At the end of twelve rounds in Las Vegas one judge got it right, one was just off and one should never be allowed to work any fight in the boxing business that matters ever again.
Gennady Golovkin retained his world middleweight titles with a draw against Saul Alvarez in a fight variously described as “the salvation of boxing” and the Fight of the Century; it was neither in the end but it was truly gripping before the comedy verdict.
Once again in this bloody, frustrating and often stupid business the story of the fight was not the sacrifices of the two boxers but the interpretation of their ability by the three judges at ringside. Saturday night’s fight at the T-Mobile was under intense scrutiny, the real prize was apparently the integrity of the sport, a nebulous accolade made urgent by the perceived ills of the recent Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor squabble. The talk of saving boxing was always a bit dramatic but the dumb score in this fight certainly hurt more than the diabolical exaggerations of the so-called wrongs in the McGregor fight.
At ringside Adalaide Byrd rendered a score so bewildering and shocking that I have had trouble finding another so wayward; Byrd scored it 118-110 in favour of Alvarez, which means that Golovkin only won two of the 12 rounds Byrd scored in her 443rd job as a judge. It should be her last gig, it will not be, and as the shutters clunked closed on the fight, she was defended, in a rare break from protocol, by the man that selected her. “Sometimes you have a bad day,” offered Bob Bennett, of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Bennett needed to hold his tongue, reel in his arrogance and arrange a hearing with Byrd before offering the error of appeasement.
One judge went 115-113 for Golovkin and the third official returned a drawn verdict of 114-114; I scored it 116-112 to Golovkin, which is eight rounds to four in favour of the stoic Kazak. It was a tight, technical fight, but there was only one winner and that was not the man Byrd favoured with her insulting and ridiculous score line. Once again I find myself defending the sport against allegations of corruption, criminality and gambling coups. Byrd is not corrupt, not the recipient of illegal payments, but she is a woman with a portfolio of odd decisions, more than a quirk, and she should now be removed from Bennett’s roster of eligible officials.
If officials were bribed, blackmailed or willing participants in fixing fights there would be proof, trust me. The bad scores – not bad decisions – in some very high-profile fights are down to stupidity, senility and incompetence. An elderly judge recently scored for the wrong fighter, confusing the blue corner with the red corner, in a world title fight in Britain and the British Board confirmed instantly that he would never work here again. The axe needs to be hovering close to Byrd right now and her suspension would help in the coming days when a relentless stream of “boxing is corrupt” dominates and one judges’ awful score is somehow translated into the end of boxing. It’s like a bad pantomime each time this garbage happens and it is becoming harder and harder to make people believe that nobody is getting backhanders.
In the fight Alvarez wasted too many rounds and minutes on the ropes, hands high, smile on his face and defending brilliantly. Golovkin was busier, prepared to take more risks and generally deserved the rounds; they were often tight but no amount of indecision could possibly lead to Byrd’s calamity. It was not a classic but the bruised and swollen faces of the pair at the end was the only testimony necessary to the true brutality of the fight. So many fine boxers have been unable to withstand the type of punishment Alvarez and Golovkin subjected each other to and that is what makes the pair so impressive and what made this fight such an attraction.
They will meet again and when they do there is every chance, after 12 rounds of getting to know each other, that there will be more openings, more gaps for the pair to chase an early finish. It has to be said that the caution from the two boxers was both expected but annoying as the remaining rounds shrunk; Alvarez certainly needed to take a bigger risk from about round seven and even Golovkin needed to throw a few more punches to secure the win. However, it was hard to look away and had that wonderful “don’t blink” factor.
The judge ruined a night when two fine boxers fought like the professionals they were, skilful, menacing, regal and they were left in the end, like the rest of us, bewildered by the verdict.