments the numbers, provided a concise yet powerful summary.
The second issue was to convince the broadcast team that the punch stats served a useful purpose. Blow-by-blow man Barry Tompkins, who lightheartedly called the computer a “gizmo” in his introduction, and Sugar Ray Leonard appeared comfortable with it but analyst Larry Merchant, who used the term “computer toy” more than once during the broadcast, was a much tougher case.
“I remember the agony of convincing Larry Merchant that this would be a nice tool,” Greenburg said. “He was perturbed and he didn’t take to it at first because he’s an old-school purebred and a stat for boxing didn’t make sense to him. I think he initially thought that it eventually was going to remove the need for an announcer. I knew it was never going to come to that but he was annoyed by it. But once I convinced Larry that it was a quantitative tool and not a qualitative tool, he was more comfortable. He realized he could still describe the effect of a punch without having to use the numbers. Larry deserves credit because within a year, he came around. Once he understood how to use punch stats to his liking, he was accepting of it for the rest of his career there.”
Canobbio added: “During the later years at HBO, he would call me up to ask for some historical information for something he was working on.”
The fledgling venture almost ended in its infancy when, only a few months after Bramble-Mancini II, Sports Information Database went bankrupt. Since the program was under the SIDB banner, Canobbio couldn’t take it with him and with more HBO shows on the horizon, he needed to find someone who could write a new program – and fast.
Once again, fate stepped in.
“SIDB went out of business and if we were to stay in business, we had to have a program written because we had a contract with HBO,” Canobbio said. “I didn’t have a lot of time to find a programmer to get done what I wanted, much less a hands-on guy who knew how to do it. Then I remembered that Bob Orf, the catcher on our softball team, happened to be a programmer. He had done some stuff for us and he told us, ‘If you ever need anything done, I’m a programmer.’ I knew by the way he carried himself that he knew what he was doing and I had confidence that he would be able to deliver. I went to Bob and he wrote the program. It was just fate – the right place at the right time again.”
The computer in question might have been state-of-the-art in the mid-1980s but by today’s standards, the IBM model Canobbio and Hobson used was utterly Paleozoic.
“It was two feet wide and weighed 25 pounds,” Canobbio said. “It reminded me of an old sewing machine and it had a giant keyboard that was attached to the whole length of the computer. It had a very small screen and two floppy disc drives next to it. The A-drive on top was the CompuBox program drive and the B-drive was where the data was written. You just plugged it in, powered it up and you were on your way. But it didn’t have any battery back-up, so if the power went out, we were screwed. Knock on wood; we never had any issues and I really didn’t give it much thought at the time.
“The biggest issue was lugging that thing around in airports and when it was inside the case it was tough to store it in the overhead bin,” he continued. “It was cumbersome but we performed well under pressure and we proved ourselves to Ross and to HBO. It was like the Wild West; we went with the flow and we were just happy to be at the fights. CompuBox was our vehicle and we were going to make it work.”
Today the CompuBox program is housed inside laptops and instead of sharing a large computer keyboard, the lead operator uses the keys on the laptop while the secondary operator hooks in an external keypad. Otherwise the two operators would be seated too close together.
With the programming crisis resolved, Canobbio and Hobson continued their unique careers. Thanks to CompuBox, they were firsthand witnesses to some of boxing’s most memorable evenings. For example, the third fight card CompuBox ever tracked live was topped by Marvelous Marvin Hagler vs. Thomas Hearns.
“To me, that was the ultimate fight we worked,” Canobbio said. “It was our first time at Caesars Palace, the site of so many great fights in the past. Seeing all that was surreal – the hotel itself, the buzz you get from a big fight, the sense of being alive and running into people from all walks of life. All the media was there and they were set up in the press room in the pavilion. We could talk about our product there and we took full advantage of it.
“Come the day of the fight, you get there and it would be daylight and right before the main event, the sun would go down behind the mountain; the lights would come on and it was magical,” he continued. “The fight obviously lived up to its billing and the numbers got a great ride because of the action.”
That great ride included a mention from “The Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson, who said this to Hagler: “Marvin, you threw 82 punches in the [first] round and landed 50. No jabs. Man, you really meant business; didn’t you?” At that, Hagler smiled and nodded.
“Nothing will top that night,” Canobbio said. “Maybe if Mayweather and Pacquiao gets made it could challenge it, but Hagler-Hearns will be tough to top because back then everything was also new.”
