Despite fears (including my own) that two years of hype and premature praise from boxing purists in love with the match-up, Gennady Golovkin and Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez delivered a topnotch, engrossing battle at the very top of boxing’s pound-for-pound pecking order.
And then Adalaide Byrd happened.
Byrd was one of the three judges called into action when the Las Vegas encounter went all 12 rounds. You probably also already know by now that she scored it 118-110 in favour of Canelo.
Believe it or not, that was the 442nd boxing contest Byrd has judged in a 20-year career. Unfortunately, it’s not her first unfathomable ruling.
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One thing I will point out is that the general line that ‘Byrd robbed Golovkin’ isn’t for me. It wasn’t that she judged in favour of Canelo that is unacceptable, but the fact she somehow felt he won 10 of the 12 rounds in a bout that was so hotly-contested.
Whether you like it or agree with it or not, I had the bout as a draw myself, and I generally don’t tend to prefer the fighter who stalks their opponent into the ropes. Otherwise, Floyd Mayweather would have lost to at least one of the many burly Latin fighters he has conquered on the back foot, such as Marcos Maidana.
Despite the claims of some, I’d have frankly found a scorecard just as dubious had it come back 118-110 in favour of Golovkin, despite a majority of fans appearing to prefer the Kazakh’s more front-foot approach to the fight.
Whichever way you had it, the bout was close. Both men landed plenty of great shots. To their credit, neither man truly seemed truly hurt by the other man’s strongest lands. Canelo started and finished well. Golovkin looked in a class of his own during the middle rounds.
Much like Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward’s first encounter, such gripping fights polarise fans based on who they felt won when in fact the only real shocking declaration is if someone believes it was largely one-sided. Kovalev-Ward I was not, and neither was this.
You needn’t look any further for proof of this than inside the T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night. When Byrd’s scorecard was read out, the staunchly pro-Alvarez crowd filled the place with boos. Ironically enough, the partisan atmosphere when the crowd favourite lands punches compared to his opponent is often regarded as the main reason some judges get scores so wrong.
It’s worth noting, however, that the obvious claims of corruption couldn’t be any further from the truth. Think about it this way: if someone did pay Byrd to ensure she ruled in favour of Alvarez, they surely would have been smart enough to brief her to award him the fight by just a round or two, so as not to draw unnecessary attention. That way, even if Saul had dominated the fight, she would have been accused of being pro-Golovkin above anything else.
This was sheer incompetence, not shady dealings. And after seeing her get so emotional in response to the vitriol aimed in her direction via social media, it’s worth stressing that Byrd should not be the brunt of the criticism, because this clearly runs far deeper than her.
Far too many judges in big professional and amateur (especially Olympic) environments struggle to evaluate fights based on strong criteria – number of shots landing clean, success in evading or thwarting the opponent’s attacks, actual tangible control of the three-minute round – and to say it’s an institutional problem would be an understatement.
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Byrd has now been stood down from major fights, and that’s the right call. But showering her with abuse will get us no closer to solving the actual problem. Judges need better education and clearer guidelines. They certainly need to be able to have their eyes overrule their ears while at ringside.
Even if Byrd had scored the bout in favour of Canelo by a narrow margin and the boxing world had accepted that scorecard (which they should have, even if they disagreed), the overall decision would have been the same and we would likely be headed for a rematch, which is the correct and natural path.
As a result, I’m looking forward to Canelo-Golovkin II, and would be even if GGG was given a unanimous decision. It should be as good a fight as the first, if not better. But it seems very likely that another 12-rounder will ensue, meaning the pressure is on to install judges who can handle perhaps the second biggest real boxing contest of the decade behind Mayweather v Pacquiao.
At the very least, Canelo-GGG part two will show us if boxing is willing to finally learn from its biggest and longest-running mistake, even if most of us will remain skeptical (and rightly so, given how many dubious scorecards have cropped up over such a long stretch of time).