2014: Two Steps Back

By Caryn A. Tate on December 28, 2014
2014: Two Steps Back
Mauricio Herrera perhaps paid most dearly for the ineptitude of boxing officials in 2014.

There were numerous fights this past year that were not just surprising but often downright odd in the way they played out…

2014 was a bizarre, and largely disappointing, year for boxing. Fights the fans wanted to see didn’t happen (which, granted, is not unusual in the sport; but it added to an already odd year); we were subjected to too many fights in which champions were matched up with opponents who weren’t truly contender status; fights that were completely expected to go one way went another; or officials played into the results of bouts that otherwise should have had an altogether different outcome (again, unfortunately not unusual in boxing, but seemed particularly egregious this year).

Robberies & Poor Officiating

There are only four criteria that judges are supposed to use to score a fight: Effective aggression, defense, clean and hard punching, and ring generalship. Here is a nice rundown of how a fight is scored:


The idea is that each of those four criteria take up about 25% of the judging of each round of a fight. The only one that could reasonably be subjective is clean and hard punching—it might be that one judge sees one fighter scoring the harder blows, while a different judge sees that coming from the other fighter. But realistically, the other three criteria are easy to discern, and generally the majority of people watching a fight agree on the winner of the majority of the rounds, and hence, the fight. There are exceptions to this of course, but most fights result in pretty clear winners one way or another.

Why, then, did we get so many fights in 2014 that had judges scoring fights completely differently from the rest of us? It begs the question, particularly in the most egregious examples, whether it was ineptitude or corruption that were to blame. Maybe we’ll never know, but in the meantime, we are faced with dreadful decisions like Garcia-Herrera, Herrera-Benavidez, Cave-Escandon, Glaskov-Rossy, Rodriguez-Alcine, and Bradley-Chaves just to name a few.

The tragic thing about poor officiating in boxing, of course, isn’t just that the wrong result happened—those of us watching the fight may get upset or feel jilted, but our lives continue as before. Our day-to-day lives aren’t impacted. But for the fighters who are on the receiving end of a poor decision or an inept referee, it impacts their lives and their careers. Most fighters have spent the better part of their lives to get where they are, then make the sacrifice of their blood, sweat, and guts in the ring, only to see up to three bystanders squander that sacrifice.

The fighter who perhaps paid most dearly for the ineptitude of boxing officials in 2014 was Mauricio Herrera. As Max Kellerman of HBO has stated quite publicly, Herrera had what should have been a life-changing, career-altering victory over Danny Garcia in Puerto Rico in March; instead, the judges handed the win to Garcia in what the huge majority of experts, fans, and everyone else blessed with vision deemed a robbery. Then, in December, he fought Jose Benavidez on the undercard of Bradley-Chaves, and soundly outboxed the younger fighter for the majority of rounds by outlanding him, pressuring him, and keeping him on the ropes for most of the rounds; yet again, the decision was awarded unjustly to Herrera’s opponent. When the unanimous scores were read, most of us watching no doubt thought they were reading the winning scores for Herrera; and then when the winner was announced as Benavidez, our stomachs collectively turned. If the judges want to claim Benavidez had more power than Herrera, that’s one thing. But if he wasn’t landing more and allowed Herrera to have his way with him all around the ring round after round, what does it matter? Apparently Herrera had enough power to keep Benavidez’s back against the ropes for most of the fight.

Herrera should be highly praised for not only enduring some of the worst the sport has to offer, but for his astounding heart and determination. After being on the receiving end of these awful decisions, somehow he continues to maintain a positive outlook and the motivation and desire to continue giving his all in the ring. That alone is a great showcase of the man’s championship heart.

In some bouts the officiating was poor but thankfully didn’t necessarily change the result of the fight. For example, in Canelo-Lara, the majority of viewers thought judge Levi Martinez’s scorecard of 117-111 for Alvarez was ludicrous; but the other two judges’ scores were reasonable for the close fight that it was. Then there were a few where the result was the wrong one, but thankfully not a loss for the actual winner; in Gradovich-Velez, only judge Tom Schreck saw the same fight the rest of us did and had Gradovich winning. The other two judges astoundingly saw it for Velez and as a draw; the final draw result wasn’t as hard to take as if Velez had won outright. But it was fights like this that, hopefully, made us all take note of specific judges whose judgment must be taken into account, and reminded us of how important officiating in boxing is.

