Monday September 8th, 2008

In a sport where sanctioning bodies routinely manipulate the rankings to serve their interests, where networks permit promotional companies to dictate scheduling and where promoters allow a general distaste for one another to get in the way of making the best fights, is it possible that judging is the most corrupted part of boxing?

The short answer: Yes.

Exhibit A: Saturday night's Juan Diaz-Michael Katsidis lightweight bout. In a much anticipated fight between two proven brawlers, it was the 24-year-old Diaz who carried the action, utilizing wicked combinations and superior in-ring movement to neutralize the potentially devastating punching power of Katsidis, 28. For 12 rounds, Diaz out-boxed and out-punched Katsidis, scoring points in bunches while leaving Katsidis' face looking like Rocky Balboa's after his first encounter with Apollo Creed. When the final bell sounded, everyone -- fans, commentators, probably even Katsidis' father watching in Australia -- had Diaz as a clear winner.

Well, not everyone.

Glen Hamada, a veteran boxing judge who is described on the International Professional Ring Officials Web site as a "world class boxing judge ... who has given judging seminars in the U.S. and abroad," saw something different. While the rest of the world had Diaz winning handily ( scored the fight 117-111 in favor of the Baby Bull), Hamada handed a 115-113 decision to Katsidis.

Fortunately, the other two judges scored the fight for Diaz and he emerged with a split decision, but the inexplicable scoring by Hamada left observers in a state of disbelief.

"That's one of the worst jobs of scoring I have ever seen," said HBO boxing analyst Max Kellerman. "It goes beyond just bad scoring and makes you question whether there was a corrupting influence in the scoring. It's hard to imagine how anyone could score seven rounds of that fight for Katsidis, or even five rounds for Katsidis. Even the scores turned in for Diaz seemed way too close for me."

Kellerman was right. This fight wasn't even as close as the other two judges made it, 115-113 and 116-112. Diaz's jab, which, according to CompuBox, connected nearly 400 times, was carving Katsidis' face from the second round on. Diaz's slashing body shots clearly took their toll as, at times, Katsidis didn't even look like he wanted to throw punches. CompuBox, which at this point seems like a reasonable alternative to human judging, had Diaz landing 296 of 801 punches (37 percent), while Katsidis landed only 149 of 868 (17 percent).

With interest in non-Oscar De La Hoya fights waning, the last thing boxing needs is fans tuning out because they believe good fights will end with bad decisions. Unless judges like Hamada are replaced -- immediately -- that's exactly what fans are going to get.

1. Got to hand it to journeyman Rocky Juarez ... Who scored a come-from-behind, 11th round-knockout victory over former world titlist Jorge Barrios on the undercard of Diaz-Katsidis. Juarez took nine rounds of punishment before rallying against a tiring Barrios in the 10th and putting him away in the 11th after opening a grotesque cut inside Barrios' mouth. With blood spewing from the gash like a prop in a B-movie, the ringside physician ordered the fight stopped. The win opens the door to yet another title shot for the 28-year-old Juarez (28-4), who has lost in each of his four world title opportunities.

2. Brace yourself ... Former heavyweight champion John Ruiz is contesting his loss last month to WBA heavyweight champ Nicolay Valuev. Ruiz contends, among other things, that one of the judges improperly kept a running score during the fight (which is not allowed by the WBA), that he was denied a legitimate knockdown in the second round and that Valuev's cornermen were told the judges scoring after each round -- a boxing no-no.

While Ruiz may have some legitimate points, there is zero chance that the WBA will overturn the decision and declare the fight a no-contest as Ruiz is requesting. Why is Ruiz surprised that there were questionable decisions made in an overseas fight? Corruption may just be in the fledgling stage in the U.S., but in Europe there have been accusations of corruption for years. When Ruiz lost to Valuev for the first time in 2005, the decision was so blatantly wrong that the German crowd -- staunchly in Valuev¹s corner before the fight -- roundly boo'd the new champion. Ruiz protested to the WBA after that loss and was rebuffed. There is no reason to believe his words will fall on more sympathetic ears this time around.

3. If you have 45 seconds or so ... Check out Breidis Prescott's stunning first-round knockout of Amir Khan. The loss was the first in the career of the highly touted Khan and established a new player on the lightweight stage in Prescott, a powerful Colombian who has won 18 of his 20 fights by KO.

