Never leave a fight in the hands of the judges. That’s an old boxing adage.
We’ve seen too many fights end controversially because of how the judges scored the bout. Some fights were too close to call that human error could’ve led to unpopular decisions. There were other instances when one fighter visibly won but alleged corruption led to a wrongful decision.
You can debate all you want with these bouts. Here are the Top 5 most controversial boxing decisions ever:
1. Sugar Ray Leonard vs Marvin Hagler
The most controversial boxing decision was Sugar Ray Leonard’s split decision win over Marvelous Marvin Hagler in 1987. Hagler was the middleweight champion and had made a dozen successful title defenses when he was booked to fight Leonard on April 6, 1987. Leonard was coming off a three-year retirement and had fought only once in the last five years.
The southpaw Hagler started the fight using the orthodox stance and Leonard won the first three rounds in the judges’ scorecards. Once he shifted to southpaw, Hagler began picking up the pace. He pressed the fight and hurt Leonard several times. Leonard meanwhile, used the large ring to dance away and hit Hagler with flurries at the end of rounds in an attempt to steal rounds. After 12 rounds, Leonard emerged victorious with the scores of 115-113, 113-115, and 118-110.
Hagler never fought after that loss. It is a fight that is still being debated until now. Except for the universally accepted arguments that Leonard won the first two rounds and Hagler won the fifth, everyone is still divided on how the rest of the nine rounds went.
2.Timothy Bradley vs Manny Pacquiao 1
Timothy Bradley challenged Manny Pacquiao in 2012 as a 7-2 underdog. During the fight, Pacquiao completely outboxed Bradley and was seen to be hitting the American at will throughout the bout. But during the second half of the fight, Pacquiao started to miss and Bradley started to connect with his punches. Although he fought better beginning Round 7, it still appeared that Bradley didn’t do enough to take the fight. The judges, however, we’re watching a different fight.
After 12 rounds, Bradley was declared the winner by split decision. He beat Pacquiao via scores of 115-113, 115-113, and 113-115. The scores were close but the fight wasn’t. Punch stats had Pacquiao landing a total of 253 punches while Bradley connected on only 159 punches. I mean boxing isn’t a scoring thing but in this fight, it was pretty obvious that Pacquiao outclassed Bradley throughout 12 rounds. But that was not meant to be.
These two fighters met again twice. Pacquiao won the rematch via unanimous decision. The Filipino fighter also won the third bout via unanimous decision, knocking Bradley down twice during the bout.
3. Pernell Whitaker vs Julio Cesar Chavez
Julio Cesar Chavez was Mexico’s greatest champion. Chavez won his first 87 bouts and made a record 18 consecutive defenses of his lightweight title. Then he moved up in weight class to challenge Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker for the WBC welterweight title in 1993. Whitaker was a former Olympic gold medalist who had won world titles at lightweight and junior welterweight. He had just beaten Buddy McGirt for the welterweight title and faced the undefeated Chavez in his first title defense.
Whitaker was a master boxer and he used the stick and move style very effectively against Chavez. Throughout the fight, Sweetpea kept Chavez off-balanced with a lot of movement and swift combinations. While Whitaker was sniping away at the Mexican, Chavez was swinging wildly and missing a lot of his big punches. Despite that, the judges called the fight a draw with the scores of 115-113, 115-115, and 115-115 with one judge giving Whitaker the nod.
Sports Illustrated had an issue whose cover had “ROBBED” written all over the magazine. The publication and many sports personalities agree that Whitaker won nine out of the 12 rounds in the fight.
4. Lennox Lewis vs Evander Holyfield 1
Two of the best heavyweight of this era fought in 1999. This was the first unification match in heavyweight boxing since Riddick Bowe infamously threw the WBC belt inside a trash can. Holyfield predicted an early knockout but he ended up getting outboxed by Lennox Lewis. The Briton’s jab was an important factor in the fight and it kept Holyfield at bay throughout the fight. Holyfield looked like a beaten Warrior at the end of 12 rounds but to the surprise of the crowd at the Madison Square Garden, the judges scored the fight as a draw.
The scores were 116-113 for Lewis, 115-113 for Holyfield and a 115-115 draw. The decision was booed by the entire crowd and even New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani also called the fight a travesty. The two were ordered to fight for a rematch and Lewis went on to beat Holyfield in the rematch seven months later but the fight didn’t get as much interest from the public as the first bout did.
5. Felix Trinidad vs Oscar De La Hoya
The bout was dubbed as the Fight of the Millenium and was held to unify the WBC and IBF welterweight titles. Both fighters entered the fight with unbeaten records. Trinidad was 35-0 with 30 knockouts while De La Hoya was 31-0 with 26 stoppages. It was one of the last super fights of the 20th century and it was an exciting fight that ended in controversy.
De La Hoya dominated the first nine rounds of the fight using superior footwork while landing the cleaner punches. The Golden Boy had outclassed Trinidad with three rounds to go but instead of finishing the job, De La Hoya chose to play it safe by refusing to engage enabling Trinidad to look stronger in the championship rounds. Despite De LA Hoya’s misguided tactic, it appeared that he did enough to merit the decision. However, the judges scored the fight in favor of Trinidad 115-113,115-114, and 115-115. The fight showed that you can’t step on the breaks until the race is finished. De La Hoya learned that lesson the hard way.