Outside of the ropes: Steve Gray on scoring
Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
In the fourth of our series examining key and often unheralded figures from behind the scenes in boxing, Ezio Prapotnich talks to Steve Gray about the often controversial role of judges in boxing ...
Think of boxing as an ocean into which different rivers flow, each making its unique and necessary contribution to the whole. The final result is a combination of its smaller parts, each one no less or more important than the others, just like the rounds of a fight if it goes the distance...
Scoring is a subject that is often at the root of heated arguments among fans. We all are judges on Saturday night but the actual path to become one is long and meticulous. Most of all, it requires to keep a clear mind and give complete attention only to what happens in the present moment. BBBofC licensed referee and judge Steve Gray breaks down for Boxing Monthly all the factors in the equation while also explaining the Board selection process.
BM: What is your background and how did you end up becoming a judge?
SG: I entered boxing almost by accident. I attended Blackpool FC once or twice a week as a schoolboy and later played for my home town club Fleetwood Town in Lancashire but stopped due to back problems. I relocated to Swindon and joined the Penhill boxing club as an amateur heavyweight at 21. I competed in the ABA’s twice and did OK but not as good as I hoped, eventually losing the hunger for the actual fighting. My coach suggested me to try and become a referee. After a brief break, I contacted the local Area Council about it and got instead an offer to turn pro from the secretary who knew me from the unpaid ranks but I was 30 years old then and had no financial motives. Due to a work offer, I returned to the North West and applied again via the Central Area Council. I passed the initial interview, began the assessment program and eventually got where I am today.
BM: Can you give examples of fights in which you acted as judge in recent times?
SG: Bellew vs Usyk, where I had Tony winning by 66-67 going into the 8th, and the Joshua vs Parker unification fight which I scored 118-110 for Anthony.
BM: What is the practical process to become an official?
SG: First of all, it needs to be clarified that in the UK there is no distinction between the judge and referee category. It is the same licence. You get interviewed by your Area council when applying and if deemed appropriate you will be sent to local shows and may score 50 to 100 contests. You have your results assessed against those of the referee in charge. Then, there is an interview in Cardiff at the head quarters of the British Boxing Board of Control with the referees' committee which includes representatives of every area, all-Star Referees, Charlie Giles [Chairman of the Committee] and Mr Robert Smith. It consists of approximately 40 questions on the rules of boxing. If you pass, you start actually refereeing and scoring fights but under the supervision of a senior referee/ judge outside the ring who will review your score and provide the official result. This stage might take 40 to 50 fights then you go back to Cardiff for your final assessment.
BM: As you mentioned Star Referees, what are the ranks within the officials’ category?
SG: There are three levels of referees in the UK: B Class who deal with contests up to eight rounds maximum, A Class for ten rounders, which may include English or Area title fights, and A Star Class for anything above. Basically, judges are needed only for ten and 12-round title fights, anything below is scored by the referee alone.
BM: Can you summarise the purpose of the judge’s job and any factors involved in scoring?
SG: The purpose is to assess the quantity and quality of landed punches. This is the main factor in winning a round and only if it’s even you move on to analyse ring generalship, effective aggression and eventually defence. It is important to stress this: all other factors are secondary and only relevant if neither fighter has the edge in landing punches.
BM: What are the possible outcomes of a round in terms of points?
SG: Rounds are scored on a ten-point must system. 10-10 is an even round, 10-9 a round with a clear winner. A 10-8 round is possible if one fighter is winning overwhelmingly and one-sidedly or if a knockdown has been scored. A knockdown does not automatically guarantee a 10-8 round to the fighter scoring it. If a boxer scores a knockdown while overall losing the round the result can be 10-9. Any score lower than 8 can only be determined by knockdowns or points deduction.
BM: Do the crowd reactions or the status of 'home fighter' of a boxer affect the scoring in anyway?
SG: Absolutely not. The nature of the job simply does not allow it. It requires getting into a zone where you block out anything that happens outside the ring and remain completely focused. You don’t hear what is going on in the crowd. You cannot tell if a fighter is from Manchester or Moscow. I personally score almost as if I had a commentary running in my head. To use a metaphor, it is like watching two 100 ml jugs getting filled with water, one next to the other with the level of liquid going up and down between them as a period of 3 minutes goes by. You must be able to tell at any point of the round who is ahead and what the situation is when the bell rings.
BM: Anything else you would like to add that might help to clarify the scoring process for casual fans?
SG: Every single round of a fight has to be scored on its own merits, what happened before has no relevance. It is important not to be swayed by a fighter making a marked improvement from the previous session or a boxer performing better than you expected. You must score what actually happens in front of you without any pre-conceived thoughts affecting your judgement.
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