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The World Boxing Council Has Reanimated the Debate over Open Scoring

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  • The World Boxing Council Has Reanimated the Debate over Open Scoring

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    By Arne K. Lang

    Later this month, on August 25, the semifinals of the WBC welterweight tournament will be held in Toronto. South Africa’s Chris Van Heerden (26-2-1) meets Ghana’s Fredrick Lawson (27-1) in one of the co-featured bouts. Mexico’s Francisco Santana (25-6-1) opposes Brad Solomon (28-1) of Douglasville, Georgia, in the other.

    The WBC tourney, staged in conjunction with Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Promotions, kicked off on April 27 in Louisville. Eight invitees participated in a poor man’s version of the World Boxing Super Series.

    The promotion had several unconventional coils built into the scaffolding. There were five judges instead of three. Four of the judges sat ringside. The other was positioned in front of a TV monitor with the sound off. Their scorecards were revealed at the midpoint of the bout (between rounds five and six) so that the fighters and their handlers and those in the arena and those watching on television were apprised of who was leading and to what degree. However, the names of the judges were kept anonymous.

    These twists appeared to go off without a hitch. Indeed, there was virtually no commentary, pro or con, on social media.

    The argument for open scoring in boxing is as old as the hills. In what other sport are the competitors and fans kept in the dark until the competition is finished?

    The clamor for it was especially loud after the March 13, 1999 fight between Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield.

    All of the meaningful belts were at stake when Lewis and Holyfield squared off at Madison Square Garden in the first heavyweight title unification fight in six years. When the final bell sounded, most everyone thought it was a foregone conclusion that the decision would go to Lewis. The verdict, a split draw, elicited howls of protest and sparked six investigations, most aimed at IBF-appointed judge Eugenia Williams, a 48-year-old Newark municipal clerk. She had it 115-113 for Holyfield, even giving Evander the fifth round, which many thought was Lewis’s best round of the fight.

    The sport’s top promoters, Don King and Bob Arum, joined the chorus for open scoring. Six weeks after the Lewis-Holyfield fiasco, Don King promoted a show in Washington, DC, that featured three local fighters -- Keith Holmes, Mark Johnson, and Sharmba Mitchell – in world title fights. Holmes challenged Hacime Cherifi for the WBC middleweight title. Johnson met Ratanachai Sor Vorapin (aka Chaiya Pothang) for the vacant IBF super flyweight strap, and Mitchell defended his WBA 140-pound title against Reggie Green.

    The scores were announced after every round of the Mitchell-Green fight and after the fourth, eighth, and final rounds of the other two. (That Don King was able to get all three sanctioning bodies plus the D.C. commission on board with his requisition for open scoring spoke reams about his sway over the sport.)

    Keith Holmes rendered the open scoring experiment moot when he stopped his opponent in the seventh round. The other bouts went the distance. Johnson was quick to establish his superiority over Vorapin and won lopsidedly. Mitchell won a majority decision over Green, but the fight wasn’t really that close. After 10 rounds, Mitchell was comfortably ahead on two of the scorecards and coasted home.

    This was a test case and when it was evaluated the verdict wasn’t favorable. Updating the scorecards and getting the results posted in the one-minute interval between rounds was challenging. Proponents of open scoring thought it would generate more excitement as fighters trailing on the scorecards pulled out all the stops in a last-ditch effort to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but it was just as likely to elicit boredom as fighters went into a shell to protect a comfortable lead as happened in the Mitchell-Green fight. The IBF supervisor in attendance noted that open scoring seemed to encourage fans to leave early, depressing sales at the concession stands.

    All three organizations decided to abandon the experiment, but that didn’t stop Bob Arum from beseeching the Nevada commission to implement open scoring for his forthcoming fight on May 8, 1999, between Erik Morales and Juan Carlos Ramirez. Arum stood before the commission and exhausted an hour arguing his case. Open scoring, he said, would lift boxing out of the medieval age. But the commission wasn’t buying it. Notoriously churlish when things don’t go his way, a disgruntled Arum said, “If these guys (the commissioners) were the Pope, Catholics would still be eating fish on Friday.”

