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A large contingent of Nicaraguan supporters descended unto Madison Square Garden on Saturday night to support “Chocolatito”, the Nicaraguan champion undefeated in 46 bouts, 81% of which were won via knockout. The diminutive fighter was favored to win against Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, a storied fighter with 42 wins to his name, 90% of which were by knockout, but was relatively unknown in the US.

The opening bell rang with chants of “Chocolatito!” ringing across the Garden. To the amusement of many of us in box 211, a few people started shouting Pacquiao when Rungvisai came onscreen. Indeed Rungvisai, a southpaw, showed startling physical and boxing style similarities to Manny Pacquiao, the eight-time world champion, with a similar life story to boot.

To everyone’s surprise, Rungvisai came out strong, dominating Chocolatito in the first round, and dropping the then pound-for-pound king with a body shot. An accidental headbutt initiated by Rungvisai in the second round bloodied Chocolatito and the head wound was only exacerbated by a couple more headbutts that cost Rungvisai a point. Through the next 10 rounds, Chocolatito fought with a bloodied face and found himself slugging it out with a bigger fighter who seemed to be able to absorb the velocity of his combinations.

One judge scored the bout a draw 113-113, while two judges scored it 114-112, handing Rungvisai a close victory. Rungvisai, who was forced to work at six-years-old to support his family, was now the WBC super flyweight champion. The title was hard won for sure, but was it his for the taking?

Rungvisai’s victory once again reopened criticism against how boxing is scored. A scroll through tweets on #ChocolatitoRungvisai showed the vast majority disagreed with the decision, calling it a robbery of Chocolatito’s title. David Avila of The Sweet Science tweeted: “I’ve been saying for ages NY judges are not good.” ESPN’s Dan Rafael worte: “We go the cards: 114-112 x 2 and 113-113 for the new champ Sor Rung. I strongly disagree. STRONGLY!”

The fight was one of the three exciting fights of the evening, but was arguably the most controversial.

How is Boxing Scored?

Judges look at four main components:

Clean punching: “Clean” punches are punches that land on the face/side of the head and the front/side of the torso.

Effective aggression: The boxer’s ability to dominate his opponent by landing clean punches and defend himself against his opponent.

Ring generalship: The boxer’s ability to control the pace and direct the style of the bout.

Quality of defense: The boxer’s ability to block, parry and slip punches.

Scoring is subjective and a judge may favor one component over the others, which may skew the judge’s decision. For this reason, a knockout is the most decisive outcome in a professional boxing match. In the absence of a knockout, fight statistics tracked by CompuBox can serve as proxies for “clean punching”, “effective aggression” and “quality of defense”. CompuBox tracks total punches thrown and percentage landed, broken down into jabs and power shots. Fight statistics are considered by judges but do not directly feed into the scorecard, making the decision predominantly a function of a judge’s opinion rather than a combination of opinion and data.

Scorecards vs Fight Stats 

From ringside, Chocolatito vs Rungvisai was a close fight, which would have been very difficult to score given the volume and speed of punches being traded by both boxers, and the seeming absence of clear dominance by one. But the CompuBox fight statistics tell another story.

(CompuBox stats from Boxing Scene)

In terms of “clean” punches, Chocolatito outboxed Rungvisai. Chocolatito landed 56.4% of his power punches, compared to Rungvisai’s 36.3%. His connecting rate for power punches was consistent across 12 rounds. Moreover, the effectiveness of Rungvisai’s jabs was particularly poor. In nine out of the 12 rounds, 0% of his jabs landed, or just 4% for the entire 12-round bout. In contrast, 19% of Chocolatito’s jabs landed and in seven out of 12 rounds, jabs landed accounted for more than 20%. These figures also effectively show the quality of Chocolatito’s defense, which rendered Rungvisai’s jabs useless for most of the fight. In terms of “effective aggression”, total punches thrown show a comparable level of activity by both fighters, but Chocolatito was more effective with 43.5% of his punches landing against Rungvisai’s 30.2%.

CompuBox figures show that Chocolatito won last night’s bout. But this data-based conclusion does not match the judges’ scorecards.

(Photo by Boxing Scene)

The 10th round is a case in point. CompuBox data shows that Chocolatito threw a total of 87 punches to Rungvisai’s 73, indicating that the Nicaraguan had more activity in this round. Out of 87 punches for Chocolatito, 54% landed, compared to Rungvisai’s 28.8%. Chocolatito threw 53 power punches, of which 73.6% landed, the highest connect rate in the fight; while Rungvisai threw 48, of which 43.8% landed. Chocolatito threw 34 jabs, of which 23.5% landed, while Rungvisai threw 25 of which 0% landed. But in a round where Chocolatito clearly demonstrated technical dominance, all three judges scored it in favor of Rungvisai.

The decision for the main event between Gennedy “GGG” Golovkin and Daniel “Miracle Man” Jacobs was, on the other hand, consistent with CompuBox statistics shown below.

(CompuBox stats from Boxing Scene)

Golovkin outperformed Jacobs in all metrics tracked, although the percentage difference in punches landed is narrower than Chocolatito vs Rungvisai. Comparing the two fights based on the CompuBox metrics, GGG vs Jacobs was a closer fight than Chocolatito vs Rungvisai, but the decisions showed otherwise.

Should Boxing Change its Scoring System?

Chocolatito vs Rungvisai is not the first bout to fall to the vagaries of a subjective scoring system, and neither will it be the last. The 2012 split decision in favor of Timothy Bradley over Manny Pacquiao similarly showed an inconsistency in the data and the judges’ scorecards.

CompuBox owner Bob Canobbio himself would be the first to say that CompuBox was not developed to score matches but is meant to provide a barometer of a fighter’s activity. Canobbio has said that because of many other factors at play in a boxing match, there continues to be room for a judge.

Indeed the sport of boxing has too many nuances that cannot be captured by automation. However, the technology to capture statistics has advanced considerably, and perhaps there is room to reduce subjectivity and give weight to data for the sport to avoid unnecessary controversy.