Boxing judges in spotlight as Natasha Jonas retains world title with split-decision

Beaten challenger Mikaela Mayer has demanded a rematch, even going so far as to say the Liverpudlian's legacy 'depends on it'.
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Liverpudlian Natasha Jonas retained her IBF welterweight world title with a split-decision victory over American Mikaela Mayer in a thrilling, gruelling fight in front of a home crowd at the M&S Bank Arena on Sunday.

Jonas started strongly but then had to battle through Mayer’s barrage, with the American landing 24 more punches over the course of the bout. However, Toxeth-born Jonas showed her iron chin and won the fight 96-94, 96-95 on the score cards, with one judge giving it 97-93 to Mayer.

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The split decision left fans divided. With some questioning what the judges were watching and raising questions about the way they score fights.

In her post-fight interview, the beaten challenger demanded a rematch, even going so far as to say Jonas' legacy 'depends on it'. Mayer told Sky Sports: "I'm hoping Natasha feels the pressure and does what a stand up Champion would do in this situation…and that's agree to a rematch."

The somewhat controversial split decision comes after Francis Ngannou was hard done by - according to some critics - when he fought Tyson Fury in the 'Battle of the Baddest' in October. It was Ngannou’s first fight following his departure from the UFC, where he was the heavyweight champion.

Whilst there is nothing the fighters can do about how judges see these bouts, many feel that judges need to be held more accountable. Divisive results can be a driving factor for fighters not wanting to compete on away territory. We’ve already seen this with Andy Ruiz not wanting his rematch with Anthony Joshua in the UK.

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We’ve also seen controversy in all UK fights, such as Josh Taylor vs Jack Catterall. Scottish fighter Taylor famously won a controversial split decision 114-111, 113-112 and one judge scoring it to Englishman Catterall 113-112.

Disputed scoring also puts fighters in the difficult position of trying to defend themselves, with the media asking questions about why they think the judges gave it to them. Not ideal after months of training camps and intense preparation.

Natasha Jonas punches Mikaela Mayer during the IBF World Welterweight Title fight at M&S Bank Arena on January 20, 2024 in Liverpool. Image: Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesNatasha Jonas punches Mikaela Mayer during the IBF World Welterweight Title fight at M&S Bank Arena on January 20, 2024 in Liverpool. Image: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Natasha Jonas punches Mikaela Mayer during the IBF World Welterweight Title fight at M&S Bank Arena on January 20, 2024 in Liverpool. Image: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

On Sunday, world champion Jonas had to do just that, telling Sky Sports: "I respect people's opinion. Everyone's entitled to one. But the results matters on the day and I got the result. All in, I won. I grinded it out. I made it a little uncomfortable for myself in the middle rounds. Again, I won that's all I can say."

How does scoring affect the fighters?

A bad scorecard can hamper a fighter's reputation with the fans and media. Boxers can even lose sponsorship opportunities, media appearances, title shots and the chance to fight in front of their home crowd.

Who picks the judges?

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The governing bodies license the bouts and they have the job of picking the judges. A team can choose to reject certain judges for their own reasons, such as being front then same country as their opponent, or they have scored against them in previous fights.

Judges are usually picked from a neutral location to avoid conflict of interest. The judges need to be clear with what they want to see from the fighters and the governing bodies should have a duty to appoint trusted judges.

And in my opinion, they should have to explain what they saw to warrant a decision if a fight is close. It could help to put an end to controversy.