MA in Sports Journalism at St Mary's University

Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Is boxing in need of a structural change after Fury vs Wilder draw?

Few sporting occasions leave the world at a standstill more than a top class, competitive boxing fight. Whether by the WWE-style smack talk or the intrigue posed by a pair of fighters seemingly inseparable, people are almost magnetically attracted.

Although the build-up exclusively focuses on the winner — and all related sub-plots of odds-defying and critic-silencing — there is an unfortunate alternative. A draw.

Saturday’s battle between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury has undoubtedly left a bitter taste in spectators’ mouths. Leaving politics aside — which of course play a significant part in proceedings — the sheer subjectivity of scoring within boxing creates frustration. Especially when an ending such as this is produced.

While one of the three judges scored the fight a draw, another gave Fury a 114-112 win, with the other scoring it 115-111 to Wilder. Indeed, judges have preferences in style or aggression, but how two judges reach such a drastically different result is bemusing. Importantly, this disparity in scoring is not rare, but common.

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The scoring is an issue of its own, one very difficult to correct. By nature, boxing is subjective. But a draw is both absurd and infuriating.

This is perhaps highlighted best by last year’s showdown between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez, one of the most highly anticipated bouts of recent years. Fans were left outraged and disappointed after it resulted in a controversial draw.

Other notable draws throughout history include Lennox Lewis vs Evander Holyfield, Manny Pacquiao vs Juan Manuel Marquez, Nigel Benn vs Chris Eubank II and James Degale vs Badou Jack.

Draws, simply put, are not good for boxing. Although a rematch equals financial gain for the fighters, it leaves those who spend money on travel, tickets or pay-per-view dissatisfied.

Throughout and upon conclusion of a fight, scorecards from broadcasters and experts are routinely presented, providing insight some into how the fight may be scored. They are merely opinion though, and no one — not even the fighters — know how the fight will be called.

There is, however, no reason why the judges’ scorecards could not be simultaneously shown. There should be no need for discussion – it is an individual decision which could be electronically collated within seconds of each round.

Yet they are held for a significant period of time before they are announced to the fighters and fans alike. But why that is the case must be questioned.

If the scoring is to remain subjective, and the possibility of a highly controversial decision remains, an official score card presented throughout and upon completion would eliminate the disappointing prospect of a draw. An extra round could immediately be ordered until a winner is found. No more questions of what if. No more fans left disappointed. Just a conclusion, the same as the vast majority of other sports.

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Of course, the draw plays a significant role within league matches across many sports. But in one-off or tournament-based fixtures, there is almost always a conclusion. In football there is extra time and penalties. In tennis there is the tie break, or they simply continue until a conclusion is reached. Rugby League has the golden point, Union has extra time. As does Basketball and American football play-offs, that continue to add additional time until a winner is determined. The list goes on.

Two significant examples where a draw is possible are in cricket or a variety of forms of racing. Within racing — whether it’s a sprint or Formula 1 — technological advances have meant the draw is incredibly unlikely and certainly doesn’t regularly impact the sport.

The prospect of a draw in cricket also arguably adds an element of excitement. As the score is available for all to see, the question of whether to continue batting or to declare becomes a tactical decision.

The question remains: Why is boxing different? Boxers of former eras would fight monthly, if not weekly. It’s now more typical for those at the elite level of the game to see the ring a maximum of three times a year. A lengthy period of negotiation, a three-month training camp, press conferences, weigh-ins, ring walks, the fight — all for a draw? It’s madness. A final round would change it all.

The draw is the ultimate anti-climax, one which many other sports avoid at all costs. Is boxing, therefore, in need of a structural change? I certainly think so.

Featured photograph/Wikimedia Commons/Max Pixel