Archive for the ‘How to Judge Boxing’ Category

Okay, so after watching Chavez vs. Camacho we know the coming forward brawler will beat the defensive wizard who knows how to evade, right?

Not so fast.

Let’s take a look at how Pernell Whitaker fought Julio Cesar Chavez. Granted, Whitaker is not Camacho. They were both fast, left-handed and crafty. Neither was known as a huge hitter and both were exceedingly tough to trap.

So why was Whitaker effective against Chavez and Camacho wasn’t.

I say it is because Sweet Pea stood his ground and evaded without moving his feet. He committed to the neutral zone and made Chavez pay when he came in. Perhaps because he planted his feet more there was more power to his shots.

Maybe Whitaker could take a harder shot. Maybe his ability to stay in close kept him from feeling the full brunt of Chavez power because his arms didn’t get extended.

Or maybe in just a few years Chavez’s power diminished.

Watch these rounds and compare and contrast Whitaker and Camacho. What does it tell us about scoring?

I believe it tells us:

1. If you evade without losing ground you can score.

2. Planting your feet will make a difference in power

3. Moving forward does not guarantee success

4. A brawler will not definitely beat a boxer nor vice versa.

Watch round 2 and round 8 and think about who wins these rounds and why:

Round 8

Round 2

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Now let’s take a look at Camacho in another bout with a fighter of a similar style. Julio Cesar Chavez was a great superstar champion who stalked his opponents. He did what Greg Haugen set out to do but he did it with dominant force.

Take a look at this first round.

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Camacho is employing the same strategy that he did with Haugen but much less effectively. Why? Quite simply–because Chavez’s punches hurt too much!

Camacho does not want to commit to his jab so it flicks without his body weight and balance behind it. He is already thinking of avoiding Chavez’s punishment when he throws his jab.

Camacho’s movement is artful but it is not setting him to do any counter damage as he becomes defensive. His feet aren’t planted and he’s avoiding the neutral zone like the plague.

Chavez is planting his feet, he is moving in through the neutral zone and he is committing to his punches–even when Camacho lands. Chavez is willing and fearless of Camacho’s shots.

Chavez wins almost every round on every card but there is a half a round where we can glimpse at what would’ve worked for Camacho if he had the strength to sustain it and the ability to do some punishing damage on Chavez.

Take a look at Round Four, particularly at the second half.

I may be reaching here but we can see what might have worked for the Macho Man. Late in the round Camacho throws two jabs with his feet planted and circles out but only after he has put some of his body into these jabs. Then he stands in front of Chavez and lands a solid uppercut. he is only able to do this because of how he has positioned himself. later he lands a looping left again when he hasn’t skitted out of the neutral zone.

At the close of the round Camacho lands a combination on the incoming Chavez who may have gotten a bit careless believing Camacho couldn’t hurt him.

It may not have been enough to win the round for Hector but we can a little of what he would have had to do to be successful.

Why could he do it against Haugen and not Chavez–Chavez’s power. Or more simply put–Chavez’s shots hurt too much to stand in and plant.

Camacho knew the right strategy. His body made him forsake it.

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Let’s take a look at two rounds of two of my favorite fighters with vastly different styles and see what their styles have to say about how we might score this fight.

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What are the fighters trying to do?

Camacho wants to stay on the outside, score points with the jab to set up his left and wait for Haugen so he can catch him with counters.

Haugen wants to get inside Camacho’s jab, punish him to the body, pin him on the ropes and rough him up.

Study what happens in the neutral zone and who risks entering it. Watch footwork and when Camacho moves to keep himself in position to score and when he merely moves to get out of the way.

Be careful because it isn’t always what it appears. Haugen steps in but off to the side at times and throws a hook to the body several times that Camacho barely notices. Haugen doesn’t come straight in when he does this and he is not committing himself to harm’s way, hence he barely scores because the punch does so little.

In round one Haugen lands several straight right hands becomes he comes in aggressively across the neutral zone risking a counter and drives the punch hard to Camacho’s face. Camacho doesn’t risk the neutral zone and his jab is being used mostly as a range finder. He barely sets his legs lonf enough to make an effective counter with power.

Though this round has very little damage, Haugen has taken more risks, committed to his punches, planted his feet and through with some conviction with his right through Camacho’s guard.

I believe that was enough to give him the round.

In the second round changes take place. Camacho continues to move but more to stay in countering position. He commits to the neutral zone and lands this time putting himself in harm’s way and when he does his feet are planted and his puncheds have his body weight behind him. I believe this takes a toll on Haugen and he becomes less eager to go through the neutral zone and begins to hesitate just a bit which in turn serves Camacho’s strategy. the slight hesitation and lack of commitment freezes Haugen enough to make him easier to hit for Camacho.

