Saturday, March 26, 2005

Bring back the 15-round championship limit

Want to bring championships back to prominent events? Bring back 15-round limits for championship bouts.

The shift to 12-rounders started as a knee-jerk response to the death of Korean lightweight Deuk-Koo Kim following his 14th round knockout loss to then-WBA champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, November 13, 1982.

The WBC, in an effort to appear to be considered progressive, quickly decreed that all of WBC world title bouts would be set for 12-rounds. For a short time after that the WBA and IBF maintained the 15-round limit, but like sheep eventually followed suit. When the plethora of other organizations such as the WBO, WBU, IBA etc… (ad nauseam) came into being, the 12-round limit was seen as the norm. (As an aside, it is ironic that Mancini went on to lose his WBA lightweight title to Livingstone Bramble by way of 14-round knockout and later lost a 15-round decision in their rematch).

Virtually no one has produced any evidence ever that suggests the 12-round limit is safer.

But what was the real effect of the change? Did it really protect fighters? I suggest, admittedly without a long-term scientific study to back me up, that the 12-round limit unduly props up weak champions and gives hope to second-tier challengers. It also leads to more decisions and the prospect of bad calls. I also have a sneaking suspicion that 15-round bouts --- with all the difficulty involved in preparing for --- tend to dissuade part-time heroes dabbling in return fights.

It is clear that champions such as Larry Holmes, Roberto Duran, Ray Leonard and the old-timers, were able to prove their wares over the five championship rounds --- separating themselves clearly from the run-of-the-mill 10-round main event fighter. Witness Holmes vs. Norton, Duran vs. Leonard I, and Leonard vs. Hearns I.

Think of what some of the other great fights and surprises the 15-round limit gave us. Would Ali-Frazier I or III have been the same in a 12-round format? Frazier’s knockdown of Ali in the 15th, cemented the greatness of that fight and left no doubt about the winner of their first bout. Ali’s win in their third bout was equally as convincing as Frazier couldn’t answer the bell for the 15th.

Contrast that with their 12-round NABF championship bout in their second meeting. Although many saw Ali as the clear winner, a review of the tapes indicates a closer bout than the initial result indicated. Do you know anyone who calls that bout “great”? Ask Frazier to this day if he thinks he really lost that bout.

The 15-round limit also exposes champions who have some severe limitation. Who can forget Mike Weaver, far behind on all cards against the undefeated WBA heavyweight champion, John Tate, coming back to score a resounding 15th round knockout that left Tate unconscious for several minutes? That bout, held in Knoxville, Tennessee, March 31, 1980, and seen nationwide in primetime, had fans clear as to the victor and in awe of the power of Weaver’s left-hook.

Of course Tate was never the same again, and while Weaver’s tenure was not especially distinguished, the fight did have the effect of showing the world the greatness of Larry Holmes (a knockout winner over Weaver in Weaver’s previous attempt at a world-title). No one had any remaining doubts as to who was the true champion.

Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of bringing back the 15-round limit is that it helps to produce clarity. In their March 17, 1990 bout in Las Vegas for the WBC and IBF junior welterweight titles, Meldrick Taylor and Julio Cesar Chavez engaged in a pitched battle. Taylor, exhibiting enormous skills, appeared to move ahead of the undefeated Chavez. Going into the 12th and final round Taylor was indeed ahead on two cards and could only lose by knockout. In the final few rounds he had noticeably faltered under the pressure of Chavez’ attack, but he was going to win on decision barring a knockout.

With approximately twelve seconds left in the final round, Taylor wilted and Chavez scored a stunning knockdown. Taylor regained his feet and while he appeared willing to continue, he was still in some trouble. Referee Richard Steele, in what would be considered one of the most controversial acts of his great career, stopped the bout with two seconds remaining, giving Chavez a knockout victory.

Had that bout been scheduled for 15-rounds, there is no way Taylor would have made it to the end even if Steele had allowed the bout to go on. Chavez got stronger as the bout progressed and Taylor faded badly. The controversy would have been non-existent and everyone would have witnessed the true magic of Chavez over the championship distance. As it was, the controversy overshadowed the bout and was cause for acrimony for years.

The 15-round limit won’t solve all of boxing’s many ills but it will help restore the distinctiveness of championship bouts. The 15-round limit has a long and storied history in boxing and proved decisive in countless championship bouts, particularly in the heavier weight divisions throughout the gloved-era. The first sanctioning body to return to the 15-round limit will likely take heat --- but it will also be noticed. Champions will be on notice that to make a mark they will have to distinguish themselves from the pack over the long-haul.

Email JE at


Anonymous Jay said...

I really enjoy your articles on Eastside, keep up the good work!

2:50 PM  
Blogger terry lane said...

Although I see what you are saying, I believe that the general reason for not having fifteen rounders is basically safety. I do believe that there should be an odd amount of rounds for big fights…perhaps 13.

4:53 PM  

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