The 10 Most Controversial Decisions in Boxing History
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Controversial decisions are some of the saddest things to happen in boxing because fight fans have to accept one outcome when they thought they saw another. You can argue human error by judges, maybe walk away from alleged corruption or find beauty in reliving the gray areas that enrich the history of the sweet science. Let’s hope you love to go back to the future and argue the “what ifs” and “what nots.”
Read on to see the 10 most controversial decisions in boxing history!
10. Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns Draw, 1989
Nobody won "The War."
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What Happened: In an action-packed fight, Leonard went down twice and nearly got laid out in the seventh round. He returned fire, wobbling Hearns in the fifth, and fought feverishly in the wild 12th round to go for the knockout. The result of the bout was a draw: 113-112 for Leonard, 113-112 for Hearns and 112-112.
Historic Significance: One of the judges gave Leonard a two-point advantage in Round 12 even though he didn’t score a knockdown. If there is any justice in controversial decisions, look to this bout. Leonard escaped with a draw but publicly stated that Hearns won.
9. Oscar De La Hoya Defeats Pernell Whitaker, 1997
This one slipped away from Sweet Pea.
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What Happened: Whitaker slipped punches and used the jab to keep Oscar at bay. The Golden Boy looked flustered at times, admittedly off-balance, and got knocked down for the first time in his career. To his credit, Oscar applied constant pressure but never landed his famous left hook. The pressure was enough for Oscar to get awarded a unanimous decision by surprisingly large margins: 115-111, 116-110 and 116-110.
Historic Significance: The result of the fight depicted the story of their careers; Whitaker got screwed out of another decision, and De La Hoya got a gift. Oscar said he wanted a rematch but moved on. Fight fans still talk about the one that got away from Whitaker.
8. Park Si-Hun Defeats Roy Jones Jr., 1988
Roy Jones was Robbed
What Happened: Roy Jones hasn't forgotten about this one. The 19-year-old Jones dazzled the 1988 Olympic games with dominant ring generalship, speed and blazing combinations. In the gold medal match, Jones landed 86 punches to Park’s 32 and seemed on the way to victory until hearing the most scandalous decision ever in Olympic boxing. Park apologized to Jones after he won the disputed decision 3-2.
Historic Significance: The IOC suspended the three judges that scored against Jones. The bad decision was thoroughly investigated and led to the implementation of a new Olympic boxing scoring system.
7. Joe Louis Defeats Jersey Joe Walcott, 1947
Joe Louis escaped in MSG.
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What Happened: Louis went down in Rounds 1 and 4 and seemingly played catch-up the rest of the way. The Brown Bomber struggled to form an attack against Walcott’s unorthodox style. He brought pressure in the late rounds but grew visibly frustrated as the fight went on. The crowd booed Louis after the fight. Scores were split in favor of Louis: 6-7, 8-6, 9-6.
Historic Significance: Most ringside observers felt Walcott deserved the win and viewed it as a sign of Louis slowing down. Walcott, at 33, was the oldest man to challenge for a heavyweight title at the time. He broke his own record months later in the rematch.
6. Floyd Mayweather Defeats Jose Luis Castillo, 2002
Money May almost lost his "O."
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What Happened: At the time, Castillo was known more for being a sparring partner for Julio Cesar Chavez than lightweight champion. He made Chavez proud and earned Floyd’s respect with a blitzkrieg attack to the body. Castillo’s relentless pressure induced the ref to take a point away from Floyd for excessive use of his left elbow, putting further stress on the Pretty Boy. A bruised Floyd Mayweather got a unanimous decision victory: 116-111, 115-111 and 115-111.
Historic Significance: Boxing fans that look for a smudge on Mayweather’s record point to his first fight against Castillo. Many of Mayweather’s subsequent opponents, including De la Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Victor Ortiz, used the Castillo blueprint of pressure against him with varied success.
5. Tito Trinidad Defeats Oscar De La Hoya, 1999
De La Hoya still regrets the outcome.
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What Happened: De La Hoya was in control after nine rounds of the significant welterweight showdown. Then he ran away. Oscar mistakenly refused to engage for the last three rounds and attempted to basically steal the victory on the scorecards. Trinidad kept his pressure steady and won a controversial majority decision: 114-114, 115-113 and 115-114.
Historic Significance: De La Hoya thought he gave Trinidad a boxing lesson. But he just showed us all that you can’t step on the breaks and expect to get a gift-wrapped decision.
4. Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield Draw, 1999
Holyfield had no answer to the Lewis Jab.
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What Happened: Prior to the bout, Holyfield prophesied a third-round knockout. On fight night, Lewis’ jab in Holyfield’s face was the only prophetic occurrence. The pugilistic specialist put on a dizzying display of boxing skill and left Holyfield a beaten warrior. The crowd in Madison Square Garden saw a one-sided fight get declared a draw. The scores were 113-116, 115-113 and 115-115.
Historic Significance: This was the first heavyweight unification bout since Riddick Bowe famously threw the WBC belt in the trash in 1992. Lewis felt robbed of a victory but won the rematch seven months later. The rematch garnered less interest from the public.
3. Pernell Whitaker and Julio Cesar Chavez Draw, 1993
Whitaker beat Chavez to the punch.
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What Happened: In a vintage performance, Whitaker defined the term "stick and move" against Chavez. He kept the Mexican legend off-balance with effective movement and combination punches. Chavez entered the bout as a favorite but looked like a wild-swinging grizzly bear chasing a quick-striking cheetah. The fight was scored a majority draw: 115-113, 115-115 and 115-115.
2. Timothy Bradley Defeats Manny Pacquiao, 2012
Pacquiao couldn't believe it.
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What Happened: It was a surreal atmosphere. Pacquiao delayed the start of the main event, because he was watching a Boston Celtics playoff game. Then he seemingly hit Bradley at will in the fight. The Filipino icon outclassed the game challenger, who won a split decision but didn’t land many impact punches. The casual fan that had not heard of Bradley sure had some things to say about him afterward. Bradley won a split decision: 113-115, 115-113 and 115-113
Historic Significance: When Kim Kardashian leads a celebrity protest against a disputed boxing decision, then there might be something fishy going on. Never has an upset victory been so blatantly disregarded. After the fight, Pacquiao re-assumed his place as one of the best fighters in boxing, and Bradley was left to defend his phantom victory.
1. Sugar Ray Leonard Defeats Marvelous Marvin Hagler, 1987
People still talk about the Superfight.
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What Happened: The natural southpaw Hagler started the fight in an orthodox stance and lost the early rounds on almost every observer’s scorecard. Hagler pressed hard the rest of the way, made the fight, hurt Leonard at times but couldn’t hold him down. Leonard used the large ring to circle Hagler and threw flurried punches at the end of rounds to sway judges. Leonard won a split-decision: 113-115, 115-113 and 118-110.
Historic Significance: Hagler never fought again. Ask 100 people what happened in this fight, and you might get 100 different answers. Ask the same 100 people to watch it again, and they might change their minds or, at the very least, hold a stronger argument for their choice. That’s why Hagler vs. Leonard is No. 1. Never has a fight been so richly disputed.
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