Judges, scorecards & oversight – does boxing need to change after Taylor v Catterall?

Josh Taylor and Jack Catterall
Josh Taylor beat Jack Catterall for a controversial split decision

Controversy can sometimes be a catalyst for change in sport, but the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) investigation into last month’s Josh Taylor v Jack Catterall world super-lightweight title fight has created more questions than answers.

Scotland’s Taylor clung on to his WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO belts with a split-decision victory in Glasgowafter English challenger Taylor looked to have claimed a stunning upset in the home fighter’s first defense.

Two judges scored in favor of Taylor, who was floored in the eighth round, and delivered a verdict met with widespread disbelief which the Catterall camp called “disgusting”.

Judge Ian John-Lewis had Taylor winning the bout by three rounds, and after a review the BBBofC downgraded him from an ‘A star’ class referee to an ‘A’, meaning he can no longer officiate world title contests.

Yet in the accompanying statement, the BBBofC claimed to be “satisfied that Mr John-Lewis’ scorecard did not affect the overall result.”

Catterall’s trainer, Nigel Travis, remains far from satisfied.

“I find it a ludicrous outcome,” Travis told BBC Sport. “They’re just using Ian John-Lewis as a scapegoat. Yes, his scorecard was poor, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The idea that his scorecard didn’t affect the outcome is just mental. I don’t know what to say.

“He was one of three judges and it was a split decision. How could it not affect the outcome?

“I have a problem with all the scorecards of that fight. The board talk about subjectivity, that it’s natural for judges to see things individually, but that doesn’t explain it at all for me.

“Even the judge who gave it to Jack [Howard Foster] only gave it by one round, when it was clearly more convincing than that, so all three of them have favored Taylor, in my opinion.

“It was a huge event, people watching around the world, and the officials have shown themselves to be either incapable, incompetent or – and I hesitate to use the word – corrupt.”

British boxing great, Duke McKenzie MBE, a three-weight world champion who now works as a pundit and runs a gym in South London, was similarly scathing.

“The board’s findings don’t go far enough,” McKenzie said. “Really, here the British Boxing Board of Control are investigating themselves, aren’t they?

“It shouldn’t work like that. They appointed all three judges, so downgrading one official doesn’t cut any slack. It doesn’t.

“I think there needs to be an investigation by the world bodies into that fight. We need to look at the way officials are appointed. Steps need to be taken to make sure judges are neutral.”

Corruption or incompetence?

There is a growing feeling that the tendency for controversial decisions to be awarded to the home fighter is an issue boxing must address for the sport to move on. Taylor v Catterall is the latest in a long line of examples.

“Of course corruption exists,” trainer Travis said. “At a big event the judges are wined and dined by the promoter. It’s a business, isn’t it? You have to remember there were actually two promoters that night – Boxxer and Top Rank.

“We had a lot of contact with Boxxer and [promoter] Ben Shalom, who seemed as upset as we were. I really respected Ben’s honesty, saying afterwards he wanted to root this problem out.

“But will he be able to? I doubt it. Plans were already being made for Josh Taylor to go up in weight and box [WBO welterweight champion] Terence Crawford, so that probably helps to explain it.”

Feb 2022: Taylor v Catterall – Defending champion Josh Taylor was awarded a split-decision win, despite appearing to lose most of the rounds and being knocked down in the eighth.
Sep 2021: Hatton v Martinez – Campbell Hatton looked out-of-sorts in his fourth professional fight, off balance and outpunched throughout, but was given a points victory over Sonni Martinez.
October 2020: Ritson v Vazquez – Lightweight Lewis Ritson took a split-decision win over former world champion Miguel Vazquez, who appeared to win the bout comfortably.
November 2019: Smith v Ryder – WBA super-middleweight champion Callum Smith retained his title with a points victory over John Ryder despite ceding the initiative and being beaten to the punch throughout the contest.
Sep 2013: Burns v Beltran – WBO lightweight champion Ricky Burns was awarded a draw, despite Mexican challenger Raymundo Beltran’s dominant performance. Burns’ jaw was broken in round two and he was knocked down in the eighth.

“The board should have declared it a no contest and ordered an immediate rematch,” Travis went on. “That would have been the only way to put things right. But they were never going to do that.”

Kevin Campion, director of operations at management and promotional company Goodwin Boxing feels a change of attitude is needed at the BBBofC; that there is a lack of accountability within an organization which is able to investigate its own shortcomings.

“Firstly, I want to make it clear that I am a supporter of the BBBofC,” Campion says. “I believe they have an extremely difficult and thankless job to do. I also know some officials personally and they are good people.

“But I do also believe the BBBofC need to be more open about the steps that are being taken to stop this recurring, and make no mistake, this is a recurring issue in boxing. The first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one.”

What can be done?

Jack Catterall
Catterall and his coach Nigel Travis were disgusted by the scorecards

A variety of potential solutions have been put forward in the wake of the Taylor v Catterall furore. The way fights are scored could potentially be adjusted, allowing judges more leeway to award extra points to a fighter who is dominating.

‘Open scoring’ is another possibility which has been trialled, in which judges’ scorecards are displayed at ringside, reducing the risk of manipulation. Meanwhile, others have called for technology to be utilized, in the same way the video assistant referee (VAR) has become a regular feature of top-level football.

“I know fights can seem and look different from different sides of the ring,” McKenzie says. “So that could be something to think about. The system has to be tweaked, because we can’t go on like this.”

“You have to look at this from a human point of view” Travis reflects, with a sigh. “It might be business, but it’s wrong. This is about right and wrong, and Jack Catterall has been wronged. The board are trying to give themselves a way out and it’s not right.”

The British Boxing Board of Control was approached for comment and its thoughts on potential reforms within boxing but did not respond.

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