On Saturday night, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Austin Trout, two of the top rated junior-middleweights in boxing, fought in San Antonio, Texas. Canelo won the fight by unanimous decision. Though the bout was very evenly matched, the judges’ scorecards seemed to be from a different fight entirely. While Rey Danseco’s 115-112 score was reasonable, Oren Shellenberger and Stanley Christodoulou scored the fight at 116-111 and 118-109, respectively. While many watching at home and in the Alamodome watched an evenly-contested fight (Bad Left Hook has a great round-by-round breakdown), the judges’ scores sapped the evening of much of the drama. The state of boxing is such that controversial fights seem to happen more often than not, and this latest issue is one that has been a long time coming, thanks to a scoring system that simply isn’t working.
Boxing matches are scored by what is called the “10 point must system“. Every round is scored, with 10 points awarded to the fighter that won the round, with the fighter that lost receiving 9 points. Fighters are docked a point for each time they are knocked down, and if either fighter, winner or loser, commits a punishable foul, he is docked a point. For example, if a round is won clearly by a fighter who knocked down his opponent once, he is awarded a 10-8 score. Of course, a knockout or TKO ends the fight regardless of score.
One other key component of the 10 point must system, and the one that has led to many controversial decisions, is that evenly-matched rounds are supposed to be scored as 10-10. However, there is a reluctance on the part of judges to score rounds as even, preferring to give 10-9 scores to one of the boxers. Instead, it often falls to a personal preference for one fighter’s style over the other’s, with some judges preferring power punchers, and others preferring fighters that use jabs. There is also often a lack of nuance in a judge’s decision. If an evenly matched round features a fluke knockdown, judges often give it a 10-8 score, when something like 10-9 would be a better fit.
In the case of Canelo-Trout, which was by all metrics a very evenly-contested bout, Christodoulou’s scorecard posits that Canelo won, definitively won, eight of twelve rounds. For anyone that watched the fight, this is a ridiculous assertion, but Christodoulou’s score, or Shellenberger’s for that matter, might indicate that there was a preference for the power puncher (Canelo both threw and connected on fewer punches, but had a higher percentage of his power punches land). Aside from getting knocked down in the seventh, Trout was certainly Canelo’s equal for the vast majority of the bout, but the scores simply didn’t reflect this. That’s not to say that Canelo shouldn’t have won the fight (even Trout admitted that the better fighter won), but that it, and the majority of other fights for that matter, should have been scored much more evenly.
While correctly implementing the 10 point must system has been a problem across all of boxing, the WBC in particular has a problem that needs to be solved right away. Their open scoring system, in place since December 2011, is an unmitigated disaster. During WBC bouts, the judges’ scores for the fight so far are announced to the fighters’ corners and to the audience as a whole after both the fourth and eighth rounds. In the case of many fights, including Canelo-Trout, doing so can make the later rounds much less dramatic in the case of a one-sided fight, but it also can effect the fight itself. After the eighth round, the score was so in favor of Canelo that Trout would have had to knock him out in order to win. There was little chance of that happening, though, because his opponent, who knew he had an insurmountable lead, got defensive in the last four rounds and didn’t give him any openings.
Despite the flaws in its execution, the 10 point must system can be a good way to judge matches if judges more accurately reflect evenly-matched rounds and bouts. Open scoring, however, has no place in the boxing arena. Should Floyd Mayweather Jr. win his May 4th fight with Robert Guerrero, it could set up a blockbuster match between Mayweather and Canelo, likely sometime in the fall. It would be a big-ticket bout, and a huge Pay-Per-View moneymaker. If boxing’s scoring system doesn’t correct itself, however, it could be yet another fight marred by controversy, and one that does more harm to the sport than good.