If sports were restaurants, boxing would be the rustic, old steakhouse that hasn’t changed so much as a side dish since prohibition. The kind that bills its own reluctance to adapt to modern ideas as “classic.” Sure, the filet mignon is boiled and there’s rats in the bathroom the size of campground raccoons but hey, that’s the way it’s always been! The old guy with the oxygen tank in the coat check room who asked if he could smell your wife’s feet? That’s just Giuseppe! He’s been here since Herbert Hoover was in office.
Our time on this planet is finite and we all waste too much of it honoring pointless traditions simply because that’s the way it’s always been. Next time you’re watching a turkey get pardoned or painting Easter eggs or sitting through church, ask yourself why are we doing this? Why didn’t we bother to come up with anything new along the way? Boxing is no different. Why are rounds three minutes long? Why championship belts instead of hats? Why isn’t there a division for midgets? Because it’s just always been that way.
Boxing is a wonderful sport, right up until the moment that it isn’t. At its best, it’s sublime. At its worst, it’s trite, tedious, and borderline pointless. The incongruity between those two outcomes is almost always due, at least in part, to a blind adherence to outdated rules and senseless protocols that we’ve all just come to accept as the cost of doing business. I mean, we’re sitting here watching two guys legally fistfight with their shirts off so why should any of this make sense, right?
As fans of this god damn sideshow though, we invest time and money in ways other sports fans simply aren’t required to. We pay a hundred bucks plus to watch Adelaide Byrd and Canelo Alvarez team up against the laws of physics in HIGH DEF. We get up at 4am on a Thursday to watch tiny, screaming Japanese men fight on the screens of our smartphones. We pay a half month’s rent to cover the shipping fees on that new Isaac Dogboe t-shirt just to make sure warlords don’t intercept it (Worth it! -ed.). That loyalty is more often than not rewarded with terrible scoring, missed calls, and uncompetitive fights. The SS Boxing isn’t quite sinking but it’s definitely sprung some major leaks. Let’s patch some of those holes. Let’s make some changes to the rule book and see where we end up.
The great Larry Merchant once famously said “Nothing will kill boxing and nothing can save it.” Until now. We can save it. You and me, buddy. You ready?
(Please note that I have zero hope or confidence that any of these will ever happen.
1. No More Sanctioning Bodies
This is the most obvious and important change that can be made. For anything else in this sport to evolve, abolishing the alphabet groups and establishing a formal commission has to happen first. Don’t get me wrong, I can see an argument for their existence. On one hand, they give lesser known fighters more leverage at the bargaining table and put a few extra bucks in their pocket. On the other hand, they’re exclusively responsible for ruining the entire sport of boxing so, you know, scales of justice and all that. With the eradication of all sanctioning bodies we wave bye-bye to criminally suspect rankings boards, egregious sanctioning fees, the proliferation of titles, and having multiple champions in the same fucking weight class. It’s all gone. All of it.
In its place is an international commission that governs the entire sport based on reason and merit. We appoint someone with integrity and a history of incorruptibility to oversee it. Someone like long time former Ring Magazine editor in chief and hall of famer Nigel Collins. Or Showtime analyst, boxing lifer and fellow hall of famer Steve Farhood. I’d be willing to throw Al Bernstein’s name into the hat too, but if there’s a special promotion on PornHub we could lose him for long stretches of time. So we appoint a commissioner and we implement a sane, rational rankings system like the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
With a structure in place to ensure proper rankings, one champion per division, and minimize corrupting influences, the sky is the limit.
2. Overtime Rounds
Ties suck. In every sense of the word. Neck ties, family ties, Tye Fields. They’re all garbage. No one likes them, especially in competitive sports. So why do we put up with them?
Picture this: Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev beat the absolute dogshit out of each other for 12 rounds. There’s a knockdown each, Usyk loses a point mid-fight for rabbit punching but comes on hard in the championship rounds, enough to even earn a 10-8 in the 11th. Gassiev, having banked most of the early rounds barely finishes on his feet and Usyk is completely gassed from trying to get him out of there. The judges tally up the scores, hand them to the ring announcer and after letting the tension in the arena reach a nearly unbearable crescendo, he reveals a unanimous draw across all three cards. Everyone sobers up, loses their boner, and goes home aggressively unsatisfied.
Now picture this: The scorecards are read, a draw is announced, and the ring clears out as both fighters go back to their corner to put their mouthpieces back in for one more winner-take-all round. Both guys exhausted, bloody, and starting to swell, putting it all back on the line for all three minutes. Ninety seconds to determine who will be rewarded for the 12 grueling rounds that preceded it and the 10 weeks of agonizing training before that. Is anyone in that arena sitting down when the bell for the 13th round rings?
Draws are bullshit. Overtime rounds, baby. We need this.
