Ever wondered how on earth the judges awarded a victory to one fighter when even Stevie Wonder could have seen he’s had the crap beaten out of him? Or why certain fights never happen even though it seems everyone wants them?
The answer is simple: corruption. Or at the very least, manipulation, back scratching, and favors in the lawless and shady behind-the-scenes world of boxing.
From strong ties with the New York mob in the mid 1900s, to match rigging judges at the 2016 Rio Olympic games. At nearly all levels, boxing is opaque, driven by money and power, and controlled by a select few. These ingredients make for a fertile breeding ground for corruption and shady dealings.
3 types of corruption in boxing 👎
1. Corrupt judges and referees
This is probably the most prevalent form of corruption in boxing. Although it is the hardest to identify. Are judges being deliberately corrupt or are they just really bad at their job (more on this later)?
Officials hold huge amounts of influence over the outcome of a match in most sports, but in boxing they are particularly influential. Judges alone, using a subjective scoring system, decide who wins a bout if there is no knock-out.
Meanwhile, a referee can call an end to a fight at any point.
These officials have huge amounts of power in deciding the outcome of a fight. This makes them obvious targets for bribery and corruption. This happened most recently at the Rio Olympics in 2016 where judges were found to have rigged at least 10 matches in scandalously brazen and high ranking corruption.
2. Manipulation of boxing rankings
All boxers want to get to the top. That’s where the money is. That’s where the glory is. And that’s where the mega fights are.
But, to get to the top, you’ve got to climb the ladder. You have to earn your shot at the titles by working your way up through the rankings over many years of hard grinds and consistent victories.
Or do you?
The rankings in the alphabet soup of boxing governing bodies like the WBA, IBF, WBO, and WBC are murky at best. Process and oversight is minimal, meaning that fighters can and do suspiciously move around the rankings.
Want your fighter to get that title shot? Call in a favor with an old mate in the administration and hey presto, you’ve magically got that prize fight.
Who fights who is not simply a result of performances, process and rankings. As it should be. No. It’s at the mercy of the powers that be who have vested interests in making sure certain fights happen.
3. Boxers and managers rigging the fights
In 1947, boxing superstar Jake LaMotta, deliberately took a dive to lose his fight. This is the most blatant form of match rigging. Where a fighter loses on purpose, most often because he or she has been paid to do so by someone who’s placed a big bet on the fight.
In this instance the winners rarely know the fight is fixed.
But there’s also a subtler form of match rigging. The outcome is no different: a predetermined result. But the process is. Say a manager has a fighter he needs to win. Perhaps to move up in the rankings, or just to get some rounds and experience under his belt. He goes out and finds another manager with a fighter who is happy to act as cannon fodder. There’s no chance that this guy can win, and everyone knows it. They even have a pretty good idea of exactly how long the fight will last. The boxer isn’t rigging the fight. The managers are. The outcome is predetermined before a punch is even thrown.
There are plenty of these guys. Professional losers. Just look at Kristian Laight, for example, who holds the boxing’s all-time record for most losses in a professional career: 279! He won just 12 times and new landed a knockout. Of his career, he said “It can be an easy job if you keep fit…I used the game and it uses you.”
“I see fixes in boxing all the time. It has always existed, it always will…I was involved in rigging hundreds of fights” Charles Farrell
Charles Farrell, a former boxing manager, explains how boxing matches are fixed – still today. During his time as a boxing manager, he managed former heavy weight champ Leon Spinks, so it’s safe to say he knew what was going on in the heart of the sport.
Why is boxing so corrupt? 🤷
In the end it all comes down to money, but that is too obvious an answer. There’s buckets of money in all major sports but few are as corrupt as boxing. So, what is unique to boxing that allows enables this money to fuel such corruption?
“No separation of church and state”
The people who make all the money (the promoters) are in bed with those who are tasked with administering the sport. Judges, referees and officials are wined, dined and sometimes directly paid by the boxing promoters. A promoter needs his rising star to win an upcoming bout and keep the gravy train rolling? He has access to all the officials, judges, and organisation top dogs to influence them to get the results he needs.
Listen to highly respected trainer and commentator, Teddy Atlas, talk here about promoters throwing cash and favors at officials:
Teddy is a uniquely refreshing source of truth from the inside of the sport. There are plenty more Youtube videos like this one where he reveals the dirty dealings going on everyday in modern, elite boxing.
Judging is too subjective
Anyone understand how judging in boxing really works? No? Me neither. The rules around how to judge professional boxing are not explicit enough. Judges are expected to score each round based on which fighters land the most effective punches. This leaves so much room for ambiguity and subjective interpretation. And in that room, judges have the opportunity to score however they like with little fear of reprisal because there are no clear rules against which to compare their scoring.
The difficulty is that it is hard to distinguish corruption from incompetence, meaning it is very hard to prove actual corruption.
Fragmentation, lack of transparency and singular oversight
Boxing is an alphabet soup of governing bodies and associations. Both at the elite levels and at lower echelons. All these different commissions and organizations follow different rules and are not supervised by a single governing body. As a result, there is no accountability or anyone that overlooks or polices the whole sport.
With such lack of oversight, it’s almost impossible for anyone on the outside to understand what’s really going on. It’s easy to see how corruption thrives in these fragmented self-governed boxing fiefdoms.
