Combat Sports

Lessons for Parker in 2017’s real megafight

There was plenty of food for thought for those following the bitter stoush over the identity of the referee who will control Joseph Parker’s WBO heavyweight title defence against Hughie Fury in Manchester this coming Sunday morning.

Four weeks after it hosted the megafight between Floyd Mayweather and Connor McGregor, Las Vegas’s T-Mobile Arena was once again the arena for a blockbuster bout of fisticuffs.

For pure boxing fans, Gennady Golovkin vs Saul ‘Canelo’ Alverez was 2017’s real mega fight. The middleweight showdown between Alverez, the red-haired Mexican whose only real setback came against Mayweather in 2013, and GGG, boxing’s longest-reigning, undefeated world champion, was a hugely anticipated affair that didn’t disappoint.

Alverez started and finished strongly. Golovkin went forward all night and dominated the middle rounds. Both fighters landed numerous huge shots. And both pretended they didn’t hurt.

While most ‘experts’ appear to have GGG shading the contest, you could make the case for either fighter getting the decision, or indeed the draw that did in fact eventuate after 12 thrilling rounds.

The controversy (a staple after big fights) isn’t so much about the decision as how it was arrived at.

The judges’ scorecards always make for fascinating reading in tight fights and that was particularly the case on Sunday.

Essentially the result came down to just one round.

Two of the judges, Dave Moretti and Don Trella, saw the fight exactly the same except for the seventh round. Moretti gave the round to Golovkin, which resulted in a 115-113 scorecard in favour of the Kazakh. Trella gave the round to Canelo, resulting in a 114-114 draw.

Ostensibly, there’s nothing all that odd in that. Both judges saw an extremely close fight, with 11 of the 12 rounds clear enough to call in favour of one fighter or the other. They differed in opinion on the seventh and the cards fell where they fell.

Judge Adalaide Byrd, however, was watching an entirely different contest. Byrd gave every round bar two to Canelo, scoring a landslide 118-110 victory to the Mexican.

Again, that’s not all that odd. Most pundits have ridiculed Byrd’s decision, however boxing judging is highly subjective, and it’s not especially uncommon for one of three judges to been wildly out of synch with the other two.

Canelo clearly fought in a way that resonated with Byrd (as he has done in the past), and she rewarded him with nearly every round.

Where things get weird, though, is the crucial seventh round. Incredibly, it was one of just two rounds that Byrd scored in favour of Golovkin. Given how heavily Byrd favoured Canelo throughout the fight, you’d assume the seventh was utterly clear cut for her to give it to Golovkin. And it was. The Guardian’s live blog described Canelo as being in “full retreat” throughout the round. Sports Illustrated’s commentator rated the round as Golovkin’s best after he “took control right from the start”.

Judge Byrd’s view of the fight provoked outrage in the boxing world and she was subsequently stood down from major fights.

But when it came to the round that really mattered, judge Byrd got it right. It was Don Trella who dropped the ball. Had Trella scored the round the same way the rest of the world saw it – including even judge Byrd – then his card would have read identically to Dave Moretti’s - 115-113 to Golovkin. And Golovkin would have won the fight by split decision.

Judge Byrd’s random scoring is fairly well established and she has born the brunt of the criticism over the decision. But the real mystery of the decision is what happened to judge Trella in that seventh round?

That's a mystery that will likely never be solved, relegated to a curious footnote in the inglorious annals of boxing history.

Which brings us back to Parker and his date with Hughie Fury. There’s a reason fighters prefer not to leave matters in the hands of the judges. Given the way things are shaping up in Manchester, Parker will be extremely keen to avoid doing exactly that.

Parker’s camp believe Fury – an awkward fighter with no obvious reserve of knockout power – will attempt to steal the title by making the Kiwi look bad over 12 rounds and earning a home town decision on the cards. They believe the referee appointed to control the contest, Britain’s Terry O’Connor, will aid and abet Fury’s larceny. That belief stems from Fury’s last two fights, which were controlled by O’Connor in a somewhat controversial manner.

With the winner of Parker v Fury closing on a megabucks fight with Anthony Joshua, the stakes are high.

The dispute between Duco and the British Boxing Board of Control over the identity and lack of neutrality of the officials for the Manchester Arena showdown on Sunday has been running for over a week.

The fight before the fight is still raging, and looks set to continue right up until the opening bell.

It’s up to Parker to ensure that the controversy in his world title defence ends right there.

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