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Boxing's momentum stung by wave of suspect scoring

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

NEW YORK -- 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."