Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley is in the books, and after the inept judging that awarded Bradley an undeserved split decision victory, there is a lot of talk of who is to blame. Yesterday, I argued that an investigation is called for, and today, promoter Bob Arum has said the same thing, though it's notable that he didn't make this statement until NSAC head Keith Kizer publicly stated there was nothing wrong with the judging and would be no investigation. There's still plenty more to untangle in this mess, but among all the questions about why this happened is another question that needs to be addressed - how can we prevent this from happening in the future? And I believe we already have the answer:
For those unfamiliar with the concept, open scoring means that after every round (or, in the case of partial open scoring, after select rounds) the scores from the judges are revealed so that everyone - audience, fighters, corners - knows them. It's been used in boxing in the past, as well as in K-1. But it's a very controversial topic that has passionate supporters and detractors.
As I see it, the positives of open scoring are obvious. In sports, the competitors know where they stand. An NBA team knows when they have seconds left on the clock if they need 2 to win or if they need 3. Fighters are not given this information, and instead, must guess if they are winning or not. When you really think about it, that is absurd. They should be told how the judges are seeing the fight so that they can adjust their game accordingly.
In the current system, there is far too much power in the hands of the judges. Not revealing their scores until the end means that there is nothing a fighter can do about a bad score. Again, think of how this compares to other sports. If in an NFL game a call doesn't go your way, you know about it, and you adjust. Closed scoring is the equivalent of an NFL game ending, then the officials announcing "Oh, you know that touchdown you thought you scored in the 2nd quarter? We actually had you out of bounds, so we're taking away those points and you lost."
But as I said, it's not an entirely popular idea. Among the detractors is the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC). They released a statement last year against open scoring. The entire statement can be read here. It makes some valid points, including the idea that a fighter who is ahead on the scorecards after 4 rounds but gets cut might not work to clean up the cut and instead take the decision win. But I want to break down three of their main complaints as I don't think they hold up.
Boxer A is well ahead in the bout it could turn into a track meet with boxer A becoming very defensive. Any trainer who knows his boxer is well ahead on points would always instruct his boxer to use the jab and MOVE - do not engage - your opponent needs a KO or at least a knock-down (to get a 10-8 round) to win.
This is the most common critique of open scoring, that it would lead to slower late rounds. But look at Pacquiao vs. Bradley - Pacquiao thought he was winning and he let off the gas in those late rounds. Had he known it was close, he would have tried harder, making those round more exciting. Last year, partial open scoring was used for a Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fight, and again the fight was closer than expected on the scorecards, and the final round were more action-packed - the exact opposite effect of what the ABC anticipates.
Boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard has also publicly supported open scoring, and specifically addressed this point. As he points out, for one fighter to be ahead means the other fighter must be down, so that down fighter is going to have a need to finish the fight, which will make it more exciting. Think of Tim Boetsch laying it all on the line against Yushin Okami this year for a great example of how this can work.
Fans that see a score could become very vocal or even worse hostile and judges could be intimated to score a round in a certain manner. This would be particularly true when the home town boxer is behind and the crowd becomes increasingly loud and hostile.
Then you need to hire better judges. Again, look at the comparison to other sports. Officials in sports are constantly met with hostile hometown fans, yet they manage to do their jobs. Do we have this little faith in the ability of our judges to accurately judge the fight? If so, they shouldn't be judging.
The other issue with this point is that it happens already. Fans do get loud, and judges do get influenced. The only difference now is that fighters don't know it's happening, so can't do anything about it. Which brings us to...
Fight strategy could be drastically altered after the scores are given.
Well, yeah, that's the whole point. I find this complaint absolutely bizarre. If a fighter discovers that the judges are not rewarding the style of fight he is using, then yes, he should alter his strategy. Just as an NFL team will change how they play the final minutes of a game depending on the score, a fighter should be able to change the final rounds of a fight depending on the score. Saying that strategy should not be altered seems to imply that there is some sort of ideal way to box that should never be deviated from. But if that is true, then why are judges seeing someone like Pacquiao outbox Bradley, but still giving the decision away?
Open scoring is an idea whose time has come for both boxing and MMA. This notion of hiding the scores away for a sudden dramatic reveal is archaic and does no benefit to the fighters, the fans, or the sport. Stop clinging to the past and give the fighters the information they need to fight. Make open scoring a reality.