How professional boxing’s scoring system works?

The subjective nature of judging professional boxing bouts has resulted in many disputed decisions1 leading to accusations of judging incompetence and corruption.2

This article will explain how professional boxing’s most popular scoring system works, before analysing the perceived benefits and weakness of the system with reference to some “bad” decisions. Finally, consideration will be given as to how the system could be improved to ensure greater accuracy and efficiency in outcomes.

There are a number of professional sanctioning bodies in the world, but the four major non-profit ones generally accepted as recognising professional boxing world champions are: World Boxing Council (WBC), World Boxing Association (WBA), World Boxing Organisation (WBO) and International Boxing Federation (IBF).3

The rules of boxing are governed by the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC), a North American not-for-profit organisation that provides the framework for the undertaking of boxing and MMA matches. In terms of scoring professional bouts, the ABC`s Uniform Rules of Boxing prescribes that the “Ten (10) Point Must System” will be the standard system used (see Rule 4).4 Other systems have been used at various places and times, but the Ten Point Must System ­has been and is the most widely recognised and used scoring system since the middle of the twentieth century.

There is no universal standard as to precisely how the System should be applied, but the ABC provides overarching guidance on the concept in its Official Certification Program for Judges and Referees (Certification Program),5 which states:

“the winner of each round will [i.e. “must”] receive 10 points, (minus any points deductions for fouls) with the lesser score awarded to the loser of the round (minus any points deductions for fouls).6 There are to be no fraction of points awarded, and in the event of an even round, the score will be 10/10. Even rounds should rarely, if ever happen.”

The Certification Program continues to state:

“Mentally, a judge MUST know which contestant is winning the round at any given point. [They] should know the score of the round, and the score should immediately be written on the scorecard at the end of the round.”7 (Professional Boxing Judges, Chapter V – Scoring The Bout).

When scoring each round, judges are to refer to the Scoring Criteria outlined in the ABC’s Regulatory Guidelines:8

“…. Judges are to score each round using the following scoring criteria:

Clean punching (power versus quantity).
Effective aggressiveness.
Ring generalship.
The ABC expands upon this in its Certification Program, stating:

”The test to measure the awarding of points for “offensive boxing” should be the number of direct, clean punches delivered with the knuckle part of the closed glove on any part of the scoring zone of the opponent’s body above the belt line. The judges should also consider the effect of blows received versus the number of punches delivered. Punches that are blocked or deflected should not be considered in tabulating your score. Blocked or deflected punches that land foul are not to be considered fouls in the awarding of points at the end of the round.”9 (Professional Boxing Judges, Chapter III – Scoring Zone).

It also states:

“Determination should not be mistaken for aggressiveness when one boxer continuously moves forward boring in on the opponent regardless of the number of punches being received. If an attack is not effective, the boxer cannot receive credit for it. In order for the boxer to be effective in their aggressiveness, he or she must force the action and set the tempo of the bout through forward movement. The boxer must score punches while blocking and avoiding the opponents counter punching. An aggressive boxer who continues boring in and getting hit from every angle should not be awarded points based on aggressiveness.”10 (Professional Boxing Judges, Chapter V – Scoring The Bout).

Finally, the Certification Program provides guidelines as to how a round should be scored numerically:

“10/9 From a “close” to “moderate” margin
10/8 EXTREMELY DECISIVE (without a knockdown)
10/8 One knockdown
10/7 Two knockdowns
10/6 More than (2) two knockdowns
10/10 Cannot pick a winner (very rare).”11 (Professional Boxing Judges, Chapter VIII – Scoring Criteria).

“A judge should not only know what a 10/9 round is, but know the degree a boxer is winning the 10/9 round. Either a boxer won a close 10/9 round, a moderate 10/9 round, or a decisive 10/9 round. Extreme decisive may push the score to a 10/8 score depending on the judgment of the judge.” (Professional Boxing Judges, Chapter VIII – Scoring The Bout).

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