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Black eye for boxing

Last Saturday, two fights were held on opposite sides of the globe and brought back the excitement of high-quality competition in the sport whose popularity has been severely challenged by the raw action in mixed martial arts over the past few years.

In Las Vegas, WBA/WBC/IBF/IBO middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin of Kazakhstan retained his multiple titles via a hard-fought, 12-round split draw with Mexican challenger Saul (Canelo) Alvarez before a live audience of 22,358 at the T-Mobile Arena and a closed-circuit crowd of 17,931. 

In Cebu, IBF lightflyweight titlist Milan Melindo survived nasty cuts over both eyes and a bulge on the bridge of his nose to beat South African challenger Hekkie Budler on a split 12-round decision that was sealed with a knockdown in the final stanza.

While both fights were barnburners, they were marred by disgraceful judging. That was the unfortunate twist. The fights restored the purity of boxing as an art and science but did little to protect its integrity. To be sure, the boxers did their part in reviving fan interest in the sport. The supervising authorities, however, could’ve done a better job of screening judges. There have been too many blunders that erode the reputation of boxing and create the impression of judges with hidden agendas.

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In the Golovkin-Alvarez fight, female judge Adalaide Byrd scored it 118-110 for the Mexican. She awarded the first three and the last five rounds to Alvarez plus the fifth and sixth, meaning Golovkin took only two in her scorecard. Even Alvarez said Byrd went overboard in her generosity as he thought he won seven or eight rounds. Was it a case of incompetence or corruption? Another judge Don Trella scored the seventh round for Alvarez when Golovkin clearly dominated as even Byrd saw it the Kazakh’s way.

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It wasn’t the first time that Byrd exposed her inabilities. In 2008, she saw Bernard Hopkins a 114-113 winner over Joe Calzaghe in a fight that was doubtlessly won by the Englishman despite suffering a first round knockdown. The two other judges gave it to Calzaghe as Chuck Giampa had it 116-111 and Ted Gimza 115-112. There was no excuse for Byrd’s irrational judgment.

Golovkin and Alvarez put up a thrilling show. They gave it their all in a competitive match. It wasn’t one-sided like Floyd Mayweather’s disposal of Conor McGregor in a bout where fans felt short-changed for the money they spent on the event. It wasn’t like Mayweather’s ho-hum win over Manny Pacquiao in a fight where Money played safe to the fans’ disappointment. Alvarez raced to a strong start then Golovkin took control only to run out of gas in the late going. Golovkin landed 218 punches, 96 percent of which found the head, while Alvarez connected 169, 74 percent of which went upstairs. Golovkin outpunched Alvarez in 10 of the 12 rounds. The Kazakh also outjabbed Alvarez, 108-of-361 to 55-of-233.  The stats confirmed Golovkin’s win but Alvarez didn’t only make it exciting but also close.

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In Cebu, the consensus was Melindo deserved the verdict but judge Takeo Harada’s 117-110 count was an embarrassment. Glenn Trowbridge had it 115-112 for Melindo and Carl Zappia 115-113 for Budler. You could argue about how Trowbridge and Zappia scored it but Harada’s call was excruciatingly non-debatable.  Harada’s score left a bad taste in the mouth particularly as Melindo fought on home soil.

Nevada State Boxing Commission executive director Bob Bennett said Byrd had a “bad night.” So presumably, Harada did, too.  In Las Vegas where the betting is heavy, a draw in the Golovkin-Alvarez fight carried odds of 20-1, meaning a $100 wager earned $2,000. Those who put money on a draw wound up with a whopping pay-off. You wonder if the judges had bets on the fight.

Mismatches, unexciting fighters, unfair refereeing and incompetent judging are the reasons why fans aren’t as keen in following boxing as in the past when Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran and Marvelous Marvin Hagler lorded it over. It’s so unfair to throw-back fighters like Golovkin, Alvarez, Melindo and Budler who put their lives on the line in the ring only for their efforts to be tainted by extraneous circumstances.

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