Questionable or downright poor refereeing was also a problem this year. Rios-Chaves was a messy and occasionally dirty fight, which was the result of the choices of both fighters. But Vic Drakulich, the referee, compounded the problem by not taking control of the fight and demanding an end to their dirty tactics. Instead, he ended up making the disappointing and unnecessary decision to disqualify Chaves. Contrast that decision with that of Jack Reiss in the Ward-Rodriguez fight from December 2013; it was a comparable type of fight, with both boxers engaging in fouls and less than desirable behavior. Reiss even got hit with a stray punch during the mess. Rather than disqualifying, he clearly and in no uncertain terms called the fighters to task and warned that he would take points, fine them, and/or disqualify both of them if they kept it up. Ward and Rodriguez both shaped up; the fans got to watch the remainder of the fight and neither fighter had the stain of a DQ on his record. The job of refereeing is a very tough one, and some calls are simply chalked up to being human. But many reveal bigger issues than that.

As famed trainer and ESPN Friday Night Fights commentator Teddy Atlas has stressed, some sort of national oversight is desperately needed in the sport of boxing to help improve its sad state and make it more on par with other mainstream sports. Otherwise we’ll continue to be subjected to robberies, disappointments, and simply terrible fights.

Strange Fights & Surprising Results

There were numerous fights this past year that were not just surprising but often downright odd in the way they played out. The majority of fans and experts alike expected them to go one way, often without any real doubt, and they went another. Bouts like Provodnikov-Algieri, Crawford-Gamboa, Cotto-Martinez, Porter-Malignaggi, Hopkins-Kovalev, Canelo-Angulo, and Molina-Bundrage all generated surprise endings for those watching. The strangeness and surprises started all the way back in January with the Ortiz-Collazo fight, resulting in a startling knockout of Ortiz. As with many of the odd fights of the year, it’s not only the result of the fight that was surprising, but the way in which it happened. For many of these bouts we expected competitive, tough matches and may not have even been sure who would win; but for much of the year, what we got was the opposite.

We had weird fights that were made—Soliman-Taylor as a prime example. Both fighters are well-respected and have earned their place in the upper echelons of the sport. Though some may wish Taylor would have remained retired for his own sake, he certainly had earned the right to a title fight again, and his health tests have been clear for some time, so why not? But it was a strange bout, one that most of us would not have envisioned happening in the first place. The legal drama surrounding Taylor heading into the match, Soliman’s leg injuries during, and the general feeling that we were seeing two fighters who shouldn’t really be fighting each other at the championship level permeated the bout.

The Gist of the Problem

The root cause of a lot of the “strangeness” of the year is the fact that, as Mike Tyson has stated, fighters are too busy being businessmen these days. But, going deeper into what Tyson has said, it’s not so much a problem that fighters are doing this—but that the people involved in the business side of the sport (managers and promoters, mainly) are playing games with their boxers’ careers, to the detriment of said fighters’ legacies and the fans’ desires. Whether it’s a beef between two major promoters such as the “Cold War” between Top Rank and Golden Boy, or managers such as Al Haymon, there has been far too much time spent with great or potentially great fighters sitting on the shelf due to some business nonsense. Yuriorkis Gamboa, Lucas Matthysse, and Keith Thurman are some who quickly come to mind as brilliant boxers with huge fan appeal who haven’t fought nearly often enough—not just for the fans’ taste, but for their own. Fighters want to fight, and while sometimes we do suspect some of them of ducking others, generally the real problem is that many of them have signed their careers over to someone else who makes all the decisions; and unlike past “glory days” of boxing, some promoters and managers may have their fighters’ financial best interests at heart, but they do not appear to hold their legacies or the general satisfaction of the boxing public in the same regard. And that is a major problem for the sport, already struggling to retain a long-term fan base, much less a portion of the general public’s attention span.

There have been rumors of Al Haymon possibly working on a longer-term plan to get boxing back on network television, and if so, that could be a serious boon to the sport. But these are just rumblings so far, and as of this writing, all the actual proof we have to go on are the negativities outlined in the previous paragraph. If Haymon is able to finagle such a deal, the generally negative year that was 2014 could potentially be worth it for the long haul; but how many fans will continue to stick around in the hopes that things will improve, and more importantly, what about the talented fighters who continue to sit on the shelf, being deprived of the all-important ability to fight in the ring more than once or twice a year (if that)? All boxers have a prime that is essentially a ticking clock, and for the people who are supposed to be looking out for their best interests to essentially sacrifice them due to petty business disputes is disgraceful and, more than that, downright tragic.

