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Changing Boxing’s Scoring System

By Pod Index (www.podindex.org)

Why so often do boxing’s scoring decisions seem controversial? Why are there so many split decisions, even when one fighter appears to clearly win the match in aggregate? One major reason is that the scoring system is to blame. In boxing, fights are scored on a round-by-round basis. What happens in one round has no effect on another round in a judge’s mind (at least it is not supposed to). Therefore, judges are really scoring 12 separate fights in a championship bout. The final score is merely a function of the sum of those 12 individually scored rounds.

In the United States, boxing commissions in concert with the ABC, strongly discourage even rounds (10-10). Logically, you can image the fight where boxer A wins 6 of the 12 rounds 10-9, winning each of those 6 rounds by moderate to decisive margins. Boxer B wins 6 of the 12 rounds 10-9, winning each of those 6 rounds by only slight margins. The final result of the bout is 114-114, a draw. In this scenario, fans are upset and confused, and fighter A is outraged and feels cheated. But this type of scenario happens to some degree all of the time in boxing, leading to total scores that often do not represent the match in its entirety.

There are two practical options to address the problem as articulated.

Allow and encourage the scoring of 10-10 rounds, when appropriate.

The ABC’s discouraging of even rounds has its roots in sound logic and made sense at the time. The fear was that judges were not being decisive in their judgment, and defaulting to 10-10 rounds far too often. The thinking was that fighters work hard, and deserve to either win a round, or lose a round. Judges are being paid to make decisions, not to balk. Those concerns were and are noble and logical. But they lead to the aforementioned problems.

Of all world championship fights, approximately 1/3 of rounds are split between the judges (i.e. 10-9, 10-9, 9-10). As a starting point, all of those split rounds are potential candidates to be scored 10-10. In fairness, many of those rounds are split because of varying style preferences of the judges, vantage point, and like. But suppose about half of those split rounds were so close that 3 like-minded judges, watching from the same side of the ring, could legitimately disagree. Those rounds are all excellent candidates for a 10-10 round. Therefore, that half of those 1/3 of rounds, or about 17% could be expected to be scored even, should the world’s commissions start to rejuvenate 10-10 rounds. In a 12 round fight, that would average out to 2 even rounds per bout. Doesn’t that sound reasonable?
With the proper metrics and tracking (which are available on the Pod Index’s even rounds report) commissions can quickly identify judges that are abusing the freedom to score rounds 10-10. For example, any judge who on average scores more than 20% of rounds even can be easily identified. With this information readily available for all judges around the world, the fear and risk of judges not making the tough decisions is easily mitigated. And with the use of 10-10 rounds in place, controversial scenarios as described would be decreased drastically.

A second option to minimize controversial decisions caused by the current scoring system involves differentiating rounds won between closer rounds and more dominant rounds.

Implement the half-point scoring system.

The half point scoring system, currently used and advocated by the WBA, is just what it sounds like. It allows the use of 9.5, 8.5, 7.5 and 6.5 scores to differentiate the various degrees of round dominance.

Under this system, many of those split rounds (which represented 1/3 of all championship rounds) would have been scored 10-9.5. Similarly, rounds in which a fighter was extremely dominate, but did not score a knockdown, would be scored 10-8.5. Currently, the unspoken culture of judging discourages the scoring of 10-8 rounds without a knockdown. But that cultural pressure is easily abated when the option for a 10-8.5 round exists. Lastly, with the half-point system, there are more options for judges in rounds when a fighter is knocked down, but otherwise wins the round. Under the full point system, those rounds typically end up split as well, with scores of 10-9, 10-8, 10-8. Under the half point system, that round could be easily identified by the judges as a 10-8.5 round, leading to greater judging consistency.

Both of the described options could be easily implemented by sanctioning bodies and commissions around the world. Neither would be a major culture shock to the judges, and both options have been used either in the past, or currently by the WBA and various commissions. Either option would require minimal re-training of judges, especially those that have used either one in the past. The WBA is taking the lead on the half-point system. And various commissions around the world do not discourage even rounds. The Pod Index strongly recommends either one of the two solutions in order to increase fairness to fighters and fan enjoyment.

The Pod Index is a boxing statistics website, focusing on judges. www.podindex.org




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