Manny Pacquiao’s loss on points to Timothy Bradley this weekend has become a global sports catastrophe, so much so that it became a rare boxing event that somehow managed to elbow its way on to the center stage of sports coverage (albeit briefly) in the middle of the 2012 Euro Cup. To borrow an idea from Scott Levinson, I think if you conducted a survey of boxing experts (let’s say ex-fighters, trainers, promoters and writers, so we can exclude the judges) on the outcome of that fight, the odds against finding two results in three that gave the fight to Bradley would be astronomical. Arguably the biggest name in boxing was felled by a stinky decision, and that’s big news.
So what happened? Even saying Pacman won the fight by 115-113, as Jerry Roth did, is a bit of a stretch, as the margin is perhaps too small. Saying he lost it by 115-113 as Duane Ford and C.J. Ross did is ridiculous. My personal suspicion is that the Vegas boxing establishment, either consciously or unconsciously, went out of their way to appear “fair” to Timothy Bradley in the wake of past complaints over how Pacquiao’s fights have been scored. This is an attitude I have called “over-correction” ever since Oscar de la Hoya’s 1999 loss to Felix Trinidad.
When the Golden Boy Couldn’t Get a Break
According to conventional business wisdom, the judges should never have had any bias whatsoever for Desert Storm, who isn’t in the same league as Pacman in terms of bankability. Yet skewed judging is not always about the business angle, as hometown decisions clearly indicate. Another source of stinky scoring is the sting of repeated accusations of bias in the media (everywhere but Germany, that is, which remains stubbornly immune to charges of corruption). Boxing councils and judges don’t like being labeled biased, incompetent or dirty any more than anyone else, and the result is sometimes taking actions that are, well, biased, incompetent and/or dirty in the opposite direction.
Oscar de la Hoya was dogged by this wrong-headed effort to appear “fair” through the latter half of his career. In the late 1990s, boxing observers repeatedly criticized the scoring of his fights, particularly the 1997 Pernell Whitaker fight and the 1999 Ike Quartey match. Both fights were held in Vegas, both were close, and in both instances two or more judges gave the Golden Boy a huge margin of victory unjustified by anything that took place in the ring.
Then came the 1999 clash with Felix Trinidad, which remains one of the most controversial bouts in modern memory. Almost all observers had de la Hoya winning the fight, but the ruling was a Majority Decision for Trinidad. In a pertinent example, Jerry Roth gave Tito the 115-113 score that I gave to de la Hoya.
Oscar de la Hoya’s rematch with Shane Mosley in 2003 was also skewed away from Oscar, with all three judges giving Mosley a 115-113 verdict in what was a razor-close fight. While the Vegas judges did Oscar a clear favor in his 2004 middleweight title bout with Felix Sturm, the scoring of de la Hoya’s grudge bout with Fernando Vargas was suspiciously close for a bout that saw the Golden Boy clearly outbox (and ultimately stop) Ferocious Fernando.
At the time, de la Hoya was the biggest money maker south of heavyweight in the sport. Scoring a win on de la Hoya was a guaranteed career booster, as Pacquiao himself discovered later on. Conventional wisdom suggests that de la Hoya should have gotten the nod in any close bout, nevermind when he actually won the fight by a clear and obvious margin, yet in the latter half of his career he usually did not get that nod. With a scoring record like that, one has to wonder why Oscar de la Hoya kept fighting in Las Vegas.
Is Manny Pacquiao Getting the Judge’s Payback?
Manny Pacquiao has also been accused of getting too much love from the judges, particularly in his fights with Juan Manuel Marquez. While most observers agree that the first encounter between these two gladiators was fairly scored as a Draw, the majority of observers believe Marquez won both the 2008 rematch and the 2011 rubber match. All three of these fights took place in Vegas, and interestingly, many of the same “Vegas regulars” were participants in all of the aforementioned matches involving questionable scoring.
The Bradley vs. Pacquiao judges were Duane Ford, C.J. Ross and Jerry Roth. Ford was previously assigned to the 2008 Marquez rematch on the one hand, and Oscar’s 2003 rematch with Shane Mosley on the other. Jerry Roth worked the 1997 Whitaker bout, the 1999 Trinidad fight and the 2008 Marquez rematch. Roth was the judge who said Pacquiao won, but with a margin of only two points, he looks merely like a minor corrector rather than a major one. C.J. Ross has a fairly clean record, but even so was part of last year’s horrible Mares vs. Agbeko fiasco.
Neither I nor any other boxing observer knows what actually took place in the minds of Ford, Ross and Roth this weekend any more than we know what Hamada, Logist and Roth were thinking back in 1999. I merely suggest one possible explanation: that when the fans and the press complain about stinky scoring, sometimes the judges listen, and in doing so they over-correct and make a bad situation worse. However, handing Pacquiao a loss he didn’t deserve against Bradley in no way makes up for wronging Juan Manuel Marquez twice. As the grade school axiom goes, two wrongs don’t make a right. The extra wrong adds one more unjust decision to the growing, stinky pile that blights the entire sport.
As for Manny Pacquiao and Bob Arum, I suggest the both of you think twice before you fight in Las Vegas again. In particular, do everything you can to make any fight with Floyd Mayweather happen at Madison Square Garden. The days when Sin City loved you first and foremost are clearly over.