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Controversial judging/refereeing: what is the solution for boxing?

controversial refereeing - judging article
The undisputed Junior Welterweight/Super Lightweight bout between Josh Taylor (left) and Jack Catterall (right) was considered controversial due to prominently this moment signifying that Catteral had done enough to win in the fight. (Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

In a sport where divided opinions and biased outlooks have taken over a balanced and rational view on boxing, there is one question that cannot be ignored: is the current state of boxing in a good place?

Boxing is a sport that’s been practiced for over a millennia – much longer than other popular martial arts contemporaries such as kickboxing and karate – having been recorded in Ancient Greek writings as one of the events athletes could compete in during the ancient Olympics. The past century or so, the sport has been catered to fit the modern world, fitted with safety and health regulations, boxing officials (judges & referees), a degree of entertainment, and the establishment of various governing bodies built to help legitimize the sport with their matches, and their titles.

Then you have the promoters who play the role of match fixer, venue negotiator, contract mediator and many other roles. Promoters and managers both are most known for havin a strong influence on who their boxers fight, but promoters are essentially more or less glorified managers that can influence various aspects of boxing more than a manager, and their promotional companies often gives them more leeway, and more of a reputation than a manager. Regardless, both play a significant role in the sport that can’t be ignored.

Given all the available components within boxing, it would be easy for one to think the sport is a fluid system that balances show business and sport to provide the ultimate form of entertainment. But that is not the case; while boxing does have all the elements – ranging from the availability of all the necessary boxing employees like judges, doctors and referees to the ability to book the biggest venues on a regular basis every year – it needs to succeed, it is generally understood that all these parts don’t all seem to work in tandem.

Boxing is often engaged in controversy; the scorecards from judges are almost always debated and have led to controversial results almost on a monthly basis, while referees are just as criticized for their inability to ref fights correctly, whether it has to do with their untimely stopping of a match, incompetence at letting a fight run its course without taking too many needless breaks, or just sheer favoritism or bias against a boxer.

And then, you have the promoters. While they can genuinely be credited with having heralded boxing into an era where both the sport and the fighters became very well-known and as a result very profitable for the fighters and promoters, promoters also have had an uncomfortable past starting with the stirring of racial tensions or ‘race hustling’, most evident in the case with how promoters handled the promotion of American Heavyweight Jack Johnson when matched up with white opponents, up to the likes of Don King being accused multiple times publically and otherwise about stealing a large portion of a boxer’s earning.

Promoters have been – and still are – regularly involved in controversy just as much as a referee and judge and even more in some instances. They have also been accused of holding fights back i.e. preventing the fights that can and should happen from occurring, usually as a result of them consorting with the different boxing governing bodies to dictate the mandatories of their champions.

Lastly, the governing bodies also play a huge role in boxing today, and unfortunately not in a good way. Being the most standfast and legitimate of organizations in boxing due to their history, the accolades and structure they provide, they are known to have shown clear corruption, most blatantly observed in aforementioned examples of dictating mandatory challengers, but even in the scorecards of judges and – allegedly – drug tests have they been rumored to interfere.

It is without a shadow of a doubt that boxing is NOT in a good place. While it’s currently not in the apocalyptic sort of territory, it is definitely in a place where that’s not as comfortable as it could be considering those with the most influence in the sport do little to help anyone but themselves.

Despite all this, boxing doesn’t need a major revolution of any sort to fix some of the key issues plaguing the sport today. It just needs a clear vision for the sport and strong leadership, much akin to the NBA, that managed to traffic a world full of entertainment, health issues and divisiveness to lead the sport to a profitable and seemingly bright future.

The NBA is not perfect by any means, but it seems to have found a balance that allows it to address most of the controversies and problems within the sport, rather than sticking their heads in the sand hoping all the issues will go away, resulting in interest in the sport being maintained and potential growth to occur. It has been profitable for at least three decades, and has continued to remain so, providing other sports with a good idea on how to have longetivity as a sport, and as a business.

Ultimately, the question is easily answerable: boxing is not in a good place and may not have been for a while. The problems posed in this article has set boxing back from being regarded as a ‘casual’ sport; a sport the majority of sports fans may pay attention to in their leisure time. Boxing is more of a niche, despite being catered to basically everyone above the age of 18, but it still has the potential to become a household brand in essence, capable of having the sport’s marquee fighters make just as much of an impact commercially as the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Mohammad Ali, albeit through effective promotion and marketing, rather than controversy.