“IF CANELO-GOLOVKIN is close, Canelo will get the nod from the judges because he’s the home fighter,” said lots and lots of people in Las Vegas this week. So it follows, then, that Golovkin has two choices if he wants to win this fight: Get rid of Canelo inside schedule or hammer him so convincingly over the full 12 rounds that judges Adelaide Byrd, Dave Moretti and Don Trella can’t possibly score in favour of the Mexican.
Such observations – which suggest flawed officiating is a strong possibility – seem a little worrying given the magnitude and importance of this event. Yet it’s easy to see why controversy is being predicted because, frankly, home cooking has been a familiar smell during boxing’s colourful past. But is it really likely this weekend, and – if we’re being honest – is it as common as critics believe?
“No, it’s not,” former judge and current HBO telecaster, Harold Lederman, told Boxing News. “It’s true in certain places I guess. Look, if you go to a fight in Idaho or a Terence Crawford fight in Nebraska, then the home fighter will get the decision because the fans are shouting and screaming for just one fighter, and the judges are human.
“And saying that, I really don’t think there is a hometown guy [in Canelo-Golovkin]. As I see it, Canelo Alvarez’s hometown is Guadalajara in Mexico and Gennady Golovkin, his hometown is somewhere in Kazakhstan. So the judges won’t lean for one guy or the other – we don’t have to worry about that on Saturday night.”
Lederman’s former HBO colleague Larry Merchant isn’t so sure.
“There’s a history of hometown decisions and there’s a reason for it,” he told Boxing News. “What it implies is the guy who puts the asses in the seats will get the benefit of the doubt, and more often than not, in a close or almost close fight, that happens.”
But why, in the modern age, does it happen so frequently?
“I think there’s an emotional component in it,” Merchant explained. “If the guy is the fan favourite then there’s going to be a bigger reaction when he throws punches and maybe just grazes the opponent than when the opponent hits him. I think officials are human and sometimes we can’t pick the winner of a round, right?
“Frequently the fan favourite is a fighter who makes the fight, who is an action fighter, an aggressive fighter – which is why he attracts the fans. That type of fighter will also get the benefit of the doubt in a close round and in my way of thinking, justifiably. In a professional prizefight throwing more punches should get the benefit of the doubt in a close round, and we’ve seen that happen many times with Manny Pacquiao.”
One of Pacquiao’s more infamous successes came in 2012, when he was controversially awarded the verdict over old rival Juan Manuel Marquez in their third contest. One of the two judges who scored for the Filipino that night was Dave Moretti, who went against the consensus of observers and tabled a 115-113 scoreline in favour of Pacquiao.
And Moretti – who has been officiating since 1977 – will be a judge for the 958th time when he watches over Canelo-Golovkin at the T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night.
It won’t be the first time Moretti has scored a Canelo contest. In fact, further investigation may cause Golovkin and his team some concern.
In 2014 he officiated two Alvarez bouts. The first saw him award the Mexican four rounds of his 12 with Floyd Mayweather, scoring 116-112 in Mayweather’s favour after a bout widely considered to have been bossed completely by the American. Granted, Moretti’s score wasn’t as troubling as CJ Ross’ unforgettable 114-114 tally but it might be suggested he has a soft spot for Canelo’s style of fighting. Later that year, in another contentious decision, Moretti judged Alvarez a 115-113 winner over Erislandy Lara [below].
It doesn’t end there. In 2015, Moretti sat ringside as Alvarez and Miguel Cotto engaged in a fascinating battle. At the end of what appeared 12 close rounds, Moretti turned in a 119-109 card in favour of the redhead.
One of the most experienced judges in Nevada, a young Moretti could be spotted at ringside working the fights of Larry Holmes, Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard, among others. It should be noted that the vast majority of his work came without controversy, but his 1991 score of 114-114 after Jeff Fenech appeared to dominate Azumah Nelson in Las Vegas was a head-scratcher, while his puzzling 114-113 card that just about favoured a thoroughly dominant Pacquiao over Sin City resident Jesse Vargas in 2016 drew more criticism.
