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The World Boxing Council Has Reanimated the Debate over Open Scoring

Arne K. Lang

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Toronto

Later this month, on August 25, the semifinals of the WBC welterweight tournament will be held in Toronto. South Africa’s Chris Van Heerden (26-2-1) meets Ghana’s Fredrick Lawson (27-1) in one of the co-featured bouts. Mexico’s Francisco Santana (25-6-1) opposes Brad Solomon (28-1) of Douglasville, Georgia, in the other.

The WBC tourney, staged in conjunction with Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Promotions, kicked off on April 27 in Louisville. Eight invitees participated in a poor man’s version of the World Boxing Super Series.

The promotion had several unconventional coils built into the scaffolding. There were five judges instead of three. Four of the judges sat ringside. The other was positioned in front of a TV monitor with the sound off. Their scorecards were revealed at the midpoint of the bout (between rounds five and six) so that the fighters and their handlers and those in the arena and those watching on television were apprised of who was leading and to what degree. However, the names of the judges were kept anonymous.

These twists appeared to go off without a hitch. Indeed, there was virtually no commentary, pro or con, on social media.

The argument for open scoring in boxing is as old as the hills. In what other sport are the competitors and fans kept in the dark until the competition is finished?

The clamor for it was especially loud after the March 13, 1999 fight between Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield.

All of the meaningful belts were at stake when Lewis and Holyfield squared off at Madison Square Garden in the first heavyweight title unification fight in six years. When the final bell sounded, most everyone thought it was a foregone conclusion that the decision would go to Lewis. The verdict, a split draw, elicited howls of protest and sparked six investigations, most aimed at IBF-appointed judge Eugenia Williams, a 48-year-old Newark municipal clerk. She had it 115-113 for Holyfield, even giving Evander the fifth round, which many thought was Lewis’s best round of the fight.

The sport’s top promoters, Don King and Bob Arum, joined the chorus for open scoring. Six weeks after the Lewis-Holyfield fiasco, Don King promoted a show in Washington, DC, that featured three local fighters — Keith Holmes, Mark Johnson, and Sharmba Mitchell – in world title fights. Holmes challenged Hacime Cherifi for the WBC middleweight title. Johnson met Ratanachai Sor Vorapin (aka Chaiya Pothang) for the vacant IBF super flyweight strap, and Mitchell defended his WBA 140-pound title against Reggie Green.

The scores were announced after every round of the Mitchell-Green fight and after the fourth, eighth, and final rounds of the other two. (That Don King was able to get all three sanctioning bodies plus the D.C. commission on board with his requisition for open scoring spoke reams about his sway over the sport.)

Keith Holmes rendered the open scoring experiment moot when he stopped his opponent in the seventh round. The other bouts went the distance. Johnson was quick to establish his superiority over Vorapin and won lopsidedly. Mitchell won a majority decision over Green, but the fight wasn’t really that close. After 10 rounds, Mitchell was comfortably ahead on two of the scorecards and coasted home.

This was a test case and when it was evaluated the verdict wasn’t favorable. Updating the scorecards and getting the results posted in the one-minute interval between rounds was challenging. Proponents of open scoring thought it would generate more excitement as fighters trailing on the scorecards pulled out all the stops in a last-ditch effort to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but it was just as likely to elicit boredom as fighters went into a shell to protect a comfortable lead as happened in the Mitchell-Green fight. The IBF supervisor in attendance noted that open scoring seemed to encourage fans to leave early, depressing sales at the concession stands.

All three organizations decided to abandon the experiment, but that didn’t stop Bob Arum from beseeching the Nevada commission to implement open scoring for his forthcoming fight on May 8, 1999, between Erik Morales and Juan Carlos Ramirez. Arum stood before the commission and exhausted an hour arguing his case. Open scoring, he said, would lift boxing out of the medieval age. But the commission wasn’t buying it. Notoriously churlish when things don’t go his way, a disgruntled Arum said, “If these guys (the commissioners) were the Pope, Catholics would still be eating fish on Friday.”

Arum had no chance because the commissioners knew that NSAC executive secretary Marc Ratner, the de facto head of the commission, was opposed. “One of my favorite moments in sports,” said Ratner, “is when the announcer gets up and says ‘and still champion’ or ‘and new champion.’” Lou DiBella, who then held the post of senior vice president for HBO Sports, didn’t like it either. Open scoring, he said, “doesn’t stop a crime from being committed; it just lets people see it while it is happening.”

Open scoring was revived for the 2013 fight at the San Antonio Alamodome between WBC 154-pound champion Canelo Alvarez and his WBA counterpart, Austin Trout. The scores were announced after the fourth and eighth rounds. South African judge Stanley Christodoulou, one of the sport’s most experienced arbiters, had an off night. Those tuning in to the Showtime telecast thought his scorecard was an outrage.

Showtime commentator Al Bernstein scored the fight a draw. His colleagues Steve Farhood and Paulie Malignaggi had Alvarez winning by a slim margin. All three official judges had Alvarez winning too, but Christodoulou’s card (118-109) invited censure for being far too extreme. He had Canelo winning each of the first eight rounds, after which the Mexican superstar took his foot off the pedal. And because Austin Trout lacked a knockout punch, divulging the scores after round eight ought to have been prefaced with a spoiler alert.