Round Two which looked very similar to round one has a different outcome because Camacho stays in range, plants his feet and commits through the neutral zone. Haugen’s goal to rough the Macho Man up is thwarted…in this round. This fight is a classic for scoring because the dance goes on for twelve rounds.

You hear it all the time:

“He won’t let his hands go!” “He’s not getting off!” and “ Fighter A is controlling the action!”

What specifically are the announcers talking about?

There is really a game within a game in each boxing match. Despite the fearlessness fighters will talk about, their caution at getting hit influences much of how they move in the ring.

If a fighter exercises too much caution they will remove any chance they have to score on their opponent. If they take too many chances they will be open to scored upon.

The difference between winning and losing lies in striking a balance between risk and reward. Before punches even land and any damage gets done you can study positioning, balance and distancing to assess what is happening between the boxers.

Watch for these factors to assess who is setting themselves up to score and who has safety on their minds.

Who is willing to cross the neutral zone?


There is a space between the fighters when they begin where neither boxer can land. In order to connect one of the fighters is going to have to risk entering that neutral zone. Noticing which fighter does that will tell you who is exercising aggression. That fighter may be countered for the trouble but if the other fighter continually gives ground then it is clear they are thinking safety first.



Who is planting their feet and committing to the punch?


A fighter who has moved into the neutral zone and throws a punch can demonstrate commitment to that strike by taking further risk of planting their feet. That action leaves the strike open but it also translates to power behind the punch. The fighter who is still light on their feet when delivering a punch is not committed to that strike and their blow will be weakened.



Who is evading but still in position to counter?


Some boxers prefer to counterpunch and let the opponent lead off. That’s a legitimate strategy but to be effective the counterpuncher must risk staying in the danger area while countering. You can’t move out of the area and still land. So though the counterpuncher may seem to be playing it safe they are really not. To be effective they have to remain in harm’s way to deliver their counter shots.

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Watch James Toney evade without moving backwards and throwing effective counters

Watch Marco Antonia Barrera quickly begin to take charge of the neutral zone first by standing his ground and countering and then by leading off. In a very short period Hamed begins to hesitate to commit which makes things worse.

Further Reading


Here’s a smart guide to counterpunching

If professional boxing is about doing damage then it will be crucial to have a mechanism for assessing power.

The amateur judges get off easy in this regard in that they do not have to evaluate damage or power. A landed shot counts, period regardless of whether it was a Joe Louis-knocking-out-Schmeling shot or if it was a punch that wouldn’t crack an egg.

Power is easy to gauge when a boxer is knocked off his or her feet or when a head snaps back or when a fighter loses balance after taking a blow. How do you measure it when none of those things happen?

Again it is important to have a clear criteria and not just a “i-know-it-when-see-it feel.

Here’s a basic series of questions  judges must ask of themselves when it comes to evaluating a punch:

Question 1 Did it land?

Question 2 Did it land with the knuckles of the glove?

Question 3 Was the wrist and arm in alignment?

Question 4 Was the body set and were the mechanics in flow?

Question 5 Were the feet planted and balanced?

Does this mean that only properly thrown fundamental punches have power?

Not necessarily– but the laws of body mechanics will tend to point in that direction. When a fighter gets sloppy with wide swinging shots that pull the fighter away from the body’s center force is reduced. Sloppy shots can land and certainly hurt but not as much as when the punch was properly executed. A fighter off balance will not generate the same power as one that is mechanically balanced.

Watch George knockout Michael Moorer at 2:16. The punch at first looks underwhelming until you watch the trajectory and the body mechanics behind it.

And here’s a clip of some backyard boxing. Notice how often these guys land but how little damage it does.

Further Study

Watch this video on power punching from Fight Science. Notice despite the different styles the similarities in the form when it comes to generating the most power.

Click here to read the rest of this series.

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We have our criteria for scoring:

1 Clean Punching

2. Effective Aggressiveness

3. Defense

4. Ring Generalship

And last time we went over the fundamentals and to some degree the body mechanics of the four punches. How hard can this judging thing be? I mean, all you have to do is see who lands more and with more damage, write it down and hand your scorecard to the referee at the end of the round, right?

If you’re lucky and the two boxers are nice enough to cooperate and give you an easy round. The problem is fighters make things hard.

Consider these questions:

How many jabs equal a cross?

What about body shots that do little damage–how are they scored?

What About aggression that does almost nothing?

What about light jabs that land?

What about sloppy punches that land?

Ugh…there are no absolutes that answer these questions. Now, you can be smug and say “I know it when I see it.” or “You can just tell.” or “That’s what judges get paid the big bucks for.”

There are other stumbling blocks like evaluating power vs. quantity, lack of activity, an abundance of activity and a wide disparity in fighting styles.

When rounds are close, sublime and complex, judges need to be able to have a clear rationale for their judgment. Not everyone will agree but a judge should have a very clear rationale for why his or her score is rendered.

