If a bout is close, the winner is decided by a combination of factors - and not all of them make sense or are particularly fair.
Judge selection is a very under-discussed topic in boxing but the selection process, alone, can be highly advantageous/hurtful to the combatants.
No, not all judges are equal.
And like fans, two “competent” judges can have contrasting style preferences, whether they choose to admit it or not.
For instance, if 2 of the 3 judges tend to place a high emphasis on defense and ring generalship, it would favor Klitschko. But if at least 2 of the 3 judges favor aggression and hard-punching, they would likely favor Joshua in the too-close-to-call rounds.
Again, judges, like fans, are human and can be influenced… Whether they admit it or not.
If the crowd roars every time Fighter A lands a glancing blow but is dead silent when Fighter B lands a good shot flush, it could sway the judges’ perception in very close rounds.
Yes, it’s a bit unfair but boxing mirrors life in that perception often trumps reality.
Up to 90,000 spectators are expected to be on-hand for Klitschko vs Joshua in London, and probably at least 90 percent of them will be cheering for their countryman.
A-side vs B-side
The uncomfortable truth is the A-side fighter and perceived superstar enters the bout with a scoring advantage, and boxing history supports this.
Wladimir Klitschko vs Anthony Joshua
Date: Saturday, April 29, 2017
Venue: Wembley Stadium
Broadcast: SKY Sports (UK); Showtime, HBO (U.S.)
Titles: WBA (Vacant), IBF
Champion: Joshua (IBF)
Louis vs Walcott I, Canelo vs Lara, Canelo vs Trout, Foreman vs Stewart, Holmes vs Williams, Garcia vs Herrera, Rios vs Abril, Toney vs Tiberi, De La Hoya vs Sturm, Ali vs Norton III, Duran vs Barkley and Mayweather vs Castillo I.
I can go on and on.
And while an unpopular Frankie Randall defeated superstar Julio Cesar Chavez in their first encounter, don't forget he needed a knockdown AND two point deductions just to eke out a victory in a bout he should have won convincingly.
To beat a popular foe in boxing, the "opponent" (or B-side fighter) must usually win decisively i.e. leave no doubt.
So who is the A-side in Klitschko vs Joshua?
Answer: If this fight were to take place in Germany or Ukraine, Wlad would be the A-side. Since it’s taking place in London, there’s no strong A-side.
Even though Joshua is the presumed fan favorite and the up-and-coming young lion, Wlad is a legendary former champion and future hall of famer, and the judges, subconsciously or not, will be taking that into consideration.
Advantage: No one
Judges insist they don’t take championship status into consideration when scoring a fight but it always seems like the champion, in fights between equally popular combatants, gets the benefit of the doubt the vast majority of time. Usually, the onus is on the challenger to deliver…. Unless the he’s the A-side a la Sugar Ray Leonard against Marvin Hagler or Oscar De La Hoya against Felix Sturm.
Champion status < A-side status
While boxing history has shown being an A-side fighter carries more weight than being a champion, title status does matter, whether we choose to admit it or not.
We’ll often hear commentators ask after a close bout, “Did he do enough to take the title away from the champion.”
… But we seldom hear, “Did he do enough to retain his title?”
Joshua is the IBF champion.
For the first time in his 60+ pro fighter career, Wladimir Klitschko will likely have to win more decisively than his opponent in order to get the ‘W.’ Pending the selection of the judges, if this fight is at least reasonably close and goes the distance, don't be surprised if Anthony Joshua’s hand is raised at the end.