Have you ever wondered how professional boxing’s scoring system works?

Published 01 May 2015 By: Matt Rogers

Mayweather_and_Pacquiao

The subjective nature of judging professional boxing bouts has resulted in many disputed decisions1 leading to accusations of judging incompetence and corruption.2

This article will explain how professional boxing’s most popular scoring system works, before analysing the perceived benefits and weakness of the system with reference to some “bad” decisions. Finally, consideration will be given as to how the system could be improved to ensure greater accuracy and efficiency in outcomes.

 

The structure of professional boxing

There are a number of professional sanctioning bodies in the world, but the four major non-profit ones generally accepted as recognising professional boxing world champions are: World Boxing Council (WBC), World Boxing Association (WBA), World Boxing Organisation (WBO) and International Boxing Federation (IBF).3

The rules of boxing are governed by the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC), a North American not-for-profit organisation that provides the framework for the undertaking of boxing and MMA matches. In terms of scoring professional bouts, the ABC`s Uniform Rules of Boxing prescribes that the “Ten (10) Point Must System” will be the standard system used (see Rule 4).4 Other systems have been used at various places and times, but the Ten Point Must System ­has been and is the most widely recognised and used scoring system since the middle of the twentieth century.

 

How the Ten (10) Point Must System (the “System”) Works

There is no universal standard as to precisely how the System should be applied, but the ABC provides overarching guidance on the concept in its Official Certification Program for Judges and Referees (Certification Program),5 which states:

the winner of each round will [i.e. “must”] receive 10 points, (minus any points deductions for fouls) with the lesser score awarded to the loser of the round (minus any points deductions for fouls).6 There are to be no fraction of points awarded, and in the event of an even round, the score will be 10/10. Even rounds should rarely, if ever happen.

The Certification Program continues to state:

Mentally, a judge MUST know which contestant is winning the round at any given point. [They] should know the score of the round, and the score should immediately be written on the scorecard at the end of the round.”7 (Professional Boxing Judges, Chapter V – Scoring The Bout).

When scoring each round, judges are to refer to the Scoring Criteria outlined in the ABC’s Regulatory Guidelines:8

“…. Judges are to score each round using the following scoring criteria:

    1. Clean punching (power versus quantity).
    2. Effective aggressiveness.
    3. Ring generalship.
    4. Defense.

The ABC expands upon this in its Certification Program, stating:

The test to measure the awarding of points for offensive boxing” should be the number of direct, clean punches delivered with the knuckle part of the closed glove on any part of the scoring zone of the opponent’s body above the belt line. The judges should also consider the effect of blows received versus the number of punches delivered. Punches that are blocked or deflected should not be considered in tabulating your score. Blocked or deflected punches that land foul are not to be considered fouls in the awarding of points at the end of the round.9 (Professional Boxing Judges, Chapter III – Scoring Zone).

It also states:

Determination should not be mistaken for aggressiveness when one boxer continuously moves forward boring in on the opponent regardless of the number of punches being received. If an attack is not effective, the boxer cannot receive credit for it. In order for the boxer to be effective in their aggressiveness, he or she must force the action and set the tempo of the bout through forward movement. The boxer must score punches while blocking and avoiding the opponents counter punching. An aggressive boxer who continues boring in and getting hit from every angle should not be awarded points based on aggressiveness.10 (Professional Boxing Judges, Chapter V – Scoring The Bout).

Finally, the Certification Program provides guidelines as to how a round should be scored numerically:

  • 10/9 From a “close” to “moderate” margin
  • 10/8 EXTREMELY DECISIVE (without a knockdown)
  • 10/8 One knockdown
  • 10/7 Two knockdowns
  • 10/6 More than (2) two knockdowns
  • 10/10 Cannot pick a winner (very rare).”11 (Professional Boxing Judges, Chapter VIII – Scoring Criteria).

………..

