The psychology of bad judgment
By: Sean Crose
There has been a lot of nodding since Saturday night’s PBC on the Fox card, which saw supposed rising welterweight Gabriel Maestre win a highly controversial unanimous decision over Mykal Fox. While most netizens clearly believed that the sleek and disciplined Fox deserved the decision victory, judges Gloria Martinez Rizzo, John Mariano and David Singh felt that it was Maestre who had to take the win. The fact that the former amateur player also won an interim WBA title by only winning his 4th fight made things even stranger. What is a 3-0 fighter, regardless of decoration before entering the professional ranks, fighting for an interim title? Wasn’t Vasyl Lomachenko supposed to have been some kind of exceptional? Apparently not. Here again, a horrible judgment is far from being punctual in itself.
It is easy to point the finger at corruption when it comes to these kinds of things. Rizzo’s surprising score of 117-110 for Maestro, for example, infuriates some fans. Still, there doesn’t appear to be any clear evidence of corruption on Rizzo’s part. In all likelihood, she had a bad night at work. The same can be said for Judges Mariano – who is essentially a local judge in Minnesota, where Maestro-Fox fell – and Singh, who has nearly 400 fights judged on his resume. Of course, it doesn’t really matter how a bad decision comes about, it just doesn’t matter. And maybe that’s where psychology, yes psychology, comes in.
Not so long ago, in 2019, a fascinating piece appeared in the Journal of Ethical Urban Living. The book was titled “The Ethics of Scoring Knowledge: Recommendations for Improving Boxing’s 10 Mandatory Point System”. It was written by John Scott Gray, professor of psychology and Brian R. Russ, “assistant professor of mental health counseling”. The intensely academic backgrounds of these two writers might fool a person into underestimating their impressive knowledge of the fighting game.
For example, they argue in the work that the judgment of the first Canelo Alvarez – Gennady Golovkin fight presented “an astonishing five-round difference in scoring” between two of the judges. What’s particularly insightful, however, is that the authors focus on the issues currently inherent in scoring a fight. “While there is a general understanding of how scoring criteria are operationally defined,” they write, “there is still a lack of the elements necessary to objectively score a boxing round. For example, it does. is not clear whether the four criteria should be weighted in the same way or whether clean punching should be given priority. ”
Gray and Russ go on to say, “It’s also not clear whether a boxer can win a round in which he or she lands fewer punches but has a superior aesthetic to the punches he or she delivers. In other words, do boxing judges have the ability to judge a round of boxing on artistic principles? These are questions boxing fans routinely hear discussed by broadcast crews throughout a televised or streamed fight card. Yet Gray and Russ go on to point out that old-fashioned prejudice can also have a lot to do with poor judgment.
“Cognitive biases emerge from quick decisions,” the authors state, “and judging in boxing is no exception. For example, a judge may have a preconceived idea of who will win a fight he scores, and as the boxing match goes on, the judge may experience confirmation bias. Then, of course, there is the simple question of the judge’s personal taste. “A judge,” said Gray and Russ, “may prefer a particular style of boxing and therefore score more favorably for boxers who exhibit those styles in a fight.”
The authors are fair enough that the reader is aware that boxing is an extremely difficult sport to score. “The judges have an exceedingly sophisticated task to accomplish in a short period of time,” they write, “because of the degree of information occurring in each round and the complexity of the scoring system.” However, some might rightly say that no one is forcing judges to do their job.
Plus, none of those contributions would likely mean much to Fox right now. The man put on the performance of a lifetime on Saturday and always came back empty-handed. His record is now 22-3. As I wrote on social media, the worst part is that this loss could actually HARM Fox’s career in a number of ways. You can hear it now: “Dude lost two in a row. He has nothing to offer me.
Maybe everyone is wrong. Maybe Saturday’s fight was closer than it seemed to many. I don’t trust my own opinions and prejudices enough not to take another look. And maybe that’s the point. It takes a special type of person to judge a professional boxing match. No one is perfect, let alone the fight judges. What judges need perhaps more than anything else is the ability to objectively review their own decision-making processes.