Monday, June 11, 2012

Explaining Pacquiao's Robbery

I halfway wrote a piece comparing the inevitable controversy in scoring prizefights to the travesty of Pacquiao-Bradley last night, but I got bored and never got around to finishing it. Luckily, Hamilton Nolan hit the nail on the head here:
Some boxers like to fight backing up. This is a conscious style, with advantages and disadvantages, like any style. Judges, though, tend to interpret this as retreating, and penalize the fighter for it, even though he is doing it by choice. "Ring generalship" is the vague and meaningless phrase cited to justify the judging of rounds based on who is walking in which direction. This is dumb, because it penalizes a legitimate strategic decision for no good reason. Often, judges reward the fighter who throws more punches, without regard for whether or not those punches landed, or did any damage, or did any anything except tire that fighter out and soften him up for the kill. Fighters win rounds because they were "busier," even if they were busy doing something counterproductive. This, too, is dumb, though it can be forgiven somewhat due to the fact that there are few real metrics by which to judge these things.

Differences in philosophy, though, have their limits. When Manny Pacquiao fought Juan Manuel Marquez last November, Pacquiao tended to throw more punches, while Marquez landed harder shots. Most of the rounds were very, very close. In a 12-round fight with, say, eight close rounds, either fighter could win eight rounds to four, and the decision would be within the realm of reason. Pacquiao won. Marquez fans complained. But in truth, a decision for either man would have been fair. Sometimes, when it's genuinely close, it comes down to perfectly reasonable disagreements between perfectly reasonable judges. That's the game.

Sometimes, though, shit is just fucked up. Saturday night, by any possible standard, Pacquiao beat Tim Bradley. How do I know? Pacquiao landed 100 more punches than Bradley, and he landed all the hardest and most damaging punches. By either metric, he won. Bradley won at least two rounds; a generous interpretation could have given him four. Five would have been a stretch. But two of the three judges—Duane Ford and C.J. Ross—gave Bradley the fight, seven rounds to five. (The third judge, Jerry Roth, scored it seven rounds to five for Pacquiao.)
I'd only add that even by the hopelessly vague standards of ring generalship, Pacquiao was better: Bradley backed up for most of the second half of the fight, not by choice but by necessity. If dodging the others guy's blows more than he dodges yours implies superior defense (and really, how could it not?), Pacquiao was far better in that regard as well.

I think one issue, both last night and in the Márquez fight, is the fact that judges and fans often equate falling short of expectations to a fighter actually losing rounds. Pacquiao destroyed Bradley during the first half of the fight, and then was noticeably less dominant in the second. He was still winning handily, but he let Bradley breath a bit, took few risks, and stopped shooting for the knockout. But there was no question that in the only criteria that matters --who kicked whose ass harder, from one round to the next-- Pacquiao was better. Somehow, an obviously lesser Pacquiao turned into a losing Pacquiao to the two offending judges, Thomas Hauser, and really, to a lesser degree, anyone who found four rounds to give to Bradley.

In the Márquez fight, a similar dynamic was at play in the upset surrounding the bout: the narrative in the run-up to the fight was that at 147, a prime Pacquiao would walk right through a bloated, slowed, aged Márquez. That didn't happen, and it turned out to be a close fight. I thought Pacquiao won, but I can't begrudge anyone who thought Márquez was better. But the reason I think so many people thought Márquez didn't just squeak by but indisputably crushed Pacquiao was that the latter fell so short of expectations, and Márquez, in contrast, so exceeded them. But that only put them on even terrain, it didn't make Márquez the easy winner.


JD said...

Hola PC, long time. Not much to add, it was totally absurd. The one thing that I didn't see as much emphasis on was how utterly, totally unconcerned Manny was with Bradley. Especially in the first half of the fight, Bradley was constantly giving little knocks to the kidneys and behind the ears during their semi-clutches, and not once did it seem to occur to Manny to avoid the position, let alone say anything to the ref. I had no audio (I was at a bar in Guadalajara where the band's shitty, melodramatic Oasis covers took priority), so maybe I missed something, but it looked like Manny was hardly aware of Bradley's presence. It reached the point where drunk me started wondering about the degree of damage Bradley would do to my lanky self (answer from sober me: instant, serious, permanent).

pc said...

JD! Good to hear from you, I hope Guadalajara is treating you well. Fun town. I bet there were some Cranberries covers in there too.

I saw Pacquiao's performance pretty much as you did. He was so much better than Bradley, that he fought the whole fight in second gear, while Bradley was using everything he had. That kinda makes me think it was partially Pacquiao's fault for not being more decisive, but not really: he really kicked his ass from one side of the ring to the other for most of the fight. It was relatively even for stretches, but even in those relatively even stretches, Pacquiao was better. There was never more than a round where you'd say Bradley was giving as good as he was getting and not more than an minute or two where you'd say he took to Pacquiao. Really a crap decision.