Why isn’t data used in real-time for boxing…
We see things like Punch Stats or even the very reputable company CompuBox used to aid television broadcasts, giving us further details until an approximation of what is happening in the ring, but why aren’t they used more than just in a telecast?
In professional sports often hall-of-fame careers are defined behind stat lines and accolades. A certain amount of points combined with winning a world championship equals an exalted career, yet in boxing, it is a world title or bust.
Who threw the most punches upon a career average - Not only does one not know it, but a Google search brings up even muddier waters. Thus lies maybe the reason why boxing is the ultimate water cooler sport - it is subjective in nature, but it is faith-based. You can be told the numbers say one thing, but you can see another, and boxing often the eye test is stronger than the numbers tell you.
Not unlike someone recovering or rehabbing from an injury or addiction the big fear is one…one in that instance would be starting over, but for a fighter, it is simply one punch that can change everything.
You can talk about equations and models of probability, but no matter how you shape it - you can’t factor in will, heart, and desire. Often stats are created to give security to the insecure and have reshaped how we look at a whole sport such as baseball. Take for example slugging percentage, which works off a formula saying not all runs are equal. The formula is a hit is 1 point, a double is two points, a triple three points, and a home run is four. Thus a great hitter might not be a great slugger per this metric. Golf has seen probability come into play when dealing with the world's toughest courses and even taught people the best methods to play certain holes based on prior research and individual performance.
Yet, boxing is still one of the most primitive. Whereas CompuBox does an amazing job at what they do, we have yet to see combination stats at the level of the NBA such as an effective field goal percentage, and though a plus/minus of usage is offered by CompuBox, it feels like we are just now learning how to quantify the sweet science. Is it also just a matter of you can't break a fight into numbers?
So as we jump into a more consumer-driven world, in which AI, crowdsourcing, and viewership will become the norm and not the outlier, it is maybe a good time to wonder - when should boxing use stats and numbers more to paint the picture of what is occurring?
Why should it be used?
We often complain about judging in boxing. Affording judges numbers in real-time such as percentages of power shots landed and total punches, could help guide a judge to possibly a more favorable and fair outcome if it is a close fight. A lot of being a boxing judge is an art form and getting quantitive real-time data could help with blurring some of the grey area in cloudy skies.
From a media standpoint, it helps in a recap as it shows the level of dominance or the competitive nature of the bout in a statistical form. Though some stats can help paint the picture, it is hard to believe you could reach a punch stats sheet and get the full picture of a fight, as a narrative is often needed to get the full story.
Yet, innovations such as advanced metrics, such records of fighters against former world champions, records of fighters in their hometown, or even punch totals in hometown fights versus fights in a neutral site or even in a hostile ground seem helpful, but might not be here until the next decade.
Often stats help add another level of excitement from a fan standpoint, but given the limited financial gain in the sport of boxing compared to other sports, an algorithm will have to be built for another sport that carries over to boxing for us to get these type of stats given the finical constraints.
One idea that could lead to innovation is the idea of a sensor in some capacity around or in the glove that would rely on stat info in real-time with different types of categories being filled up in real-time by the data. Yet, would the sensor be intrusive, and/or would it change the outcome of a fight…that might be the hard sell. As the MMA outfit, the PFL has incorporated many 'real-time' stats into their production, which has made them different from their competitor the UFC.
In short, though we might not be able to pull up data on the amount of punches a boxer averages against a southpaw, yet - we are nearing that point, and as that day looms data integration into the boxing community will follow.
Why it shouldn’t be used?
Should we allow a fight to dangle in the balance of an operator of a punch stat system? If someone fails to record an adequate or fair assessment in a boring or somewhat boring fight, a judge might be included to score based on whatever numbers they deem meaningful. As a bad decision could now have an easy out for a judge - I looked at the stats of the fight, and that was how I scored it.
Also, a lot of misnomers could occur. For example, top-fifteen fighters with limited world-class opponents could be rated far greater than the actual best fighters in the world in certain categories if you don’t factor in things like ‘strength of schedule’.
Then there is my guess. Boxing is a social sport. The gyms are almost like a form of church to many and a social group to others. Though stats would be nice, the boxing crowd from the trainers to the fans to even the boxing journalists are not going to look at the stats unless they seem impactful. This means the job of keeping these stats would be one of the most thankless jobs in the sport as they’d be weaponized upon convenience, and ignored more often.
Despite trying to quantitive a fight that is subjective and ‘feel driven’ maybe boxing is more art than science. The more we try to understand it through numbers the more we get lost. Could trying to bring data into the sport of boxing prove to be looking to find advancements in a sport that is right in front of you, more than hidden by patterns?