Tin Can Robot


Manny Pacquiao lost a welterweight title fight against Timothy Bradley Jr. in a split-decision despite looking dominant by pretty much everyone who watched the fight. One judge scored the fight 119-109 for Pacquiao, but the other two judges scored the fight as 115-113 for Bradley. Unofficially, though, the numbers all appeared to favor Pacquiao:

  • Both ESPN.com and HBO’s unofficial judge scored the fight at 119-109 for Pacquiao
  • Pacquiao landed more punches than Bradley in 10 of the 12 rounds
  • In total, Pacquiao landed 253 of 751 punches (34 percent) compared to Bradley’s 159 of 839 (19 percent)
  • Pacquiao landed more power shots, 190 - 108 (+82)

So how did Bradley get the victory? Well, to understand that you need to understand how boxing is scored (and I didn’t until I read this)

Pro boxing matches are scored round by round. The fighter who wins the round gets 10 points, and the fighter who loses the round gets nine points. Every time a fighter is knocked down, he loses a point—a one-knockdown round, for example, would be scored 10-8. (Sometimes a seriously one-sided round without a knockdown is also scored 10-8, at the judge’s discretion.) The ref can also take points away from the fighters as a penalty for holding, low blows, or other rule violations. And there’s nothing to stop judges from giving a fighter fewer points just because they think it should be so, although it’s frowned upon. At the end of the fight, the points are tallied, and a winner (or a draw) emerges.

So the round winner gets 10 points and the other guy gets 9. Unless the loser got knocked down. Or there’s some penalty the judge wants to punish the fighter for. Or just because the judge doesn’t like the way the guy is fighting. That’s fine for the other guy – what’s the criteria for the winner?

So how do they decide who wins the rounds, absent knockdowns? They just decide that shit. There is really no precise standard or rule book. A generally accepted method is: whichever fighter you would not have wanted to be in a given round probably lost the round. Different judges judge this differently. A classic conundrum is a round in which one fighter lands lots of punches that don’t do much damage, while the other lands only a few punches, but they’re hard and solid. Who wins? Most punches? Hardest punches? This is where the philosophy comes in. It’s also why there are three judges instead of one—to correct for any single person’s wacky interpretation.

In other words, in the end it’s solely up to the judge to just pick one guy and award him the 10 points for whatever reason the judge decides. He doesn’t even need to justify the reasoning; he just sorta picks one. And when you have a title fight with millions of dollars involved and millions more tied up in gambling around the fight; it’s not surprising that people wonder aloud about the possibility of outside forces influencing these two out of three judges.

And just to quantify more, could you measure how crazy was it that Bradley would be judged the winner? Someone tried to calculate the probability of a Bradley victory based on the scorecards of 18 unofficial fight observers:

If the judging were truly random and the percentages calculated for each round are accurate—which, keep in mind, are more generous to Bradley’s chances than what was observed by those who bothered to post their scorecards online—Pacquiao had about a 0.6 percent chance of getting screwed out of the decision and Bradley had a 1-in-3,300 chance of winning outright.