“A judge should not only know what a 10/9 round is, but know the degree a boxer is winning the 10/9 round. Either a boxer won a close 10/9 round, a moderate 10/9 round, or a decisive 10/9 round. Extreme decisive may push the score to a 10/8 score depending on the judgment of the judge.” (Professional Boxing Judges, Chapter VIII – Scoring The Bout).

Benefits of the System

The System’s principal benefit is its simplicity, insofar as it ensures that the winner of any round is given ten points and the opponent is given nine or less (each minus any point deductions). If a judges’ decision is required to determine the outcome of a bout, then it is in theory easy to tabulate the total number of points and declare the winner in a timely manner.

Recently, the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) adopted the 10-point scoring system after the previous computer punch-count system was deemed to credit punch volume rather than the ten-point must system which credits technique and ring generalship.12 The punch-count system had originally been introduced following Roy Jones JR.`s loss in the Seoul Olympics 1998.13

 

Weaknesses of the System

Subjectivity

Whilst clean punching is clearly defined (see above),14 inherent problems surface in the other three vaguely defined scoring criteria: effective aggression, ring generalship, and defense; which are all arguably open to a relatively high degree of subjective interpretation. This can cause disparity among the judges who may place greater emphasis upon one or more of the criteria, particularly during tight rounds,

Veteran professional boxing judge Steve Weisfeld offers some clarification on this issue by detailing what a judge looks for when scoring a fight.

"A lot of times fans hear that judges focus on four categories: clean punches, effective aggressiveness, defense and ring generalship. But based upon my own experience, my conversations with other judges and seminars conducted by top judges, judges really focus on one category, and that's clean punches."

To me, clean punches are the most important aspect, and the other factors are really tied to that. Take the phrase, "effective aggressiveness." How is a boxer effective? He's effective by landing clean punches. How about "defense?" A boxer shows great defense by not getting hit with clean punches. And, finally, the term "ring generalship." A boxer uses the ring to put himself in a position to land clean punches.15

Weisfeld also stated that the effect of the punch, rather than the quantity or power of punches thrown, is the most important factor when scoring “clean punches”. To display effective aggressiveness a boxer should be effective with his movement and punches as opposed to “just coming forward” (echoing the ABC’s statement that “determination should not be mistaken for aggressiveness16) . A boxer who is generally controlling the action and putting himself into a position to land clean punches, or employing a strategy to make his opponent fight his fight will receive credit for ring generalship. Weisfield then outlined the importance of defence but made it clear that the purpose of the sport is to hit your opponent so if a boxer dodges every punch but does not hit their opponent the round will still be scored even.

Whilst Weisfeld is of the opinion that many judges echo his views, in the heat of the moment, where maximum concentration is needed for twelve periods of three minutes, the ringside judges are arguably likely to interpret the action differently to one another even where the overall outcome is not affected.

For example, in 2013, Floyd Mayweather beat Saul Alvarez by majority decision. Two judges scored the fight 117-111 and 116-112 and a third judge CJ Ross scored the bout as a draw 114-114. Ross subsequently retired as a judge following this decision,17 which came after she gave another highly controversial scorecard in Timothy Bradley’s split-decision victory over Manny Pacquiao.18 In Mayweather vs Canelo, the judges only scored four rounds the same, evidencing the subjective nature of scoring.

A further example of the problems disparity on judges scorecards can cause is highlighted in the 2014 draw between Timothy Bradley and Diego Chaves where the judges scored the bout 115-113, 114-114 and 112-116 respectively. Julie Lederman, who scored the bout 116-112 in favour of Chaves, came under fierce criticism from the chairman of fight promoter Top Rank, Bob Arum, who suggested that Lederman should not be allowed to judge in the Nevada State again.19 Arum went on to say: "The real problem is the disparity in the scoring. It makes every one of us look insane."

Points

A further contributory factor into controversial decisions lies in how a round is scored. The winner of the round always receives ten points and the loser receives nine or less (minus any point deductions). If a fighter wins a round “extremely decisively” then he may be awarded a 10/8 round but this rarely happens. The round will be scored 10/10 if it is deemed even, although this is not encouraged by the ABC.

