Boxing has been changed before, it can be changed again

Changes have been made in the past that have safeguarded the boxing’s future and can be made again, writes Matt Christie

IT TOOK more than one disaster before the British Boxing Board of Control started to put in place the strict medical procedures that are evident today. On Saturday night, during a stunning scrap with Leigh Wood, a limp and unconscious Michael Conlan tumbled backwards and head-first through the ropes. He was treated quickly by doctors at ringside and taken to hospital.

Conlan was soon rewatching the fight and calling for a rematch. That we too can look back with only wonder is a huge relief. It would have been a devastating blow if the drama inside the ring came at a similar cost endured by Michael Watson and Gerald McClellan in September 1991 and February 1995 respectively.

Watson’s second loss to Chris Eubank and McClellan’s defeat to Nigel Benn were every bit as dramatic as Wood-Conlan. But they’re now dark and largely unwatchable (albeit important) chapters in British boxing history. Eight months after McClellan was left forever damaged, James Murray died from sustained injuries in a fight with Drew Docherty. Four years later, as a consequence of Eubank-Watson, the Board were taken to court and almost went out of business.

Twenty-three years on, with lessons learned and changes made, the Board is surely the best commission in the world for safety. They don’t get nearly enough credit for that. Nor for their ongoing work to make an inherently unsafe sport as safe as it can possibly be. Robert Smith and his team, alongside all the doctors and the promoters who pay for their services, deserve significant praise in that regard. Yet this week of all weeks, Smith and the Board remain under fire.

Though the latest spate of scoring controversies in British rings should in no way be compared to life-altering injuries, it is nonetheless worthwhile referencing that changes have been made in the past to safeguard the sport’s future. Increasingly, the current scoring system – or the manner in which it is being interpreted and/or presented – is doing boxing no good whatseover.

Tyson Fury, world heavyweight champ and a British fighter, is refusing to have a single British official assigned to his April 23 fight on British soil with British rival, Dillian Whyte. There were criticisms on BT Sport about the scoring of Chris Bourke-Marc Leach on Friday night. The following evening in Nottingham, the judging of Erica Annabella Farias-Sandy Ryan (and to a lesser extent, the scoring of Wood-Conlan at the time of the stoppage) also generated noise of the most toxic kind. It is frustrating efforts that the performance of the judges is overshadowing the of the boxers.

Last week, the Board downgraded Ian John-Lewis from A Star Class to A Class due to margin he favored Josh Taylor over Jack Catterall last month. Suggestions that John-Lewis has been made a scapegoat are understandable, however; his card was very similar to the other two judges on duty that night. Yet at least the Board did something after appearing for so long to do nothing in the wake of controversy, not least in the case of John-Lewis in the past. It’s a start, yet the need for greater clarity on the judges’ workings and a transparent appeal system remains.

There are further steps that can be explored. Firstly, the 10-point-must system has always been curious; that a round clearly won’t be scored 10-9, exactly the same as a close round, is surely wasting the amount of points the judges have to work with. It would be worthwhile to hear from those who are trained to score a fight, too. Do they feel they have the tools to do their jobs effectively?

Though many might disagree, open scoring is something else to consider. Yes, that moment just before the scorecards are announced is tense and exciting. But when the decision is followed by derision is it something we can live without? Imagine watching a game of football where the rulings of the officials are kept secret from everyone – the players included – while the commentators are leading everyone to believe Team A are beating Team B by three goals to only one to discover at the final whistle that all of Team A’s goals were ruled offside and Team B are in fact the winners. Different sport, different rules, I get it. But failing to learn from accidental failures makes progress impossible.

The Taylor-Catterall fight was last week discussed in the House of Commons. That’s the last place the sport needs its dirty laundry aired. To say this is a problem in British boxing untrue. To suggest the Board can solve it all by themselves is also a falsehood. But they’ve made changes before that resulted in them becoming the gold standard in world boxing. They can do so again.

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