Whilst boxing is a very, very global sport the way it's held in various countries is very different. Sure the in ring action is, essentially, the same, with two fighters sharing the ring with a referee, and judges on the outside of the ring scoring bouts based on some scoring criteria. Despite the similarities how the sport is done in various nations and various rules relating to the sport are very different in various areas.
Today we're going to take a look at some of the various differences in boxing from various countries. Some aren't totally unique, but are perhaps not things that many fans will be too aware of, even if they happen in other countries.
Please note this isn't an extensive list, and it does focus on the Orient rather than Central Asia.
We'll start with a controversial one, but one that we suspect many fans have heard of, and that is the use of "Open Scoring". The idea has been tried in the US once or twice, but is mostly used now in Asia, with Japan and Thailand both using it for various fights, and using it in different ways.
The idea of open scoring is to let the fighters, teams and audience, know how judges are scoring the bout at set intervals, and not waiting until after the final scores to know how the judges are seeing the fight. In some ways this can destroy the drama of a fight, or set one fighter into a running mentality, avoiding a fight if they are well in the lead. On the other hand it can lead to a fighter who is behind changing tactics and giving all they have in an attempt to turn a fight around.
In both Thailand and Japan it's used at various levels.
Both countries use it for WBC world title fights, and scores are announced after round 4 and round 8. In Japan scores are typically announced into the venue in rounds 5 and 9, with an on screen graphic for TV viewers. In Thailand scores are shown on a hand held white board by an official.
Outside of world title fights Thailand uses open scoring for 10 round WBC minor title bouts, such as WBA Asia titles, with scores announced after rounds 4 and 8. W
In Japan open scoring is used for OPBF title bouts and Japanese title bouts. With OPBF title bouts being 12 rounders the scores are announced after rounds 4 and 8, whilst Japanese fights, which are set for 10 rounds, have their scores announced after 5 rounds, early in round 6.
For 10 round bouts we prefer the Japanese system to the Thai one, and think announcing the scores with just 2 rounds left in a bout removes too much drama, though we do like the fact they are using it, and it does give the fighter who's losing a chance to turn things around.
10-10 rounds aren't a problem!
One thing that we can all agree on, whether you like or hate open scoring, is the fact that scoring is notoriously bad in this great sport. Sadly we'll never get a fix we're all happy with, but one way to stop wide cards in a close fight is for judges to be willing to score 10-10 rounds when they need to.
In South Korea this is a normal thing. In fact if we see a show where 10-10 rounds aren't used then we're really surprised. They do, at times, give some weird scores, but we would prefer "weird scores" with the right winner, than the wrong winner with awful scores.
We feel it gives judges more flexibility and that is, perhaps, what the sport needs. A close round with no winner doesn't need a winner "just because". Instead fights need the right result, and we would love to see the liberal use of 10-10 rounds explored more often in the west.
This one isn't as simple as a catch all, with different promoters doing things differently, but there are general differences here with Japan and Thailand being the most obvious cases.
In Thailand a typical main event bout, will be delayed 10 to 30 minutes whilst we get extravagant introductions that really are something truly unique, and frustrating in equal measure. Unlike the US and UK where pre-fight circus is focused on the fighters, in Thailand we often see the in ring activity consist of numerous sponsors being brought into the ring, and introduced, we see the fighters standing through the anthems, and we see a long and lengthy break up in the event whilst the audience get introduced to the companies that are supporting the shows. It's long, it's tedious, it's horrific for international fans to sit through. Thankfully it appears the whole process is slowly being phased out by the newer promoters, but it has been a staple of the Thai boxing scene for years.
In Japan however we often see the champion enter the ring before the challenger. This isn't always the case, but does happen much, much more often than in other countries. It seems like this is a traditional thing, and we dare say it comes from an idea of a champion facing their challenger, and accepting the challenge. Whatever the reason we do like the idea, though can understand why it's not a regular thing.
Missing weight punishments
This is something that we typically see in the Philippines and Japan who both take very different stances on punishments for missing weight, and this time we actually think the Japanese view is the wrong one, and the Filipino idea is one that every country should be taking a big look at.
In Japan if a foreign fighter misses weight they are typically added to the "Invitation banned fighter list", essentially meaning a Japanese promoter can't use them until a ban is over.
In 2018 the JBC announced an overhaul in what happens if a Japanese fighter misses weight. The key change is that they are punished depending on how much they weigh over the agreed limit.
If they are over the limit but under set % they will be allowed to re-weigh 2 hours later or the following day, and need to make a set weight. If they do this they will be fined and given a short suspension. If they are that set % the bout will cancelled. If that happens they are fined, given a lengthy suspension, their manager is also punished and they aren't allowed to fight again at that weight.
Although a good idea on paper it does mean their opponent often misses out on a fight and a pay day, and can also result in some fights being cancelled a day or so in advance on medical grounds, avoiding the suspension.
In the Philippines a fighter that misses weight is typically forced to fight with heavier gloves. A very clear punishment that allows the bout to go ahead, and punishes the guilty party in a very obvious way. The heavier gloves slows a fighter's punches down, slows their movement, takes a bit of snap off their shots and drains stamina quicker. It also allows the bout to go ahead, and is a direct advantage to their opponent.
Incidentally this seems to genuinely work, and we've seen things like Rustico Torrecampo beating an overweight Manny Pacquiao with this rule in play, giving Pacquiao his first loss in 1996.
We really do like the rule and would love to see more countries follow suit. Perhaps adding more complexity to the rule, to further punish a fighter for missing the limit.
