Why Catherine won the fight, but lost the challenge

We have noticed the anguish among Zambians over the outcome of the World Boxing Council (WBC) Super Bantamweight title challenge between reigning Kenyan champion Fatuma Zarika and our Catherine Phiri. Even some Kenyans gave it to the Zambian pugilist, as they registered their displeasure from the underperforming Zarika who was highly praised with her intimidating physic prior to the fight. Indeed, from whatever point of view, Catherine did beat Zarika, and it can further be argued that she won the fight. So, why did the Kenyan take back the title?

Dear readers and fans, boxing has very funny rules, some of them in fact are unwritten. Once you hold the title for one particular weight division, losing it is does not come easy. There is what they call champion’s advantage, which dictates that the challenger must convincingly defeat the titleholder – in many cases through a knock-out or at least a knock-down. In the absence of that, boxing judges will always tend to favour the reigning champion even if the challenger clearly dominated the titleholder. Like we said, that is not a written rule, and that is where the Zarika scandal lies.

The rules are a little different if the fight is a title-unifying bout (which means both fighters bring their different belts to the table and the winner takes both). If Catherine was defending her own belt, while at the same time trying to grab Zarika’s, she would have returned home without losing her championship. Put simply, both fighters would have retained their titles.

The fight in question was not a unifying title fight. It was simply a championship fight, and in the absence of that “convincing defeat,” it was not shocking to us that the champion retain her belt, as that is exactly what happened here in Zambia in the fight between Esther Phiri and America’s Belinda Laracuente in 2007. But unlike the Esther Phiri fight, which ended in a split-point division, the adjudication of Catherine’s bout has left us flabbergasted.

We have a serious problem with the final scorecard results of the Saturday night fight because it was too close to result in such a wide unanimous decision. Allow us to share a little of what we know about boxing, for the benefit of those who may disagree with us.

Unlike in amateur fights, judging a professional boxing match can be more subjective, but judges are not only expected to count the punches landed; they are mandated to also take into consideration aggression, control of the ring, control of the tempo of the fight and damage inflicted. For example, if the red boxer lands a dozen decent jabs in a round, but the opponent, the blue boxer, nails him with two hard hooks late in the round that leave the red boxer dazed and staggered, the judges could very well award the round to the blue boxer. In fact, in such a case, different judges may score the round differently.

In the fight under review, Catherine dominated the fight, she was the aggressor, she had significant control of the ring and she surely inflicted injury on Zarika. In professional boxing, a boxer who inflicts more visible damage to their opponent wins the round. It’s called effective aggression. So, how is it possible that all the judges could unanimously agree that the Zambian lost by that margin?

We are not trying to take away anything from Zarika. The Kenyan was superb with her body shots and stamina, which in our view, weakened Catherine and prevented her from delivering the much-needed knock-out in the later rounds. The body punches that don’t seem to have much effect in the early rounds can be absolutely debilitating in the later rounds. Head punches are painful quite alright, as they gradually effect one’s reflexes and coordination. But body punches, in contrast, are absolutely excruciating if landed properly, like Zarika succeeded to do on Saturday. This is a common technique in boxing that has produced some of the most shocking results in history.

During the prime years of his career, in the mid to late 1980s, ‘iron’ Mike Tyson terrorized the ring. His combination of speed and crushing headshots left most opponents with few options. He rampaged through the pro ranks until heavyweight fighters were afraid to face him – taking the WBC, WBA, IBF heavyweight titles and successfully defending them for several years. However, at the height of his fame, the ‘Iron’ met Buster Douglas in Japan of 1990. All what Buster needed to do was to withstand the headshots in the early rounds, while rearranging Tyson’s ribs with continuous body shots. In one of boxing’s most stunning upsets in sports history, Buster the underdog, knocked Tyson out (for the first time ever) in the tenth round, as the champion could no longer handle the ‘invisible pain.’ Fans were stunned because the boxer who was winning the fight throughout the early rounds was stopped.

In our view, Zarika inflicted pain on Catherine, which many fans may not have the privilege of appreciating with their eyes, but she was far from matching the damage inflicted on her by Catherine. That is why our contention remains on the scoring of that fight – considering that the Kenyan did not succeed to do what Buster did to Tyson in 1990.

In a 10-point scoring system, the boxer who wins a round is given 10 points, and the other boxer gets nine points. If there was a knock-down in the round, or one boxer utterly dominated the round, the score may be 10-8. If a judge can’t decide who won the round, it is scored at 10-10.

The three judges who presided over Catherine’s fight scored 99-91, 98-92, 97-93. In simple terms, this means that the first judge felt that Zarika won all the 10 rounds apart from one; judge two felt Zarika won eight of the 10 rounds and judge three decided that the Kenyan won seven of the 10 rounds. Did Catherine perform that badly to the extent that she lost all but one or two rounds? We don’t think so.

Given the scoring system we have explained above, we don’t see fairness in the results of the Saturday night fight, and the Zambians promoters will do well to pursue WBC for an investigation into what transpired. We submit that the Kenyan did not deserve a unanimous decision from that fight.

What would have been fair, you may ask? Firstly, fans have to understand that there are five possible outcomes from a boxing match.

1. Unanimous decision – All three judges score the same boxer as the winner (which was the case with Catherine’s fight).

2. Split-point decision – Two judges score in favour of one boxer (the winner), and one judge scores in favour of the other.

3. Majority decision – Two judges score for one boxer (the winner) and one judge scores the match as a draw.

4. Draw – One judge scores in favour of one boxer, one judge scores in favour of the other, and one judge scores the match as a draw. (Neither boxer wins the match)

5. Majority draw – Two judges score a draw and one judge scores in favour of one boxer.

Any other outcome apart from the “unanimous decision’ would have been fair. After all, even if the outcome of the Saturday fight was a mere draw or a majority draw, Zarika would still have retained her belt. The champion would have retained the title, but without receiving a win on her record. This is what the judges refused to give Catherine.

Anyway, they are the experts, but we have the right to an opinion; and in our opinion, Catherine won the fight and the respect of fans, while Zarika won her ego and profits for her sponsors.

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