Jack Hirsch investigated whether Canelo Álvarez really gets preferential treatment from boxing judges – an accusation regularly levelled at the mighty Mexican
CANELO ÁLVAREZ’S only career defeat has been to Floyd Mayweather Jnr on points. In that 2013 superfight he was outboxed, but never hurt. Throughout his career Canelo has been in with big punchers, but it is hard to recall a moment – particularly since he’s been at elite level – where he was so much as seriously stunned, let alone hurt. A better chin than his is hard to find in boxing and he has never suffered a cut that threatened to terminate a contest. So it is reasonable to surmise that the only way to beat the super-middleweight champion is over the distance. And that is quite the chore.
Being the biggest draw in the sport comes with strings attached, namely dictating pretty much all the terms and conditions. It comes with unyielding power that promoters, networks, and sanctioning bodies can only challenge to a point. Simply put, Canelo is good for business. It benefits the sport’s leading powerbrokers for him to continue winning.
Though he’s once accused of picking and choosing opponents, even his critics cannot deny he has boxed credible opposition who have pushed him hard. In short, he is a great fighter, one who if he retired today would go into the Hall of Fame overwhelmingly on the first ballot. Yet his career has not come without controversy.
You can make an argument that all the official verdicts in Canelo’s fights have been fair, just as you can make a decent argument that at least a couple should have gone against him. But any way you look at it, it is undeniable that he has been given the benefit of the doubt from the judges in several big fights.
There is no here to question the judges’ integrity or to infer they came to their conclusions with anything less than what they witnessed inside of the ring, but forces can influence, even if just subconsciously. It has to be more than just a coincidence that since an early career draw (when he was unknown), the judging in many of Canelo’s fights have been kind to him.
Canelo, to his credit, has won the majority of his fights overwhelmingly. For those there is no need to review the scorecards. However, for others, a careful examination is in order to conclude whether or not Álvarez was given preferential treatment on the all important scorecards.
CANELO UD 12 AUSTIN TROUT
April 20, 2013, San Antonio
The fast, shifty Trout was coming off of a big win over Miguel Cotto and had the style to give Canelo fits, which he did. At the final bell it wasn’t clear who was going to get the decision, even though a seventh round knockdown by Canelo had the potential to be the difference. The CompuBox statistics favored Trout. ESPN’s Dan Rafael favored Canelo 114-113, Showtime’s Al Bernstein had them level 114-114. Scores of 114-113, or 115-112 to Canelo as judge Rey Denseco had it, were acceptable. Oren Shellenberger’s 116-111 was a slight stretch, but the 118-109 scorecard of Stanley Christodoulou was just plain bad.
Being that the fight was in Texas, and there was a large Mexican presence on hand, it is possible that the judges’ scores could have been influenced by the crowd cheering far more for Álvarez when he landed punches.
FLOYD MAYWEATHER MD 12 CANELO
September 14, 2013, Las Vegas
Mayweather was arguably the biggest name in the sport at the time, but Canelo was not far behind. Sentiment was with Canelo and for that reason I picked him to win, on the basis of him just having to keep the fight close enough to get the decision. He didn’t, but the judges’ scorecards certainly backed my reasoning.
There were some who did not give Canelo a round, such as the Associated Press who scored 120-108. ESPN had it 119-109. The scores of judges’ Dave Metcalfe 117-111, and Dave Moretti 116-112 were barely acceptable, but anything closer than that for Canelo was not. Which makes judge CJ Ross’ 114-114 scorecard a travesty – one of the worst cards in history, in fact – but thankfully not one that affected the ultimate outcome.
CANELO SD 12 ERISLANDY LARA
July 12, 2014, Las Vegas
Stylistically Lara was a nightmare for Álvarez. That Canelo took the fight at all reflected well on him. That he won it, even better.
A poll of 89 media members after the fight revealed a 34-30-25 edge in Canelo’s favour. To simplify the maths, 55 out of 89 did not think Canelo won.
You couldn’t argue with the 115-113 scores of judges’ Jerry Roth (Lara), and Dave Moretti (Canelo), but you certainly could with Levi Martinez’s 117-111 (Canelo). It would be difficult to find anyone who agreed with that assessment.
CANELO UD 12 MIGUEL COTTO
November 21, 2015, Las Vegas
Although some like the TV Azteca commentators and Mexican newspaper La Prenza had Cotto winning, the majority agreed with the decision. Cotto boxed well at times, but Álvarez was simply too strong on balance. However, the scorecards of judges’ Dave Moretti 119-109, Burt Clements 118-110, and John McKaie 117-111 were a little too decisive for most people’s liking. Boxing News had Canelo up, 115-113, after a close encounter.
CANELO KO 6 AMIR KHAN
May 7, 2016, Las Vegas
Because Álvarez ended it with one booming right hand in the sixth round the scorecards were deemed to be irrelevant, but Khan, despite appearing to do enough to be ahead, was actually behind on two of the scorecards 49-46 and 48-47, at the time of the sudden ending. The other card had Khan up by 48-47.
Amir should have been given a little more credit on the cards. Had he been boxing anyone but Canelo he might well have.
CANELO split draw 12 GENNADIY GOLOVKIN
September 16, 2017, Las Vegas
THE draw verdict in itself did not fall into the category of outrageous. The vast consensus was that it ranged anywhere from a 114-114 fight to 116-112 in favor of Golovkin (as BN scored it). You could hardly find anyone who felt that Canelo actually deserved the decision. One who did judge Adalaide Byrd who not only scored for Canelo, but did so by a 118-110 margin, meaning that she only gave Golovkin two rounds. Rarely will you find a scorecard that was as condemned as Byrd’s. Dave Moretti scored 115-113 for Golovkin, but Don Trella came in at 114-114 hence the draw. Canelo was fortunate to say the least.
