The British Boxing Board of Control’s Robert Smith talks to Matt Christie following yet another controversial night in a British ring
There have been suggestions that Josh Warrington should have been pulled out sooner. What was your perception of the main event from your position at ringside?
I’m sitting six metres back behind a perspex screen. The people closer are the judges and the referee. I spoke to Howard [Foster, the referee] after the bout. In all but name, Josh Warrington was a world champion. Although he was hurt, Howard tells me Josh’s eyes were clear and, when asked, he said, ‘I’m alright, Howard.’ So he addressed the referee by his name. So Howard let it continue.
You will notice that a couple of times, Howard was concerned about Josh’s jaw so he’s gone to have a look in the corner and Josh was readily talking. Also, during the bout – after the fourth – Josh was talking to his opponent. So Howard felt that he should be given the benefit of the doubt and be allowed to continue.
I actually thought Josh was clawing his way back into it. So with all that in mind – Howard’s experience, that Josh’s eyes were clear, he was talking and he was fighting back plus the fact that Josh was a world champion, it was an important fight, his qualities are well known and other people have come back from similar situations to win – Howard made the call to let the fight continue.
With that in mind, that Howard knows Josh as a fighter and made a decision because of that, would the same chances have been given to Lara if he’d have been in similar trouble?
People are assuming things. The first priority of the referee is the safety of the boxer. Once he’s decided that he can continue then other factors may come in. How is he recovering? He knows Josh has an experienced corner – now that’s not shifting responsibility, it’s a fact that has to be taken into consideration. And I would hope that if Lara had been in the same position, if he had responded in the same way, the fight would have continued also.
Were you uncomfortable at any point watching the fight develop?
First of all, what took everyone by surprise, was the shock of what was happening; I was shocked that Josh went over as he did. It was a good shot and he was obviously hurt. His legs were stiff and you could see he was not his normal self but he’d just been hit with a very good shot.
But yes, I am always concerned if anybody is in that position.
Will Howard have to face any hearing?
It’s too early to say. I’ve spoken to him but I am awaiting reports to come in regarding the whole tournament. But from initial discussions, he acted in the proper way. To my mind he’s a world class official and people will say he got it wrong, people will say he gave the boy the benefit of the doubt. There are numerous examples of fighters being given the benefit of the doubt and going on to win the fight.
What was your reaction to the scores in the Zelfa Barrett-Kiko Martinez fight?
I can tell you this: The closest people to the action are the judges and the referee. I am six metres back and I had Barrett winning by a couple of rounds. Two metres behind me is the promoters. Now, when I spoke to Eddie Hearn, he thought that Barrett had nicked it by a round. The commentary teams are significantly further back – they’re in a box – and they had it a draw. Further back still, at an angle, you’ve got the pundits like Johnny Nelson and Adam Booth. So the further you went back the more the perception of the result changes.
My own opinion was that Martinez was full of industry but a lot of the punches, his hooks and swings, were landing on the gloves whereas Barrett was landing the cleaner shots. Now people can interpret that in many ways.
You had two judges who had exactly the same score (118-111). Now I’m not defending anyone but that’s a fact. So you look closer and the judges only agreed on five of the 12 rounds. In the remaining seven, there were three rounds where one judge scored it even and there was a further two rounds where there was a complete split – one went for the red corner, one went for the blue corner and another judge called it even. That indicates to me that they were close rounds.
With the current system, a close round can be 10-9 and a wide round can be 10-9 and maybe that’s where something needs to be changed. That’s where we get the difference of opinion.
In your position, can you trigger a change of thinking in regard to the scoring?
The whole world needs to change. I have stood up at sanctioning body conventions and said we need to consider making a wide round 10-8 and a round where a knockdown is scored, 10-7. But just because there’s a knockdown doesn’t make it 10-8 now if it’s a flash knockdown. It’s down to interpretation but I do believe there is value in looking at the system.
What is your opinion on open scoring?
We don’t permit it here because there could be a crowd reaction. I also think you could get a situation where a fighter is so far ahead they just get on their bike and run which would take away the endeavour.
I quite like that you don’t know the result until the end. We’re not like football or rugby where you get points or goals on the board. We are the only sport where you don’t know the result until the end.
I do think that half the problem is that someone gets a feeling that someone has won it and they haven’t. I think on Saturday, because of his endeavour, a lot of people thought that Martinez won when I don’t believe he did win.
There is clearly an issue in the viewers’ perception so frequently differing from the actual result. It can be wildly different and that is also different to any other sport.
I understand that. But from your position at home you can be swayed by the commentary.
Is there more that the Board of Control can do, in the face of accusations of incompetence and even worse, in terms of how you react to the controversial decisions?
We get the reports, we read the reports and if we’re concerned about anyone’s performance we act upon it. I do think that the current time period without crowds, where the majority of people who are voicing their opinion aren’t in the crowd or aren’t at ringside, has something to do with this. Again, those who are in the arena have different views. Some are one metre away, others are 100 metres away. Some can see replays, some can’t. There are lots of factors why people are disagreeing with results but that doesn’t mean it’s crooked or people are incompetent.
I do respect the opinion of everyone but that doesn’t mean that they’re right. I thought Barrett won by two rounds and I accept that people will disagree with that.
What was your reaction to Eddie Hearn saying that it will be difficult to get fighters to the UK because of the ongoing controversy?
Of course it hurts. I don’t think it’s helpful that people are saying that but I do understand why people are saying that. It all stems back to how the fight is scored. You can have a 12-rounder that’s a rip-roarer and someone wins every round by 10-9 and it then looks on paper like it’s been a whitewash when it hasn’t been a whitewash. That’s where the problem lies.
Are the judges encouraged, if a round is close, to score it one way or the other rather than scoring it even?
Yes. I say to people they need to find a winner from each round.
Does that not create a problem when the best solution to scoring a round that’s close is to score it level?
I’m not going to argue with that but I do feel, in the space of three minutes, you can generally find a winner. I’m not saying they HAVE to find a winner in every round. A lot of the time we can forget what happened in the first minute of the round, or in the first half of the fight. You know as well as I do that you can watch a fight at ringside, then go back and watch on TV and it looks like a completely different fight.
These are not crooked decisions. But I do believe there are flaws in the system that affect how the fights are scored that can be looked at. The key is to ensure everyone in the world looks as well because it’s imperative that all judges score the same way.