“Gennady is the champion and close decisions should go to the champion,” Golovkin’s promoter Tom Loeffler told Boxing News. “But we have seen some close decisions [go the other way] not only in Nevada but in other states too.”
Perhaps the Golovkin camp can take more comfort from the form of another experienced Nevada judge, Adelaide Byrd. An official since 1997, Canelo-Golovkin marks her 442nd assignment as a judge and inspection of her career reveals she’s not afraid of going against the house favourite.
In 2011, comebacking former middleweight king Kelly Pavlik was being groomed for bigger fights when he met the unfancied Alfonso Lopez at the MGM Grand. At the end of 10 rounds, though, “The Ghost” had not impressed at all but two judges gave him victory via lopsided tallies of 98-92 and 99-91. Byrd, meanwhile, turned in a far more realistic 95-95.
Similarly in 2016, Byrd appeared to be the only judge paying attention when touted prospect – and ‘home’ fighter – Maurice Hooker fought Darleys Perez. Her 97-93 card for the underdog was the only realistic score as her colleagues notched 95-95 and 97-93 in Hooker’s favour to gift the American a share of the spoils.
And, unlike Moretti, Byrd has history with Golovkin. In 2015 she gave the Kazakh every round of the completed five before he dropped the bomb in the sixth, and last year she witnessed Golovkin obliterate the overmatched Dominic Wade in two sessions.
The middleweight king is used to rendering cards like the two mentioned above completely redundant.
“With Gennady bringing his fists with him, which are really his two judges I don’t think it’s going to be a close fight,” Loeffler explained while dismissing any concern. “I don’t think Canelo can go 12 rounds, I really don’t. I think it will be competitive for the first five or six rounds, then after that I think Gennady is going to be wearing him down. But he knows, and [trainer] Abel [Sanchez] knows, that if it is close and competitive they’re going to do everything they can to make sure there’s no doubt to who the winner is on Saturday.”
But in his most recent outing, Golovkin was forced to go 12 rounds for the first time when Daniel Jacobs gave him such a taxing outing [below] some observers favoured the challenger at the end. But all three judges felt Golovkin had done enough and one of them – Don Trella, who scored a generous 115-112 – will be on duty for the Canelo showdown.
“I started Don Trella in boxing,” Harold Lederman revealed. “He came up to me one day and said he wanted to be a boxing judge. I told him he had to start with the amateurs, and he did. He did for that a while and then he got in as a professional judge and he’s judged 60 or so world title fights.”
One of those came in April this year at Wembley Stadium when Anthony Joshua hauled himself off the canvas to stop Wladimir Klitschko in 11 rounds. Eyebrows were raised afterwards when it emerged that Trella had the Englishman three rounds up at the time of the stoppage – a score that backs up Merchant’s claims that judges can be swayed by cheers for the fan favourite.
So certainly, those who are suggesting we may see some controversy if it goes to the cards might be right. But it’s hard to make a valid case – given the erratic nature of the performances investigated – that we’ll see any of the judges go into Canelo-Golovkin with an agenda in mind. Perhaps Moretti may favour the work of Canelo but if we’re going down that road, cases can be made for Byrd and Trella liking what Golovkin does. It’s swings and roundabouts where one seemingly ridiculous card always has the potential to spark outrage.
All three judges have interesting histories but that seems to be the nature and pressure of officiating rather than anything more sinister. In short, Canelo is just as likely as Golovkin to end up on the wrong end of questionable scorelines.
“When I was a young man, I came out of the army, I was in New York and I went to see the great Willie Pep fight,” Merchant concluded. “He got knocked out in the second round [by Lulu Perez in 1954] in Madison Square Garden and the next morning I read one of my favourite columnists say he thought it was a fix, and it turned out to be a fix.
“Once upon a time that was a real part of the economic system of boxing – that you could make more money gambling on a fight than you can make from the crowd so there were set-ups and all kind of sinister things going on. I don’t think that goes on today because there’s too much money at stake.
“Of course we might say Canelo-Golovkin is a bad decision, but I’m hoping by the third round I’m thinking, ‘I want to see the rematch’. I’m not hoping that after 12 rounds and a bad decision I want to see a rematch.”
Let’s hope so, for the sport’s sake.