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Boxing’s never ending corruption problem

Boxing as a professional sport is going through a tumultuous time. Influencer / YouTube boxing is surpassing professional boxing in popularity, the fights that fans want aren’t getting made, and the problem of corruption doesn’t seem to ever go away.

On 16th September 2017, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez took on Gennady Golovkin “GGG” for the unified WBA, WBC, IBF, IBO, Ring magazine, and lineal middleweight championships. Two of the best middleweights in the world up against each other. It was a super fight… and it delivered. It was one of the most exciting fights between two extremely skilled boxers, generating over $27 million in revenue.

The ending of the fight, however, was a letdown. CompuBox data showed GGG landing 218 total punches compared to Canelo’s 169. Out of the 12 rounds, GGG landed more punches than Canelo in 10 of them. However the judges’ scorecards presented a different story. Dave Moretti scored the fight 115-113 for GGG. Don Trella scored it a draw at 114-114. But in arguably the most shocking event of the night, Adalaide Byrd scored it 118–110 in favour of Canelo.

GGG vs Canelo 1 (2017)
Saul Canelo Alvarez vs GGG Gennady Golovkin (2017)

Byrd’s scoring was widely criticized and opened up accusation after accusation of corruption. To many, the score was so far removed from reality that you couldn’t put this down to incompetence. It was a flagrant display of corruption at the highest and most visible levels of boxing, right under the boxing fans’ noses, and everyone was able to get away with it. For many fans, it was infuriating and it signalled the end of their support for the sport of boxing. GGG would later question how a judge could so flagrantly disrespect the years of work boxing athletes have to go through and disrespect the sport of boxing as a whole.

While GGG vs Canelo 1 was a scandal at the highest levels of boxing, it wasn’t anything new, nor would the heightened attention to corruption in boxing stamp it out.

At 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, Roy Jones Jr fought Park Si-Hun in the finals of the in 156-pound weight class. Jones was the clear winner in everyone’s eyes, landing 86 punches compared to Park’s 32. However in what is regarded as the most controversial moment in Olympic boxing history, Park’s hand was raised as the winner.

Just before the result was announced the commentators of a US broadcast said: “If he [Jones] doesn’t win the gold off this, then I think there’s something rotten… because that is absolutely one of the most dominant things I’ve seen.”

As the referee of the bout Aldo Leoni raised Park’s hand, he whispered to Jones, “I can’t believe they’re doing this to you.” Park later apologised to Jones, felt confused when he was announced the winner, and has admitted that he didn’t want his hand to be raised. During the the medal giving ceremony, he was heckled by the crowd, many of whom were South Koreans booing their own athlete. In a post-fight interview, Jones expressed his disappointment: “I don’t know if I’ll box again ever.” The result and allegations of bribery would taint the reputation of boxing for decades.

Roy Jones Jr vs Park Si-Hun 1988 Seoul Olympics
Park Si-Hun getting his arm raised in victory despite a clear loss at the 1988 Seoul Olympics

Corruption has been synonymous with boxing for years. Despite the anger and frustration it causes, nothing seems to be done. When Floyd Mayweather fought Canelo Alvarez in September 2013, there was no question that on the night, Canelo was outclassed. But one judge, CJ Ross, scored it a draw at 114-114. There is a running joke in boxing about how much one needs to pay off the judges to beat Canelo. When Dimitry Bivol challenged Canelo on 7th May 2022, there was widespread understanding that Bivol had to get the TKO to win. Even if he outboxed him, he’d get robbed. It came as a surprise that Bivol won by points victory, but what didn’t come as a surprise was the suspect scoring. The general consensus was that Bivol took the fight 10 rounds to 2, 9 rounds to 3 if we’re being generous to Canelo. But one judge had Canelo up by 4-0 in the first four rounds.

When Jack Catterall fought Josh Taylor on 26th February 2022, many saw Taylor taking punishment, becoming desperate and ultimately receiving a boxing lesson. The overwhelming consensus was a win for Catterall, but Taylor got the win. One can’t help but wonder what’s going on when the commentary team of the broadcast are in agreement that Catterall won and then a few seconds later, Taylor’s hand is being raised in victory.

Reactions to the result of Josh Taylor vs Jack Catterall
Reactions to the result of Josh Taylor vs Jack Catterall

Some boxing fans have suggested that judges should be fined and get charged with fraud. Prison time, they argue, is probably what’s needed in this sport to get rid of corruption. What message does this sends to aspiring boxers? Why even bother getting into the sport? You could do everything right and get the win stolen from you by a judge looking out for their own financial interests. Corruption also disrespects the immense struggle required for boxing. Athletes pour their blood, sweat, tears and soul into it. Judges who change their scoring for an envelope of cash are casually tossing away another person’s life work.

When Anthony Joshua fought Oleksandr Usyk for the first time on 25th September 2021, some were very surprised when the judges gave the win to Usyk. This is telling. Usyk was the justified winner. However it says something about the state of boxing that people are shocked when judges make the correct decision.

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