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VAR in Boxing: What impact could video technology have on the sport?

Boxing writer Shaun Brown takes a look at how the implementation of video technology in professional boxing could impact the fighting game as we know it.

It’s fair to say that certain sports and video technology do not enjoy the best of relationships.

Football, tennis, american football, rugby, and cricket are a quintet of examples where sport leans on the benefits of technology to determine whether a ruling is correct or not during a moment when officials cannot come to a decisive decision.

Since its introduction into football, VAR has become one of the focal talking points before, during and after a match. 

Human error and lengthy delays have been a constant source of frustration for players, managers and supporters alike, and there's no doubt that there remains plenty of fine-tuning to be done before all parties are happy with its operation.

There's no doubt that VAR, when it works correctly, is hugely valuable to sport. After all it's designed to ensure fair play for all involved.

So it begs the question, how could this be implemented in boxing?

Well, it appears though we won't have to wait too long to find out after WBC supremo Mauricio Sulaiman recently revealed that detailed and serious discussions have already taken place about the implementation of video technology to high-profile WBC bouts - potentially even starting with the huge 'Undisputed' showdown between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk in May. 


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Has Boxing used Video Technology before?

Yes, it has - at least to some extent anyway.

Guillermo Rigondeaux v Moises Flores and Charlie Edwards v Julio Cesar Martinez are just two previous fights in which video replays have been used to overturn an original result. 

At the Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas in June 2017, Cuban pugilist Rigondeaux defended his WBA super-bantamweight title against Flores. The champion was expected to win comfortably before Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev took to the ring for their highly anticipated light-heavyweight rematch.

In the chief support, Rigondeaux was fending off the Flores jab by moving and countering during the opening round. In the final 10 seconds a long-left hook surprised the Mexican before he was nailed by a left uppercut. 

A few punches were then thrown after the bell and, as referee Vic Drakulich intervened, Rigondeaux floored Flores with a left hook. Ushering Rigondeaux to his corner the man in the middle turned round to see the challenger flat on his back and could not get back up!

The fight was over and as Team Rigondeaux celebrated, Flores was attended to by a ringside doctor.

Nevada State Athletic Commission rules permit the referee to watch a replay on a ringside monitor. After discussions involving the referee and other officials Drakulich concluded that the punch was legal, and the result therefore was a win for Rigondeaux by first round knockout. 

Nine days later the fight was ruled a no-contest by the NSAC after reviewing video and audio evidence which proved Rigondeaux’s knockout punch landed after the bell. 

However, they agreed with Drakulich’s assessment that the late blow was unintentional, preventing a disqualification victory for Flores.

In August 2019 Edwards defended his WBC flyweight title against Martinez on the Vasiliy Lomachenko v Luke Campbell undercard at the O2 Arena in London. 

After two rounds where the challenger was in charge, he picked up where he left off in the third and unloaded a barrage of shots which put Edwards down. 

When the Englishman was down on one knee Martinez threw another shot, a left hook to the body, which referee Mark Lyson missed. Edwards could not beat the count from the official and Mexico had a new world champion...

But then they didn’t!

Amidst wild celebrations amongst Team Martinez, the WBC President Sulaiman entered the ring and spoke to Sky Sports: “The WBC has an instant replay rule, and this fight has been ruled a no-contest. A direct rematch will be ordered."

Edwards subsequently relinquished his title and moved up to super-flyweight. Martinez won the vacant strap stopping Cristofer Rosales in nine rounds four months after the controversy in London.

How will full scale Video Technology in Boxing work?

It was reported in February that Sulaiman believes boxing ‘must implement video replay technology’ and is said to be pressing hard to ensure this is in place for the May 18th undisputed heavyweight title showdown between Usyk and Fury, and for any future blockbuster fights where the WBC are involved.

Instant replays would likely be shown on big screens allowing fans to see for themselves and make their own ruling.

Inside the ring incidents, for example where a fighter is cut, the decision falls upon the referee to determine how that happened, and whether it was an accident or intentional from the opponent. 

The same applies to a low blow or any other illegal punch. These decisions could be taken out of an official's hands if instant replays are introduced.

For boxing’s equivalent of VAR to be introduced comprehensively, all four sanctioning bodies, the WBC, IBF, WBA and WBO, would have to come together to work as one. Alternatively, they may decide to enforce it themselves by creating their own rules, although this would likely add further confusion to matters.

If it is as simple as an instant replay, then it should be considered by boxing’s big decision makers. 

A fight is unlike a football match where multiple moments and incidents are reviewed by the VAR room during play. If boxing is to introduce this permanently for the marquee fights, then it must do it slowly. 

Instant replays to determine how a cut occurred or if an illegal shot was thrown is fine, but it must must only happen in between rounds. Fighters cannot afford to be delayed mid-round, for example, because their bodies will cool, and muscles may tighten - thus affecting their performance afterwards.

Traditionalists will argue that it’s a case of another cook spoiling the broth. 

The negatives could arise if the technology fails, if the referee disagrees with what he is seeing on screen and how the affected parties react.

Boxing should be taped with ‘Fragile - handle with care’ at the best of times. However, the sport absolutely cannot afford to simply stand still.

As we near the end of this century’s first quarter, the sport must be seen to be doing everything it can to ensure fair play for the men and women who put their lives on the line for titles, money, fame, and, of course, our very entertainment.


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