Doing Damage: The Art and Science of Judging Professional Boxing

Posted: May 8, 2012 in How to Judge Boxing
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I spend a lot of time thinking about boxing. I’m a professional judge and I love the game but I also am entirely fascinated with the sport, psychology and science behind it.

Probably the biggest complaint about the sport is inconsistent judging. When the wrong guy gets awarded the decision it is bad for the sport and heart-breakingly unfair to the wronged fighter and his entire camp.

Unlike other sports boxing scoring is in the subjective hands of the three men and women paid to evaluate it. We have a criteria and are supposed to score bouts based on the famous factors that Harold Lederman let’s us know about before each bout:

1. Clean Punching
2. Effective Aggressiveness
3. Defense
4. Ring Generalship

Intuitively these criteria make fine sense. In practice they aren’t much help.


I remember the classic Bill Cosby comedy album “Why Is There Air.” At one point he talks about teaching kids math. It goes something like this:

Teacher: “Okay class, 1 + 1 +2, got it?”

Class: “Yay! 1 + 1 = 2!”

Teacher: “Got it? You sure?”

Class: “Yes…but one question?”

Teacher: “Yes?”

Class: “What’s a 2?”

Clean punching, effective aggressiveness, defense and ring generalship, like a 2, are hard to objectively define. Like the supreme court’s view on pornography, you may know it when you see it, but that is far from a criteria that would stand up to the scientific method.

Professional boxing is about damage. It may not be polite, it may not be how we all want to see our artful science but it is about damage. The four criteria are about doing damage or setting oneself up to do damage.

In this series of blogs we’re going to discuss damage, how fighters do it and how it is set up. We’ll look at the fundamentals of boxing like footwork, balance, body mechanics, movement and style…all as they pertain to doing damage.

This is about having a sound rationale behind your scoring. I think it is important that even though we may know it when we see it we must also be able to verbalize, understand and make others understand why a round and, ultimately a fight, is scored the way it is.

Hope you’ll join me.

Floyd Mayweather on clean punching. Look how easy it is to see and score these shots.

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Mike Tyson vs. Trevor berbick and effective aggression.

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Willie Pep on defense and ring generalship

Further Reading

“You Be The Boxing Judge.” Tom Kaczmarek

“Professional Boxing”

For other blogs in this series  click here.

  1. BD says:

    Great topic. Every sport fan loves to b!tch about those idiot refs/judges.
    From ’94-’97 I was hoarse from yelling, “You’re missing a hell of a game, zebra!” at every River Rats and Firebirds game. ‘Course I was lit and would yell it no matter what was happening on the rink/field. I likely screamed it toward the t-shirt-sling-shot guy during intermission, too.
    Which brings me to my point–
    Sports fans are idiots.
    Clearly blown calls are a bummer for the recpient.
    Obviously biased calls are a bummer and unfair, too.

    In my newest interest, MMA, the judges are either boxing judges or old karate guys….and neither really knows how to score MMA rounds (same criteria as Lederman’s). “There needs to be training” is the mantra but c’mon, it aint ever going to get fixed. How long has boxing had and we’re still comlaining. It aint math, it is subjective and refs are human.

    Sometimes the winner looks like he got pummeled and the loser doesn’t have a scratch…it doesn’t make sense.

    It say “thems the breaks” and figure it all works out in the end. When it is my personal loss (weekend warrior judo-glucosamine division) I figure it is my fault for leaving any doubt that I had the better day.

    Buck Buck number one come iiiiin!

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