Jabs, hooks, and injustice: The problems with scoring in boxing

Controversial decisions have haunted boxing for decades, but what’s causing this and how can it be solved?

In the dimly lit corners of the boxing world, a contentious issue looms larger than any heavyweight’s menacing shadow—the problem of scoring. For years, the sport has been plagued by controversies surrounding its scoring system, leaving fans and fighters alike questioning the integrity of the sport. 

Modern boxing follows a system of scoring known as the ‘10-point must system’. Each round in boxing is scored individually by judges using a 10-point scale. Typically, the boxer who performs better in a round is awarded 10 points, while the other fighter receives 9 points. Depending on the performance, a boxer maybe even given an 8 or a 7.

An AI-generated image of Devin Haney vs Vasiliy Lomachenko. Picture Credits: Playground Ai

Boxing is as subjective as a sport as any, where the careers of two talented warriors hinge on the opinions of three-ringside judges. The Devin Haney versus Vasiliy Lomachenko bout served as a stark reminder of this reality. Although not a clear-cut robbery, the scorecard left fans and fighters perplexed. Judge Dave Moretti’s controversial decision to award Round 10 to Haney, despite Lomachenko’s dominance, tarnished an otherwise remarkable night for the sweet science.

“There’s a lot of politics and money involved in boxing, which is why sometimes we see really controversial and questionable decisions,” says boxing journalist Daniele D’Alessio. “The Haney vs Lomachenko bout is a good example of what’s wrong with the industry as a whole. Round 10 was clearly Lomachenko’s and the judge who scored otherwise must clearly have an agenda.”

Boxing journalist Daniele D’Alessio. Picture credits: Daniele D’Alessio

“Many also often tend to forget that boxing is a subjective sport and different judges prioritize different aspects of a fight. I think most judges know how to score a fight. But there’s a lot of politics involved in the sport which may lead to some judges, whether it be intentionally or unintentionally, carrying an agenda and favoring one fighter over the other.”

Thomas Ward, a sports journalist at The i Paper, offered his candid insights into the perplexing problem of scoring in boxing. “Controversies surrounding scoring in boxing are nothing new. But the biggest problem that has led to such troubles is the lack of a proper governing body. We have all these bodies such as the British Boxing Board of Control in the UK and the various commissions in the US, but the biggest problem is the lack of one true unified body, much like FIFA for football, in boxing.”

Journalist Thomas Ward. Picture Credits: Thomas Ward

“This just adds to the problem of subjectivity in boxing. You can head down to Vegas in Nevada and the way they score their fights might be pretty different from what you’ll get down in the UK. The lack of a unified body leads to a lack of unified scoring criteria. You’ve got the 10-point mark system, but is that fit for purpose?”

Danny Ball (13-1-1), the current English Welterweight Champion, and the former WBC International Champion, who has experienced the highs and lows of the scoring system firsthand echoed his opinions. “As a fighter, you dedicate your life to this sport, and in the end, the fate of your career is left in the hands of the three ringside judges.” 

Danny Ball, English Welterweight Champion. Picture Credits: Danny Ball

Danny who’s coming off a championship victory reminisced about the early days of his career, “I’ve personally experienced such a scenario where I was against the house fighter on a lower-level card and despite dominating most of the fight, I was awarded a draw. It definitely was a hard pill to swallow, but I always knew being a boxer was never going to be easy and that this was a hurdle that I had to overcome myself.”

Boxing fan, Reet Jakharia. Picture Credits: Reet Jakharia

Controversial scorecards have long frustrated fans as well. Reet Jakharia, a lifelong boxing fan, expressed his disappointment. “It’s disheartening to see great fighters lose due to questionable scoring. I’ve stayed up until 4 in the morning for fights, only to be frustrated by the judge’s errors. Fans and fighters deserve better; it’s time for change.”

As the calls for change reverberate through the boxing community, the question arises what can be done? When asked this question, Thomas replied, “Ultimately, the only way to improve judging is training and more training. Also developing universally accepted criteria for scoring rather than different judges and bodies interpreting things varyingly, can help solve most of the issues.”

The use of technology, including instant replay, to review disputed rounds and provide judges with the most precise information possible has also been widely suggested. The idea has gained popularity in recent years, and the World Boxing Association (WBA) implemented a partial instant replay system in 2019.

As the final bell tolls on the exploration of boxing’s scoring woes, one thing becomes abundantly clear: the sport stands at a crossroads, poised for transformation. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the scoring conundrum in boxing, it is clear that the sport must evolve to address these concerns. Until a solution is found, the subjectivity of boxing scoring will continue to be a source of debate among fans, fighters, and analysts.

The feature was produced with the help of Artificial Intelligence, in particular Playground AI. Multiple prompts were used to generate various images, amongst which the most suitable one was chosen for the story.

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