Never leave the outcome of a bout at the hands of the judges. Always seek to end fights within the distance. It’s sage advice from any trainer preparing their ward for competition. The reality is, even if a fighter has done all that he could to win the judges’ favor, sometimes decisions just don’t go the way we expect.
In boxing, there are many unpopular decisions littered throughout history. Some bad decisions are so blatantly wrong that it makes us wonder if the judges assigned to a particular bout are truly competent.
If you’re a boxing fan, you know what to expect whenever a fight ends and a winner is about to be announced. Despite not having the lofty credentials of a world-class boxing judge, you have a general sense of which corner should come out victorious.
Given, some fights are extremely close, and decisions can go either way. But for the most part, it’s all pretty easy to guess who wins when you get the hang of it. Which is why we are sometimes left scratching our heads when a decision goes the wrong way.
For reasons unknown, some decisions come completely out of left field. Let’s take a look at the other side of the spectrum, where decisions don’t go the way we expect.
Today, Evolve Daily shares six of the most controversial decisions in boxing history.
1) Sugar Ray Leonard vs Tommy Hearns
June 12, 1989
Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, NV, USA
In a fan-friendly affair, Sugar Ray Leonard tasted canvas twice early and was close to getting knocked out in the seventh round against hard-hitting Tommy “Hitman” Hearns. Leonard had his moments, however, wobbling Hearns who was in trouble in the fifth round. The action hit a fever pitch in the 12th round, as both boxers tried to go for a knockout.
Although it was an action-packed contest, there was a clear winner. But due to a critical scoring mistake, Hearns was robbed of victory, albeit a very close one. Judges scored the bout 113-112 for Leonard, 113-112 for Hearns, and an even 112-112, resulting in a draw.
Why was it a robbery? One of the three judges assigned to the bout gave Leonard a two-point advantage in a very close round 12, even though there was no knockdown. If this scoring error was not made, Hearns would have taken the razor-thin victory on the cards. After the fight, Leonard manned up and publicly declared Hearns the winner, despite what the official records stated.
2) Manny Pacquiao vs Juan Manuel Marquez
May 8, 2004
MGM Grand, Las Vegas, NV, USA
It was the first of a historic four-fight series between two boxing legends, and one that ended in a highly-controversial draw. Manny Pacquiao was fresh off a shocking TKO victory over Marco Antonio Barrera and was carrying momentum heading into a showdown with counterpunching maestro Juan Manuel Marquez.
Pacquiao blitzed Marquez, knocking the Mexican down three times in the very first round. Marquez survived, and would later be able to time Pacquiao’s rhythm, boxing him the rest of the way to make it to the final bell. The scores were 115-110 for Pacquiao, 115-110 for Marquez, and a 113-113 draw.
Why was it a robbery? One of the three judges, Burt A. Clements, failed to give Pacquiao a three-point advantage in the first round to account for the three knockdowns. The other two judges, however, scored the round correctly. Had Clements scored the round properly, Pacquiao would have taken home a split decision and a pair of featherweight titles for his efforts. No one complained too much though, as the bout was truly an instant classic.
3) Roy Jones Jr. vs Park Si-Hun
Summer Olympic Games, Seoul, South Korea
Legendary multi-division World Champion Roy Jones Jr. will never forget the day he was robbed of a gold medal finish against South Korean boxer Park Si-Hun. Jones dominated the bout, plastering Park with his trademark speed and technical precision. The then 19-year-old absolutely dazzled, utilizing his ring generalship and buttery smooth combinations.
It was pretty obvious to everyone watching who was supposed to win this one, but judges saw the bout in favor of Park in a 3-2 decision. It was one of the most scandalous decisions ever in Olympic boxing.
Why was it a robbery? Despite dominating Park for three rounds, landing 86 punches to Park’s 32, judges saw the bout in favor of Park, who would eventually bag the gold medal. After the bout, Park himself apologized to Jones. One of the judges came out and admitted the decision was a mistake, but all three judges voting against Jones were suspended.
An investigation by the IOC followed shortly after and found that the judges in question had been coerced by South Korean organizers, although there was a lack of evidence of corruption. Two of the three judges were banned from the sport for life.
4) Floyd Mayweather vs Jose Luis Castillo
April 20, 2002
MGM Grand, Las Vegas, NV, USA
Then undefeated lightweight champion “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather Jr. met WBC lightweight champ Jose Luis Castillo, who was more known for being a sparring partner for Julio Cesar Chavez than anything else. In the bout, however, Castillo surprised everyone, manhandling Mayweather like never before.
Castillo attacked his body with a relentless stream of combinations and was more accurate than most against the defensive genius. A battered Mayweather would narrowly escape with a unanimous decision victory to scores of 116-111, 115-111, and 115-111. But many fans feel this was a bout that Mayweather should have lost.
Why was it a robbery? Hardcore boxing fans who are always asked about Floyd Mayweather’s dominance throughout the years often refer to the first Castillo fight to offer contrast. In the eyes of many, Castillo did just enough to edge out Mayweather and should have been awarded the victory. Mayweather erased all doubt however, dominating Castillo in an immediate rematch just months later.
5) Manny Pacquiao vs Timothy Bradley
June 9, 2012
MGM Grand, Las Vegas, NV, USA
Filipino boxing icon and ring legend Manny Pacquiao enjoyed a phenomenal run between 2001 and 2011, wherein he shot through the ranks winning titles from flyweight to light middleweight whilst building his incredible resume. But by 2012, many fans had speculated a physical decline for the superstar, citing his decreased speed and inability to knock opponents out in his usual fashion.
When he met American Timothy Bradley in June of 2012 however, things didn’t go exactly as he had planned. Pacquiao would box beautifully, beating Bradley to the punch on nearly every occasion and would seemingly land punches at will. It was a dominant performance in the eyes of many. But in the end, Bradley took home a split decision to scores of 113-115, 115-113, and 115-113.
Why was it a robbery? Pacquiao was the faster, stronger, and busier man all throughout the fight. Bradley did nothing of significance in 12 rounds of action, and was often left bewildered and looking confused as to how to deal with Pacquiao’s blitzkrieg style of fighting. Though there was a public uproar regarding the result, it inevitably stuck. Pacquiao’s decline was confirmed however, when in his next bout he was knocked out cold by Juan Manuel Marquez within six rounds.
6) Michael Conlan vs Vladimir Nikitin
Summer Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Bantamweight prospect Michael Conlan of Belfast, Ireland left the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio disappointed, having lost a unanimous decision to Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin in the quarter-finals. Conlan, a former London 2012 bronze medalist, appeared to have done just enough to earn the judges’ favor, but they ultimately went the other direction.
Conlan immediately cried foul as soon as he got the chance, and it was a well-publicized outcry. Conlan went as far as advising future boxing hopefuls to not compete in the Olympics in the future and completely boycott the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA).
Why was it a robbery? Conland indeed dominated the bout, and was boxing quite comfortably to what would have been an easy decision. He even appeared to put in the better body of work in the first round, but all three judges gave that round to Nikitin. Even as the action turned into a more fast-paced brawl, Conlan was completely in control and appeared to be the better boxer. The judges however, saw it differently and awarded the victory to Nikitin.
In the end, Conlan felt completely robbed of his Olympic dreams and left the world of amateur boxing for good. He turned professional immediately after and now holds an unblemished 6-0 record to start his career.
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