by Eric Raskin
There are three elements to determining the outcome of any Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez fight, and they are of equal importance: (1) what Pacquiao does; (2) what Marquez does; (3) what the judges say they did.
It is nearly impossible to have a conversation about Pacquiao vs. Marquez without having a conversation about scoring fights. That’s the nature of this rivalry.
And to a certain extent, that’s the nature of boxing. Scoring fights is subjective. The three judges sit on different sides of the ring. They each have their own personal stylistic preferences. This is not tennis, where the ball is either in or it’s out. The outcome of a boxing match is determined through highly unscientific methods.
So while we’d like to believe the result of Saturday’s fight will be decided by Pacquiao and Marquez, chances are that the result will be decided by Adalaide Byrd, Steve Weisfeld, and John Keane. And, based on the evidence of their first three fights, chances are that Pacquiao and Marquez won’t make their jobs easy.
“A lot of times, Pacquiao will flurry, will throw a quantity of punches, and Marquez will sit back and counter with a single punch, so judges have to subjectively assess what counts: five quick punches or one big right hand?” said respected New York-based judge Tom Schreck. “When that happens multiple times in a round, that can be really challenging. Now, Manny Pacquiao is more, obviously, than just a guy who throws a lot of punches. He throws a great jab, he throws power shots. Marquez, meanwhile, is a bit more economical and sits down more on his shots. That’s a tough combination for a judge.”
Complicating matters is the perception that Marquez has been treated unfairly by the judges in the first three fights, going 0-2-1 against Pacquiao. Particularly on the heels of their third fight, there’s a sense that Marquez is “owed” a decision.
“Judges are human beings,” said HBO analyst Max Kellerman. “I don’t care how professional you are, you’re susceptible to pressure as a human being. And I think that there’s an incentive, unconscious or conscious, to give Marquez a fair shake in one of these fights.”
“Judges don’t live in a vacuum. They know what happened in the first three fights,” Schreck added. “So, subconsciously, it could happen that a judge would favor Marquez because he hasn’t gotten a decision yet. But that would be a mark of inexperience.”
The judges for Saturday’s fight don’t lack for experience. The Nevada State Athletic Commission chose one judge from within the state, Byrd, one from elsewhere in the U.S., New Jersey’s Weisfeld, and one from overseas, England’s Keane. All three have been judging fights for at least a decade.
Weisfeld is one of the busiest and most widely respected judges in the sport, and nowhere on his lengthy resume is there a scorecard that jumps out as overly troubling.
Keane has a few minor question marks on his record. Last year he favored Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. over Sebastian Zbik by a wider margin than almost anyone else, 116-112. Going all the way back to 2003, his score of 117-110 for Cory Spinks over Ricardo Mayorga was excessively wide. And the year prior to that, he was one of the three judges who saw Floyd Mayweather a clear winner (115-111) over Jose Luis Castillo in their first fight, a score few journalists or fans agreed with. This small amount of evidence might suggest Keane is the type who favors boxers over punchers--potential good news for Marquez.
The judge facing the most scrutiny of the three is Byrd, largely because she’s fresh off a dubious scorecard just last weekend, tallying 119-109 for Austin Trout over Miguel Cotto. Byrd got the winner right, but almost everyone else watching gave Cotto at least three or four rounds.
Still, on the whole, this trio of judges comes in relatively controversy-free. None has ever done anything to make himself or herself famous.
“If you get praise, usually the praise is, ‘They got it right tonight.’ You don’t get, ‘Wow, what a fantastic job! Did you see how he scored that round? Wow!” said Schreck. “But you’re a boxing judge. This is what you do. Nobody likes to be criticized, but nobody’s holding a gun to your head and making you be a boxing judge either.”
If promoter Bob Arum is correct, this might finally be the fight where Pacquiao and Marquez take the judges out of the equation. Marquez feels he got shorted in all three Pacquiao fights thus far, and Pacquiao is coming off one of the most controversial decisions in modern history, a loss to Tim Bradley. “You have two fighters who don’t trust the judges and they’re going to take it in their own hands,” Arum insisted.
Kellerman sees that as a possibility, but not a probability.
“Both guys have been hurt in these fights, so it can happen that one of them knocks the other out,” Kellerman said. “But I think the most likely thing is we have another nip-and-tuck fight.”
If that’s the case, it will be up to Byrd, Weisfeld, and Keane to tell us who won.
And whatever they determine, someone isn’t going to be happy about it.