Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Punch-Love Drunk

I love boxing. To me, there's nothing more exciting than the night of a big fight. Order the pay-per-view, invite some friends, pop the corn and chill the Cokes. We haven't done that in a long time...basically because there hasn't been a fight worth ordering in the last decade or so (that's a subject for another rant)...but the house parties we threw for the Bowe-Holyfield trilogy of fights are among my favorite sports memories. So you think I'd love Olympic boxing. I mean, look at the list of Team USA alumni: Evander Holyfield, Oscar De La Hoya, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard, Pernell Whitaker, George Foreman, Roy Jones Jr., some guy named Cassius Clay...and that's barely scratching the surface.

But Olympic boxing, with its ludicrous electronic scoring system, makes me tear my hair out. There are five judges, each armed with a little gamepad-looking device that they use for tallying "clean" punches. Boxer A lands a clean punch...push Button A. It sounds simple enough...but, my god, where to begin with the glitches in scoring a fight this way? First of all, it devalues overall ring generalship and defense. What is boxing, anyway? I mean, for generations it's been nicknamed "the noble art of self-defense." What are the last instructions given by the referee before the opening bell? Is it "Remember, throw as many punches as you humanly can"? No...it's "Remember, defend yourself at all times."

Secondly, there are no extra points given for knockdowns. Inexplicable. Then there's the matter of flurries. What happens when there is a flurry of punches (a rapid-fire back-and-forth exchange) between the two fighters? Can any judge evaluate whether ten shots thrown in quick succession by two men are "clean" or not? Of course, that depends on the individual judge's definition of "clean"...which is another problem unto itself. I've seen this scenario countless times in the last couple of days: Boxer A throws a big shot. Boxer B gets his arm up to defend himself agains the shot. Boxer A's punch ends up landing 80% on Boxer B's arm and glancing 20% off the top of his head, harmlessly. The scoreboard tallies a point for Boxer A. Infuriating.

Yes, I know 10-point-must scoring (in which the winner of a round is awarded 10 points while the loser get 9 points or less) can be a farce and it leaves the door wide open for politics to influence the judging. But are you telling me that doesn't happen in gymnastics? In figure skating? And as these Olympic kids come through the system, learning to throw as many punches as they can per round with no regard for ring generalship, they aren't going to be worth watching by the time they matriculate to the professional ranks. Awarding fights purely on the basis of the number of punches thrown flat-out sucks. It lowers Olympic boxing, allegedly the pinnacle of amateur competition, down to the level of Toughman tournaments in backwater dives. Bring back "real" judging.

Hey, don't just take my word for it:

Farcical and Shameless Olympic Boxing Scoring Goes On.

Britain Coach Blasts Judges After 'Stupid' Scoring in Murray Defeat.

Boxing Judges Under Fire Again From Australians in Beijing.

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