“We were robbed of the possibility of seeing any late-round magic,” wrote Brian Mazique in Bleacher Report. “The right man won and that is what is most important. I just wish I hadn’t found out after the eighth round.” But despite this denouement, the would-be antiseptic of open scoring just wouldn’t go away.

I’m no fan of the WBC which seemingly wants to suck a sanctioning fee out of every fight, no matter how small, and I would be opposed to the universal application of five judges as I know what a financial hardship it would work on shoestring promoters, the lifeblood of the sport. However, it strikes me that the WBC may have gotten it right this time, striking the perfect balance by giving away the scores of the judges only once during the course of a fight and not too deep into it – just a midterm report, so to speak.

What’s your take?

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Odds Review for Friday’s Boxing on Telemundo

Miguel Iturrate

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boxing odds
South Florida promoter Tuto Zabala Jr has a seven fight card planned for the Osceola Heritage Center in Kissimmee this Friday, February 22nd that sees three undefeated prospects headline the show. For more than two decades, Zabala Jr has promoted the sport in Mexico and Florida and Friday’s event will air on Spanish language Telemundo in the United States, so check your local listings for start times.
A pair of ten round bouts hold the main event spots as undefeated Yomar Alamo faces veteran Manuel Mendez at welterweight and likewise unbeaten Carlos Monroe takes on Jonathan Tavira in a middleweight bout.
The 23 year old Alamo is from fight hungry Puerto Rico and he is considered a key piece to promoter Zabala Jr’s plans to run shows back on the island. The 28 year old Mendez once carried the ‘prospect’ label as well but Mendez is 1-3-1 in his last five fights. The experience of being in there with the likes of Sonny Fredrickson (19-1) and undefeated Johnathan Navarro (15-0) will make him Alamo’s toughest test to date. The welterweight division is crowded and Alamo is going to need to keep winning beyond Friday to get noticed, but he already banks on the fervent support of his “boriqua” crowd. Promoter Zabala Jr may be wondering if matchmaker Ruben DeJesus picked the right guy in Mendez. Alamo’s record in Puerto Rico looks to have a good bit of fluff. He didn’t face an opponent with a single pro win until his seventh fight. He faced 40 year old vet Edwin Lopez in 2016, but Lopez hurt his hand in the first round and could not continue, so Alamo is largely untested.
Middleweight prospect Carlos Monroe looks to go 12-0 as he steps in to his first bout scheduled for ten rounds. Veteran Jonathan Tavira provides the opposition for the 24 year old Monroe, who turned pro in December of 2017 and notched 10 fights in calendar year 2018. Monroe has been brought along carefully, as the combined record of his 11 opponents stands at 46-98-8. Tavira has been in there with the likes of Arif Magomedov, Dario Bredicean and Esquiva Falcao, all undefeated fighters on the way up. Tavira hits hard but he has been stopped five times in his six losses, so look for Monroe to improve on his eight KOs to date.
2016 U.S. Olympian Antonio Vargas looks to improve to 10-0 in an eight round bantamweight bout against Lucas Rafael Baez (34-17-5). Vargas was originally scheduled to take on Wilner Soto, a veteran with a 21-5 record and he was a big favorite in that match-up.
Below are the current lines as we start off fight week.
Fri 2/22 – Osceola Heritage Center – Kissimmee, Florida
Welterweight 10 rounds –
Manuel Mendez(16-4-1) +160
Yomar Alamo(15-0)         -210
Middleweight 10 rounds –
Jonathan Tavira (17-6)            +550
Carlos Monroe (11-0)             -1050
Bantamweight 8 rounds –
Lucas Rafael Baez        +1150
Antonio Vargas            -2450
(Opponent change for Vargas, line should be similar for new opponent Lucas Rafael Baez)

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Blake Caparello Looks To Grab WBA Regional Belt This Friday

