Opinion: The Repercussions of No Accountability

By Anthony Walker Sep 20, 2017
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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Pound-for-pound greats Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin fought to a split draw in a “Fight of the Year” contender on Saturday in Las Vegas. Nobody can complain about the action in the ring, as both men showed resilience, skill and fight IQ in one of the rare instances in combat sports where the substance matched the hype. There were momentum shifts, thunderous punches landed by the two participants and a genuine sense of suspense surrounding it all. What more could fight fans ask for?

Unfortunately, as is often the case in boxing, a dark cloud looms over the otherwise stellar product put on by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions. That cloud came in the likeness of longtime Nevada Athletic Commission official Adalaide Byrd. While the nature of the fight itself made the draw a satisfactory but not necessarily satisfying result, the 118-110 scorecard Byrd turned in for Alvarez was simply indefensible.

Immediately following the bout, NAC Executive Director Bob Bennett was adamant in his defense of Byrd, calling her “an outstanding judge.” He also credited her work in previous fights and quickly moved to label her Alvarez-Golovkin misstep as “a bad night.” According to various reports, Bennet has had a slight change of heart since and was dropping Byrd from the officiating roster for UFC 216. She will apparently be kept away from big fights until she finishes a “small break.”

Is this too little too late for the Nevada Athletic Commission? Byrd has long been one of the faces of controversial scores. She came under fire a little less than a year ago in Jessie Magdelano’s upset decision over Nonito Donaire for the WBO super bantamweight title. Ironically, another 118-110 mark raised eyebrows for a fight that was much closer than the score she struck.

Byrd’s reputation in boxing is perhaps exceeded by her reputation in mixed martial arts. There, she has also been on the wrong side of controversy far too many times. She aided Leonard Garcia in his robbery against Nam Phan at “The Ultimate Fighter 12” Finale in what remains one of the worst decisions in the history of the sport; and she was the lone judge to score in Melvin Guillard’s favor -- by a 30-27 margin, no less -- at UFC 155, where the Louisiana native was largely dominated by Jamie Varner. As UFC commentator Joe Rogan so aptly put it, “Whoever scored that 30-27 for Guillard should never work a fight again.”

Unfortunately, Byrd was allowed to work again at the highest levels of sanctioned fisticuffs. Bad officiating went unpunished and was allowed to affect the career trajectories and livelihoods of numerous fighters. Why wasn’t Byrd sat down sooner? What about other judges who put out questionable scorecards on a regular basis? What about the up-and-coming judges Bennett says Byrd trains? The problem runs much deeper and demands more attention than a slap on the wrist and a stern talk. This is someone who should have been reprimanded years ago.

The problem can be traced to a system devoid of common accountability and performance-based evaluation. While cries from the media and the camps of both fighters served as a catalyst for a response from the commission, this is an all-too-rare occurrence. Perhaps the high-profile nature of the event sparked enough of a backlash to force Bennett to back down from his vehement defense of a well-tenured NAC colleague.

Willful ignorance and blatant disregard seem to have been the tried-and-true methods for dealing with these controversies. Would the complaints against Byrd have gained such traction without the Alvarez-Golovkin spotlight and the entire sports world watching? Bob Arum’s Top Rank promotion unsuccessfully protested Byrd’s inclusion for the Vasyl Lomachenko-Nicolas Waters bout in November. This was likely a direct result of the questionable scorecard she submitted on the Terrence Crawford-Viktor Postol undercard the previous July. Despite the complaints from within the fight community, Byrd continued to find work as a judge and was even exported for several international events.

A system that holds its officials accountable would not have allowed Byrd and others with similar track records to remain in power. Boxing and MMA are overflowing with examples of suspect scorekeeping that have tarnished the mainstream image and appeal for both sports. As long as accountability remains the responsibility of media and fans -- and not the commission -- this seems likely to continue. Outside forces should not dictate discipline.

Those outside forces only have real influence at those rare times when combat sports aren’t on the fringes of the average viewer’s consciousness. Without the microscope that comes with a blockbuster like Alvarez-Golovkin, officials are free to act with impunity; and judges like Byrd can get away with suffering any significant consequences.

Human fallibility is part of the process, so questionable scorecards will always find their way into combat sports. However, the commission overseeing an event should be doing its best to minimize the chances for egregious errors. That means limiting opportunities for officials like Byrd, Douglas Crosby, Mike England and others. When their names are read by ring announcers Bruce Buffer or Jimmy Lennon Jr., we shouldn’t have to hold our collective breath while we wait for another major mistake. That shared sense of dread is a sign that those regulating events aren’t doing their jobs properly. They have the potential to ruin the very careers the government entrusted them to regulate.

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