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Effective Aggressor: Breaking Down the Scoring of Pacquiao vs Marquez III

Was Manny Pacquiao truly the effective aggressor on Saturday night against Juan Manuel Marquez? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Was Manny Pacquiao truly the effective aggressor on Saturday night against Juan Manuel Marquez? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Oli Goldstein examines unofficial HBO judge Harold Lederman's judging criteria for the Pacquiao vs Marquez fight on Saturday night.

If you've read any of my comments over the past couple of days, you'll know I stand pretty firmly in the camp of people who had Juan Manuel Marquez beating Manny Pacquiao on Saturday night. I scored the fight 116-112 to the Mexican, who I feel landed the more decisive blows throughout and dictated the pace of the action over the entire course of the fight. Scott's already gone through his scorecard a second time today, so I'm going to try to break down Harold Lederman's unofficial HBO card.

I'm not going to nitpick too much with the judges' scorecards. I think it's frankly ridiculous that neither Glenn Trowbridge nor Dave Moretti scored one of rounds 8 to 10 inclusive for Marquez, but you can argue with that all day long.

What does concern me are the grounds on which Lederman - and perhaps others - scored the fight for Pacquiao.

I can see the fight for Pacquiao, I think. I understand it was close. I understand Pacquiao landed more punches over the course of the fight. I understand he was constantly moving forward.

But is that enough to win a fight?

We're told so frequently by Lederman about the criteria for judging fights: namely, effective aggression; defence; clean, hard punching; and, the ever-elusive ring generalship. Indeed, these are the principles upon which Lederman based his 116-112 scorecard for Pacquiao. However, looking at what each category really means, I find it particularly hard to see how his arguments were truly applicable to this fight.

Effective aggression, to me, means exactly what it says on the tin. To win a fight, you must be aggressive, and you must be effective. I generally think this category fits in with defence pretty nicely, as both guarantee that:

  • You can't win a fight defending effectively but not throwing any punches
  • You can't win a fight walking forward and throwing lots of punches without defending yourself properly
  • You can't win a fight walking forward not landing anything

I'd like to clear up where I think judging has gone wrong with regard to these two categories. For starters, I think effective aggression has been overvalued in relation to defence. Looking at last year's fight between Devon Alexander and Andriy Kotelnik, Alexander won rounds for coming forward and throwing lots of punches, despite missing a huge amount and in turn being caught all night by the Kotelnik right hand. You can't - or shouldn't - be able to win fights just on the basis of aggression.

What's more, you don't need to be on the front foot to be aggressive. This, again, is an oversimplification of the term which looks to justify lackadaisical judging, in my opinion. Kotelnik succeeded in catching Alexander all night long off the back foot when they fought. Marquez was constantly looking to land on Pacquiao on Saturday night. Is that not aggression? Just because Marquez was moving laterally and stepping off, doesn't mean he was fighting passively. The guy who's moving backwards isn't necessarily being less aggressive, just fighting in a different style.

Moreover, somewhere along the lines, Harold Lederman and the HBO crew forgot the meaning of the word ‘effective.' I'm not going to remind anyone here; however, when scoring a fight, your aggression has to be exactly that - effective. Lederman cites Pacquiao as ‘the effective aggressor' throughout the fight, and gave Manny ‘rounds one and three because of [that] fact.' There was also a big hoo-ha about how Manny was more efficiently aggressive in the late rounds. But was this really the case? Was Pacquiao really more aggressive, and more effective, just because he was coming forward? Or was Harold Lederman dramatically oversimplifying these terms as a means of justifying his own judging?

Clean, hard punching, again, does what it says on the tin. However, this category is what, for me, makes Compubox-based arguments obsolete and irrelevant. Unless punch statistics are used to point toward fights like Dave Tiberi-James Toney or Joel Casamayor-Jose Armando Santa Cruz, obvious robberies where Tiberi and Santa Cruz' more effective aggression and cleaner punching are supported by the stats, Compubox doesn't help to qualify who scored the harder punches. It quantifies who landed more, but we don't just score fights on volume. Things get trickier if, in a hypothetical situation, one fighter lands a few cleaner, harder punches, and the other guy lands a lot of slappy punches, but I'd be inclined to say that the effect of a blow on the opponent should undoubtedly be taken into consideration when judging a fight. That's a reason why I think Bernard Hopkins has a pretty significant argument to say that he won the Calzaghe fight, where Joe landed a lot of punches which largely came from the elbows and had no effect on Bernard.

Finally, I'll briefly touch on the notion of ring generalship, which I think is by far the most abstract of all these criteria. Indeed, while I think concepts such as effective aggression, good defence and clean punching should carry with them a level of objectivity, I think ring generalship is clearly the most subjective of terms. To emphasise my point, I really believe that if we can truly understand that effective aggression doesn't just mean walking forward - and must instead also be efficient - then we can begin to achieve a greater, more objective standard of judging. Same goes for defence and clean, hard punching.

So, what is ring generalship? Well, this, supposedly: "Manny Pacquiao's got ring generalship, he hits you and slips to the side." To say I'm firmly opposed to this idea would be an understatement. Ring generalship, at least to me, involves dictating the pace and controlling the direction of the fight. In this category, Juan Manuel Marquez was the clear winner. Another area where Compubox does come in handy, at least only in hindsight, I'd just like to point out some of the punch numbers from Pacquaio's fights at welterweight.

Taken from the Compubox website, I'd like to cite these statistics: "Since meeting Marquez (in 2008), Pacquiao averaged 79.2 punches per round, of which he landed 34 percent. That percentage was a mixed bag, for while his jab remains inaccurate (4.0 of 30.9, 13.1 percent), his power punching more than made up for it (22.9 of 48.3, 47.5 percent)." Fights which occur at Pacquiao's speed see him throwing upwards of 950 punches. On Saturday night, he was limited to 560 over the entire fight.

These statistics quantify exactly what many of us saw on Saturday - a fight where Marquez dictated the tempo and controlled the action in the ring. Manny's offensive typhoon was never allowed to get going. Not because of ‘himself', despite the ridiculous suggestions of Max Kellerman, but because he was fighting a smarter boxer who knew how to use the ring and control the pace. As was pointed out by BLH member Apprentice on another thread the other day, the one round where Pacquiao really managed to get Marquez into a firefight was round 9; however, in the 10th, Marquez immediately slowed the pace and got the fight back to how he wanted it.

These categories are abstract. There are no positively objective criteria to scoring a fight, which is why it's impossible to truly dish the dirt on judges who score close fights like this one way or the other. As far as I'm concerned, if you follow terms like effective aggression, defence, clean punching and ring generalship to the book, you should score the fight for Juan Manuel Marquez. However, I can also accept that there were plenty of rounds where Pacquiao did score punches and where his constant forward motion did translate into (somewhat) effective aggression. I'm not going to chide anyone for scoring the fight for Pacquiao, because it's your call.

But, as far as I'm concerned, Harold Lederman dramatically over-simplified judging criteria on Saturday night as a means of justification for scoring this fight for Pacquiao. This could have been Harold towing the company line, which I think is a feasible argument given the ludicrous bias displayed by the commentary team towards Manny, as picked up by Scott earlier in the day. However, effective aggression, defence, clean punching and ring generalship all lost their true definition in Lederman's scoring on Saturday night. That, in my opinion, is a fact.

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