Boxing Monthly Mailbox: WBSS, post-fight interviews, scoring and Usyk

Boxing Monthly
17/11/2018 8:30am

Welcome to the Boxing Monthly Mailbox! This week Tom Craze responds to queries, comments and questions on the WBSS, post-fight interviews, the quality of judges' scoring and the all-time cruiserweight ranking of Oleksandr Usyk ... 

On the BM Twitter page plenty of people were making their WBSS predictions this week after the quarter-finals concluded.

For example, @Ny26Vincent commented: "[Zolani] Tete for me in bantam, I'd like [Naoya] Inoue but I think he'll struggle with the size of Tete if both get to the final, which I expect, although [Emmanuel] Rodriguez could get through that semi as well. Can't see past [Jos] Taylor who IMO gets thru a great scrap with [Regis] Prograis and last, [at cruiserweight] the KO Doctor. [Yunier Dorticos].

Who are the fighters that Tom Craze is tipping for Muhammad Ali trophy glory?

Tom Craze: It’s hard to shake the feeling that the second season of the WBSS has, undeservedly, gone under the radar at times. Perhaps that’s a consequence of the quick turnaround after Groves vs Smith and the conclusion of the first season, or the busy boxing schedule more generally - or even the lack of a TV deal, despite the excellent free streams provided. More than likely, it’s a combination of all three, but a handful of fights failing to deliver in the ring – despite looking strong on paper – won’t have helped ignite wider interest.

Rather than providing barn burners, though, it’s the virtuoso individual performances that have defined this latest batch of tournaments.

At bantamweight, with both Tete vs Aloyan and Rodriguez-Moloney turning out to be largely forgettable affairs, and Burnett vs Donaire – arguably the most intriguing of the quarter-finals at the weight – ending prematurely due to Burnett’s freak injury, the competition’s hopes were left in the capable hands of Naoya Inoue. Odds-on favourite for the Ali Trophy before a punch was thrown, the Japanese dynamo lived up to the billing and followed his demolition of Jamie McDonnell with a shellacking of another top ten bantam in Juan Carlos Payano. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s taken into deeper waters against Rodriguez in the last four but, as it stands, only a brave man would pick against 'The Monster'.

With the fantastic first cruiserweight tournament still so fresh in the memory, following up the feat was always a tough ask. The spectacle of Usyk vs Bellew to decide (or, as it turned out, underline) the world’s best 200lbs fighter might have drawn eyes away, but those tuning in will have seen two of the first season’s most impressive performers, Mairis Brieidis and Yunier Dorticos, struggle in quarter-final ties in which they looked far from convincing. Those two will meet in the final if the seeding goes to plan, and I’ll go with Dorticos, the fighter with the better variety, to edge it.

Like 118lbs, the light-welterweight (or super-lightweight, if we really must) instalment has benefited from the inclusion of its star attractions. Post-Terence Crawford – and in the absence of Mikey Garcia – the division is looking for a new ruler, and its two shining lights appear to be on a collision course. Regis Prograis justified his reputation with a dominant outpointing of former world champion Terry Flanagan – the second he has vanquished this year after a blitzing of Julius Indongo in March. On the other side of the bracket, Edinburgh’s Josh Taylor put on the quarter-finals’ standout display with his one-sided stoppage of an overmatched Ryan Martin. Should they get that far, Prograis vs Taylor in the final is a near pick ‘em, but - assuming neutral ground - I’ll pick Prograis, but that’s with very little conviction indeed.

Tony Bellew's post-fight interview after his loss to Oleksandr Usyk got people talking. Many felt the scouser was still concussed, given the repetitive nature of his responses, prompting a debate on our Twitter feed concerning whether post-fight interviews with KO'd fighters be banned?

@adamprescott9 made a good point: "Who would have been able to tell tony "you're not allowed to be interviewed"? If he didn't want to be interviewed he would have walked away. And no one would have been able to tell him to do anything he didn't want to do on his last fight night. Different story for other boxers."

Tom Craze: This is a topic that comes up time and time again, and it’s invariably a worrying post-fight interview that restarts the debate. From ringside, and the din that was the Manchester Arena last weekend, it was hard to hear much of anything, but on repeat viewing, it was clear that Bellew was at best distracted by those around him, and at worse showing obvious physical and neurological signs of a knockout as heavy as the one that Usyk had just inflicted.

