Do records in boxing mean anything?

Do records in boxing mean anything?

Do records in boxing mean anything?

Answers to your questions about the news.
June 10 2005 5:54 PM

Do Records in Boxing Mean Anything?

It seems like no one ever loses.

"Iron" Mike Tyson returns to the ring tomorrow, almost a year after the former champ got knocked out in the fourth round by a relative unknown. That was only Tyson's fifth professional loss against 50 wins; for his comeback fight he'll take on Kevin "The Clones Colossus" McBride, a big Irishman with a record of 32-4. Even though McBride has won almost all of his matches, experts say he has little chance of victory. Do win-loss records mean anything in boxing?

Not really. To get a shot at Tyson, or any other high-profile boxer, you need to have an impressive resume—but that doesn't mean you're a great fighter. A guy like McBride can get to 32-4 by beating up a bunch of losers. A look at his list of opponents shows that "The Clones Colossus" has scored victories against big-time palookas like Chris Coughlan (2-13), Jimmy Harrison (6-34), and Lenzie Morgan (14-26). And all four of McBride's losses have been knockouts—including one by a guy who hasn't won another fight since 1996.

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate.


Padding your record against weak opponents can pay off—McBride will earn $150,000 for competing against heavily favored Iron Mike. But the real stumblebums are the guys who make a career of losing. In small-time fights, the less-talented fighter often gets the bulk of the cash; he is, after all, providing a valuable service by losing so reliably. Promoters looking for a way to get their prizefighters a big payoff like McBride's will first invest thousands of dollars in padding his numbers by putting him up against "opponents"—guys with truly horrendous records (like this poor schlub).

In the old days, ringers could boost their income by fighting repeatedly, using aliases to conceal their abysmal stats. A fake name also allowed a boxer to get back in the ring a few days after being knocked out. (State boxing commissions normally require an extended recuperation.)

Federal legislation in 1996 made it harder (and safer) to be a palooka. Now every boxer needs a federally issued photo identification card, and the results of every fight are transmitted to a registry certified by the Association of Boxing Commissions. Currently, the only certified registry is called Fight Fax; they compile and distribute official stats on every fighter—including win-loss records, medical histories, and suspensions. BoxRec, a free, international registry on the Internet, also publishes results from the commissions.

Whenever a promoter wants to set up an official bout, he has to supply the state boxing commissioner with up-to-date statistics on the boxers involved. (Fight Fax sells individual reports for a nominal fee.) The commissioner looks at each fighter's history and can disallow the fight if it appears to be a dangerous mismatch.

Commissioners say that win-loss records do play into their decisions, but they're also interested in the quality of a fighter's opponents and his experience level. A guy who's undefeated at 10-0, for example, might not be that much better than a more seasoned boxer with a lousy record.

Explainer thanks Greg Sirb of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, Bruce Spizler of the Maryland State Athletic Commission, and Jack Obermayer of Fight Fax, Inc.