On Saturday night we were treat to a very public joke by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which again showed that replays in boxing are a long, long way from being an effective solution to modernise the sport and bring it in line with elite level Tennis, Cricket, Soccer and American football. In fact we saw it come under such scrutiny and questioning that it's perhaps better to be put on the side line and worked on quietly before trying to be re-introduced, much like Open Scoring.
The bout in question was the second bout between Joshua Franco and Andrew Moloney, which ended in a No Decision following serious swelling around Franco's eye, very early in the bout.
Afterwards the cause of the swelling was reviewed, over and over and over....taking more than 20 minutes to make a decision on the call. And then they still got it wrong. This has lead to some hilariously bad takes online, such as some suggesting it was the "worst robbery in history", unless you've just started following boxing you know that's crap. And others saying "fuck Las Vegas", including the show's promoter Bob Arum.
Lets just take a few steps back and look at things.
Is it the worst robbery in history?
No. Flat out no. We do a "Controversial Clashes" series and that often covers worst decisions, and we're considering just bouts with Asian fighters, ignoring travesties like the first bout between Juan Martin Coggi and Eder Gonzalez, or James Toney Vs Dave Tiberi, Paul Williams Vs Erislandy Lara. This was the wrong decision, but it's not even going to break into the top 50 worst robberies.
So lets stop the hyperbole, before the entire conversation falls on to an untruth and devalues the actual issues at hand.
Lets be honest folks, this probably isn't even the worst decision you've seen in the last few weeks. Unless you are very, very new to boxing. If you are, go check out that Coggi Vs Gonzalez bout to see something hilariously bad and that will make you feel a lot less angry about this week's action.
Fuck Las Vegas?
This is the more interesting one, and the one that we really want to discuss in two parts.
Firstly if the bout was ANYWHERE but Nevada the bout would have been a No Contest when it was stopped. The referee called the incident that caused Franco's injury an Accidental Head Clash, whether rightly or wrongly. In any other state that would have been it. There wouldn't have been replays. There wouldn't have been a 20 minute delay. That would have been the call and it wouldn't have been called to question in the way it was here. The referee's call would have stood.
Had the bout been held outside of Las Vegas we'd all be talking about wanting a rematch, and that's exactly what we should be pressing for now. That's the right thing to do, it's the thing the fans want, the fighters should be wanting and their teams should be looking to force. It's not often boxing can get an easy win, and that is an easy win. Re-hold the bout, and lets see them go again in an unofficial rubber match match. Their first one was great, and the second should have been great. Now we have even more intrigue going into a third bout.
But it was in Las Vegas, and they do have replay in action!
Indeed it was. It was in possibly the only regional using replays with any regularity, in fact this wasn't the first time during the current Top Rank in the Bubble run of shows and again it showed the issues with replay, which were laid very bare here. It's not replay it's self that is bad, but it's the unclear aim, and use of replay which is an issue.
Back in July, I know some boxing fans have short memories, we saw replay being used in the bout between Jose Pedraza and Mikkel LesPierre. Originally LesPierre has a knockdown called in his favour, in round 5, and then we entered round 6 before the referee left the ring and was convinced he had made a mistake, over-turning his original decision.
That was a farce, and in the end didn't actually matter. But at least they got it right. They should have had the decision made before we entered round 6, and in reality the ringside officials should have the power to over-rule the referee if there is a clear error. And this was a clear error.
In October we saw an improvement to the system, albeit still a flawed system. In October, for the bout between Arnold Barboza Jr Vs Alex Saucedo, we saw a ringside replay official look over a potential knockdown and over-rule the referee during a time out, ruling that a knockdown took place. The referee called a slip and he was quickly corrected, with Joe Cortez watching the replay and correcting the call from Celestino Ruiz. Ruiz then told the judges to score the knockdown, allowing them to correct their cards.
It still wasn't PERFECT, but it was a massive upgrade on what we had had just weeks earlier and it lead to Joe Tessitore, working for ESPN, to proudly state "by the way for everybody who has spent the entire day watching college football and getting angry at the TV as it takes 3 minutes and 5 minutes and 6 minutes for a review boxing just did it in about 10 seconds after the round...Well done by the Nevada State Athletic Commission".
Joe was right. This was impressive, it was timely it. It worked. It got it correct and it put the two fighters both clearly in the position that they knew what the ruling was, and could change their tactics accordingly. It was corrected within moments, and most done between rounds, with a time out being called before the action resumes for the referee to instruct the judges.
This is how it should be done. A decision should be made, it should be clear, and it should be explained to both the judges and the corners if need be. Everyone should be on the same page and know where they stand. They can they adapt their tactics if needed.
Right so they work, and they are improving!