I believe the way to do this is to breakdown the actions of the fighters to their most fundamental components and make a very close examination of their body mechanics. What they do, how they do it and the effect it has should determine what the score should be.

We can do this by making a close assessment of the fighters’ styles and what they are attempting to accomplish and how they are succeeding at that.

Watch round 4 of Ayala v. Tapia. It is very close–how would you call it and what criteria would you site?

This program is going to examine a group of pro boxers who competed throughout the 90’s and into the 2000’s.  Hector Camacho Sr., Greg Haugen, Julio Cesar Chavez, Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad were all great fighters and many of them faced each other. They all had different styles, some more similar than others. We can look at what fighters had success and failures in this group and through that process examine the bio-mechanics that made them successful. it will be an excellent means to illustrate the minutia that goes into winning a close  round.

A quick sketch of the fighters:

Hector Camacho- Speed, Defense, Suspect Power

Julio  Cesar Chavez– Will Take 3 to Land 1, Power

Greg Haugen- Busy, Unsophisticated, Tough, Persistant

Pernell Whitaker—Speed, Defense, Suspect Power

Meldrick Taylor- Speed, Power, Too Much Heart For His Own Good?

Oscar De La Hoya- Straight ahead with power and speed

Felix Trinidad–Similar to DLH but maybe with less versatility?

What variables on the scoring criteria and the idea of damage come into play when these fighters are matched?

Stay tuned.

Further Reading

Check out this interesting article analyzing Mike Tyson’s speed and style.

Click here to read the rest of this series.

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Have you ever wondered why there’s really only four punches in boxing?

There’s the jab, the cross, the hook and the uppercut.

Sure there are variations–the 3/4 hook, the hook that comes in an uppercutting fashion etc but these are really variations on a theme.

There are four punches for good reason.

The body that is trying to impart damage while reasonably protecting itself from damage can really only do it these four ways within the rules of boxing.

I used to be a karate instructor and there were 100’s of variations of strikes, thrown in different stances, with the hand in different positions and in innumerable motions. Why doesn’t that happen in boxing?

Well, for one reason the boxing glove doesn’t allow for different hand formations and there is also a scoring of the glove that limits strikes coming from the knuckle area. More importantly, though, is that bio-mechanically other ways of throwing strikes leave the body way too vulnerable in the ring. The boxing stance is the way it is not because it is aesthetically pleasing but because through trial and error it results in the percentage balance of risk and reward.

The boxing stance with one foot slightly forward, the body turned at a slight angle with the knees bent limits the targets for the opponents. It also positions the body to throw punches efficiently and balances the body for movement, striking and slipping. The guard is high with depending on your view positions thumbs at the temples and elbows in to protect from body shots. Most arms are not long enough to protect the head and the body at the same time so a fluid movement between the two areas is required.

Every time a punch is delivered the boxer’s body becomes vulnerable. The punch needs to be recoiled as fast as possible to reduce this vulnerability. A fighter obsessed with safety will fail to commit to a punch and instead will focus on recoiling the jab too much. This will make the jab ineffective and have the reverse effect on the fighter’s safety because now the opponent can step in to counter the weak jab.

A cross travels a farther distance and though more powerful also makes the head of the striker more vulnerable to the powerful hook. The strike has to be in closer to make it work which means they have to cross through a danger zone to position themselves to do it. Coming means rolling the dice on getting caught. When you hear commentators say that a fighter isn’t getting off it may not mean that they are unwilling to punch and may mean that they are not willing to risk getting the position to throw the cross.

The very first knockout (and some of the others) shows well executed crosses.

The hook requires even closer positioning and because of its arc it endangers the striker even more than the cross. Without proper body mechanics it can turn into an arm punch. it may make a loud thud in the ring but that has more to do with it landing on the flat part of the side of the head. If the shifting of bodyweight isn’t behind the hook it is not that fearsome of a punch.

(Joe’s hook comes at :29)

To throw the uppercut a fighter has to be almost chest to chest with an opponent. Otherwise the face is exposed. In tight the risk is minimized.

This is all Boxing 101 and important to fighters. It is also crucial for judges to understand when it comes to evaluate what is happening in front of them. When a fighter isn’t throwing a cross it may be because the opponent is controlling the ring and their counters are controlling the action. An arm hook may land but shouldn’t be given the weight of a good all-body hook. A jab that paws, doesn’t snap and only reaches the opponent’s gloves isn’t a scoring blow even if the loud “thwack” that the fans cheer makes it seem so. And uppercuts inside thrown without the benefit of a bending of the knees and twisting of the torso are merely arm punches that don’t account for much damage.

Sure, boxing is simple but the better word for it is elegant. Elegance connotes a beauty within the simplicity. A well delivered punch is elegant and appear uncomplicated but there are many micro units of it that add up to it’s elegance.

More importantly, a well delivered shot does damage.

For other blogs in this series  click here.

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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.