Media Review: Is it time for boxing to introduce VAR?

Media Review: Is it time for boxing to introduce VAR?

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By George Gigney

BOXING, traditionally, has not been one of the world’s leading sports when it comes to innovation and adaptability. The fragmented nature of its governance has meant that the adoption of new processes and policies has rarely – if ever – been universal. Different governing and sanctioning bodies have different rules and regulations – no two commissions are the same.

So, when the topic of VAR being used in boxing was once again raised this week, there were plenty of questions about how that would happen. WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman was the first to bring up the issue when he claimed his organisation is pushing for VAR to be implemented for the superfight between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk in May.

Promoter Ben Shalom told talkSPORT: “I think for the big fights it makes a lot of sense. You have so many decisions at the moment that are being questioned all the time. It’s frustrating as a promoter as well because you’re usually the one that gets blamed.

“I welcome anything, it takes investment, it takes everyone getting on board with it.”

Eddie Hearn was also asked about VAR by talkSPORT and he initially labelled it a “terrible idea,” though he was referring to the notion that video replays could be used to overturn judges’ decisions after a fight. Obviously, he’s right, and it doesn’t seem like this was what Shalom was talking about.

What Sulaiman and others are touting is using VAR for incidents like a fighter suffering a cut during a fight, or receiving a low blow. The use of an immediate video replay could be used to ensure the correct course of action is followed; for example determining whether a cut came from a punch, or whether a punch initially declared a low blow by the referee was in fact below the beltline.

In theory, it’s a great idea. There are countless examples of a referee making a call in the moment, only for video replays shown to those watching at home and in the crowd that prove that decision to be the wrong one. And that’s not a slight on referees – it’s an incredibly hard job and they’re not going to see everything that’s happening in the ring and make the right call 100 per cent of the time.

Things get sticky when you look at how VAR in boxing would actually work in practice. Would you stop a fight in its tracks to review some footage? How long would it take? If a fighter had been hurt by what was declared a low blow, but is then deemed a legal punch by VAR, the effects of that shot would have likely worn off by the time that decision is reached. So the fighter who landed the punch loses any advantage they should have had.

The same issue arises if you wait in between rounds to review VAR footage. And, again, is the minute break long enough for a decision to be made?

It could certainly be introduced for cuts, though. As long as the wound isn’t bad enough to immediately end a fight, there is time for a clear decision to be made on how the cut came about, and this can then be communicated to broadcasters, fans watching and – most importantly – the corners of the two fighters.

Then we come to the question of how widely VAR would be adopted. Obviously the WBC is keen on it, but what about fights sanctioned by the WBO, WBA or IBF? Is it fair that some fights could be heavily influenced by, and maybe even decided upon, VAR technology while others are not? Not to mention all of the athletic state commissions in the States and the other governing bodies across the world – it would be at the individual discretion of each of those organisations as to whether or not they used VAR in boxing.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Canelo Alvarez – who will next fight on May 4 in Las Vegas – held a broadcast on TV Azteca in Mexico to announce… not much at all. All we really found out, apart from confirmation of the date, is that his next fight will be against an American. That rules out Jaime Munguia, who had been touted as a potential opponent.

Canelo would later rule out probably the biggest option commercially, Terence Crawford, stating that it’s essentially a lose-lose situation should he fight someone so much smaller than him. David Benavidez – arguably the most compelling opponent for Canelo at this point – also looks unlikely as his own promoter said Canelo does not plan on fighting him and no contact has been made.

Whether that means Jermall Charlo is the frontrunner, as was widely speculated, only time will tell.

Manny Pacquiao, now 45, was apparently very serious about competing at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. It was confirmed by AFP that the Philippines had made a “special request” for Pacquiao to compete at the Games, despite the International Olympics Committee (IOC) rules setting the age limit for boxers at 40.

The IOC rejected the request. And so it should have; its rules are clear and there’s no reason to ignore them in this instance. Yes, Pacquiao boxing at the Olympics would be newsworthy but other than that there is not much benefit to it. He’s one of the most decorated professional fighters in history and arguably the most famous Filipino ever.

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