The Light in the Tunnel

There were thankfully some redeeming moments in the past year—fights and fighters that reminded us why we love the sport and, perhaps, encouraging us to continue following it despite its flaws. Here is a rundown of my personal picks of 2014:

My 2014 Fight of the Year: Matthysse vs. Molina

My 2014 Fighter of the Year: Sergey Kovalev

My 2014 Knockout of the Year: Lee vs. Korobov

Let’s hope 2015 gives us better matchups featuring boxers on a similar level to one another, fights fans have demanded, judges and referees who know how to do their jobs, and more activity for fan favorite fighters. Here’s to a better new year for the great sport of boxing, which deserves the best of everything.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Matthysse vs. Molina - 2014 Fight of the Year Candidate

Bernard Hopkins vs. Sergey Kovalev: HBO World Championship Boxing Highlights

Matt Korobov vs. Andy Lee: HBO World Championship Boxing Highlights

Recap: Garcia vs. Herrera, Wilder, JuanMa vs. Ponce de Leon, Jacob - SHOWTIME Boxing

Mauricio Herrera vs. Jose Benavidez Jr: HBO World Championship Boxing Highlights

Tyson Cave vs Oscar Escandon full fight 11.12.2014

Vyacheslav Glazkov vs Derric Rossy / Вячеслав Глазков - Деррек Росси full fight 09.08.2014

Delvin Rodriguez vs Joachim Alcine full fight 16.05.2014

Tim Bradley Jr vs. Diego Chaves: HBO World Championship Boxing Highlights

Canelo Alvarez Vs Erislandy Lara Highlights HD

Gradovich vs. Velez: HBO Boxing After Dark Highlights

Rios vs. Chaves Highlights: HBO Boxing After Dark

Algieri vs. Provodnikov 2014 (HBO Boxing)

Yuriorkis Gamboa vs Terence Crawford Full Fight (High Quality)

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  1. Vo Quang 07:40pm, 01/08/2015

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  2. Caryn A. Tate 07:52pm, 12/28/2014

    Frankie, I haven’t seen The Homesman yet. Looking forward to checking it out, especially now! I also haven’t read the novel but I do like some of Swarthout’s previous work as in The Shootist. Ride the Whirlwind…haven’t yet seen the whole thing so this is another one I’ll have to check out in its entirety. You’re a great source of suggestions! :) There are so few good westerns made these days—I’m always looking for more good ones. Will let you know what I think once I see them.

  3. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:11pm, 12/28/2014

    Strother Martin is gone…..Warren Oates is gone…..Harry Dean Stanton is 88 for Christ’s sake!....this makes me sad. Saw a thing on cable the other day titled “Ride The Whirlwind” a western made in 1966 with a young Jack Nicholson and Harry Dean Stanton….bet you never heard of it….they kept the dialogue to a bare minimum….I liked it…..it was financed by Roger Corman for Christ’s sake!

  4. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:44pm, 12/28/2014

    Caryn A. Tate-Have you seen “The Homesman”? Just wondering….if so, I’d like to read your take on this one….as I posted earlier, Tim Blake Nelson is one of my personal favorites. I’ve read that Hillary Swank is a perfect fit here but I’m betting that Frances Mc Dormand could have done justice to the part of Mary Bee Cuddy as well. You write that Cormac McCarthy was one of your major influences   I’m wondering what you think about about Glendon Swarthout’s novel

  5. Caryn A. Tate 09:50am, 12/28/2014

    Thanks Clarence & Frankie for the kind words. I competely agree about Quillin—hard to fathom what went on there for a champion to give up his title for…what? And Frankie, I also agree about the creepy thank you’s given almost robotically in post-fight interviews. I wouldn’t mind if that was all that we’re subjected to, but we all know that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

  6. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:26am, 12/28/2014

    My thoughts exactly or damn close to it anyway…..I say the judges and referees in all major bouts should be given mandatory vision and hearing exams, breathalyzer tests, and be required to give urine samples the day of the event. Moreover, I say it’s Goddamned creepy the way that fighters contractually involved with Al Haymon always thank him in their post fight interviews…. I’ve seen instances where the fighter was prompted to do this bit of groveling by some asshat in the entourage when time was running out….it’s probably part of the deal…...more creepy shit in a creepy ass “sport”.

  7. Clarence George 07:35am, 12/28/2014

    Nicely done, Caryn, per uje.  I’ll add, if I may, that my candidate for worst piece of advice of 2014 was Al Haymon’s to Peter Quillin.  Giving up the fight with Matt Korobov, the WBO, and a great deal of money in exchange for…glorified gatekeeper status.

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