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Confronting a Robbery

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Fighters have different ways of coming to terms with being screwed on the scorecards.

Manny Pacquiao v Timothy Bradley Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

No sport does injustice as frequently or as blatantly as boxing. Whether through promoters’ machinations, the power of hometown advantage or just plain old incompetence, the robbery is as much a part of boxing as the ring itself.

Anger is the natural reaction. After his inexplicable draw against Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis raged: “They ripped me off. I'm the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, and the whole world knows it. He [Holyfield] should give me those two belts because he knows they're mine." It is asking too much to expect an exhausted adrenaline-soaked fighter to accept that what he has just lived through has been judged not to have really happened. Before the scorecards were read out, Lewis’ mind was surely already buzzing with the prospect of celebrations, accolades and a life’s dream accomplished. His reaction is the classic response: rage at the injustice of having something stolen that you have have rightfully and painstakingly earned.

When Lewis talks about “they” he seems to be focused on the judges. Some spray their fury much more widely. After his defeat against Juan Diaz, Paulie Malignaggi went after the whole sport: ”Boxing is full of s**t. I used to love the sport. Boxing is full of s**t.” What it lacked in eloquence, his diatribe made up for in genuine passion. You are not just listening to a fighter angry at being denied a victory but a fan lamenting the sad state of a sport that he loved enough to commit his life to it. That he’s a fan as much as a fighter is shown by the care he takes to praise the Texas crowd, even though they, content enough to have seen the hometown fighter win, are booing him.

Often it is the crowd who step up when the judges have failed. After his defeat against Joel Casamayor, Jose Armando Santa Cruz was quick to tell the interviewer to “Listen to the crowd booing.” Invoking the crowd can feel like a stronger argument than when a fighter tries to explain why they won; theories can always be dismissed but the loud disapproval of the crowd is indisputable. It also comes with the attractive illusion of returning power to the people. The fighter is effectively stripping the judges of their authority and saying that true judgment lies with the sport’s supporters.

Some fighters somehow manage to see the funny side of their misfortune. After his defeat against Sven Ottke, Robin Reid said “You don't expect any favours fighting in Germany but at least Dick Turpin wore a mask when he robbed people”. Seeing the humour is easier when you know it’s coming. Many felt Ottke had been receiving generous decisions for years so Reid would have feared the worst. Perhaps it is useful once in a while to mock the sport rather than just rage against it. It is one thing to constantly pointing out that boxing can be unjust; it’s also important to point out that it is often absurd.

Just once in a while, there is barely any reaction at all. After a 48-year-old George Foreman was denied victory against Shannon Briggs, he declared ''I don't think I'll be boxing again. You can only get so many millions. I'm not going to cry. I've got four sons out there and I'm not going to cry like a baby. The only thing that counts is tomorrow.'' Only a man who had achieved so much in the sport, as well as gaining financial security, could speak with such a lack of rancour in response to his robbery. Boxing had given him plenty. While he knew its flaws better than most, he accepted them as part of the deal.

Perhaps the other reason that Foreman didn’t rage is that he knew that what he said wouldn’t matter. Boxers have been getting robbed for years and all the speeches of those cheated have changed little. Say whatever makes you feel better, then focus on the comeback.