“How did he not win that?”, “WTF”, and “Who’s judging this, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles?!!”. Just three reactions fight fans make when boxer A completely dominates boxer B but then has to unjustly listen as the decision is awarded to the clearly beaten fighter. Bad decisions happen all the time in other sports, a penalty for a dive in football, a leg in front of the wicket in cricket, but in boxing hitting a fighter more times than he hits you seems quite straightforward, don’t you think? But straightforward it’s not. You have to acknowledge power punches, ring generalship, effective aggression and so forth. Different views around the ring can alter perspective, as does viewing on TV whilst listening to the commentators. And it is fair to say that in some fights a case can be made for a decision that is close (Golovkin v Alvarez as an example). But I can honestly say, that in my thirty two years of watching the sport, that the following five fights still baffle me as to how the decision was announced:
5. Lennox Lewis v Evander Holyfield 1
The fight to crown an undisputed heavyweight champion took place on 13 March 1999 at Madison Square Garden. Expectations were high that a fantastic fight would happen and that the world would once again have one man reigning atop the division. Unfortunately for all, neither happened. In a tactical fight, Lewis largely dominated. Holyfield had his moments but they were few and far between. After twelve rounds, the crowd waited in anticipation for Lewis to be declared the winner only to be left stunned when the scorecards were read out: Stanley Christodoulou scored for Lewis 116-113, whilst Larry O’Connell somehow scored a draw at 115-115 apiece. But it was the scorecard of Eugenia Williams, who favoured Holyfield by 115-113, that drew the biggest gasps of disbelief. It appeared as if she must have been facing the wrong way to come up with that score. Outrage followed with newspapers headlining one word: Robbery. An immediate rematch was arranged, and this time, not only was a much better and closer fight witnessed, but the decision went to the right man too as Lewis finally unified the heavyweight title.
4. Timothy Bradley v Manny Pacquiao 1
This stands out as the perfect example of how judges think ramming your face into your opponents gloves will win the fight. Paqiuao was riding the quest of a wave, pound for pound boxing’s finest and unbeaten in seven years whilst collecting titles at a phenomenal rate. Bradley was attempting to become a two-weight champion by adding Paqiuao’s WBO 147 lb title to his own list of achievements. On 9 June 2012 at the MGM Grand, Paqiuao controlled the action, visibly hurting Bradley with straight lefts throughout. When Bradley was announced the winner with scores of 115-113 (twice) and 115-113 in favour of Paqiuao, the astonishment from the ringside commentators was clear. The late great Emanuel Steward was “dumbfounded”, whilst many in the press had scored the fight as wide as 119-109 in favour of Paqiuao. But the whirlwind from the Philippines had his revenge, twice outpointing Bradley conclusively by unanimous decisions.
3. Pernell Whitaker v Julio Cesar Chavez
On 10 September 1993 at the Alamodome, in San Antonio, Texas, the two finest fighters on the planet came together to finally decide who was number one. Both men had won world titles in three divisions and were already heralded as all-time greats. Chavez was attempting to become the first Mexican to win titles in four divisions and was unbeaten with an astonishing 87-0 record. Whitaker had proven himself to be one of the greatest defensive boxers in history and the elusive southpaw could cement his own place with a victory over his most celebrated rival. For two rounds, Whitaker struggled for rhythm due to Chavez unrelenting pressure. But from the third, it became bull to matador as he twisted and turned, putting on an exhibition of skills that bamboozled the challenger throughout. With the decision expected to go to Whitaker, only one score of a too close 115-113 went in his favour as the other two rolled in at 115-115. Disbelief echoed amongst the press, and esteemed writer Bert Randolph Sugar even urged fans to NOT buy his magazine Boxing Illustrated that was reporting on the fight, if they felt that Chavez had won. A rematch never happened.
2. Roy Jones Jr v Park Si-Hun
Back to the unpaid code for one of the biggest and most publicised injustices in amateur boxing history. Jones had breezed through the light-middleweight division at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and was expected to culminate his journey with a gold medal when meeting the home nations Park in the final. Jones dominated every minute of every round, displaying the considerable gifts that would take him to a Hall of Fame career. Standing in the ring awaiting to be announced as Olympic champion, the announcement of a split 3-2 decision in favour of the Korean stunned absolutely everybody, none more so than Park himself who stood open-mouthed in disbelief. At the awarding ceremony Park pulled Jones on to the winners podium in complete acknowledgment of who indeed was the rightful champion. In an Olympics trudged with controversy, this was one of the most diabolical of all.
1. Pernell Whitaker v Jose Luis Ramirez 1
Thirty years on and this is still the biggest travesty I have seen in a boxing ring. Stories were going round that WBC president Jose Sulaiman was interested in an all Mexican unification between Ramirez and WBA champion Julio Cesar Chavez, and that Whitaker would have to wait his turn. Whitaker’s manager Shelly Finkel protested, saying that the fight between Whitaker and Ramirez had already been arranged and that a deal with tv station ABC was already in place. At the weigh-in for the fight, Whitaker was approached by a WBC official and told to sign to fight Chavez if he won. His team declined, putting a seed of doubt in to their heads as to what may happen. On 12 March 1988 at the Staide de Levallois, France, that seed became a reality. Whitaker unveiled the box of tricks that would see him become a legend in the sport. A hand injury saw him ease in a few rounds, but he still more than won his fair share and was expected to have his first world title after twelve. However, joy turned to despair when a split decision went to defending champion Ramirez. Whitaker sat on the canvas, inconsolable as press and fans vented their utter disbelief. Four fights later though, he would have his revenge when he once again outboxed his man to win the vacant WBC title and retain his IBF belt. In the March 1990 issue of The Ring Magazine, their first fight was labelled as the worst decision of the last decade at 135 lbs.
There have been countless other bad decisions, Ali/Norton 3 and Hearns/Leonard 2 to name just two, but for me, those listed above are the worst that I have witnessed. Please feel free to vent your own frustrations with decisions you felt were completely different to what you had just viewed.