The device is shaped like a piece of Bazooka bubble gum. It weighs in at 0.28 ounces (7.9 grams) and belongs to HBO, the heavyweight among boxing broadcasters.
This technology, called PunchForce, is designed to measure the speed and force of a boxer’s punches and transmit that information instantaneously to viewers of HBO broadcasts. But its real potential is far broader — if it works, it could help this struggling sport fix one of its most nagging flaws.
Like instant replay in baseball, the system would offer perspective about what actually took place between contestants, enhancing the ability of viewers to judge the judges. To many in boxing, the potential value of such punch analysis was underscored by the controversial June 9 bout between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley, which Bradley won in a split decision despite a widespread perception that Pacquiao had prevailed.
Then again, the unofficial scoring provided by PunchForce might support official outcomes. "There are probably some fights where if people had those figures there would have been less disagreeing with the judges," according to Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
Either way, the device could give boxing a second wind at a time when fight fans increasingly are turning to mixed martial arts, or MMA, a form of combat that more often ends with decisive knockouts. Indeed, the state athletic commission in Nevada — boxing’s home state — already approved the use of PunchForce.
Yet like a fighter who’s late to the ring, the technology has yet to launch. Never mind that the Federal Communications Commission granted approval to PunchForce in February, essentially ruling that it wouldn’t interfere with other transmissions. It remained on the sidelines for the Pacquiao-Bradley match and isn’t expected to play a role in any imminent bout.
Precisely why isn’t clear — PunchForce is a closely-guarded secret at HBO. Michael Paschke, HBO senior software engineer, wouldn’t comment beyond saying that PunchForce is "ready to go," having been tested on "hundreds of fights." An HBO spokesman said it was premature to discuss the technology.