LONDON — Go down five times in one round in professional boxing and your fight will be stopped. Go down five times in one round in the Olympics, and you go on to the quarterfinals.
At least that’s what happened — briefly — to Magomed Abdulhamidov of Azerbaijan who, judges ruled, won his bantamweight fight with Japan’s Satoshi Shimizu despite being assessed a two-point penalty in a third round he spent mainly on the canvas.
“I was shocked,” Shimizu said. “I don’t understand.”
Neither does anyone else. Which is why boxing, once among the most popular and exciting of Olympic sports, has once again become mired in a controversy over scoring. The Shimizu decision was eventually overturned, with the Japanese fighter being reinstated and Ishanguly Meretnyyazov of Turkmenistan, who refereed the bout, being sent home.
A similar fate could await Denmark’s Lars Brovil, who refereed the bout U.S. welterweight Errol Spence was ruled to have lost Friday. After reviewing tape of the fight, officials with the AIBA, amateur boxing’s international governing body, overturned that decision too, ruling that Brovil failed to acknowledge eight holding fouls by Spence’s opponent, India’s Krishan Vikas, in the final round alone.
“Amateur boxing now is awful,” said veteran promoter Bob Arum, who recruited boxers such as Floyd Mayweather and Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto out of past Olympic tournaments. “The point system is ridiculous.”
AIBA President Wu Ching-kuo agrees, which is why he tweaked the scoring system before last year’s world championships and plans to adopt the 10-point “must” scoring used in professional boxing before the next Olympics. That would replace the controversial computerized system implemented after another judging scandal rocked the 1988 Games in Seoul.
Under the current format, the five judges who score each bout can award a point for every punch that lands with the knuckle of the glove directly on the head or upper body. But those points are registered only if a judge pushes an electronic scoring button. The high and low marks are then thrown out and the totals from the other three judges tabulated to determine the winner.
That system has at least two major flaws. For starters, each punch landed is scored the same, with a light jab worth the same one point as a blow that knocks a fighter down. And second, the system remains open to corruption because judges can simply ignore punches and press the button whenever they want.
“When someone chooses to cheat, they’re going to cheat. If people choose to be biased, they’re going to be biased,” says Basheer Abdullah, head coach of the U.S. boxing team. “I like the system.”
That places him among the minority on his own staff, though. Assistant Charles Leverette complained loudly about the unpredictable and inconsistent scoring.
“I’m at a loss for words,” he said when asked to explain the system. “It’s not one point; it’s four points. If it’s not four, it’s five.”
The unpredictability is not all Wu wants to correct. Under a 10-point “must” system, judges will be able to reward things such as footwork, speed and ring demeanor, says the AIBA president, who noted that Muhammad Ali didn’t always land the most punches but he won fights because of his superior style. By the 2016 Games, Wu also plans to dump the protective headgear amateur fighters wear and invite professionals to compete, all in an effort to save Olympic boxing.
“The president made a statement,” Leverette said. “He was trying to make amateur boxing boxing again instead of pitty-pat, hit-and-run” fighting.
Times staff writer Lance Pugmire contributed to this report from Los Angeles.