12 Dec 2016

A divisive bout, best left to the experts

1:56 pm on 12 December 2016

Opinion - There's a reason boxing judges take a long time to get to the top and that the average punter doesn't get to do it. The average punter - myself included - doesn't know what to look for.

Yet all of a sudden, after Joseph Parker won the WBO world title against Andy Ruiz on Saturday, social media was littered with "expert" opinions.

I read people opining that Ruiz was robbed, the fight was rigged and Parker won easy - all before bed on Saturday night.

I've covered boxing on and off for 10 years and am still little more than an interested observer. I enjoy it, I hope Parker continues to improve and would love to see him unify the alphabet soup of boxing's bodies and their belts.

A judge, however, I am not. For what it's worth (not much, I assure you), I scored the fight six rounds each, but thought there were three, if not four rounds that could have gone either way. What I do know about boxing is that if it's too close to see who an obvious winner is, then it really could go either way.

Generally speaking, those tight fights go to the champ - a romantic boxing notion that to take the champion's belt, you need to really prove you're significantly better.

New Zealand heavyweight boxer Joseph Parker v Andy Ruiz Jr.
WBO World Heavyweight Title.

Crossing swords: Ruiz, left, and Parker on Saturday night. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Of course the WBO title was vacant before Saturday and because the fight was close throughout - Ruiz was on top early, Parker later with a few tough to call rounds - it was always going to come down to the little things the judges notice. And it's those little things us mere watchers usually don't pick up on or even consider.

In lieu of knockouts and knock-downs, we generally favour the fighter coming forward, but there is more to it than that.

The trio of neutral judges were looking for:

- Clean Punching to the head or the body

- Effective Aggressiveness (consistently moving forward and ring generalship)

- Control of the pace and style of the fight, and

- Defence

Ruiz was more aggressive for more of the fight and hit Parker more, but I'd argue Parker landed more clean punches. Ruiz came forward, but was it effective?

Parker, like Floyd Mayweather Jr did against Manny Pacquiao in May last year, fought moving backwards largely. But it wasn't really a negative apart from in the first few rounds when Ruiz managed to pin him against the ropes.

Parker's defence was better. Ruiz clearly has a great chin, but that doesn't help on the scorecard, it just helps you avoid being knocked down or out.

As for the control and pace, Ruiz was in charge early while Parker took up those reins as the fight went on and there were a couple in the middle that were even.

Crucially for me was the amount of glancing and grazing blows Ruiz threw. They looked and sounded good, especially with his lightning fast hands and combinations, but if they weren't hitting Parker clean, they're not worth a lot to the judges.

And it's them that matter. Ingo Barrabas, Ramon Cerdan and Salven Lagumbay had 2057 bouts between them before Saturday night's.

President of the New Zealand Professional Boxing Association Lance Revill has claimed he was "embarrassed to be a Kiwi" after the result, claiming Ruiz thumped Parker.

Revill judged his 12th professional fight on Saturday night while Lagumbay was doing his 1006th.

Still, Revill's 12 is 12 more than most of us, though his record is not perfect. In a fight in April where he was one of the judges, his score was an outlier if ever there was one. One judge scored the Kali Reis-Maricela Cornejo fight 96-95, another 94-96 while Revill thought it Reis won in a doddle, 99-91.

That just highlights one of the beauties of boxing; it is subjective and that causes controversy and hype which keeps the ratings and pay-per-view numbers high.

Television sports reporter Jim Kayes suggested live scoring after each round would increase the transparency - which is a brilliant idea, but sadly the fact the drama would be taken out of the final announcement would be reason enough for boxing to pan the thought.

If there is one lesson to be taken out of this fight it is to search for independent experts.

Joseph Parker v Andy Ruiz, WBO world boxing heavyweight title fight, Vector Arena, Auckland, New Zealand.

Close shave: Parker dodges a left from Ruiz. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The New Zealand sports media generally cover a number of sports and in a struggling climate are too rushed and too stretched to focus solely on one sport. Because of that few, if any, are experts on boxing while the well of Kiwi experts and former top boxers to interview is pretty shallow too.

Those promoted as experts by Duco are always going to side with and talk up Parker to keep the Duco management happy while trainer Kevin Barry is also clearly, and rightfully, pro-Parker.

If you want independent analysis, go to Boxing websites, read international boxing-specific columnists and then make your mind up about how good Parker is.

That said, the fact that they all know who he is now means he's clearly no mug - unlike me and most other punters who pretend we're experts for 36 minutes at a time.

*Matt Richens has been a sports journalist for 10 years, has covered a number of Parker fights, but has never been hosted by Duco.

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