4. Speaking of the lightweights ... Is there any better division in boxing right now? Diaz, Prescott, Khan, Katsidis, Juan Manuel Marquez, Joel Casamayor, Nate Campbell. If Manny Pacquiao drops back down after his December fight with De La Hoya, the division has a chance to have the kind of quality matchups last seen in 1980's middleweights.

5. Want to know the reason heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko can't get a quality fight? It's because Klitschko's people -- namely managers Bernd Boente and Shelly Finkel -- don't like Sauerland Promotions (specifically Wilfred Sauerland and Chris Meyer) and vice versa. Klitschko's next fight is supposed to be against IBF No. 1 contender Alexander Povetkin, but the two sides cannot come to an equitable agreement.

The sticking point is TV rights, with Klitschko's camp wanting the fight televised on RTL and Sauerland preferring it on the rival ARD network. Klitschko isn't interested in this fight anyway. He'd much prefer a unification fight against another Sauerland fighter, newly crowned Valuev, but the delays probably ensure that Klitschko will not fight for another world title in 2009.

6. An open plea to Kelly Pavlik ... Please knock out Bernard Hopkins. Hopkins' once storied career has become a joke, with the venerable B-Hop doing just enough not to get flattened, but nowhere near enough to win. I fear that until someone sends him to the canvas, his career will continue.

7. An open plea to Pavlik, part II ... Make your next opponent Arthur Abraham. Last month, Sauerland managing director Meyer expressed frustration with Top Rank over its unwillingness to negotiate a Pavlik-Abraham middleweight unification fight. In typical boxing hyperbole, Meyer went so far as to call Pavlik "scared" to face Abraham. "That's the only explanation I can come up with," said Meyer. "Arthur wants this fight to happen."

Pairing the two hard punchers together would guarantee action and also unify three of the middleweight titles. Win, win.

8. Don't discount Steve Forbes' chances ... Of beating Andre Berto when they meet for Berto's WBC welterweight title on Sept. 27. Forbes is a crafty, defensive fighter who has never been knocked out and could frustrate the 24-year-old Berto, whose biggest weakness is his inexperience. If Forbes can avoid Berto's power, the former IBF super featherweight champ could score enough points to win.

9. Three fights I like to close out '08 ... Marquez- Casamayor (arguably establishes the premiere lightweight until Pacquiao returns); Antonio Tarver-Chad Dawson (Dawson's chance to retire Tarver); De La Hoya- Pacquiao (will Pacquiao lose his trademark speed at 147 pounds, and what will De La Hoya feel like trying to get there?).

10. Three fights I don't like to close out '08 ... Shane Mosley-Ricardo Mayorga (a majority decision over Fernando Vargas last year is the only thing keeping Mayorga's career on life support while Mosley is past his prime); Klitschko-Povetkin (untested Povetkin not be ready for prime-time yet while Klitschko wastes his time with another meaningless fight); Jermain Taylor-Jeff Lacy (two former stars just fighting to hang on).

11. Three fights I'm not sure about to close out '08 ... Pavlik-Hopkins (if Hopkins plays duck-and-cover with Pavlik and bores the crowd to death, it could seriously hurt Pavlik's once-enormous popularity); Joe Calzaghe-Roy Jones (Calzaghe brags about coming to America and beating the country's best, but Hopkins and Jones aren't among them); Samuel Peter-Vitali Klitschko (Peter's suspect chin opens the window for the elder Klitschko to regain a piece of the heavyweight title -- if he has anything left in the tank).

12. From the Mailbag ...

Hey Chris, what are your thoughts on Jones-Calzaghe? Calzaghe has the edge in hand speed but I think at light heavy, Jones has the pop to knock him out. --Bill, Long Beach

Will someone tell me when Jones regained his status as an elite fighter? No one was a bigger Jones fan than me but he hasn't been the same since Tarver dropped him in the second round in 2004. That was the first of three straight losses for Jones, who has somehow revived his career with wins over the likes of Prince Badi Ajamu, Anthony Hanshaw and an over-the-hill Felix Trinidad. Calzaghe, meanwhile, has successfully managed to duck Pavlik to the point where no one expects that fight to ever happen. Furthermore, Calzaghe is feasting on overrated American stars.

So no, I'm not a huge fan of this fight.

If I have to pick a winner, however, I'm going with Calzaghe. Jones laid some big punches on Trinidad, but Tito was about as mobile as the Statue of Liberty in that fight. Calzaghe doesn't have the pop to knock Jones out, but his hands are still among the fastest in the sport and he'll have Jones chasing him around the ring while he counterpunches him to death. Take Calzaghe in a unanimous decision.

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