I was absolutely furious on Saturday night when the decision in favor of Brandon Rios was announced. How could they do that to poor Richard Abril? Another atrocity in favor of the house fighter! Has Las Vegas relocated to Texas?
Then something happened on Sunday night that altered my attitude: I watched the fight.
My initial reaction was based on the response of the Twitter-verse, as I had opted not to order this past weekend's pay-per-view card. As a boxing writer, however, I knew this was a fight for which I was obligated to have my own scorecard in order to engage in any future discourse. So I fired it up on YouTube some 24 hours after the fight, prepared to be disgusted, curious whether I would award Rios a single round.
Well, I did give "Bam Bam" a round. And then another. And another. At the end of the fight, my scorecard read 115-113 for Abril. Almost every round in the fight was close. Several that I gave to Rios could have gone the other way, but most of the rounds I scored for Abril were tight enough to swing in Rios' direction, too. I can see how Adalaide Byrd arrived at her scorecard of 117-111 for Abril, but I can also see how Glenn Trowbridge scored it 115-113 for Rios and even how Jerry Roth came up with a 116-112 tally in Rios' favor. It was that kind of fight.
And my best guess as to why it didn't seem like that kind of fight to those who watched it unfold live is that their expectations were very different than mine.
Rios was generally expected to steamroll Abril. Even after failing to make weight for the second fight in a row and giving everyone cause to wonder about his physical preparedness, undefeated rising star Rios was a prohibitive favorite over the unknown Cuban. On paper, this was little more than a tuneup for a possible Rios-Juan Manuel Marquez showdown.
When you expect Fighter A to walk right through Fighter B, every round in which he doesn't feels like a victory for Fighter B. When Fighter B lands a combination, it grabs your attention. When Fighter A does the same, you wonder what's wrong with him that those punches lack the snap to put Fighter B on the floor.
That's an oversimplification, of course. But in this fight, there were numerous rounds in which Abril succeeded in frustrating Rios, succeeded in flashing good defense, but didn't succeed in doing much offensively. So at the end of three minutes, what did you like? Did you give Rios any credit for stretches when he'd get inside and throw 20 unanswered punches to the body and head, missing 17 or 18 of them? Did you penalize Abril in close rounds for holding? Did you reward Abril for "ring generalship" in moving backward and dictating the style of the fight without landing many telling punches, or did you reward Rios for ineffectively coming forward and outworking Abril?
And, importantly, were you listening to the broadcast crew?
I'm a fan of Brian Kenny, Rich Marotta and Raul Marquez, and I like all three of them immensely on a personal level. (I recently learned that Marotta, like me, is a die-hard Springsteen fan. What's not to like?) But in this fight, they collectively latched on early to the storyline that Abril was in total control, and they barely seemed to notice anything semi-effective that Rios did the rest of the way. They got into group-think mode, and as a result, much of the PPV audience shared in that group-think.
It's not that their scoring and their take on the fight was "wrong." It's just that it offered only one perspective when, to my eyes, there were a couple of perspectives possible in each round. Sometimes you need someone on the broadcast playing devil's advocate, which is why I've always liked Showtime's use of "press row scoring." You get three independent opinions in addition to whatever the commentators are seeing, often forcing the commentators to pause and acknowledge that their view isn't the only viable one.
I'm not saying Rios deserved to win this fight. I scored it for Abril, after all. What I'm saying is that this looked more like a classic case of the subjectivity in boxing scoring that so often creates controversy, rather than the flat-out robbery at pencil point that was reported on Twitter in the moment.
If you want to curse me out the same way you cursed out Roth and Trowbridge, you're entitled. But first, I suggest you watch Rios-Abril one more time, with no sound and no expectations, and see if the fight didn't just get a whole lot closer.