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Robberies and Scoring Fallacies

There's a legitimate argument that Joshua Clottey won his fight against Miguel Cotto last night, but there's no legitimate argument that it was a robbery.
There's a legitimate argument that Joshua Clottey won his fight against Miguel Cotto last night, but there's no legitimate argument that it was a robbery.

What is a robbery in boxing? Here's a hint - it's not a decision that you merely disagree with. It's a decision that is impossible; that there's no reasonable way the judges could have scored the fight in favor of the fighter who actually won. So how is it that someone can determine whether a fight is actually a robbery?

Under the unified rules of boxing, judges are instructed to judge rounds on four bases:

  1. Clean and hard punching. This isn't amateur boxing, where they just add up the number of punches that landed. Pitty pat jabs that barely land don't count for much. This means that someone can land more punches and still lose the round simply because the other fighter landed the hard, aggressive punches. There are rounds where one fighter has landed small punches all round, and the other fighter wins off of one punch, simply because the single punch knocks the fighter off balance. And you know what - that's exactly how it should be scored.
  2. Effective aggressiveness. American judges tend to reward aggressiveness generally, but a lot of people forget that what scores is effective aggressiveness, not naked aggression alone. Coming forward is great, but if the other fighter is making the aggressive fighter miss and look silly, then it's not really effective at all, and they should get little credit for the fact that they're moving forward.
  3. Defense. In reality, you don't see this come too much into play when people score rounds, but officially you're supposed to look at it. Legend has it that Willie Pep once won a round without ever throwing a punch. If the other fighter is chasing someone around the ring and misses every time, they're not being effective, and the other fighter should be given credit for good defense.
  4. Ring generalship. This is for the boxer who was able to force the other fighter into fighting their fight. This is sort of a BS catch-all, like when people talk about 'intangibles' in other sports. There really isn't a good way of measuring ring generalship, so a lot of folks just ignore it. Unfortunately, I feel like some judges use this as an excuse to score a round a certain way when there really isn't a defensible way of scoring the round the way they score it.

Notice a few things the judges aren't supposed to look at - volume of punches, accuracy of punches landed, whether someone fought dirty, whether someone looked beat up. Those things can play into the four things that a judge is supposed to look at, but it's by no means a proxy for determining who won the fight.

As for scoring itself, judges are instructed to try to score a round for one fighter or the other. They're allowed to score a 10-10 round, but it's discouraged unless they think it was absolutely dead even. Also, judges aren't allowed to assess their own penalties or call their own knockdowns, and they're not allowed to ignore the ones actually assessed by the referee. A bad deduction must be take by all three judges, whether they like it or not, and a non-deduction cannot become a deduction. It's just not part of a judge's job to make those calls.

Here's a few examples of the arguments I see when people try to back up that their fighter was robbed. If you think about it, and look at how boxing is actually supposed to be scored, it becomes clear that none of these is a valid argument.

Scoring fallacy #1 - "Fighter A can't have won, he got beat up, and Fighter B looked like he just walked out of the shower."

Real-life non-robbery example: Kessler-Andrade. This argument is so silly when you think of how many times a clear winner has looked worse for wear than the loser, yet the argument comes up again and again. The fact is, some guys just get more beat up looking than others in a boxing match. Arturo Gatti and Vito Antuofermo would probably get cut from someone else's stubble rubbing against him, yet they won their fair share of fights when they looked like murder victims at the end of the fight. Also, even if someone takes a real licking in one round, that's still one round. If they go on to win the other 11 rounds, then it's a blowout win, and there's just no argument that can be made that the more beat up boxer won the fight.

Scoring fallacy #2 - "Fighter A landed more punches and had a better connect rate, so he has to have won."

Real-life non-robbery example: Cotto-Clottey. This argument completely ignores the facts that (a) boxing is scored by round, not by the whole fight and (b) judges aren't supposed to score based on punches landed and accuracy. There have been many fights where this has happened and people have screamed robbery, yet in most cases it was actually just a close fight, because one fighter won 4 or 5 rounds dominantly, and the other fighter won 6 or 7 rounds closely. You total up the punchstats, and it looks obvious that the fighter who won less rounds should have won, but if you actually look at the fight round by round, you can see that, at worst, the fight could have gone either way.

Scoring fallacy #3 - "Fighter A dominated when he actually tried, so he won the fight."

Real-life non-robbery example: Taylor-Hopkins. Heck, Cotto-Clottey probably falls into this category as well. Unfortunately for Hopkins and Clottey, you still need to score the rounds they took off. Clottey did squat in the last two rounds of his fight with Cotto, and there were two or three other rounds during the course of the fight when he really did very little. Hopkins barely threw punches for about the first five rounds of the Taylor fight. Sure, when he turned up the gas, it was obvious that he was the better boxer than Taylor (much as I think it was pretty obvious that Clottey was the better boxer than Cotto in their fight last night, when they were both trying their hardest), but stamina is a very real part of the sport, and if someone needs to put their foot on the brakes for 4 or 5 rounds, then they have to really win the rest of the rounds in order to win the fight.

Scoring fallacy #4 - "Fighter A was fresh down the stretch and Fighter B looked like he was on his last legs, so Fighter A should have won."

Real-life non-robbery example: Williams-Margarito. People often tend to have short memories when watching a boxing match. Someone dominates near the end of the fight, and the instinct is to think that the rallying fighter won. However, if they lost the first 6 or 7 rounds because they didn't do well then, it doesn't matter how hard the fighter rallies as long as his opponent stays on his feet.

The valid argument - "There's no way that Fighter A could have won more than 5 rounds, and therefore Fighter B was robbed."

Real-life example: Jose Armando Santa Cruz vs. Joel Casamayor. Occasionally there are other reasons to cry robbery as well, when the robbery is due to incompetent refereeing (i.e., Robin Reid vs. Sven Ottke, Edison Miranda vs. Arthur Abraham I), but generally, this is the only way you can have a legitimate robbery. The problem is that Cotto-Clottey was NOT one of those fights. Clottey very clearly won 5 rounds; Cotto very clearly won 4 rounds, and scored a knockdown in one of them. Heck, Clottey was dominating the first round until Cotto scored the knockdown, and had he not fallen, that would have been enough of a swing to at least earn him a draw (which then WOULD have been a robbery). Complaints about the 116-111 card are legitimate - there's no way you can legitimately come to that score based on the actual fight that took place, and I hope that judge is never allowed to judge a major title fight again. But the fact is that there's even a legitimate basis for the 115-112 Cotto card. Three rounds were close and could have gone either way. In two of them, Clottey barely did squat. His own inactivity ended up costing him the fight.

As a disclaimer, I usually try to keep things pretty impartial - I'll report the news, I'll try to bring out information that people don't necessarily know, and maybe give my analysis of a fight or a fighter. I do realize this post is more opinion than most I have on here, and there are counterpoints. With that said, if someone wants to write a well-written, well thought out counterpoint to this piece, I'd be happy to promote it to the front page.

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