We saw one such world title bout this past Saturday when IBF Featherweight champion Evgeny Gradovich (19-0-1, 9) took on mandatory challenger Jayson Velez (22-0-1, 16) and we ended up with both men retaining their unbeaten records whilst we all tried to lift our jaws off the floor at one of the worst decisions of the year.
The Russian champion was defending the belt for the fourth time and early on it appeared that Velez had the style to beat him. For the first few rounds Velez simply out boxed Gradovich, he used exceptional movement and fought superbly behind a very busy jab that kept Gradovich at range and prevented the usually busy Gradovich from getting inside where he likes to work.
In round 3 things began to change as Velez's feet began to slow and he was gradually forced into the fight that Gradovich would have wanted. The Puerto Rican challenger probably did enough to take the round but it was probably the final round that Velez could have been given without a debate.
In round 4 Gradovich began to really close the distance, both traded body shots and both had their success in the bouts closest round. It was one that could have gone either though to us it seemed that Gradovich just did enough to take it as he began to turn the fight into his style of a fight. The Russian was cutting the distance, building on his success from the previous round and began to force Velez to trade shots. When trading Velez did have plenty of success of his own but was out-worked, out landed and out powered.
From round 5 to 11 Gradovich became more and more successful. His trademark engine was helping him to grind down his challenger who was game but out fought and came off second best in every exchange. It was to Velez's credit that he was fighting back but he was unable to ever establish the distance that had helped him to take the earlier rounds.
The action, for the most part in those Gradovich won rounds, was exciting and saw both men unloading a high volume of shots but sadly for Velez it was hard to see him winning any of them, or even taking a a share of an occasional round as his punches resembled arm punches and his head was snapped back time and time again.
Going into the final round it seemed clear that Velez was in a hole and would need a KO to win the title. His early work had long been forgotten and he seemed to know he needed something special to pull the bout out of the bag. Knowing he was down Velez really went for it in the final moments and seemed to unload everything he had at Gradovich who saw out the storm to hear the final bell.
It seemed a clear win for Gradovich who had swept much of the bout. At most we suspected Velez could have won 5 rounds, giving him the close 4th and the 12th, at an absolute push. In reality however we hadn't given him anything after the third round and had it a very clear 117-111 to Gradovich. The judges however threw their typical spanner into the works. One judge had it the same as us, one judge somehow found 6 rounds to give to Velez giving a 114-114 card whilst the third judge had a frankly ridiculous card of 115-113 to Velez, a truly shocking card that should see the judge dragged over the hot coals.
For Gradovich the key thing is that he retained his title and there is still a chance for him to get involved in major bouts with the likes of Nicholas Walters in 2016. For Velez the draw was an early Christmas present and whilst it's clear he's a talented fighter he was very lucky to escape with his unbeaten record.
It's a shame the judging has cast controversy over this bout which was, the scoring aside, a really enjoyable bout that saw both men fighting their heart out and we hope to see both men in action sooner rather than later, though not a rematch as some suggest. This wasn't close enough to actually warrant a rematch, even if it was a “draw”.