When a boxing fight has plenty of action, there is nothing quite like it. The energy that fills up a room when opponents feed off one another and the crowd is electric. A bout ending in a knockout results in pandemonium.
And if a fight goes the distance? How does a judge determine how to score it if it is close? Why did they score it a draw? A result can either be praised, or leave fans with plenty of questions.
Boxing has had a long history of great fights, some with questionable outcomes.
To help you better understand how judges score fights, The Sporting News put together a quick cheat sheet on scorecards and point systems
What are the rules of boxing?
Since the late 1800s, The Marquess of Queensberry Rules has been the general blueprint for boxing rules. Recently, The Association of Boxing Commissions has created updated guidelines for boxing.
A boxing fight consists of three-minute rounds (two for women), with the number of rounds depending on the level of a fighter. Originally 15, the most amount of rounds a fight can go is currently 12 (10 for women).
Scoring in each round is based on the following:
- Effective aggression: The aggressor in the fight consistently lands punches while avoiding key blows from their opponent.
- Speaking of avoiding, defense is also an important factor
- Clean, effective shots are key in a bout. A fighter can attempt an offensive onslaught through combinations, but they may not land their shots due to the aforementioned defense of an opponent
- Ring Generalship: One fighter enforcing their will and style throughout the contest.
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How boxing fights can be decided
There are various ways for a fight to end. The simplest forms of conclusions for a fight include:
- Decision: When time is expired, the judges are required to determine a winner.
- KO/TKO: When the fighter can’t continue due to a knockout or knockdown. Regarding a TKO win, the referee will stop the fight if they believe a fighter can no longer defend themselves from strikes or if they take an excessive amount of damage.
- Retirement: When the fighter or their corner determines they cannot continue.
- Doctor stoppage: A medical professional will determine if a fighter can’t continue. This will be due to a bad cut, an injury, or other extreme circumstances.
If a fight does not end via knockout, then it is up to the judges to score the bout. Based on the scoring criteria, there are a few results that can come from the judges:
- Unanimous decision win: All three judges agreed the fight went to one fighter over the other (10-9, 10-9, 10-9).
- Majority decision win: Two judges score the fight for one fighter, while one saw it as a draw.
- Split decision win: Two judges scored the fight for one fighter, while the other favored the bout for the other.
- Majority decision draw: Two judges could not decide on a winner, while the other judge chose one competitor as the winner.
- Split decision draw: One judge has one fighter as the winner, another has the other fighter as the winner, and the third judge scores the bout a draw.
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How is a boxing fight scored?
A fight is scored through the 10-point system. Unless there is a serious foul, a judge must decide on a round winner and award them 10 points after. The other side, struggling during the fight, will be given a score of nine, resulting in a 10-9 score.
There are times when a fighter is so dominant / a fight is one-sided that a judge will score it 10-8 in favor of one competitor. If a fighter is knocked down from a punch, a judge can score the bout 10-8.
How many judges are there in a boxing fight?
There usually are three judges in every fight. Athletic Commissions (Nevada State Athletic Commission, New York State Athletic Commission, etc.) delegate the judges.
Judges can be from the same designated area as a fighter. However, in title bouts a judge could be from a neutral site. If one competitor is from America and the other from England, there may be judges from Canada, Mexico, and France. That is to avoid bias, if any.
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To be picked for a fight, you must have a license. You can register through a local sanctioning body. You must also have profound knowledge of the sport.
An applicant must be familiar with the American Boxing Commission scoring and get registered through USA Boxing or their state’s boxing commission.
For USA Boxing, there are levels to enhance your status. You must first register each calendar year and complete a certification course. Following a test, if passed, you may be allowed to be a part of USA Boxing National Tournaments.
Examples of controversial scoring in boxing
While great fights lift the sport up, there are times when boxing gets in its own way. Controversial results happen often with no true reason for the scores.
During the first fight between Canelo Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin in 2017, it appeared that Golovkin would be called the winner. Instead the fight was called a draw. Per CompuBox, Golovkin landed 218 of 703 shots (31% connect rate), while Canelo landed 169 of 505 (33% connect rate). Dave Moretti scored it 115-113 for Golovkin, while Don Trella scored it 114-114.
Adalaide Byrd, a known controversial judge, scored the bout a wide 118-110 in favor of Canelo, which shocked the boxing world. Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission Bob Bennett attempted to defend her following that fight.
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“Adalaide, in my estimation, is an outstanding judge,” Bennett, stated, via ESPN. “She has done over 115 title fights. She does a great deal of our training. She takes a lot of the younger judges under her wing and provides them instructions as a judge. I happened to be one of them when I happened to be a judge for two and a half years. Unfortunately, Adalaide was a little wide, obviously, tonight. I’m not making any excuses. I think she’s an outstanding judge, but like in any business you have a bad day, you have an off day.”
In 1993, Pernell Whittaker fought Julio Cesar Chavez for the WBC welterweight title. Whitaker outlanded Chavez 311-220 and landed 130 jabs, per The Ring. When the scoring of the fight was announced, one judge had the fight in favor of Whitaker, while two judges scored the fight 115-115. A majority draw, there was major outrage and speculation as to how the two judges came to those scores.
One of the most famous examples of controversial scoring occurred at the 1998 Olympics, when Roy Jones Jr. lost to South Korea’s Park Si-Hun in the finals. Jones lost a 2-3 decision despite landing 86 shots to Park’s 32. An investigation later revealed that the judges were wined and dined with South Korean organizers before the fight, but it was undecided if that was a major factor. Two of the judges were suspended, but the decision was never reversed.