Boxing’s momentum stung by wave of suspect scoring

Paul Malignaggi said all along that he’d never beat Juan Diaz in

Texas if the fight went to the scorecards. It did, and he was

right.

The Brooklyn-based junior welterweight lost that bout in August,

a back-and-forth brawl that left a huge crowd at the Toyota Center

in Houston on its feet. But few believe it was as lopsided as the

118-110 scorecard turned in by Gale Van Hoy, with some accusing the

judge of blatantly favoring the hometown fighter.

“Some people thought there was maybe more to it than just a bad

decision. Only Gale Van Hoy will ever know that,” said Malignaggi,

who landed a rematch against Diaz on Saturday night at the UIC

Pavilion in Chicago.

“That one scorecard was what made the rematch possible, because

it was so out of line.”

The return of Floyd Mayweather Jr., the success of Manny

Pacquiao, and the anticipation that the two will meet in March has

been a boon to boxing. TV ratings are on the rise, consecutive HBO

pay-per-views generated more than 1 million buys for the first time

in years, and arenas are filling around the world to watch a sport

long considered to be in decline.

Which makes the issue of suspect scoring all the more

relevant.

“The worst thing is that the public will lose confidence in the

sport by believing the very worst, that boxing is again fixed, as

it was suspected in the late 1940s and ’50s,” promoter Gary Shaw

said Thursday. “That’s the danger we’re in right now.”

Last weekend in Atlantic City, N.J., Paul Williams waged a

memorable fight against junior middleweight titleholder Sergio

Martinez. They stood toe-to-toe for 12 rounds, slugging away at

each other with the kind of unabashed fury that often turns casual

fans into die-hards.

Julie Lederman scored the bout even, and Lynne Carter had it

115-113 for Williams. But ringside observers were puzzled by the

scorecard that Pierre Benoist turned in; his 119-110 gave Williams

a virtual shutout.

The head-scratching was even greater the previous week, when

Joan Guzman and Ali Funeka fought 12 rounds for a vacant

lightweight title in Quebec City.

Funeka appeared to dominate Guzman, landing heavy shots almost

at will. The unbeaten Guzman was a bloody mess afterward, and

appeared resigned to defeat when the bell sounded and Funeka’s

corner poured into the ring. Then announcer Michael Buffer read the

scores: Joseph Pasquale had it 116-112 for Funeka, while judges

Alan Davis and Benoit Roussel each had it a draw.

Boxing officials rarely discuss their score cards, and even

critics acknowledge that the judging is subjective. Still, many

think there is a problem.

“There is something radically wrong in boxing. I’m saying it,

and I earn my living in it,” said Shaw, who promotes Funeka and

has called for an investigation into the two Canadian judges. “I

think that we’re in a very bad place in professional boxing right

now.”

Some promoters believe it’s time for a federal commission to

oversee judges, with the power to train, select and, if necessary,

fine or suspend them. Shaw would rather judges be chosen like a

trial jury, with promoters given the opportunity to veto candidates

from a list supplied by state athletic commissions.

“That would be the most perfect way. Both camps would have a

say, not in picking the official, but excluding officials,” Shaw

said. “Then if something goes wrong, what can I say? Because the

commission will say, ‘But Gary, you OK’d these judges.”’

Williams promoter Dan Goossen thinks there should be a school

that provides judges with uniform guidelines, so that one doesn’t

value defense while another only offense. He also thinks that

judges should have to prove themselves at lower levels, much like

NFL officials.

“With the fighters’ futures and livelihood at stake, you want

the most competent officials doing the fights,” Goossen said.

“The only way you can make sure it’s consistent and fair and

accurate is to have a system where the officials are held

accountable.”

Former champion Oscar De La Hoya has been between the ropes when

questionable scorecards were read, giving him an appreciation for

how much power those three judges seated ringside have.

Now as a promoter, De La Hoya is even more concerned that all

the positive momentum generated by the sport will be sacrificed if

the public loses confidence in the outcomes.

“It’s a significant problem for any sport that has judges

deciding who wins, whether it be gymnastics, swimming, diving,” he

said. “We’re on such a roll with big events, people are not really

discussing the topic and are not really paying attention to the

so-called shady decisions.

“But still, we have to put a stop to it. We have to do

something.”