People have always been a little suspicious of boxing. Maybe it’s because the sport relies on the interpretation of judges to pick a winner when nobody gets knocked out. Maybe it’s because of shady characters like Don King. Or maybe it’s because half the fights take place in Vegas, the sports-betting capital of the world. But whenever there’s a surprising outcome, people are quick to speculate that, you know, maybe it was fixed.
We were treated to just such a bout over the weekend. Manny Pacquiao was heavily favored against Timothy Bradley going into their fight on Saturday, and once it was over all but two people on the planet thought Pacquiao had dominated. Unfortunately, those two people happened to be judges, so Bradley miraculously won the bout in a split decision.
Today, we’re going to see where the controversial Pacquiao-Bradley decision ranks among the most controversial boxing decisions of all time. (Here’s a hint: it ranks pretty high.)
So let’s get to it.
This one actually was a pretty close fight...depending on who you talk to.
At the time, Marvelous Marvin Hagler was the undisputed middleweight champion of the world, while Sugar Ray Leonard had come out of retirement to challenge him and was a huge underdog at Vegas sports books. However, Leonard was the sentimental favorite as the most popular boxer in America, and everyone knew it—even the ringside announcers. During the fight, they predicted that everyone wanted Leonard to win so bad that Hagler would have to knock him out to win.
Turns out, they were right. Though Leonard landed more punches (306 to 291), most observers thought Hagler landed more power punches and deserved to win because he was the aggressor. They argued that Leonard only won because of flashy but ineffective flurries—like the one at the 2:20 mark in the above clip—and because he had star power on his side.
9. Hagler vs. Leonard (1987)
Coming in at #8 is the first of three consecutive involving boxing's "Golden Boy," Oscar De La Hoya. And in this case, the controversial decision did not go in his favor.
De La Hoya landed 221 punches to Mosley's 127, and everyone thought he'd won...only, according to the judges, he didn't. Perhaps if it was a split decision it wouldn't have been so controversial, but it was unanimous, with each judge scoring it 115-113 in favor of Mosley. (And even he seems kind of surprised by the decision, which you can see at the 9:36 mark of the video above.)
8. De La Hoya vs. Mosley (2003)
In the second-most controversial decision of his career, Oscar De La Hoya was again on the losing end. And this loss was even more incredible than the one to Mosley.
Billed as "The Fight of the Millenium," it pitted a 31-0 De La Hoya against a 35-0 Felix Trinidad. Immediately after the fight, people were saying De La Hoya put on a clinic, that it was the best fight of his career, and that he was the obvious winner. And the stats agreed: he out-punched Felix Trinidad 236-116, even though he basically took it easy for the last three rounds.
Nevertheless, Trinidad was declared the winner by majority decision (meaning two judges had Trinidad and one judge had it a draw).
7. De La Hoya vs. Trinidad (1999)
In 2004, De La Hoya was finally on the receiving end of an incompetent decision.
At 31 years of age, he was past his prime and looked slow throughout his bout against WBO Middleweight champ Felix Sturm (20-0 at the time). But with history on the line—a victory would make De La Hoya the first man to win titles in 6 different weight divisions—the judges gave the "Golden Boy" a unanimous decision despite the 234 to 188 punch disparity.
See the decision at the 6:20 mark.
6. Sturm vs. De La Hoya (2004)
Pernell Whitaker was "ROBBED!" against Julio Cesar Chavez, at least according to the cover of Sports Illustrated the week after their 1993 bout.
Of course, Sports Illustrated wasn't alone in their assessment. The guy announcing the fight said Whitaker's performance was "flawless" right after the bout, so was sure he that Whitaker had defeated Julio Cesar Chavez, who was then considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Unfortunately for Whitaker, only one of the two judges agrees. The other two scored it a draw, so the fight was called a draw.
A few weeks later, some journalists discovered that the WBC had used its own judged rather than independent local judged from the Texas Boxing & Wrestling Program. So obviously more than a few people were smelling a conspiracy.
(Decision at the 8:50 mark. Great commentary by the announcers from the 7:05 mark on.)
5. Whitaker vs. Chavez (1993)
This decision is more controversial than it otherwise would be simply because it was unanimous.
Jose Luis Castillo had landed more punches than Floyd Mayweather Jr. (203-147), including a huge advantage in power punches (173-66). But you do have to take into account the fact that rounds are scored separately—whether you win a round 15-0 or 1-0, you get the same number of points. So the huge advantage in punches doesn't mean an automatic victory.
But the point of bringing up the punch stats is to show that Castillo was clearly the better boxer. Nevertheless, the judges were unanimous for Mayweather.
Skip to the 3:20 mark for the results, and to hear the announcers' incredulity when they break down the stats. It was totally ridiculous.
4. Castillo vs. Maywether (2002)
Yep, the Pacquiao-Bradley nonsense is already the #3 most controversial boxing decision of all time. And this is obvious whether you watched the fight, or whether you just look at the stats. Pacquiao had an overall punch advantage of 253 to 159, landed 82 more power shots, and landed more punches in 10 of 12 rounds. That's just pure dominance. Hell, according to fight promotor Bob Arum, even Bradley's manager thought Pacquiao won 8 of the 12 rounds. And yet somehow two of the three judges thought Bradley was better, which gave him a majority decision.
Obviously, some people are already wondering whether this wasn't some sort of payback for Pacquiao's controversial win back in November over Juan Manuel Marquez. But I'd say it's probably just good old-fashioned incompetence.
(Yeah, sorry. No video of this one yet.)
3. Pacquiao vs. Bradley (2012)
This controversial decision from the 1988 Olympics in South Korea comes in at #2 not simply because everyone who watched it kneww the result was incorrect, but because one of the judges actually admitted to making the wrong call...on purpose.
The USA's Roy Jones Jr. outboxed Korea's Park Si-Hun in the gold medal bout, but lost the decision 3-2 (there are five judges in Olympic boxing). Incredibly, right after the bout, the Moroccan judge said that he was so sure all the other judges would go with Jones that he voted for Park simply because he didn't want him to suffer complete humiliation in front of his home crowd.
Now that's some BS.
2. Jones vs. Park (1988)
How do you get knocked out in the first round, then again in the fourth round, but still manage to win a fight?
Well, it helps if you're already a boxing legend, and Joe Louis certainly was that heading into his 1947 bout with Jersey Joe Walcott.
Walcott so clearly dominated the 15-round heavyweight fight against Joe Louis that the 18,000 fans at Madison Square Garden booed when Louis was declared the winner by split decision (6-7, 8-6, 9-6).
Years later Walcott said that Louis knew he had been defeated after the fight, and would have left the ring before the decision was announced if his handlers hadn't forced him to say. Then, after hearing that he won, Walcott says Louis put his arms around him and whispered into his ear, "I'm sorry."
(Skip to 7:50 for the decision, but still watch the awesome opening credits.)