When Mourad Aliev sat on the boxing ring apron at the Kokugikan Arena for an hour after his disqualification for head-butting, the French super heavyweight took a metaphorical seat alongside all the boxers who believe they’ve been grievously wronged by Olympic refereeing and judging.
This crowd of angry fighters was there over a century ago, during boxing’s turbulent Olympic history.
Ingemar Johansson. Jo Dong-gi. Byun Jung-il. Roy Jones Jr. Evander Holyfield. Floyd Mayweather Jr. Alexis Vastine. Michael Conlan. Vassiliy Levit. This is just a small number of boxers who were victims to poor judging or controversial refereeing in the Olympic rings over the years.
Boxers and their fans have been complaining about boxing for as long as it has been part of the modern Games. Every attempt to improve the judging and officiating has been undone by another round of missteps.
Images of angry boxers protesting perceived injustices are what define the sport. Losing fighters chant conspiracy and corruption after every loss, but they never explain why a global cabal was created to harm them.
How much of the dismal reputation of Olympic boxing is due to genuine scandal and how much is simply human inconsistency? These controversial decisions are caused by what?
These answers are probably not as complicated as the boxing conspiracy theorists or piqued fighters think.
THE FIGHTS ARE QUITE TERMINAL
Modern Olympic fights last three rounds. It’s not enough time to decide any fight in a high-quality boxing match. While many professionals only get to the third round of a match, an Olympian could be in serious trouble before that.
Billy Walsh, U.S. head coach, stated that sometimes a boxer is just starting to get going and sometimes it’s already finished.
Because boxers have to compete multiple times during the 16-day tournament, fights are often short. Although the differences between fighters can be minimal in nine minutes, compared to 36 for a pro title fight of 36, a losing boxer will always focus on what she did well.
Boxers cannot fight until the other is incapacitated. This was the exact way that they competed in the ancient Olympic Games of 688 B.C. Decisions are an unfortunate necessity.
JUDGING IS A SUBJECTIVE
Every boxing decision is subjective regardless of what your friend who watches every pay-per view wants you to believe.
Conlan’s loss to Vladimir Nikitin in Russia was a good example. When Conlan lost to Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin, the famed Irish bantamweight was the iconic image of those Games. He slowly rotated so everyone could see his opinions.
This is the problem: Judging is an opinion.
Conlan and his supporters claimed that the decision was a result of financial corruption or a conspiracy to support a Russian team that won one medal. Many people believe Conlan boxed well, and probably deserved the victory. However, Nikitin repeatedly punched Conlan in the face, exploiting Conlan’s inconsistent defense. Nikitin bravely fought with a bloody face and had enough to win in a brief fight.
Conlan believes that he was robbed. Others believe that he was not dominant enough to eliminate objective doubt.
These are just my opinions.
ALL OVER THE PLACE
Five judges from five continents have been a part of many bouts in Tokyo. Although it is admirable to show respect for others, judges with vastly different backgrounds rarely work together on the finer points of scoring.
The International Boxing Association (AIBA), which made a highly-praised return to the 10-must scoring systems before Rio, also dedicated significant resources to coordinated judge education. There was progress.
After widespread financial problems and complaints about the 2016 Olympics’ judging, AIBA was suspended from the Olympics in 2019. This dance marathon is exhausting, as Olympic judging has been moving forward and backwards for decades.
STANDARDS FOR HARSH PROTECTION
Referee Andy Mustacchio disqualified Aliev after he clashed with British opponent Frazer Carle. Clarke had suffered cuts to his eyes. Aliev claimed that he wasn’t warned at all, but others at the ringside disagreed. Clarke stated, “Those are the rules for the sport.” They weren’t made by us.”
Olympic boxing rules encourage early stopping of violations. This is supposedly to protect the fighters. Referees are paid to referee a fight. They prefer to prolong it, as that’s when the fighting is getting better.
This flexibility is often not understood by the Olympic sport: Saturday’s stoppage of Sofiane Oumiha, a French lightweight, was caused by Keyshawn Davis’s stunned punches that didn’t even knock him to the ground.
Aliev and Oumiha would almost certainly have been allowed to continue a professional fight. An Olympic fight can be ended by a zealous referee for minor reasons, even if it seems unfair.
Many boxers are bad sports. This is a survival instinct. Most fighters lose their careers when they lose frequently. Boxers are unlikely to accept defeat in close bouts that end in a decision. This is about 90% of Olympic bouts.
Some Olympic athletes are exemplary in defeat. After a quarterfinal loss to Brazil’s Hebert Sousa, Abilkhan Amankul, a Kazakh middleweight sensation, was gracious Sunday.
Boxers are inexplicably confident in their abilities. A loss is viewed as an attack on self-confidence by boxers who will counter it with two middle fingers up or a ring sit in.