Cautionary tale for MMA: Olympic boxing drops headgear, adds 10 pt must scoring

by Kirik Jenness |

In 1983, the Journal of the American Medical Association called for a ban on boxing. The editor, Dr. George Lundberg, called boxing an "obscenity" and said it "should not be sanctioned by any civilized society."

For long-time devotees of mixed martial arts, the parallels with Sen. McCain's infamous and now withdrawn "human cock fighting" remarks are inescapable.

In response, the International Amateur Boxing Association, the governing body for amateur boxing worldwide, made mandatory the use of headgear in amateur boxing contests.

Then at the 1998 Seoul Olympics, Roy Jones Jr was denied a gold medal in boxing by corrupt, bribed judges. At the time, the 10 Point Must judging system was in place, familiar to all fans of MMA - winner of the round gets 10 points, loser gets 9, or in the case of a shellacking, 8, or even conceivably less.

In response, the IABA instituted a computerized scoring system, that was believed to be harder to fix. Judges are provided controllers, and have to simultaneously press a button to indicate a clean blow has landed.

The system may have reduced the odds of corruption, although jailing the people on both end of gold wrapped in a handkerchief seems like a more appropriate response. What the computerized system did unquestionably was dramatically changed the play of the game, forcing boxers to avoid body shots, or combinations, or, too often, fighting.

After 30 years, the IABA is moving to restore the old rules. Headgear has not proven to reduce concussions, and the scoring system was so bad it made fighting boring.

"There's no evidence protective gear shows a reduction in incidence of concussion," said Charles Butter Butler of the AIBA. "In 1982, when the American Medical Association moved to ban boxing, everybody panicked and put headgear on the boxers, but nobody ever looked to see what the headgear did."

"Boxing isn't bean counting. The thing that makes (the computerized scoring system) dangerous is if you're a boxer, you know you're not going to get a point for a body shot, so what are you going to do except punch the head? There were no points given for combinations. You might get one point. If a kid was a counterpuncher, you'd lose."

The use of headgear will remain for female and youth boxers.

The changes to the rules in boxing provide a cautionary tale for mixed martial arts.

Many of the changes to the rules of boxing enacted to make it safer actually made it more dangerous. For example, the addition of gloves meant that the concussive power of a punch was enormously magnified (a bare fist cannot hit hard for an extended period of time). The standing-8 count only meant that a hurt fighter could recover enough to suffer further injury. And so on.

Mixed martial arts still receives criticism from uninformed lawmakers on a regular basis, and still is not legal and regulated in every state, notably New York. Whenever a well-intended figure in power proposes changes to make the world's fastest growing sport safer, we have to proceed with extraordinary care, as the history in combat sports so strongly shows that "safety" rules, as a rule, do more harm than good.


tags: regulation   boxing      

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Recent Comments »

awesomestprime site profile image  

3/24/13 9:03 PM by awesomestprime

Worst decision in the history of boxing.....There is no argument to the contrary.

GSPsShadyHandWraps site profile image  

3/24/13 7:15 PM by GSPsShadyHandWraps force development studies show headgear improves safety, actual studies of amature boxers still show brain damage similar to professional boxingThe problem with the force development studies is that they exclude the human factor. Yes a gloved punch to a bare head is more damaging but being able to see that punch and avoiding it or rolling with it is going to be much less damaging than have it land on a padded head

Invisible Lats Syndrome site profile image  

3/24/13 7:14 PM by Invisible Lats Syndrome

The computer scoring system was a joke really.

hackett site profile image  

3/24/13 6:57 PM by hackett

Incorrect. Three studies have been cited on this thread, all described headgear as improving safety.

buddie site profile image  

3/24/13 5:53 PM by buddie

Anyone who has boxed and ended up looking through the earhole of the headgear would opt to go without it. That's a bad, bad moment - getting nailed and then being blind in front of a guy who wants to take your head off. Vision is so important in boxing and I think it clearly contributes to the amount of punches fighters take because it obstructs vision no matter how well it fits. Its enough to fight my opponent, I hate fighting my headgear too. Headgear is for sparring, not for fights. Headgear was just something to make people feel better about boxing through legislating IMO. IIRC there were extensive studies done on headgear in boxing done in the 90's. They concluded that the trauma was spread around the head more, but not reduced.

buddie site profile image  

3/24/13 5:46 PM by buddie

Scoring isn't the problem and neither is the scoring system. Its not even a matter of competence, its straight out corruption. It was proven in the last Olympics and that's not conjecture, there is hard evidence of blatant attempts to influence judges by some countries.

wasssp site profile image  

3/24/13 5:45 PM by wasssp

Boy, u crazy as hell. If that's the case, then they should make it optional. And then watch how few boxers choose to go w/out.That's like saying that there's no evidence that cups (protective testicle gear) show a reduction in nut jarrings. It's assumed.

PoundforPound site profile image  

3/24/13 1:29 PM by PoundforPound

I agree with Kirik. From my personal experience headgear is good for preventing cuts and damage from headbutts. But aside from that I'm glad it's gone.Now we can get the amateurs back to the way they used to be for the majority of their existence. Headgear is a relatively recent development that didn't come about until the 1980s.The scoring can still be a problem though so they should make more of an effort to create competent judges and root out corruption.

hackett site profile image  

3/24/13 12:29 PM by hackett

The evidence isn't just anecdotal. Every study published recognizes it as improving fighter safety overall; three have been cited on this thread. We'll see what AIBA' s research looks like, but I'm afraid it's just an attempt at making inroads to the pro game.

Steve4192 site profile image  

3/24/13 9:41 AM by Steve4192

If they were REALLY concerned about fighter safety and reducing concussions, they would get rid of gloves and hand wraps too. Sure there would be a lot more broken hands, but that would be more than offset by a drastic dropoff in concussions.