Sadly in the west the main punishment seems to be a short term financial one, with a portion of an over-weight fighters purse being given to the fighter who made weight, and not something that actually helps in the fight it's self.
Officials for world title bouts
At the moment this isn't in effect as much as usual, due to the on going Covid19 pandemic, but typically world title bouts in Japan don't feature Japanese officials, unless both fighters are Japanese.
To ensure fairness all 3 judges and the referee for world title bouts in Japan are usually from neutral countries. It's often felt "judging in Japan" is the fairest for visitors, and we dare say this is the reason why. The judges have no ties to the country, other than their work on a particular fight.
If we compare Japanese world champions to, say, British world champions the choice of officials is bizarre. For example Kazuto Ioka has only had Japanese officials involved in two of his world title bouts, both against Japanese fighters, whilst Anthony Joshua only has one world title fight without a British official, with that being his bout against Wladimir Klitschko.
Of course it's not just Ioka. You can genuinely select any Japanese world champion from recent years and see this in action.
Sadly this does come at a cost, and we rarely see Japanese officials getting big gigs on the world scene, which is a huge shame. It's seen officials like Michiaki Someya, Nobuto Ikehara, Yuji Fukuchi and Akihiko Katsuragi rarely getting world level fights and if we're being honest they all deserve far, far more high profile bouts than they get.
Inside fighting welcome!
On the subject of Japanese officials it should be noted that they are a lot, lot happier to see inside fighting take place than officials in the West. This was something noted by Masayoshi Nakatani following his bout in Teofimo Lopez, and is something we see time and time again.
In some countries, notably the US and the UK again, referees tend to be very quick to split the fighters if they get too close and don't let fighters fight their way out of clinches. In Japan however fighting out of the clinch is part of the sport, and something the officials are very welcome to see.
It's due to this that also don't see a lot of clinches in Japan, compared to many countries. If a fighter is clinching and gets tagged a few times they tend to change their mind on clinching so much. It would be good to see more referees allowing fighters to fight out of the clinch, and letting the action flow more freely.
Free TV is King!
In Japan and Thailand Free TV really is king! In fact the whole idea for some of these nations, including the Philippines, is to get eyes on the sport!
In Japan many of the biggest names are on free TV and world title fights are typically shown across the country for free. As well as those free big bouts fans in certain regions, notably Kanto, get bouts on tape delay for free though TBS and Fuji TV. There is pay TV involved in boxing, with the most notable service being G+, but when a fighter is a star they tend to be on free to air TV.
As well as that promoters are also offering a lot of content online. There's the long running Boxing Raise service, along with the growth of A-Sign boxing and Boxing Real all streaming shows online. There's also the recent emergence of Sakana and Seki-Chan, two fans who have started to stream shows from the often over-looked Central Japan region.
It's also worth noting that when a Japanese fighter fights in the US they tend to have their bout shown live on pay service WOWOW before getting their bout shown on prime time on free TV, and this has been a massive ratings hit for free TV broadcast. Perhaps something other countries could begin to consider copying.
There is PPV in Japanese boxing, but it is used in such rare circumstances it's not even worth talking about. It's used maybe once or twice a year, and never for a massive professional event.
In Thailand free TV really is key, with channels like Workpoint, Channel 7, Tru4U and Thairath all showing events. As well as that online services for all the channels are also available and the promoters also make their content available. Generally if you miss a show in Thailand that's not a massive issue as video quickly emerges, usually from the promoter. We can't recall a single incident of PPV being used in Thailand.
In the Philippines most events of note are streamed live on the excellent PowCast, making Pow Salud one of the most important men in the Filipino boxing scene. PowCast not only stream most notable Filipino bouts but then upload the individual bouts, allowing fans to watch the bouts on demand, for free!
This also extends to China, where many shows are available online through official streams, where again the idea is to get people to watch the product, and allow fighters to make a name for themselves!
TV exclusivity is... different
Countries in Asia do have some fighters under exclusive TV contracts, where fighters are only allowed to fight on a certain TV channel, and their affiliates. Some notable ones in Japan are Naoya Inoue and Ryota Murata on Fuji TV, Kazuto Ioka on TBS and Kosei Tanaka on CBC.
That however doesn't keep them on a single channel. For example we see fighters doing guest commentary for a channel they don't fight on, or featuring on talk shows on other channels. This helps build wider awareness of the fighter, and builds to their profiles. Sadly this doesn't happen too often in some countries. Just imagine how good it would be to see Anthony Joshua commentate on BT Sport for a Tyson Fury fight to potentially build to their contest...
Whilst it's certainly not unheard of in the US to see a fighter turn up on another channel at ringside, or in a post fight interview, it is much, much more prevalent in Japan.
Top prospects are moved quickly
In the West we often see fighters fighting 15-20 fights before taking on their first serious test. There are exceptions to this, but for the most part supposedly top prospects are given a slow and gradual step up in class, with a string of early career easy wins. In other countries however, such as Japan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, top prospects are being moved quickly. The realisation that if a fighter is good enough then they should be be matched tough.
Whilst this does have flaws, and we've seen so many talented young fighters suffer early losses and never reach the heights expected of them, we have also seen it work out brilliantly for so many others.
There isn't a catch all way to bring all prospects through, but we would love to see more Western promoters trying to bring their prospects through in an aggressive manner.
Again this isn't an extensive list, but it's a good starting point for those wanting to know some difference between what we see in the West and what we see in certain parts of Asia.
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features