How to Score a Fight Right with Harold Lederman

By Kieran Mulvaney

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There are few sports in which victory can be achieved as suddenly, as shockingly, and as definitively as boxing. One punch can render a man unconscious and another triumphant in the blink of an eye. On the other hand, if a fight lasts the distance and goes to the scorecards, especially if the battle has been a close one, two people sitting within feet of each other can reach entirely different decisions about which boxer deserves to have his hand raised.

Professional boxing is scored by three ringside judges, using what is known as the ‘ten points must’ system. That means that the winner of each round must get 10 points (unless he has a point deducted for a foul such as repeated low blows). The loser gets 9 points – again, unless he is deducted a point for a foul, or for being knocked down. There is theoretically no limit to how many points a boxer can lose from repeated knockdowns - although, notes HBO’s ‘unofficial official’ Harold Lederman, “There are jurisdictions that say you shouldn’t go past 10-6 because then the gap is so wide the other guy can’t catch up.”

If, when the bout is over, all three judges score in favor of one fighter, he wins a unanimous decision. If one judge scores for Fighter A and the others for Fighter B, B wins a split decision. If two judges score for Fighter A, and the other sees it even, Fighter A wins a majority decision. Theoretically, a fighter could win five rounds clearly, beating up his opponent without knocking him down, but lose the other seven by the narrowest of margins and so, despite appearing to be the dominant boxer, lose a decision. Lederman says that’s largely because of many judges’ reluctance to score rounds wider than 10-9 without a knockdown, which he says is one element of judging he would like to see changed:

“You see rounds where a guy’s hardly doing a darn thing and they score the round 10-9, and the truth of the matter is, it’s not fair,” he says. “Because what happens is, one guy wins the round really wide and if the judges went to 10-8, it would be the difference in the fight.”

While nothing can rid scoring of its inherent subjectivity, Lederman offers a few guidelines on how best to judge a fight and determine the winner:

Read Harold's guidelines on