They Witnessed Same Fight, Saw Different Winner
In 1979, Marvelous Marvin Hagler fought Vito Antuofermo for the middleweight title, and fought well enough that, at fight’s end, referee Mills Lane discreetly signaled ringside photographers to begin maneuvering for Hagler victory pictures.
But two of the three judges that night saw a different fight. Only one of the three scored it for Hagler, with one calling it a draw and the other giving it to the champion. Antuofermo, by the rules, retained his title and it was a year before Hagler could get another chance at it.
Duane Ford, the one judge who had scored it for Hagler, immediately retired to a men’s room. “I was physically upset,” he recalls. “I felt we had screwed up for a world champion. I threw up.”
For many, the decision that took the title from Hagler last Monday night was just as sickening. Hagler and his handlers wailed for two days about the scoring that let his title go to Sugar Ray Leonard on a split decision.
Even some impartial observers at the Las Vegas fight reacted with bitterness. One fight writer, who has scored and reported more title fights than perhaps even the judges, was observed in a watering hole much later that night.
“Hagler was robbed!” he yelled, his head thrown back.
Of course, other fight writers, including this one, felt just as strongly that Leonard had won the decision. In fact a Newsday poll of 25 supposedly knowledgeable fight people showed 12 for Hagler, 10 for Leonard, 3 undecided. But this is always the case among ringsiders, especially among those whose primary duty is to record the fight, not score it. The range among writers is almost always astounding, sometimes comically so.
The curious thing about Monday night’s fight was that the range among judges--paid and trained veterans--was equally amazing. Two judges had it a close fight, although for different winners. A third scored it a runaway for Leonard.
Were Casey Stengel a member of the boxing commission, he might ask, “Can’t anybody score this game?”
Quick answer: No.
Says Marty Denkin, an official and member of the California State Athletic Commission: “The tough thing about boxing is it’s not like basketball, where a ball goes through a hoop. The only definitive score in boxing is a knockout. Short of that . . . “
It’s apparently anybody’s guess.
The Hagler-Leonard fight was an especially difficult one to score. There were no knockdowns, no especially damaging punches, no clear-cut instances of physical dominance. Simply by looking at the fighters at the fight’s end, it would have been impossible to pick a winner.
Furthermore, the contrasting styles of the fighters contributed to the confusion. Was Hagler, who stalked Leonard for all 12 rounds, the winning fighter because of his aggressiveness? Or was Leonard the winner by virtue of his shrewd cat-and-mouse game, which forced Hagler to plod and miss?
The one judge who scored it for Hagler, Lou Fillippo of Los Angeles, said: “I thought Hagler was throwing the harder punches, working three minutes every round to Leonard’s one. Flurries don’t win fights. You see a lot of fighters, they fight the last 10 seconds and get the crowd excited. They’re not supposed to get the judges excited. Leonard fought a great fight but in my mind, just fell a little short.”
Fillippo scored it 115-113 for Hagler, not so far from Dave Moretti’s 115-113 for Leonard. If both change one round, it’s a draw.
But colleague JoJo Guerra scored it 118-110 for Leonard. He was just as surprised, but for different reasons, when the fight was announced as a split decision.
“I was very much surprised,” he said after the fight. “Maybe I was a little off, maybe. In my mind I’m certain I had the right score. I thought it was five points at least.”
Guerra, who was judging his 45th title fight, was the object of scorn by the Petronelli brothers, handlers of Hagler.
“This here official should be shot,” ranted Pat. He softened that later by calling Guerra inept.
Guerra has since responded that he intends to sue Petronelli for defamation.
Many found that sequence of events humorous, since the Petronellis--Pat and his brother Goodie--had asked for Guerra, a Mexican judge, instead of the originally appointed Englishman, Henry Gibbs. The Petronellis had figured that a Mexican judge would be more impressed by Hagler’s swarming style.
Instead, Guerra said: “On April 6, the man wearing white trunks gave a superb performance in boxing, outsmarting, outpunching and commanding the bout over the man in dark trunks. And it happened to be Leonard winning overwhelmingly over Hagler.
“After reviewing the tape of the fight, and even when TV cannot ever substitute (for) live action, I am firmer than ever that Ray Leonard was an absolute, unquestionable winner over Hagler, who I have always considered a great champion.
“I could honestly question on the TV tape my scoring in the seventh and ninth rounds and concede that they were probably won by Hagler. That would still give Leonard, 8-4, rounds over Hagler.
“A probable mistake of two rounds, as a human being that I am, and in respect to the honesty that has ruled my life, I would accept. But I strongly, absolutely and unquestionably support and enforce my scoring in the other 10 rounds.”
Earlier, Guerra had told a Washington Post reporter: “The marvelous guy in the ring was not Marvin Hagler but Sugar Ray Leonard. . . .