The main issue with the scoring system is that irrespective of whether a boxer wins a tightly contested round by the narrowest of margins or clearly wins a round, they will still be awarded a 10/9 round. There is no extra credit given to a boxer who clearly outperforms his opponent in a round but falls just short of winning it extremely decisively to warrant a 10/8. Particularly on those occasions where judges decide upon a different winner (a split decision) of a match by scoring the fight within one or two points of one another it is questionable as to whether the current points system is sufficient to fairly accredit a winner.

In the fight billed as “Undisputed”, Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield fought out a highly controversial draw with the scorecards reading 116-113, 115-115 and 113-115 respectively.20 Compubox, a computerized punch scoring system, recorded Lewis as landing 214 more punches than Holyfield during the fight. Lewis connected with 57% clean punches out of the total punches thrown as opposed to 34% for Holyfield. In six of the twelve rounds Holyfield only landed less than 10 clean punches.

The judges

The judges are selected by the supervising Athletic Commission or based on the following criteria: experience, recent performances, reliability, professional attitude, difficulty of the assignment and successful completion of the Certification Program.

It is further recommended that judges attend an approved certification-training seminar every twelve months.21 Those boxing organisations not under the governance of the ABC, such as the The British Boxing Board of Control, will be responsible for selecting their own judges.22

The competency of the judges must also be ensured. Judges currently have continuous training in seminars and conventions whilst an online scoring system monitors each judge’s performance.23 President of the WBC Mauricio Sulaiman is committed to preventing bad officiating suggesting ring officials in championship fights should be from neutral countries not belonging to either boxer. Sulaiman also recognises the importance of concentration by a judge highlighting the need for greater contact between the judge and local boxing commission to identify possible personal problems which could affect their performance.24

 

Improving the system

There has been much discussion across the industry as to how to improve the scoring system, with particular reference to its fairness and transparency. The principle ideas are as follows.

Clearer guidelines 

Clearer guidelines for judges regarding the criteria on how to score a round of boxing would ensure less disparity. “Clean punching” is the most important criterion and as Steve Weisfeld suggested, “effective aggressiveness”, “ring generalship” and “defense” are all tied to that. To ensure greater transparency the ABC scoring guidelines could be redrafted to reflect this view with supplementary notes on what judges should be looking out for when crediting the different criteria.

“Half-point system”

The WBA, WBC and IBF all recognise that the scoring system is a major concern in boxing and have begun a program to study the “half-point system” throughout 2015 whereby closer rounds would be scored 10/9.5 and clearly won rounds would be scored 10/9.25 The system was successfully tested in South Africa in a WBA fight in December 2014.26

Introducing a “half-point system” would minimize the perceived unfairness to a boxer who loses a close round, and also ensure greater accuracy in deciding upon the winner of a fight. In a closely fought round a 10/9.5 would be awarded to the winner whilst a clearly won round would merit a 10/9 as seen in the WBA.

Use of Technology

To provide extra support to the judges, boxing organisations may benefit from further exploring the use of technology aids.

Currently CompuBox provides live punch statistics during a fight which gives broadcasters and viewers the opportunity to see the total amount of punches which have been thrown and those that have connected and the same for jabs and power punches. CompuBox has more than a 90% success rate in accurately projecting the winner of a decision but it is not an official judging device.27 In the view of boxing analysts Al Bernstein and Jim Lampley the numbers help them to identify trends whilst helping viewers understand what they are seeing.28

There are criticisms of CompuBox, however, as the program cannot measure the force of a “power punch”, categorised as any punch other than a jab, which is a vital variable for judges. Additionally CompuBox is operated by two people, one for each fighter, who press buttons depending on the type of punch thrown and whether it lands meaning the system is subjective. Bernstein believes the percentage of punches thrown reflecting an accurate total is in the “high 90s”.29

To support the judges at the end of the every round it is recommended that they can have access to the punch statistics supplied by CompuBox. In the close rounds the boxing statistics may help a judge to decide who has won it based on their efficiency. This can be deduced from the percentage of punches landed which is provided by CompuBox. The judges’ decisions will still be highly subjective because the effect of the punches can only be measured by individual opinion. With one minute between each round there is plenty of time for the statistics to be supplied to the judge and for him/her to make a decision before the beginning of the next round.

