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Boxing scoring has been an age-old problem

Pat Cowdell boxing scoring
Michael Fresco/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Boxing scoring has always divided opinion, as the 1979 Needham-Cowdell contest illustrates, writes Miles Templeton

THERE has been much criticism of the scoring of important contests across the UK in recent years and it is easy to believe that this is a modern phenomenon. Many say that back in the ‘good old days’ everything worked well, and we didn’t have these problems with anything like the frequency that appears to be the case today. It is only as recently as 2005 that British title bouts have been scored by three judges, prior to this the referee was the sole arbiter. Under the old system I can remember some debatable verdicts being given but few of them caused as much argument and debate as the decision given by referee Sid Nathan to Dave Needham against Pat Cowdell [above] in their 1979 contest for the British featherweight title.

I am lucky to have all of Sid’s scorecards in my collection, having been given them by his son when Sid died back in 2016, and they make quite fascinating reading, especially when they are compared to the reports that appeared in BN.

Bob Mee attended the contest between Needham and Cowdell, which took place on September 18 at the Civic Hall, Wolverhampton on a bill promoted by Ron Gray. Bob reported: “Sid Nathan needed a police escort from ringside after deciding that Dave Needham had outpointed local challenger Pat Cowdell to retain the British featherweight title. When Nathan raised Needham’s arm at the end of fifteen bitter rounds, the sellout crowd went crazy. Crumpled programmes and other harder objects flew into the ring. The official announcement became a futile lip-reading exercise for the few who wanted to hear. Despite a protective band of officials, Nathan was punched and shoved as he stood impassively at ringside.”

Sid had scored the contest to Needham by 147-146, which equates to 8-6-1 in rounds. Bob Mee had Cowdell winning by three rounds and was astonished by the verdict.

The two men were Midland rivals and had both been gifted amateurs. Cowdell was a 1976 Olympic representative, they each boxed in the European Championships and both of them won Commonwealth gold medals. Needham was only two years older than his rival, but he was far more experienced as a pro with 35 contests behind him as compared to Cowdell’s 11. BN fancied that Cowdell would nick the fight with his jab but also recognised that “the clash has all the hallmarks of a classic confrontation between two of boxing’s most brilliant exponents.”

Nathan’s scorecard reveals that the fight fell into three distinct patterns. Cowdell won four of the first six rounds before Needham then picked up four in a row by winning the seventh to the 10th. The final five were evenly distributed with Cowdell winning two, Needham winning two and final round being scored even. This was enough for Needham to retain his title.

Bob Mee’s report reflected this fairly closely, but his main disagreement with the official verdict is with the first six rounds, when he thought that Cowdell was far more dominant. Whatever the outcome, the contest did live up to expectations and with the undercard including Midland favourites Paul Chance, Mickey Baker and Roy Skeldon, it was an excellent night’s boxing.

The Board ordered an immediate rematch between the two fighters, and this took place at the Royal Albert Hall seven weeks later. On a stacked card featuring Jim Watt in a successful WBC title defence and Kevin Finnegan defeating Tony Sibson for the British middleweight title, Cowdell put the record straight by outpointing Needham over 15 high-quality rounds. The referee this time was Jim Brimmell, who scored the bout six to four with five even.

Dave Needham died 14 years ago but Pat is still with us, one of the most gifted boxers that I have seen in a British ring.

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