    Arum had no chance because the commissioners knew that NSAC executive secretary Marc Ratner, the de facto head of the commission, was opposed. “One of my favorite moments in sports,” said Ratner, “is when the announcer gets up and says ‘and still champion’ or ‘and new champion.’” Lou DiBella, who then held the post of senior vice president for HBO Sports, didn’t like it either. Open scoring, he said, “doesn’t stop a crime from being committed; it just lets people see it while it is happening.”

    Open scoring was revived for the 2013 fight at the San Antonio Alamodome between WBC 154-pound champion Canelo Alvarez and his WBA counterpart, Austin Trout. The scores were announced after the fourth and eighth rounds. South African judge Stanley Christodoulou, one of the sport’s most experienced arbiters, had an off night. Those tuning in to the Showtime telecast thought his scorecard was an outrage.

    Showtime commentator Al Bernstein scored the fight a draw. His colleagues Steve Farhood and Paulie Malignaggi had Alvarez winning by a slim margin. All three official judges had Alvarez winning too, but Christodoulou’s card (118-109) invited censure for being far too extreme. He had Canelo winning each of the first eight rounds, after which the Mexican superstar took his foot off the pedal. And because Austin Trout lacked a knockout punch, divulging the scores after round eight ought to have been prefaced with a spoiler alert.

    “We were robbed of the possibility of seeing any late-round magic,” wrote Brian Mazique in Bleacher Report. “The right man won and that is what is most important. I just wish I hadn’t found out after the eighth round.” But despite this denouement, the would-be antiseptic of open scoring just wouldn’t go away.

    I’m no fan of the WBC which seemingly wants to suck a sanctioning fee out of every fight, no matter how small, and I would be opposed to the universal application of five judges as I know what a financial hardship it would work on shoestring promoters, the lifeblood of the sport. However, it strikes me that the WBC may have gotten it right this time, striking the perfect balance by giving away the scores of the judges only once during the course of a fight and not too deep into it – just a midterm report, so to speak.

    What’s your take?

    Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

  • #2
    What does the WBC provide in exchange for sanctioning fees?

    What is the nature of ABC sanctioning?


    • #3
      The Lewis-Holyfield scoring brought about some knee jerk reactions (and not well thought out). Open scoring was one and it didn't work out well on that DC card referenced above. Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson openly admitted to coasting and going into a total prevent defense the last four rounds of the his fight because he knew he was far ahead. He did not want to take an unwarranted risks and the last four rounds of that bout were utterly dreadful. And Mitchell-Green, same thing last two rounds when Mitchell realized he had the fight on the cards. If I remember correctly

      I watched the WBC tournament in its entirety with the new open scoring rules established and agree that this way worked better. There was still drama and the verdict still unknown. I think this maybe helps in another sense too. Lets say one fighter drops the first five rounds and it seems obvious. But we all know fighters corners sometimes see things different. Now they here the cards and reality hits. Maybe they become more inclined to pull their fighter out in another round or two to save him further punishment knowing for a fact now the cards at not in their favor. It won't happen in all cases but maybe it helps corners make more compassionate (and common sense) decisions.

      Back to the Lewis-Holyfield aftermath, remember New Jersey's reaction? They established a new scoring system called the majority scoring system. The way it works in a nutshell is that their is one master scorecard and the master score is the "consensus" of the judge's scoring each round. So if two judges have for fighter "A" 10-9 and a third for fighter "B" 10-9, the score that goes on the master sheet is 10-9 fighter "A". Interesting in theory but in practice did not work. Look up the Vivian Harris-Ivan Robinson fight. Harris was ahead on all three judges cards. So he wins, right? Not with majority scoring that came up with a 94-94 draw (there was a knockdown of Harris and a point deduction). Yep Harris won the fight on all three judges cards but the result is officially a draw. Majority scoring was soon scrapped in the aftermath of this fight.


      • Kid Blast
        Kid Blast commented
        Editing a comment
        Great post

    • #4


      • #5
        Open scoring is like an open sore. Very bad.