The Ten-Point Must System Fails Badou Jack
Updated: May 21, 2018
It was an excellent round of fights today, stretching from England to Toronto by way of the DC suburbs of Maryland. In the first bout, Josh Warrington of Leeds took the IBF featherweight title from Lee Selby, in a blood-spattered mess of a fight. A clash of heads in the second round produced an ugly gash on the left side of Selby's face, spraying blood all over both fighters, the canvas, the referee, and probably everybody in the first three rows. The cut did not impede Selby's ability to see, so the bout went the full 12-round distance. Selby looked to be the superior boxer, but Warrington was indefatigable in closing the distance and battering the champion around the ring, earning a split decision victory that felt like it should have been more conclusive than how the judges scored it.
Tonight, Gary Russell Jr., fighting pride of Washington DC and its surrounding suburbs, retained his WBC featherweight crown with a convincing victory over the previously unbeaten Jo Jo Diaz. Diaz made the fight very competitive early on, by getting in close and landing the more effective blows, primarily to the body. However, Russell, who possesses probably the best hand speed of any fighter in the world today, took control of the fight in the middle rounds thanks to a rapid fire jab that left Diaz unable to get in close to do any damage. The fight fell into a predictable pattern until the final round, when Diaz unloaded everything he had in a futile effort to score a dramatic knockout. Russell deservedly scored the unanimous decision, in a bout I had him winning by a tally of 116-112.
Then there was the final fight of the evening, as Toronto hosted its first major championship prizefight in a generation with light heavyweight champioin Adonis Stevenson facing off against former champion Badou Jack. The fight ended in a draw that, on paper, was legitimate. I had Jack winning the fight 115-114, thanks to capturing six rounds compared to Stevenson's five, with the 11th round being scored even. But two of the judges scored the bout 114-114, and so it ended in a draw with Stevenson retaining his title.
Badou Jack didn't need the judges in his 2017 battering of Nathan Cleverly, which ended by TKO.
The judges' scores were perfectly legitimate, but also completely failed to capture the physical reality of the fight. In the early rounds, Stevenson was more active, and claimed most of them as Jack tried to figure out how to work on his 40-year-old opponent without facing the somewhat legendary power of Stevenson's straight left hand. Jack kept himself at a distance, but lost most of the rounds due to inactivity. Then by the sixth and seventh rounds the trajectory of the fight changed dramatically, as Jack, realizing that Stevenson was tired, battered the champion all over the ring for almost four consecutive rounds. Just as Stevenson looked like he might collapse from a combination of punishment and fatigue, he managed to land a critical shot to the stomach of Jack at the very end of the 10th round. It wasn't enough to win him that round, but when Jack came out slowly in the next round, still clearly hurting from the shot he took the previous round, Stevenson was able to do enough work to win the round on the judge's scorecards. Jack's decisive 12th round, in which he nearly knocked out Stevenson, brought the bout to a close. But even though Stevenson had only landed one significant punch the entire fight, and even though the champion was bleeding from both nostrils while Jack appeared largely unperturbed, the fight was scored a draw because Jack had never knocked his man down, and thus his dominant rounds were scored 10-9 just as Stevenson's unspectacular early rounds were scored.
This is the occasional, unjust outcome of the 10-pount must system, which has now bitten Jack four times in his career. It is inherently flawed simply in the way that it isolates each round and doesn't consider how the violence and punishment of one round might impact the overall arc of the fight in a way that transcends the narrowly-focused scoring system. I would not suggest getting rid of the 10-point must system, which is now woven into the strategic fabric of the sport. But I do think judges should give more 10-10 rounds when there is little action or few meaningful punches that are being thrown. Had they done that tonight, Badou Jack would have rightly claimed the lineal light heavyweight championship of the world. As it is, he is likely to get a rematch. Hopefully, next time he will be able to take the fight to Stevenson earlier than he was tonight, and thereby secure his claim to the top of the division.