Two years later, Hagler was center stage to another memorable CompuBox night for Canobbio when Marvelous Marvin faced the comebacking Sugar Ray Leonard, who won a split decision that remains hotly disputed nearly three decades later.
“That was a different kind of emotion,” Canobbio said. “We saw Leonard growing up at the Olympics and on national TV. He was the next [Muhammad] Ali and he was a magical figure. Then we worked together while he was calling the fights on HBO. We got to know him and when we found out he was coming back, we thought, ‘Oh, OK, who are you fighting? Another Kevin Howard type?’ and we were shocked that he was fighting Hagler right off the bat. I remember saying, ‘Wow, tall order right there,’ and he gave me a look like, ‘I’m going to beat him.’ He was confident from the get-go.”
Because of his experience working with CompuBox as a broadcaster, Leonard hired Canobbio and Hobson to work in his Palmer Park, Md. training camp.
“In January 1987, we came in and tracked his sparring sessions,” Canobbio said. “We went back a month later and we would see he was sharper. We showed him the data and also told him that we had data on Hagler too. He loved that, so we did an analysis on Hagler and sure enough, it showed that Hagler tended to start the first five rounds slowly and pick up to where he was in the 70s by the eighth, ninth and 10th rounds. Based on this, we suggested to Ray to come out fast because Hagler might start slow. On fight night, Hagler came out in the orthodox stance and threw just 16 punches. No one outside of us expected he’d start that slow but because Ray knew he was prepared for that. Ray brought the offense from the beginning and, in my mind, he won the first four rounds because of it. Word eventually got out about our scouting reports and that gave us credibility. It was just our second full year of business. There might have been some skepticism initially but trainers, fighters and media people embraced it.”
That trustworthiness led to more networks adding CompuBox to their telecasts. In 1989, ESPN hired CompuBox for its “Top Rank Boxing” series but when HBO began expanding its schedule from once a month to as many as three shows per month, the workload eventually grew too heavy for Canobbio and Hobson to handle by themselves.
“Logan and I did all the ESPN fights from 1989 until 1995,” Canobbio said. “We were on the road a lot; back then, they were doing at least 40 shows a year and then, in the mid-1990s, HBO expanded their programming, especially when Lou DiBella started the ‘Boxing After Dark’ series. That’s when we knew we needed to get other guys. Plus, there’s other responsibilities that come with the job such as pre-fight research. Add to that the responsibilities of family. My wife, Ceil was so supportive from the beginning. She never questioned my being on the road or the time it took to get the business off the ground. She held down the fort at home. When we started CompuBox, we had three children (and had two more after its inception). CompuBox would not be where it is today without the dedication and selflessness that Ceil displayed during the early years [and throughout this 30-year run] and I love her for that. It got to the point where I needed to pull back a bit and that’s where Joe Carnicelli and Saul Avelar – the original ‘B-Team’ – came into the picture.”
Carnicelli, a former executive sports editor with UPI, knew Hobson well. He had hired Hobson as a sports clerk in the late 1970s and later promoted him to a full-time sports writing position with UPI, the job he had before joining SIDB. Avelar, a former national amateur star from El Salvador who compiled a 9-2 (5) record from 1991-95, was the first person ever to be counted by – then count for – CompuBox.
For a while, the two teams would rotate shows but eventually Joe and Saul would work most of the ESPN shows while Canobbio and Hobson did the majority of the HBO cards with Carnicelli occasionally subbing for Canobbio. Over time, other names with boxing backgrounds joined in the fun – writers Dave Raffo, Dave Bontempo, Jack Obermayer and Yours Truly, former fighters Genaro Hernandez, Dennis Allen and Shelby Pudwill, trainer/cutman Miguel Diaz, historian Aris Pina and fight video collector Andy Kasprzak. Canobbio’s sons, Nic and Dan are also in the mix, as are Punch Zone operators Ben Chan, Jason Griggs and Shaun Glover. Hobson amicably left CompuBox in September 2002, accepting a buyout arrangement in the process, while Canobbio remains the company’s president.
The nearly constant exposure and the consistency of the numbers in terms of affirming what viewers had already perceived enabled CompuBox to establish a solid reputation with fans, writers and broadcasters.
For Al Bernstein and Lampley, the numbers help to identify trends and storylines that provide fuller context for the viewer and, in Bernstein’s case, occasionally provide input for scoring rounds.