Additionally, boxing judges may benefit from having access to television replays at the end of each round enabling them to see confirm their real time appreciation of a punch or knockdown. Being positioned around the ring, it is possible for a judge`s view to sometimes be blocked and therefore access to television replays could prove decisive in how to score a round.

“Hit Chip”

In 2014 EFD Sports developed Strike Tec glove sensors which fit inside both boxing gloves and can measure the speed and force of a punch, punch counts and punch types such as a hook, jab or uppercut. The data supplied by the ground-breaking “Hit Chip” technology has been used in broadcasts of new combat sport BKB to show viewers the force and speed of a punch.30 Like CompuBox the StrikeTec glove sensor will be primarily aimed at aiding the broadcasting and viewing experience.

Whilst it is early days for the “Hit Chip”, this could become the new data collection tool for boxing matches. There are many advantages of the “Hit Chip” in comparison to the current CompuBox system. Firstly it can detect which type of punches are being thrown and secondly it can measure the force behind a punch. Furthermore, there is potential for greater accuracy in detecting the number of punches being thrown and landed by using the data for punch force.

Competency of Judges

Whilst a new points system and technology aids may prove beneficial, the competency of the judges needs to be ensured. In addition to the training greater transparency may be achieved by monitoring a judge`s performance during the fight. One way of doing this may be to ask each judge to make brief notes after every round or make a post-fight report of the fight so the governing organisation and possibly boxing fans can understand the reasons for scoring a bout as they did.

 

The winning combination

There is a need for greater transparency and fairness in the decisions process in professional boxing. This is emphasized further as boxing decisions can only be overturned where there is evidence of bad faith or corruption following the decision in Mendy31 who was unsuccessful in his appeal against his disqualification for punching below the belt. The ad hoc division of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (AHD) refused to arbitrate, considering itself incompetent to deal with a sport`s technical rules.32

This author believes that the following introductions could, after appropriate testing, improve the fairness, accuracy and transparency of the System:

  • a “half-point” system should be introduced facilitated by clearer guidelines for judges on how to use the current criteria “clean punching”, “effective aggressiveness”, “ring generalship” and “defence”.
  • For every knockdown a point should be deducted in isolation of how the round would usually be scored. This would ensure that boxers who suffer a flash knockdown during a closely contested round could still be credited for their overall performance. For example the judge may score the round 10/8.5 (9.5-1) in favour of the boxer who knocked his opponent down in a closely fought round or even 9.5/9 (10-1) if the judge deemed the boxer who was knocked down had won the round. A 10/8 could still be given if the boxer dominated the round where he knocked his opponent down. Point deductions by the referee for fouls would also be in isolation.
  • Access to CompuBox fight statistics will help the judges decide upon the winner of a closely fought round although appropriate consideration and testing will have to take place to ensure that the technology meshes effectively and efficiently with the current process.
  • The “Hit Chip” will initially be used to provide greater entertainment for viewers. Long term however, it could revolutionise data analysis in boxing and provide judges with a more informed view of each round.

Whilst the role of the judges will always remain integral to boxing decisions, supporting them with the use of technology will add greater transparency to the process. In the next few years the term the “Sweet Science” may take on a another meaning as new technology could be brought in to ensure boxing’s integrity remains intact.

 

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Author

Matt Rogers

Matt Rogers

@sportslawmatt

Matt is a law graduate who has aspirations to become an international lawyer. His legal work experience includes that of City and regional law firms in addition to pro bono experience and extensive research into Japanese sports betting law. He has recently spent two years living in Japan to broaden his knowledge of a different culture and legal system. His sporting interests lie predominantly in football, tennis, boxing and cycling.

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