Opinion: Boxing Judge Renders Incorrect Verdict in Atlantic City
Judge not, lest ye be willing to take the heat for a scorecard that didn't add up.
Joe Smith, Jr., beat Jesse Hart in their light-heavyweight clash at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City Saturday night. Not only did Smith win, he did so decisively, punishing Hart for almost the entire fight. Even the staunchest Hart supporter agreed that Smith won at least seven of the 10 rounds.
"I promote Jesse Hart, but it was clear to everyone that Joe Smith won that fight," Top Rank President Bob Arum said.
It was as clear as the tequila shots I had last summer as part of our annual Margarita Tour through Cape May and surrounding areas.
I scored it 98-91 from my ringside vantage point, which for non-boxing fans means Smith won eight rounds and received extra credit for dropping Hart in the seventh. New Jersey Athletic Control Board Larry Hazzard thought Smith won every round.
So when ring announcer Jimmy Lennon, Jr. revealed the result was a split decision, the gasps among the announced crowd of 3,415 were heard throughout Hard Rock Live Etess Arena.
"Judging is subjective and sometimes you'll have different scores when the fight is close," Hazzard said. "But this one wasn't close. I spent all day Sunday reviewing the fight and I've yet to see how anyone could have possibly thought Jesse Hart won except for maybe members of Hart's family."
And judge James Kinney.
Somehow, some way, Kinney came to the conclusion that Hart had earned a 95-94 advantage by winning six of the 10 rounds.
"From what I could see, the reason his score was skewed was because of rounds five, six and nine," Hazzard said. "Smith won those rounds, but he scored them for Hart. I have no idea what he was looking at."
Thankfully, official judges Eugene Grant (97-92) and Joseph Pasquale (98-91) voted for Smith. That was enough to prevent boxing from suffering yet another black eye due to inept scoring.
Hopefully, the split decision did not mar what otherwise was a much-needed boost for Atlantic City's sagging boxing reputation.
Just five boxing cards were held in town in 2019, matching 2015 for the fewest fights on the boardwalk since 1978. There hasn't been a boxing event in Jim Whelan's Boardwalk Hall main arena in over five years, since Sergey Kovalev-Bernard Hopkins on Nov. 8, 2014.
But there have been signs of a comeback. Hart-Smith was part of a boxing doubleheader on the Boardwalk over the weekend. It came one day after women's boxing star Claressa Shields won her third world title with a victory over Ivana Habazin at Ocean Casino Resort.
Both cards were on TV, shown by Showtime and ESPN, respectively, and provided valuable exposure. Hart-Smith also marked the return of Las Vegas-based Top Rank Promotions, one of the sport's top promoters.
"This was a great boxing weekend for New Jersey and for Atlantic City in particular," Hazzard said. "It's very unfortunate that it was slightly tainted."
While Atlantic City will never come close to recapturing its status as a boxing mecca, the fact that Ocean and Hard Rock appear willing to host fights again, that top promoters are coming back to the boardwalk, and major media outlets are airing them, suggests that a comeback is possible.
I sure hope so. I'd much rather be sitting ringside for a big fight than on my couch.