Common sense suggests that trying to elicit any kind of reasoned analysis from a fighter in the moments immediately following their concussion is, more often than not, going to be an exercise in futility. To that extent, Bellew’s gracious acknowledgement of Usyk’s performance may not have been far off as good as can have been hoped, all things considered.

Safety is paramount, but as long as the requisite checks have been carried out in the ring beforehand, and both their team and the boxer themselves are comfortable that they do so, the interviewer is, after all, just doing their job.

Still on the subject of Usyk vs Bellew, some people on the BM timeline were wondering where the Ukrainian now ranks in the all-time cruiserweight stakes. For many, Tom Craze included, it seems to boil down to being between Usyk and Evander Holyfield for the all-time greatest cruiser tag.

Tom Craze: I think there’s always an inbuilt reluctance to proclaim any contemporary fighter as an all-time great in their respective division. When they’re still in active competition and only 16 bouts into their professional career, that’s a feeling that, for some, will be amplified further – consciously or otherwise.

Given that it was established only at the turn of the 1980s, cruiserweight has the advantage of being such a young division that comparisons are, at least, slightly easier to make than those steeped in a century or more of history.

For me, though, Usyk can be no worse than number 2 already. Evander Holyfield might still hold the crown of being the best fighter to reign at cruiserweight, but his reputation - and indeed legacy - was cemented at heavyweight. Holyfield was the trailblazer at 200lbs, but it might well be that it’s those viewing through rose-tinted glasses would consider his world-class record at cruiserweight - Qawi (twice) and De Leon – as being a deeper CV than Glowacki, Hunter, Huck, Briedis, Gassiev, and Bellew. That alone suggests Usyk has the better resume, but it’s the fact that the Ukrainian beat all of those men in their home countries (!), in front of intensely partisan audiences, that is the clincher.

Who, hypothetically, would win if Holyfield and Usyk would have ever been able to meet in their primes? Well, that’s a different question…

The fact that Bellew led on two cards at the time of his defeat prompted another round of judge-bashing online. As a result, on Twitter we asked our followers the following question:

The word robbery gets thrown around a lot with regards scorecards. Are people overreacting too often? Is scoring in boxing that bad? If so what can be done about it?

Boxer @AshleyTheophane weighed in with his views, saying: "Too many bad judges in boxing. Imagine the off TV shows that no one sees and the judge gets off as it isn’t on TV. [Adalaide] Byrd has scored many a bad card and still going strong."

@ldboxingfan added: "Yes fans overreact (which will never change), and no scoring isn’t 'that bad'. Scoring would improve if the criteria were more objective though, and if judges were evaluated and held accountable after each fight."

Tom Craze: Answering ‘yes‘ to both of the first two questions above might feel a little contradictory, but they’re far from mutually exclusive.

The power of social media these days means that, for good or bad, anyone’s view on the judges’ decision can be heard, no matter their grasp of the sport (the comical example of the hundreds of confused tweeters following the circus of the KSI-Logan Paul YouTube bout - scored a majority draw with 57-57 (twice) and 58-57 scorecards – baffled as to why KSI, with one more point accrued, wasn’t declared the victor springs to mind). Boxing scoring is, of course, subjective, but that doesn’t automatically make all conceivable outcomes valid, no matter how loud the shouting.

I digress. On one hand, I do think overreactions are too common – it feels sadly inevitable that any fight headed for the cards is going to result in an uproar, one way or another. Often, too, it’s the fans of a fighter (or those who dislike the winner) screaming robbery, and so personal bias blurs the lines of just scoring further still. On the other, too often we see scoring that’s at best questionable, and at worst, either incompetent or corrupt. Where that delineation is made is trickier to gauge.

A close, competitive fight decided by a round or two might result in a contentious decision, but shouldn’t be classed as a robbery. This year’s most high-profile example of that is the Canelo-Golovkin rematch: a bout decided by a round or two either way and where a draw would have also been a fair result. Maybe the judges got the wrong man, but if that man shaded it by a round, that’s not a robbery in my book.

There have, of course, been outrageous robberies in the true sense in 2018 – Zach Parker’s decision against Darryll Williams, Thomas Mattice’s against Zhora Hamazaryan, Donnie Nietes failing to emerge with a victory over Aston Palicte. You know them when you see them.

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