Miguel Iturrate

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Caparello
This Friday night in Australia, light heavyweight contender Blake Caparello returns to action as he faces youngster Reagan Dessaix for the WBA’s Oceania title in the main event of a planned six fight card at The Melbourne Pavilion.
Dessaix currently holds the belt that Caparello held back in 2017, and the 22-year-old is hoping a win on Friday will put him on the international radar. It is where Caparello, who enters this fight as a 32-year-old, has been and hopes to get to again.
Those are the basics of Friday’s main event, the youngster Dessaix making a significant leap in competition level as he looks to get ranked internationally, while the veteran Caparello is hopeful a win will propel him closer to another world title shot.
Caparello laid claim to the IBO’s world title at 175 pounds back in October of 2013 when he won a comfortable unanimous decision over veteran Allan Green. Caparello, who was 17-0-1 at the time of the Green fight, went on to an introductory fight in the United States, and a win there saw him earn an August of 2014 title shot against WBO champion Sergey Kovalev.
Caparello has to feel he was close to a world title as he had the feared Kovalev down in round one before the “Krusher” took him out in round two. Since then, he has fought Isaac Chilemba and Andre Dirrell, extending both ranked veterans the full fight distance. The March of 2018 loss to Chilemba was for the WBC’s world title, and Caparello managed to go 2-0 the rest of the calendar year.
Green, Kovalev, Dirrell and Chilemba. The bottom line is that Dessaix had a solid amateur career in Australia, but there is no one with resumes like the men Caparello has faced when asked to step onto the world scene.
The WBA’s current world champion is Dmitry Bivol (15-0), who is making the fourth defense of his title in March against hard hitting Joe Smith Jr. The veteran Caparello could mount a case for a mandatory shot against either man with a win on Friday, while Dessaix would likely have to keep fighting and winning before earning a shot at a world title.
The co-feature bout is for the Australian title at 154 pounds and sees 31 year old Billy Klimov facing Joel Camilleri. Camilleri is favored as he has had a lot more professional experience than Limov, who turned professional at 29 years old. Strictly regional stuff here.
Both fights have lines at some of the sportsbooks. Check out the numbers as they were at the start of fight week below.
Fri 2/22 – The Melbourne Pavilion – Victoria, Australia
WBA Oceania Title
Light Heavyweight 10 rounds –
Reagan Dessaix(16-1)         +255
Blake Caparello (28-3-1)    -365
Australian Title
Super Welterweight 10 rounds –
Billy Limov (4-0-1)     +200
Joel Camilleri(16-5-1) -280
Check out the link for the live event right here. http://www.epicentre.tv/events/blake-caparello-v-reagan-dessaix/

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Will Fury’s Deal With ESPN Torpedo The Fights That Fight Fans Want to See?

Arne K. Lang

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Fury's deal with ESPN

For the past few weeks, boxing fans have been led to believe that the rematch between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder was ever so-close to being a done deal. But in the world of professional boxing where Machiavellian characters seemingly hold all the positions of power, nothing is ever a done deal until it’s finally finalized. Today’s announcement that Tyson Fury has signed with ESPN is the latest case in point. It’s a three-fight deal that will reportedly earn the Gypsy King $80 million if he can successfully hurdle the first two legs.

As Thomas Hauser has noted, what we have in boxing today is something similar to leagues in other sports. There’s the Top Rank/ESPN League, the Matchroom/DAZN League, and the PBC/Showtime/FOX League. We would add that these are intramural leagues. Occasionally there’s cross-pollination, similar to when the Yankees play the Mets in a game that counts in the regular season standings, but basically the boxers in each league compete against each other.

We have no doubt that WBC/WBA/IBF heavyweight ruler Anthony Joshua will eventually fight Wilder and/or Fury, but it now appears that these matches, when they transpire, will have marinated beyond the sell date. The action inside the ring may mirror the Mayweather-Pacquiao dud.

A match between Joshua and Wilder is already somewhat less enticing than it would have been if it had come to fruition last autumn. The odds lengthened in favor of Joshua after Wilder’s raggedy performance against Tyson Fury on Dec. 1 in Los Angeles.

True, the Bronze Bomber almost pulled the fight out of the fire with a thunderous punch but he was out-slicked in most of the rounds and it wasn’t as if he was fighting a bigger version of Pernell Whitaker. Before that fight, casual fans were less tuned-in to Deontay Wilder’s limitations.

It was reported that the Wilder-Fury rematch was headed to Las Vegas or New York, but that Las Vegas fell out of the running when the State Athletic Commission insisted on using Nevada officials. Fury was the one that balked.

In hindsight we should have seen that this was fake news. No Nevada officials were involved in Fury-Wilder I. The judges were from California, Canada, and Great Britain. The California judge voted against Fury, scoring the fight 115-111, a tally for which he was excoriated. The judge from Great Britain, like many ringside reporters, had it draw. The TV crews, especially the crew from Great Britain, left no doubt that Fury should have had his hand raised and the controversy made the hoped-for rematch more alluring.

So who will be Tyson Fury’s next opponent? Speculation immediately centered on Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev.

Pulev, who turns 38 of May 4, sports a 26-1 record. He was slated to fight Anthony Joshua in October of 2017 but suffered a torn biceps in training and was forced to withdraw. In his most recent bout he outpointed Hughie Fury, Tyson’s cousin. He’s currently ranked #1 by the IBF.

On Dec. 8 of last year, Bob Arum announced that he had hammered out a deal to co-promote Pulev. It was subsequently reported that Pulev’s first fight under the Top Rank/ESPN umbrella would be against Finland’s Robert Helenius on March 23 in Los Angeles. Six days ago, the distinguished European fight writer Per Ake Persson told his readers that the fight had fallen out, ostensibly because the parties could not come to terms.

Tyson Fury is the most charismatic white heavyweight to come down the pike since Gerry Cooney and the big galoot is bigger than Cooney ever was as he has avid followers on both sides of the Atlantic and Cooney didn’t have social media to enhance his profile. I have little doubt that ESPN will recoup their investment in him. However, deals in boxing are never consummated with an eye on uplifting the sport – on patching things up with the disaffected – and here’s yet another example.

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