THE final bell sounds and the winner – or who we believe to be the winner – celebrates. Far too often for the seasoned boxing fan, what comes next is a feeling of mild panic. Because we know there’s a chance the winner won’t actually be named the winner. It’s a sickener when those feelings of dread become reality. On Saturday night, we watched Mexico’s Miguel Vazquez (appear to) outbox Newcastle’s Lewis Ritson in Peterborough before two of the three judges scored the bout in Ritson’s favour. Michael Alexander favouring Ritson (115-113) was surprising but Terry O’Connor’s unfathomable score of 117-111 – nine rounds to three – for the home fighter not only cast a shadow over the bout but the whole event. That’s the power of incomprehensible cards: First, they rob a winner of victory and then they steal the attention away from those who really deserve it. That’s a crime. It has to stop.
The shadow got bigger and murkier when a screenshot emerged of O’Connor looking at something in his hand, as opposed to the fight he was being paid to judge. It looked like a mobile phone in the screenshot. Yet looking closely at the footage, while inconclusive, one could reasonably suggest it was clearly his notepad or scorecard he was looking at. Checking a notepad or scorecard is better than looking at a phone but the crux, surely, is he was not looking at the fight at all times. On several occasions in different rounds he can be seen turning his attention from the fight to the object in question. Each time it’s only a quick glance. But a quick glance is too long when the decisions he’s making have a direct consequence on livelihoods and careers.
An eternal debate is the issue of point of view. Who really has the best view? Those who are privy to several angles and replays on a television or those who sit and watch from one side of the ring for the entirety of the bout? What we can’t deny is that they are very different views and experiences. I know being directly on the ring apron gives an immeasurably different perspective from watching at home and different, even, from watching a few rows back. However – and this is a big however – the argument that ringside judges have a better view than anyone becomes harder to spin if that view is impaired by looking away time and again.
I have always believed officials get a tough rap. Their job is a thankless one. Get it right and they rarely get a pat on the back. Get it right, in fact, and their performance goes unnoticed. Make a mistake and they’re hung out to dry. But it’s getting harder to brush off controversy as simply a matter of subjectivity, of ‘what you like’ when judging a fight.
This was not, as has been citied, the biggest robbery in boxing history. There were several rounds when Ritson moved forwards trying to force the action while Vazquez darted around the ring. But after watching twice, I cannot come to any other conclusion than Vazquez was a comfortable winner. It’s not the fact that O’Connor had Ritson winning that’s the worst thing here, it’s that he could only give him three rounds out of 12. That simply has to be explained.
Robert Smith of the British Boxing Board of Control told Boxing News he was “very disappointed” to learn about the screenshot that showed O’Connor with his attention elsewhere. An investigation will take place.
Smith has also told Boxing News in the past that those investigations – which are frequent, by the way – must remain private and he will not allow officials to speak publicly. That is understood. Yet there has to be an argument that the enforced silence only hurts the reputation of the officials in question and in turn the governing body that employs them. O’Connor is perceived to have made countless mistakes in his officiating career yet not once have we heard his point of view. Consequently, a bad reputation has snowballed. The worst possible conclusions have been drawn.
For his own sake and for the good of the sport in this country, his justification for this latest showing must be heard.