Boxing computer should be put down for count

MIKE LITTWIN

August 03, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

BARCELONA, Spain -- The computer age has hit boxing. I think it was a left to the jaw.

I know a computer did in Eric Griffin, America's best Olympic boxer, on Saturday, making for a new spin on an old story. Usually it's a crooked judge, or a coach who can't figure out the bus schedule that leaves a boxer in tears.

Now, it's software. The '90s, I love 'em.

Personally, I don't speak computer, but I know enough to realize that boxing and Super Mario Brothers do not mix.

You see, boxing does not belong in the computer age any more than cockfights do. Boxing is the anti-computer sport. Boxing is the musty-gym, sawdust-covered-floors, cut-men, no-sex-while-training, catch-the-medicine-ball, science-is-for-sissies sport.

Boxers are the ones who used to beat up the guys who invented computers. Until now, that was the sole relationship between the two disciplines.

That's why you get someone like Randy Gordon, of the New York State Athletic Commission, saying, "They ought to take the computers and float them in the Mediterranean, and throw the judges in beside them."

Maybe I'd better explain exactly what happened. It gets a little technical here, so put on your Mr. Science caps and try to stay with me.

Four years ago in Seoul, U.S. boxer Roy Jones was robbed the old-fashioned way. The judges did it. The judges were sanctioned afterward; I'm not sure of the punishment, but I think it might have been hanging at dawn. Anyway, it was just the latest in a series of Olympic boxing scandals -- remember the Korean boxer and his sit-down strike? -- and someone decided the sport had better clean up its act.

That's when the idea sprang forth: What's cleaner than a computer? Computers don't cheat, although sometimes they cut off your Social Security check and insist that you're dead. The plan was to use a computer to help eliminate judging bias.

So, what they did was give each of the five judges a little box with two buttons on it. When the boxer in blue scores a punch, the judge punches the blue button. When the boxer in red scores a punch -- yes -- the judge punches the red button. If three judges punch the same button within a second's time, that boxer gets a point.

Get it? Didn't think so.

Neither have the judges.

It's Nintendo, right? Or Jeopardy. And there are problems. Not all judges have the same reaction time. If you're left-handed, you might hit that left button a little more often. If you're Maynard G. Krebs, an accomplished bongo player, you might hit each button about 500 times. If you're my nephew, who is Mr. Super Mario Brothers, you might hit each button a thousand times.

If you're 60 years old, well, you'd be an Olympic judge.

Here's the rundown on Griffin's second-round fight, with Griffin ahead on each card:

The Argentine judge: 10-9.

The Canadian judge: 26-17.

The Yugoslavian judge: 18-9.

The Pakistani judge: 19-10.

The Ghanan judge: 8-5.

And the final score: Spain's Rafael Lozano 6, Griffin 5. You read it right. He's ahead on all five cards and still loses. Only 11 times in the fight did any three judges see a punch land at the same time.

The Canadian judge saw 43 punches and the Ghanan judge 13. Maybe you're asking how that's possible. That's what Griffin is asking. Was one guy snoozing? Was one hyperactive? Was there what those in the computer biz call a glitch?

Whatever the reason, it caused a lot of screaming. The U.S. side appealed twice -- and lost twice.

"I don't think it's whining when we're not whining about the other [American] losses," Griffin said. "If this was basketball and the shot goes in the hoop 10 times and you only get 10 points, I don't think you'd call that whining."

It's certainly a shame. Griffin is your stereotypical up-from-nothing boxer, only more so. He came out of poverty in Broussard, La., to grow up to a 5-foot-2, 106-pound boxer. A high school dropout, he was washing dishes for a living when he met up with computer executive Bob Jordan of Jasper, Tenn., who also ran a gym in Houston. Jordan basically adopted him.

The story gets complicated, of course. All boxing stories do. Griffin was eliminated from the 1988 Olympic box-offs for smoking dope. He worked his way back and came into this Olympiad a three-time world champion who lives in a trailer outside Jasper with his girlfriend and their son. A gold medal was supposed to get him out of that trailer.

Jordan figured his boxer was a victim of international intrigue and offered this reasoned solution: "Write your congressman and tell him to stop all foreign aid. It just takes 29 cents. Without our aid, all those jerkwater, shirt-pocket little countries will just dry up and blow away. The big countries will gobble them up, and then we'll have only a few left to deal with."

Now, that's boxing. And so's this: Lou Duva, who manages Evander Holyfield, who once lost a controversial Olympic decision himself, said Griffin had lost virtually everything.

"He's the Roy Jones of 1992, and that don't mean nothing," Duva said. "This cost him over a million bucks. Who gives him a bonus now?"

It means he's a $500 fighter. The stakes are that high.

And the system is still that messed up. You don't need to be an Apple Macintosh to figure that out.

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