Not enough interest and scrutiny to shine a light on corrupt behavior in boxing
Unlike football or basketball, boxing doesn’t attract enough attention and outside scrutiny to help reduce corruption. Few people outside the sport care much about what goes on. Investigative journalists aren’t interested. Law enforcement have other things to worry about.
With no one paying much attention, actors within the sport are free to go about their business without fear of widespread public outrage. Corruption in boxing continues as there aren’t enough people paying attention to call it out.
Examples of how boxing is corrupt🛑
Besides the everyday examples of corruption like the favors and the complicity between promoters and officials, there are a few incidents that really stand out. And these are just the ones we know about…
1. 2016 Rio Olympics
The Olympics. Supposedly the pinnacle of sporting competition. But apparently not free from the scourge of corruption.
An investigation revealed that more than 10 fights during the Games were subject to “corruption, bribery and the manipulation of sporting results” by various judges who had accepted bribes. Like some sort of spy, judges reportedly gave each other secrete ringside signals to communicate who would win the fights. Bribe money was hidden in toothpaste tubes. This is corruption in boxing at its worse.
Investigations also discovered how Azerbaijan gave amateur boxing’s governing body, Aiba, an investment loan of $10m with the expectation that bouts would be manipulated in their favor for medals at London 2012. Wu Ching-kuo, the then Aiba president, was banned for life following the investigation as he was a “key actor” in “allowing the manipulation to flourish”.
2. Jake LaMotta takes a dive for the mob
In 1947, boxing star Jake LaMotta was scheduled to fight the massive underdog, Billy Fox. But, despite LaMotta’s superior skill and track record, in the run up to the fight bookmakers were inundated with large bets against the far superior fighter. So much so, that they stopped taking bets…
When fight night came, LaMotta was uncharacteristically slow and ineffective. After four rounds the ref stopped the fight in favour of the totally dominant underdog, Fox.
13 years later, LaMotta admitted to throwing the fight at the request of the New York Mob. But he didn’t do it for money. No, in return the mob promised to arrange him a title fight. That the mob could ensure LaMotta was given a shot at the world title shows just how much power they had over the sport of boxing.
“It was the only way. The only way to get my shot. What was mine. I’d earned it. Nobody would give me a chance. Five years as the uncrowned champion. I deserved that shot. I did what needed to be done.”
And it wasn’t just LaMotta. Gangsters had close links with boxing for much of the 20th century. Fighters like Sonny Liston, Primo Carnera , and Max Baer all had well publicized ties with some of the biggest baddest crooks of the day 👇👇👇
3. Don King’s corrupt Ring Magazine boxing tournament
In 1976, prominent boxing promoter Don King (picture in the main image up top) set up a major US boxing tournament to capitalize on growing national interest in the sport. He set out to gather many of the best boxers in the sport to participate and sold the rights to ABC Sports.
But to ensure the tournament garnered as much attention (and therefore $$$) as possible, King wanted to fix the fights so that the high-profile fighters progressed through the tournament and fought each other in the latter stages. Hmmm how to do this? How about fiddle with the rankings?
Boxing magazine, Ring Magazine’s, boxing ratings were used to help select boxers for the tournament. So King pulled some strings and had the records of lowly ranked boxers falsified so they looked better, could enter the tournament and be matched against high profile fighters who they had no chance of beating.
The scandal was exposed and the whole thing fell apart before a punch was even thrown.
Don King has also been associated with all sorts of other criminal activity and heinous behavior, both inside boxing and outside, including the killing of two people. Here’s how Mike Tyson describes him:
“He’s a wretched, slimy, reptilian motherfucker. This is supposed to be my ‘black brother’ right? He’s just a bad man, a real bad man. He would kill his own mother for a dollar. He’s ruthless, he’s deplorable, he’s greedy, and he doesn’t know how to love anybody.”
4. IBF President Robert Lee accused of taking bribes
I should start this by saying that Robert Lee, the man who founded the IBF, one of the world’s major sanctioning organisations, was acquitted on all but 6 of the 33 charges brought against him in 2000. The charges included racketeering and taking bribes. He did however spend two years in jail for tax evasion and money laundering and was banned for life from involvement in boxing.
The four-month trial featured damaging testimony from some of the biggest promoters in boxing, including Bob Arum and Cedric Kushner, that routine bribes were the price of doing business with the IBF. They accused Lee and other officials of taking ~$340,000 in bribes since the inception of the IBF in 1983 in order to rig rankings and set-up matches.
While Lee got acquitted on lots of these charges, it clearly stinks!
5. Peter McNeeley’s corner conceding against Mike Tyson
Rising star Mike Tyson was set to fight chippy upstart Peter McNeely. McNeely never really stood a chance, but someone out there didn’t think he’d even make it to 90 seconds. And they put their money where their mouth was. $1 million to be precise.
Guess what…after 89 seconds, McNeely’s coach threw in the towel. Handing that punter (and McNeely’s camp) a big pay day.
12th Round 🔔
Is boxing corrupt? You bet. Very corrupt. And it all stems from money. There’s no shortage of the almighty dollar flowing around boxing. Throw in a lack of oversight, a culture of “favors”, and monopolies of power, and you have the perfect recipe for unscrupulous behavior. Sadly, boxing is undoubtedly corrupt, and will remain this way for as long as power and influence in the sport is concentrated in just a few hands, and for as long as deals are done in the shadows.
Happy fighting! 🥊🥊
“The temptation for greatness is the biggest drug in the world.” – Mike Tyson