Of course the system is improving, but those are the only times it's been used in boxing, and it's been used with mixed success in the past. There are three other notable examples, two where they got it right and one where they got it very, very wrong.
The wrong example is probably the least well known, and that's a 2012 bout between Nihito Arakawa and Daniel Estrada. A cut was caused on Estrada that was ruled, by the referee, to have come from a headclash. Due to the WBC accidental foul rule Arakawa was deducted a point before replays showed it was a punch that caused the cut and the point deduction was removed. Then the replay call was over-ruled, when the cut that was caused earlier in the bout stopped the contest, leading to a technical decision in favour of Estrada. Not the TKO win to Arakawa that the replay call, earlier in the bout, should have lead to. This lead to confusion in both corners and lead to massive confusion with the referee yelling that it was an elbow that caused the damage.
The WBC knew this was wrong and tried to sort out a rematch between the two men. Estrada declined it and we ended up getting Arakawa's bout with Omar Figueroa as a result. It was a complete cluster fuck of a situation.
Another example, where they got it right, also involved a Japanese fighter. That was Koki Eto's first bout with Jeyvier Cintron, when Cintron was dropped and out on his feet from what, initially, looked like a clean punch. It was then reviewed and showed an elbow had caught him and sent him loopy. The original decision, of a TKO1 for Eto, was rightfully over-turned, we had a rematch and Cintron won, securing a bout with Kazuto Ioka.
We also saw the review process kick in for the WBC Flyweight title bout between Charlie Edwards and Julio Cesar Martinez, with that bout being in England. This bout ended in round 3 after Martinez hit Edwards with a shot when the Englishman was on a knee. Originally ruled a KO3 win for Martinez it was later over-turned to a No Contest on review. The right call was made following the review.
This was the right decision, got the wrong way. As prior to the No Contest being delivered it was stated that replay wasn't in use, and then it was. And then it was used in a way that helped the promoters fighter. Something we need to worry about with retroactive reviews (more about these later).
Not only were these decisions very different, in terms of outcome of the review and the review it's self, but they also make it clear that not all reviews can be done the same. However that doesn't mean we can't have a general understanding of how review can be done correctly.
So they work, what's the problem? Why didn't they get it right?
Firstly we need to ask what is a review ACTUALLY for? Is it to get the result right or is it to clear up obvious mistakes?
This might seem a really silly question but if it's to get the right result, then in reality we should see all bouts go through a post fight review with post fight scoring. The biggest issue in getting the right result is rarely the single call of a referee but instead the judges. Yes referees have got it wrong, as we show regularly in out Controversial Clashes series, but more often it's the judging that is giving us the wrong result.
Sure we have cases like Gujelmo Ajor completely botching the Danny Lopez Vs Fel Clemente bout, or Armand Krief messing up the result of Hyung Chul Lee's first bout with Alimi Goitia, but by far and away the judge needs sorting first.
As a result we need to assume it's to tidy clear and obvious errors. The knockdowns that should have been rules a slip, or vice versa, the cuts that might have been from a headclash, and the borderline low blows. This would follow the line that VAR was brought into football, soccer for our American readers, with decisions only being looked at when there was a "clear and obvious error". We're not going to turn this into a rant about VAR, because that's for someone else, but the principle was clear. Only clear errors should be over-turned.
In our eyes a "clear" error is one that should be spotted quickly and effectively. Ideally between rounds, like the call of Joe Cortez in the Arnold Barboza Jr Vs Alex Saucedo bout we mentioned earlier. That left both men knowing where they stood entering the next round. There was no long and arduous task of correcting things and we were all ready to go within seconds.
What we saw at the weekend wasn't anything like that. What we saw at the weekend was a calamity of errors.
What do you mean?
What should have happened was in round 1 Russell Mora called an accidental clash of heads that caused a swelling around Joshua Franco's eye. The call should have been reviewed by ringside officials during the rest of the round, and there was a good chunk of it, and in the break between rounds 1 and 2 to clear up a "clear and obvious error". If they couldn't spot an a "clear and obvious error", the two fighters should have gone into round 2 with the referees call. This would have allowed both men to alter tactics to try and give a result, knowing that if the bout doesn't go beyond 4 rounds there will be no result.
For example had Moloney known the swelling was caused by a head clash he could have tried to leave the eye alone, racked up points attacking else where and then pressed the fight in round 5 to force a conclusion and take the technical decision. It would have been a hard ask, of course, but he would have known that if the bout was stopped due to the eye that would have been it. He'd not take the victory.
Likewise had Franco been under the illusion the damage was from a punch heading into round 2 he may have felt he had to put it all on the line, and go out swinging. Otherwise a loss was imminent. Likewise he may have realised he'd have to fight one-eyed and saved himself from further damage, whilst a accidental head clash ruling was going to work in his favour.