“It helps in both ways,” Bernstein, whose experience with CompuBox spans his analyst role on the Hagler-Hearns pay-per-view broadcast, his years at ESPN and his current role at Showtime. “In terms of the storyline, it definitely helps when you look at what types of punches are thrown and how many of them land or if a fighter is too active or not active enough. When it comes to a close round and I’m surprised at the margin I see on the screen, it sometimes is enough in some instances to tip me over to score a certain way. It will be one factor that I consider. For me, the stats are one part of how I look at a round and I also look at the trends to help me do my commentary.
“Suppose we have a fighter like Leo Santa Cruz, who is a very active fighter, and in round four, he throws only half the punches he normally throws,” Bernstein continued. “That’s a story. If you tell me he’s averaging over 100 punches per round, that’s a note worth mentioning too. Those storylines are great to use.
“CompuBox is like corner audio, between-rounds replays and interviews before and after the fights. It’s a very useful tool for helping viewers to understand what they see and make it more entertaining,” Lampley said. “I see it as a constant sidelight to understand what they are seeing in the fight. Other announcers might not cite numbers but it helps viewers put in perspective what they saw in the last three minutes and what they might see in the next three. For example, if Miguel Cotto landed 15 of 27 jabs in the last round, you are saying that (1) Cotto just had a hell of a round with the jab and (2) will that trend continue or will it change? In that sense, it’s a helpful tool for a blow-by-blow man because it provides a shorthand version of something that otherwise would take a lot more time to say.”
One particular HBO-televised fight illustrated how CompuBox numbers can change the narrative of a fight. On Sept. 1, 2012 in Verona, N.Y. on the undercard of Gennady Golovkin-Grzegorz Proksa, former WBO junior middleweight titlist Sergiy Dzinziruk and then-undefeated prospect Jonathan Gonzalez engaged in a crossroads middleweight fight. At first, the focus was on Gonzalez’s heavier punching and the imposition of his size and strength but as the fight wore on, the numbers indicated a far closer fight. From round six onward, the fighters swapped the lead in terms of total connects, with the margin for either man no more than four (in round six) and no less than one (in rounds seven, nine, 10 and 11). Only Gonzalez’s surge in the final 30 seconds enabled him to seize a 170-166 lead in overall connects and the judges concurred by scoring the bout a draw. While other broadcasters might have balked at changing the call based on the numbers, Lampley shifted his commentary because his trust in CompuBox knows no bounds.
“Since I began calling fights on February 16, 1986, only a handful of broadcasts have not had CompuBox,” he said. “I’m not accustomed to calling a fight without it. Even if I had doubts in terms of accuracy, they, in all likelihood, would have been worn down over time. The biggest element for my support is habit; it’s been there for me forever. The confidence I have in the accuracy of the numbers and the intelligence behind it is constantly reinforced by the analyses they provide and the accuracy of the predictions therein.” Lampley knows what he’s talking about; over the last eight years, the CompuBox analyses boasted a record of 378-89, which translates to an .809 accuracy percentage.
Along with the live stats during the fight, CompuBox also provides its client networks packages that contain career data and recaps of every CompuBox-tracked fight as well as a detailed analysis that identifies certain trends, such as how a fighter performs against a particular style or his average output over a series of recent bouts.
“I rely on those a lot because they give me insight on what a fighter may do,” Bernstein said. “It’s like a football team that has 20 set plays or they have a series of scripted plays during a certain part of the game. I have a list of about 15 or 20 bullet-point items for every fighter; some are designed to use early in the fight, others late in the fight and others I can use at any time. Some of those bullet points always come from the packages CompuBox provides, such as punch numbers and historical data. I always use them and there hasn’t been a fight where I haven’t used that information.”
The strongest pillar for CompuBox’s reputation occurs during the immediate aftermath of controversial decisions such as the 1988 Olympic gold medal match between Roy Jones and Park Si-Hun, which saw Jones lose despite out-landing the South Korean 86-32, and the first Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield match that was scored a draw even though Lewis trounced “The Real Deal” 348-130 in total connects and landed 57% of his total punches to Holyfield’s 34%. In fact, the CompuBox stats were prominently displayed during a subsequent New York State Athletic Commission hearing. Much more often than not, the CompuBox numbers reinforce the reality the majority of observers had just seen. Because the CompuBox numbers so accurately project the potential winner of a decision – that figure exceeds 90% – many incorrectly assume the punch numbers are an official judging device.
