Who won Saturday's Jessie Vargas-Thomas Dulorme fight?
There is a way in which boxing fans talk about scoring fights, and about decisions, as if there is some kind of objective way to arrive at a Cartesian truth on who has won a fight in which both men are standing at the sound of the final bell. In a way, this search for certainty runs entirely opposite to the ethos of boxing for much of its history, when fights were not over until one man could not come to scratch. Those bareknuckle days, of course, are now long gone, but nonetheless I think that belief, that a fight should have a clear winner and a clear loser, continues to haunt the sport, causing all manner of controversies that might be avoided with an approach more accepting of ambiguity and uncertainty. But when two fighters shed blood in the ring, it is difficult to embrace ambiguity. Which brings me to this past Saturday's DAZN main event between welterweight contenders Jessie Vargas and Thomas Dulorme. Scored a majority draw, one judge had it 115-111 for Vargas, while the two remaining judges had it 113-113. That Dulorme eked out a draw was thanks to the flash knockdown of Vargas that the Puerto Rican scored in the final seconds of the 12th round. Had he not rocked Vargas off-balance with a right hand, he would have lost the fight by unanimous decision, a view largely shared by the ringside observers who were also scoring the fight.
I did not see it that way. Going into the 12th and final round, I had Dulorme up 105-103, needing only to stay on his feet to win the fight. With the knockdown, Dulorme, on my scorecard, coasted to a 115-111 win. When I shared this card on Twitter, I was mocked for scoring the fight in a way shared by no one other than the abrasive DAZN announcer Brian Kenny, not exactly a ringing endorsement. Did I get it wrong? I went back and looked at the fight again. And what became very clear upon reviewing is that most of the rounds were razor close. Vargas clearly won the 4th round and 10th rounds, and Dulorme definitely won the 12th with his knockdown of Vargas. The rest of the rounds, however, were marked by a pattern of competition in which both fighters were able to execute their game plan. Dulorme, the stronger puncher, came forward most of the fight but also managed to maintain distance so that most of Vargas's jabs missed their mark, whereas Dulorme was able to consistently touch Vargas's body. Vargas, for his part, was an effective counterpuncher, and especially excelled when Dulorme became too aggressive, loading up on his shots and thus leaving him exposed for counters. In the balance, it was an even fight: the punch stats were virtually identical, and each boxer scored a knockdown. A draw is a more than fair outcome. But looking at the fight, I think it would have been possible to have either Vargas or Dulorme winning by larger margins than 115-111. If you give most or all of the close rounds to one fighter, that is an entirely reasonable conclusion. The only thing that could prevent it would be to engage in the kind of strategic scoring that is largely frowned upon in the business. Score more 10-10 rounds. If there are two close rounds in a row, give one to each fighter, even if you think one fighter was slightly better in both. Though the sport's analysts would blanch at the suggestion, it is actually possible to watch a very close fight in which the same fighter wins every round by a narrow margin. A close fight that is scored 120-108 is not unthinkable. As a violent sport, boxing craves decisive outcomes. It seems almost cruel to force two gladiators into the ring, allow them to bruise and batter each other for the better part of an hour, and then conclude with a shrug of the shoulders. Likewise, it seems unfair to score a fight decisively for one side when each round was very close. These are perhaps the most glaring imperfections of the sport: its violent conflict requires resolution, and yet the fractional differences between two skilled opponents often leads to bizarre or muddled conclusions. It is for this reason that I always urge boxing commentators to take decision wins and losses with a grain of salt, and not treat them as decisive encapsulations of Truth, worthy of determining the overall merit of a fighter's career or his future prospects.