3. Same Day Weigh-Ins
Of all the entries on this list this one has the best chance of actual being implemented. There’s an obvious strategical purpose to having day before weigh-ins in that after killing themselves for the previous month to make weight you don’t want fighters going into the ring depleted. Given how modern fighters rehydrate in the ensuing 24 hours however, the door is wide open for size discrepancies to have disastrous consequences. The most common example is Arturo Gatti’s two round destruction of Joey Gamache back in 2000 that ended Gamache’s career and left him with permanent brain damage. That’s obviously an extreme example but Gatti only outweighed Gamache by 15 pounds on fight night and we see gaps wider than that all the time these days. How often do we see a guy weigh in as a middleweight and enter the ring looking like Chris Arreola on the last day of a Subtember?
The solution seems quite simple. The fighters weigh in on the morning of the fight with enough time to properly rehydrate but not gorge themselves into a new weight class. It’s a no brainer.
4. Zero Sum Purses
Ok, just hear me out here. Mismatches blow. They’re boring and a massive waste of everyone’s time. The problem is, how do you keep two guys from accepting a paycheck even if the outcome is almost assuredly predetermined? The answer: Zero sum purses. Winner take all.
Under boxing’s current system, there’s an unwritten rule that a fighter kinda, sorta, ok not really, has to be ranked in the top 15 to fight for a title. If he’s not, you just slip the right person an eight ball of coke and voila – he’s a top 15 guy. Hell, toss a handjob in there and you can get him in the top five. Under our new system though (See #1) we have an incorruptible rankings board so bribes and hush money are a thing of the past.
Here’s how it works now: Say your fighter is the champion of his division and you want him to take an easy fight or a tune up. Fine, that’s allowed. Except if he chooses to fight someone outside of the top ten his entire purse is on the line if he loses. Same goes for the challenger. There’s the obvious hiccup of paying trainers, managers, promoters and the like so a small allotment will have to be doled out to cover those fees but ultimately the losing fighter get ZERO DOLLARS. How many champions are willing to risk their title and their purse just to take an easy, bullshit fight?
Yes, the challenger will get screwed more often than not but on the occasions when he doesn’t that’s a massive underdog story and a catapult to success. It’s the ultimate “put your money where your mouth is” scenario instead of the usual “put your mouth where the money is” posturing of talking up shitty mismatches.
5. Start Fights Earlier
This really needs no further explanation. Start the main even at 8pm eastern standard time. People have shit to do and I promise you they’ll thank you for it. There’s no excuse for entering the ring on a Saturday and leaving it on a Sunday. Do away with all the pageantry of the national anthems and fighter instructions and just get to it. Writers can make their deadlines, parents can rest up for the next day of unrelenting hell that awaits them and alcoholics still have time to go out and drink. Everybody wins. I know HBO and Showtime will bitch because they premiere new movies at 7pm on Saturdays but Transformers: Revenge of the Mechanical Fart Moth will just have to wait until 10pm. Like we do now. Start the fucking fights earlier.
6. Five Judges
Don’t ask me how I know this, but most competitive dance-based sports use a five judge system where the two widest scorecards are dropped and the middle three are used as official scores. Guess what? Boxing should do this. It will have no fundamental effect on how fights are scored but it will safeguard against incompetence and corruption.
Let’s say a fight is very obviously close. It sorta leans toward fighter A but you could very rationally make a case for fighter B. The scorecards are tallied and read. Two judges have it 115-113 for fighter A, the next has it 116-112 for fighter B, a fourth one has it 117-11 for fighter A and the fifth one has it 119-109 for fighter B. The fourth and fifth judges can now fuck off and take their scorecards with them. The official nod is a split decision victory for fighter A and there’s few to no complaints.
Now imagine if either of the fourth or fifth judges was assigned to that fight in our current three judge system? You’d have a scoring controversy, pissed off fans and dozens of “another black eye for boxing” articles up by sunrise. All because someone’s cataract acted up or they had money on the fight or they were just plain fucking dumb. The five judge system isn’t perfect but it’s another layer of insulation against stupidity and misconduct and boxing needs as many of those as it can get.
7. Ref Cuts the Tape
This is just me picking nits now but this is a ridiculous rule. The tape on a fighter’s glove comes loose and thrashes around like an angry tapeworm for half a round until the ref finally calls time and walks him over to his corner. The corner then proceeds to fumble around at half speed like Michael J Fox attempting to pour a glass of red wine while wearing a white tux as the ref attempts to hurry him along with all the urgency of an overweight convict climbing the steps to the gallows. Meanwhile, the action has stopped, both fighters are given a lengthy rest and the fighter with the faulty tape is receiving a list of instructions from his corner rivaling Volume 1 of Remembrance of Things Past and for what? Because his corner doesn’t understand how adhesives work. This is, how do you say it, ah yes, dumb.