“One of the misnomers about CompuBox is that it’s a tool that is used to determine who won or lost a fight and that’s not necessarily the case,” Bernstein said. “It’s a tool that spots trends, such as if somebody comes into a fight throwing their jab a lot and it’s a quantitative way to see if they are using their jab. People might quibble about how many jabs landed but they know that the number of jabs is going to be spot on.”
For all of its positive impact on the sport, CompuBox has its critics – and they aren’t bashful with their objections. Many bristle at the term “power punch” because not all fighters’ punches connect with sufficient force to warrant that label. Another weakness is that the CompuBox program can’t measure the force of a punch, which is a vital variable for judges. Others say live counts from a static ringside position can’t possibly account for every punch thrown and landed.
“It’s going to be subjective in terms of what landed because punches are being thrown so fast, you have to make a value judgment immediately and then you have to hit the right button,” Bernstein said. “It’s a lot to think about and it’s not easy. There are going to be times when the judgment calls are going to be questioned by somebody and I get that. That’s why I don’t think they’re finite numbers. In numbers of punches thrown, I think the percentage of being right would be in the high 90s. That figure is going to be very close. As far as the number of punches landed, I sometimes question that because I also have my own eye test and sometimes I disagree. That happens. Everyone has to reserve judgment and they can say they don’t agree. But they also have to say to themselves, ‘I didn’t count every punch.'”
When Lampley, a staunch CompuBox supporter, heard the common critiques of the program’s inability to gauge force and being only as good as the people pressing the buttons, he replied, “Yep. Exactly right. Very true.” But then he continued:
“Nothing can diminish the value of the process as long as you know what you’re dealing with. Punching power is a separate area not covered by CompuBox. But if a guy throws more jabs than power punches, he’s telling you something about his own belief in his punching power. So while CompuBox doesn’t measure the power of the punches, it does tell you something about how the fighter perceives his own power. The bottom line is that some of the criticisms are true but if you look at the numbers carefully and if you’re sophisticated enough to spot the trends, you know something of value is there.”
Canobbio has long quoted a 2% margin of error in the counts, although one can say that number shrinks when very experienced operators are utilized and diminishes even further when they have the benefit of monitors at their work stations to optimally cover any potential holes in viewing angles.
“Everyone in boxing has a strong opinion and everybody’s an expert,” Canobbio said. “We’re ringside at the fight and we’re counting one fighter, which is unlike any other way to watch a fight and the way to get the most accurate count. There’s always going to be negativity regardless but we’ve learned to roll with the punches. [The networks] wouldn’t be using [the numbers] if they didn’t believe in them and that was enough reassurance for us. You do want to please everybody and when they’re not pleased, you’re bothered by it but as long as the contracts keep getting renewed, that’s all that matters.”
A final facet that makes CompuBox an extraordinary vehicle is that, unlike other sports, the stats can be used to make direct comparisons between eras. Because boxing’s basic set of punches has remained largely unchanged throughout time, one can theoretically draw a line from Jack Dempsey to Wladimir Klitschko, the three Sugars (Robinson, Leonard and Mosley) and Willie Pep to Nicolino Locche to Pernell Whitaker to Floyd Mayweather Jr. as long as there is enough footage that features every minute of every round.
“It’s a part of CompuBox that continues to grow,” Canobbio said. “What better way to compare today’s fighters to those of past eras? We have done that on occasion where we’ve compared Mayweather’s plus/minus ratio (the percentage difference between what a fighter lands and what he absorbs) to those of Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and other fighters of the past. There’s definitely some value there and if there’s the demand for that sort of information – and if there’s sufficient footage – it’s always on our radar. There is also a project in the works where we would conduct a complete career study of Muhammad Ali’s fights, which would be the ultimate because he’s the reason why I got into boxing. There’s a good chance we could be a part of it. Just to be considered is an honor.”
Speaking of honors, Lampley believes Canobbio should one day receive the definitive expression of immortality – enshrinement into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
“Bob Canobbio has made a large and historic contribution to the sport,” said Lampley, who himself will be inducted into the IBHOF in June. “He basically took on and confronted a lot of naysayers and in so doing, what he did, together with his early associates, he created and facilitated a system that, like it or not, over time, has earned credibility. Long after Bob is gone, CompuBox will do what CompuBox does for boxing.”
Thirty years down. Forever to go.
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.