“I know Marvin was more aggressive, but he was not that effective. He was not getting his punches through and he was getting counter-punched. I look for everything.
“The aggressor usually has an edge because it is effective aggression. But if the other fighter makes him miss and counter punches, he should get credit. The aggressive guy doesn’t have to be the winner all the time.”
JoJo Guerra, meet Lou Fillippo.
“I’ve looked at the tape again and I don’t see where I was wrong,” Fillippo said. “You have a guy pressing the fight, busier, doing all the chasing. As far as missing, let me tell you, you put gloves on and chase a guy for three minutes, you’ll miss some punches.”
As for Leonard: “Anybody can pitty-pat.”
Moretti, as his score suggested, found ground between the two.
“Obviously Hagler was the aggressor,” he said. “But he was not the effective aggressor. You can’t chase and get hit and get credit for it. Besides the hardest punching was by Leonard.”
In other words, don’t feel bad when your scoring doesn’t agree with that of the judges. Because they can’t agree either.
Duane Ford, the chairman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, says they should be able to agree, even if scoring in boxing is nowhere near as well defined as in, say, football.
Actually, he says, it’s quite simple. What counts is effective punching. Not things like ring generalship or aggression. It’s who punches more, and harder.
“The real key in professional scoring is that you must do something,” he said. “That something is, hit the opponent. You can be the biggest aggressor in the world but if you don’t do that something, you’re not going to win the round.”
Ford said that when he was judging fights, he liked to visualize two empty glasses. As the fighters punched, he filled the glasses.
The only judgment area, he said, was in the kinds of punches. For him, three light jabs might equal one hard right. In the case of a boxer with a heavy jab, say Larry Holmes, it might be two jabs to one right hand.
Still, he said, the scoring should not be as subjective as it seems. Sometimes, in a close fight, he will actually count the punches, he added.
“Sometimes you can sit and concentrate and you can tell who’s winning. But others are so tough you literally count the punches--plus one, plus two. I was able to do that on many fights. And if you come to a winner by one punch, that’s all you need.”
Things such as ring generalship are only considered if a judge is mentally deadlocked. Consideration of which fighter is champion is definitely not to be computed.
“The idea that the champion must be decisively beaten is the greatest myth of all,” says Ford. “He may wear the belt into the ring, but you notice he lays that sucker aside. There is no champion at the bell.”
So, if guidelines are consistent, why aren’t the judges?
Even we cynics believe most judges to be good human beings--experienced, with a love more of boxing than any single boxer.
Yet, they are human beings. And each brings a certain perspective to each fight. Each fills that empty glass differently.
“For JoJo, the movement of Leonard dictated the fight,” Ford suggests. “And when Hagler landed punches, he didn’t put enough water in.”
Ford was careful not to criticize Guerra and said that he told Guerra that if ever he were in a title fight, he’d want Guerra ringside. Yet it was plain that he didn’t like the range of his judges.
“A lot of judges get caught up in the grandeur,” he said, non-specifically. “And, too, judges are like baseball pitchers. They can have an off day.”
But there are other possibilities for variance than just human performance.
Marty Denkin, the assistant executive officer of the state commission and a longtime official, explains that “different countries put different weights on different things. The judges still use effective scoring but they might think a jab is more effective than a roundhouse right.”
These differences are sometimes national differences.
“In Asia, where there is a tremendous amateur program, there’s a lot of boxing on your toes,” Denkin said. “In Mexico, most of the stereotypes have it as tremendous liver shots and body shots. In Europe the more effective puncher might be the one-two puncher. Here we might favor the roundhouse that lands on the temple. There are certain things you look for, are used to seeing.”
That is why the selection of judges is always so important. That is why the Petronellis thought they had outsmarted the world when they landed Guerra, the Mexican judge.
“I think the Petronellis were very intelligent, assuming Hagler goes to the body, which is the style prevalent in Mexico,” Denkin continued. “Problem is, he didn’t fight like that. Here it is in the fifth round, Leonard standing in front of him, actually taking the advantage. Where are the shots to the body?”
The Petronellis would have been better off if they had been able to get the judges who worked a Willie Pep fight long ago. In that one, Pep confided to the judges that he planned not to throw a single punch for one entire round. He didn’t, instead putting on a masterful display of defense. The judges scored the round for Pep.
The difference in this fight, apparently, is that Hagler threw punches and missed.
In any event, there are no moves afoot to make the judging of boxing matches any more scientific. For big fights these days, there is a service that counts punches thrown and landed--Leonard won the fight on that score, too, landing 306 of 629 to Hagler’s 291 of 792--but that would be unsatisfactory. Some are harder than others.
Presumably, only humans can tell the difference, which means we haven’t heard the last call for an official to be sent to jail.