The problem was that heading into round 2 everyone was under the belief it was an accidental clash of heads. The call wasn't really looked at until after the fight. This was too late. This had left a material change on how the fight played out. The two men were clearly made aware it was being treat as a headclash, whether that was right or wrong, during the fight.
The post fight antics, multiple replays, and eventually getting the wrong decision is heart breaking for Moloney. Though had Franco lost his title due to following the referees instructions, we'd feel he was in a heart breaking decision. By reviewing the bout after the contest, in this manner, there was no way boxing was going to come out as a winner. Only a loser.
So what's the solution?
We hope, more than anything, that the outcome of this leads to a rematch and to the entire replay system being overhauled.
The way it was used was a disgrace to boxing. If it's to be used, it should only be used at the end of the round of the incident in question. Whether that's a knockdown call the previous round, or a knockout in the current round. Trying to retroactively correct errors from previous rounds isn't a workable solution. It isn't a fair solution, and it isn't the right solution. It's a slippery slope to chaos, to controversy and to bailing out referees and fighters, and potentially further helping favourites get their way.
Sit with us a moment longer and ponder this scenario. Fighter A is dropped in round 1 from a low blow, and in round 2 from a low blow. Both are called legitimate shots and give fighter B a couple of 10-8 rounds to start the bout. Fight B is then deducted points for low blows in rounds 9 and 10. Would it be fair to go back and review those earlier knockdowns, and deduct further points whilst over-ruling the knockdowns from earlier in the fight? Maybe even disqualify fighter B in round 11 for repeated low blows based on what he had done earlier in the fight?
It might seem silly, but that's what retroactively reviewing could cause. In fact we could see a small decision win, a 114-113 for example, swing the other way based on a point deduction correction, or a knockdown correction retroactively applied.
For the sake of our sanity we need to accept that whilst the replay officials may have taken 26 minutes to make a wrong decision on Saturday night, they also made the "right decision". They made it clear that this is a farce, it allows bouts to be altered retroactively, and that they are still not implementing a system that works.
We don't NEED replay in boxing. We would maybe like it, but we'd only like it if it was clear, it worked, and the decisions could be rendered in real time, or similar. So far it has felt like a half baked idea, badly implemented. It has been revised, but it still leaves much to be desired and a lot of work to do. Just as VAR does in football.
Technology in sport can be slow to progress, but can revolutionise how sport is done. Tennis and Cricket have used Hawkeye amazingly well, and maybe a similar, multi-camera, multi-replay system is needed in boxing, rather than this half baked thing we have. Or maybe we shouldn't have replay at all, and the referees decision is final, not a take we'd go with but a valid all the same. Maybe full fights should regularly be reviewed to get the right decision.
Fighters, camps, promoters, officials and fans all need to be fully in the loop of how it will be used, when it will be used, and what it's purpose is. This weekend showed that more than ever. Everything needs to be transparent.
Moloney was denied the title!
One final point to end this one, and one that we have seen echoed, a lot. "Moloney was robbed of the title", "that belt belongs to Moloney", "Franco is a fake champion", "Give that belt back". We get the point, Moloney should hold the WBA Regular Super Flyweight title.
Or should he?
Fans talking about that belt, at all, are legitimising another issue in boxing. The WBA's multiple titles. That belt shouldn't be Moloney's for the simple fact that that belt shouldn't exist. The WBA should recognise ONE champion per division, and the line of Roman Gonzalez, the WBA "Super" champion should be the only one we, as fans, care about. The belt that Franco has was created solely for the WBA to collection sanctioning fees. If you choose to recognise the belt, you lose the validity of arguing there's too many belts in the sport.
Roman Gonzalez's line as the WBA Super Flyweight champion goes back to 2014. He beat Kal Yafai, Kal Yafai beat Luis Concepcion, who beat Kohei Kono, who won the belt when he beat Denkaosan Kaovichit on March 26th 2014. The title Franco has appeared 3 months before Gonzalez beat Yafai for the belt, when Moloney beat Elton Dharry for the "interim" title, which was then upgraded to the "regular" title in June for the first bout between Moloney and Franco.
Lets not legitimise the WBA's bull crap by ignoring history.
The stronger case is that Moloney may lose out on an opportunity down the line. That case can be answered by everyone doing the right thing and sorting out a rematch. Alternatively Moloney is a Top Rank fighter. Top Rank have another fighter in the same division, with a world title, Jerwin Ancajas. There is an opportunity waiting in the wings for Moloney to fight for a legitimate world title. If he's denied both of those chances, then boxing has a lot to answer for, and that should be the bigger issue.
This is just an opinion, maaaan! It's easy to share our opinions, and that's what you'll find here, some random opinion pieces