Give the ref a small roll of tape and little pair of scissors to keep in his fanny pack. Also, he gets a fanny pack now too. If a fighter’s tape comes loose, the refs waits for a break in the action, calls a brief timeout, re-tapes the glove and the action starts up again in the time it would take to give a warning for low blows. This isn’t brain surgery.
I know some will say that having a ref re-tape a glove instead of a trained cornerman could give the opposing fighter a strategic advantage but if your chances of winning a fight are remotely affected by the placement of tape on your opponent’s glove then you probably didn’t stand a chance to begin with.
Also, duct tape should be used in all fights in place of athletic tape but this is by far the most anyone has ever talked about tape in an article that’s not about kidnapping strategies so we’re just going to let that go for today.
8. No Testing for Recreational Drugs
Overturning a decision because a fighter tested positive for recreational – that is non-performance enhancing – drugs is archaic and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how drugs work. Yes, marijuana will enhance pain tolerance but also drastically slows reaction time and decision making. Cocaine will give you short energy bursts but also severely increase body temperature and constrict blood vessels while possibly leaving the user susceptible to wearing fishnets and partying with hookers who will ultimately blackmail them. And I truly believe that, much like fellating yourself, if you can box professionally while on heroin you absolutely should be allowed to.
The point is, depending on the amount you use, both marijuana and cocaine can be detected in your blood or urine for up to three weeks after use. Boxing is a hard sport. If a fighter wants to take the edge off by smoking a bowl or doing a couple lines 20 days before a fight, what the hell do we care?
9. No Training While Suspended
This comes with the obvious caveat that I have no idea how you would enforce it but nevertheless, if a fighter is suspended by the commission for PED use he is not allowed to train during that time period. Oh what’s that? Not training means you won’t be in shape and will put your future ability to earn money at risk? That’s what it’s supposed to do, dummy. You’re being punished. A boxer’s prime is short and if people are really serious about cleaning up the sport then the punishments dished out should reflect it.
Most high level fighters take six months off between fights anyway so a suspension isn’t really a huge deal. The dedicated ones will stay in shape during that time however and when the next training camp rolls around it’s just shedding weight and tightening screws. If there was a way to ensure that a suspended fighter caught anywhere near a gym during the time of his suspension would have a year added to it, they may think twice about scarfing down that Mexican clenbuterol burger next time.
10. Video Replay for Cuts and Fouls
Boxing is a fast, nuanced sport and referees truly have a thankless job. Realistically, if a fight is perfectly refereed you shouldn’t notice the ref at all. If he happens to miss a call however, he (or she I suppose, #MeToo) can be blamed at the blink of an eye for ruining a fight. I guess that’s the price that has to be paid for adjudicating a contest between fighters literally risking their lives. So how about this? Let’s split the difference and give everyone a break. Let’s take the most commonly flubbed calls and implement a system to protect the referees’ reputations against forgivable mistakes and also reward the fighters with accurate calls. Let’s use video replay to determine the cause of cuts and the accuracy of slips and foul calls.
Now, I’m not saying stop the fight and roll back the tape every time a guy gets tapped on the balls but we’ve all seen how quickly the network production crews can find and pinpoint a replay angle that shows the exact nature of a controversial ruling. If a cut is ruled to be from a headbutt and there’s an angle that clearly shows it to be from a punch, that replay can be shown to the ref between rounds and he can amend his call. Same goes for knockdowns that are ruled slips and vice versa as well as knockdowns that are caused by low blows.
There’s obviously a massive a grey area here and someone smarter than me will have to hammer out the protocols but fighters deserve to have calls that affect the outcome of the fight properly ruled. No referee wants their judgment questioned, but I’m sure they all have calls that they’d like to have back. Video replay helps move the goalposts closer in everyone’s favor.
- Hit me up on twitter @ratcatchermpls and let me know any other rule changes you would make.
- Like most people I don’t know thing one about Tyson Fury’s June 9 comeback opponent Sefer Seferi (23-1, 21 KO) other than the records of the opponents on his boxrec page look like long distance phone numbers but let’s hope Fury doesn’t get taken by surprise. He’s an absolute screwball, but the heavyweight division is a much more interesting place with him in it.
- That Vasyl Lomachenko did what he did to Jorge Linares a few weeks back on May 12 was impressive enough. To find out he did it with a torn labrum and basically one handed is downright terrifying. What a fighter.
- I have no idea what the long term viability of an endeavor like the ESPN+ app is but for the time being, it’s a lot of decent content for the cost of a pack of smokes. I’m not a huge fan of putting more boxing behind a paywall but I’m willing to let it prove that it’s not worth it before I cancel my subscription.
- Not a ton of good records have come out in the past month so go back listen to some god damn 7 Seconds, will ya?! I love you all so much and I want you to be happy. In our culture it is not customary for you to say something nice about me.