CANELO MD 12 GOLOVKIN
September 15, 2018, Las Vegas
Unlike the first fight, a draw was definitely in order this time around. The 115-113 scorecards of judges’ Moretti and Steve Weisfeld in favor of Álvarez were reasonable, however, but a little less so than Glen Feldman’s 114-114. On this night Álvarez earned the decision and, in truth, it was such a close contest a draw or a close win either way was fair.
CANELO UD 12 DANIEL JACOBES
May 4, 2019, Las Vegas
THE three judges’ who scored for Canelo over Golovkin in the rematch were back working this fight, scoring it 116-112 (Feldman), and 115-113 (Moretti and Weisfeld). The universal opinion was that Canelo clearly won a close fight. No controversy here as Canelo held serve in getting the victory.
CANELO RSF 11 SERGEY KOVALEV
November 2, 2019, Las Vegas
Canelo moved up in weight to snatch a light-heavyweight belt. Had the last two rounds gone like the first 10, the fight would have been mired in controversy. But it never got to that because Canelo exploded with fight-ending punches.
Kovalev boxed smartly and effectively, looking no worse than even, entering the 11th round, and was on one scorecard (Trella 95-95), but was trailing on the other two (Moretti and Julie Lederman 96-94). The two scores favoring Canelo were not outrageous but, yet again, the Mexican was getting the benefit of the doubt in close rounds while his opponent was not.
CANELO RSF 8 BILLY JOE SAUNDERS
May 8, 2021, Arlington
Many did agree with the scores of judges Tim Cheatham 77-75, Max DeLuca and Feldman 78-74, who all had Álvarez in front when Saunders was forced out on the stool at the end of the eighth round. However, many also felt that Saunders’ smooth boxing should have garnered him more credit.
WHAT THE SCORECARDS REVEAL:
There were 30 total scorecards for the 10 fights listed here. Of them, not one could be labeled a stretch for any of Canelo’s opponents. Not one where Álvarez’s backers could look at the scorecards afterward and reasonably complain that their man was hard-done by. However, Canelo’s opponents could usually point to at least one scorecard (sometimes more) in every fight as being slanted at least slightly in his favour.
This is not to say that the judges gave anything other than an honest assessment of what they thought occurred, but the trend is obvious. International agent Don Majeski concurs, but does not put the blame anywhere in particular.
“Canelo is the main attraction in his fights,” says Majeski, “and attractions are usually always given the benefit of the doubt in very close rounds. In a sense, Canelo’s opponents are losing the fight before the first bell and are forced to play catchup. There is a term in baseball that the tie goes to the runner. In even rounds the tie goes to the attraction, which is Canelo. This is nothing new, right or wrong. Mega stars have always been given the benefit of the doubt.”
Paul Malignaggi knows from experience, having been in fights where he was on the short end of scores he felt were grossly unfair. Says Malignaggi, “without a doubt Canelo has been the beneficiary of some debatable decisions. For his opponents, it’s frustrating, it puts a chip on your shoulder knowing you are in a fight where you don’t have a chance to get the decision. It’s all about boxing politics, who brings the most money to the table. But it’s accepted to a point because, although we all chase greatness, Canelo’s opponents know they can get paid more for boxing him than anyone else.”
This writer recalls a high-profile judge who had scored for Canelo after a close fight telling me that the WBC complimented him on his scorecard. There is nothing unethical there, but would the reaction have been the same from the WBC if he had scored for Canelo’s opponent?
Will the SCORING CONTROVERSIES CATCH UP TO CANELO?
If history is an indication, the answer is yes. Muhammad Ali and Oscar De La Hoya were prime examples.
In the second phase of Ali’s career there was controversy when he was awarded decisions over Jimmy Young, Ken Norton (third fight), and Earnie Shavers to a lesser degree. It brought up the old axiom, as unfair as it was, that you had to beat the champion decisively to take his crown. But despite Ali’s popularity, the discontent of him being awarded debatable verdicts did not sit well with the public. It came to a head when Ali was on the short end of a split decision to Leon Spinks loss that resulted in him losing the world heavyweight championship. At that point boxing did not need Ali being awarded another debatable decision.
Similar with De La Hoya, who was a bigger attraction in his prime than Canelo is currently. Many thought that Oscar was beaten by Pernell Whitaker, yet he was awarded an unanimous decision by wide scores and later given a split decision over Ike Quartey that many disputed.
Eventually De La Hoya’s run of good fortune ended against Felix Trinidad in a fight where few agreed with the majority decision that went against him.
Although not nearly as big as Ali and De La Hoya as far as world status, Chris Eubank enjoyed a large degree of popularity in England when he held the WBO belts at middle and super-middle. For a time, every decision seemed to favor him to the point where the public mocked his nickname that was “Simply the Best,” to “Simply The Blessed.” Eventually Eubank’s luck ran out as well.
Malignaggi is one who feels it’s only a matter of time before the landscape changes for Canelo. “Eventually he will get old,” Malignaggi says “and someone younger who is just as big an attraction will come along. At that point Canelo might no longer get a decision he would have gotten before.”
Perhaps that day will come. Today, though, Canelo is rarely in a close fight. Friends in high places he might have, but more crucially, he’s also at the peak of his powers.