Adelaide Byrd, Steve Weisfeld and John Keane (from left to right) are the ringside judges for Saturday's Pacquiao-Marquez fight. (boxrec.com/AP)
That, after all, is how the previous three installments were decided. Pacquiao and Marquez have fought 36 rounds, with just seven points separating them on the nine scorecards. Their first meeting -- a draw -- would have been a split-decision win for either fighter if judge Bert Clements had scored any one round differently. Pacquiao’s split-decision win in the second fight would have gone to Marquez if he’d won just one more round on Tom Miller’s card. And Pacquiao’s controversial majority-decision victory last November would have been a majority draw if Dave Moretti had given one more round to Marquez.
I’m talking close.
What follows -- a refresher course for veteran fight fans, a primer for neophytes -- contains everything you need to know about the three people who will probably decide the winner of Saturday’s fight.
Who are the judges?
Adelaide Byrd from Las Vegas, Steve Weisfeld from New Jersey, and John Keane from England.
What will they be looking for?
The four scoring criteria are clean punching (power versus quantity), effective aggressiveness, ring generalship and defense. However, judges in Nevada have a track record of rewarding punch volume, a philosophical point laid bare when Timothy Bradley won a highly controversial decision over Manny Pacquiao in May. Bradley threw more punches than Pacquiao -- that he connected with far less frequency proved inconsequential to the judges, who aren’t privy to the punch stats you see at home and at times can't see whether a punch lands flush or not.
“The biggest misconception is you don’t score a fight as a whole, you score it round by round,” says Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. “Every round is a self-contained entity. You judge the first round as if it’s the only round, and then you judge each additional round as if it’s the first round of the fight. A close fight can be scored 12 rounds to zero.”
How does one become a judge?
The Nevada commission has around 15 licensed judges. Other states have as many as 100, but Kizer prefers to maintain a smaller pool so they’re kept busy and in form. The state hosts about 40 boxing cards per year, with most judges working about three-quarters of those.
Most judges work their way up through the amateur circuit, not unlike an NFL referee that comes up through the high-school and college ranks. When there’s an opening, Kizer will meet with the commission and identify several candidates who have shown both skill and professionalism. Both Kizer and the chairman will “shadow-judge” the candidates at smaller events, not only reviewing their scores but to observe how they act. Judges from other states who move to Nevada -- even decorated ones -- are subject to the same scrutiny.
Since none of them do it for the money -- Kizer says the top judges make about $20,000 per year -- nearly all of them have day jobs or are retired. The evaluation process is constant and ongoing: “At least card by card, if not round by round,” Kizer says.
How were the judges chosen for Saturday’s fight?
Kizer tries to avoid selecting the same judges for rematches, which left him with very few choices for Saturday’s fourth installment. He uses boxrec.com -- the comprehensive boxing records website -- to see how certain judges from outside Nevada scored certain fights or handled given situations. This independent research includes reaching out to his counterparts from other commissions.
After he compiled a list of three to four Nevada judges, three to four American judges from outside Nevada, and three to four international judges as possibilities for Pacquiao-Marquez IV, Kizer sent the list to the promoter and the camps, giving each party a chance to voice an objection. When none were raised, Kizer made his recommendations to the five-member commission panel, which voted to accept them -- Byrd, Weisfeld and Keane -- at a public meeting held last month.
“Referees do need to know what to be ready for and should do their homework on the fighters,” Kizer said. “But you don’t want any anticipation or preconceived notions from a judge. It’s fighter blue corner against fighter red corner, it doesn’t matter if it’s a four-round fight or a 12-round fight.”
Is there any concern judges will be predisposed to lean towards Marquez because he lost controversially the last time?
Kizer is not concerned the judges will give Marquez the benefit of the doubt in any way -- a concern articulated by Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach -- standing by the professionalism of his judges and noting that Byrd, Weisfeld and Keane had no part in the previous three Pacquiao-Marquez fights. “For the promotion it’s the 37th round,” he said. “As far as the judges go, it’s the first round. They have nothing else to base it on because they’ve never done a Marquez-Pacquiao fight before.”
Has the selection process been any different for Pacquiao-Marquez IV due to the contested nature of the first three fights?
The additional scrutiny can alleviate rather than amplify the pressure, according to Kizer, because the judges know they’re going to be criticized either way. “Whenever De La Hoya lost a close fight, Bob Arum said the judges were bending over backwards to show they didn’t favor him,” he says, “and whenever De La Hoya won a close fight, the other promoter would say the judges are favoring De La Hoya because he’s the golden goose.”
-- Bryan Armen Graham