Commentary

Rau deal: Who's to blame for Warren's Olympic defeat?

Trailing on points, American medal favorite Rau'Shee Warren decided to turn and run instead of stand and fight -- and it cost him a chance at a gold medal.

Originally Published: August 11, 2008
By Eric Raskin | ESPN.com

Rau'shee WarrenAP Photo/Murad SezerRau'Shee Warren, facing, elected to cruise instead of fight in the final seconds of his bout against Oksung Lee -- and it cost him dearly.
Over the 16 days that make up the Beijing Olympics, there are so many different sports airing on so many different channels that it's easy for them to blur together.

So it's fitting that the scoring system has turned Olympic boxing into a numbing amalgam of fencing, wrestling and track.

It's like fencing in that the goal is purely to touch your opponent, with no extra credit given to doing so with power.

The wrestling and track elements come into play whenever one fighter has a lead. The system encourages tying up the opponent's arms or running away in order to drain the clock and protect the points advantage.

But in the final 35 seconds of the most talked-about boxing match of the Games thus far, we were introduced to an unusual twist: Trailing on points, American medal favorite Rau'Shee Warren elected to run for the finish line and protect his opponent's lead.

[+] EnlargeRau'Shee Warren
Jacques DeMarthon/AFP/Getty ImagesWarren, facing, was convinced he had done enough to secure the victory over Lee.
Flyweight Warren's Aug. 12 first-round match against Lee Oksung of Korea featured nearly everything that has been wrong about boxing in these Olympic Games. Judges awarded points for phantom punches and twiddled their thumbs while clean blows landed; proper boxing technique was eschewed in favor of lunging in with single blows; the drawbacks of "open scoring" were all too visible and both fighters were handicapped by the use of a blind draw to determine bracket placement.

But make no mistake about this: Warren didn't get ripped off. Under any scoring system, he left the fight too close to call, and down the stretch, he screwed himself out of a chance to advance.

Under the Olympic system, in which points are awarded when at least three of the five ringside judges nearly simultaneously push a button recognizing a punch landing, Lee defeated Warren 9-8.

Under the professional scoring system (or the system used in the Olympics until the infamous robbery suffered by Roy Jones 20 years ago prompted a change), Lee still might have defeated Warren.

I went back and watched the fight again, scoring it under the 10-point must system, and I ended up with a 38-38 tally.

The first two rounds were both close, and I leaned toward Lee in the opener and Warren in the second. Round 3 clearly belonged to the American. Round 4, thanks to Warren making like Oscar De La Hoya in the late rounds against Felix Trinidad, clearly went to Lee.

The bottom line is, under any system, this was a close fight between evenly matched amateurs (it was unlucky that '07 world champion Warren and '05 world champ Lee drew each other in the opening round), and they left it in the hands of the judges.

In Round 3, specifically, we got a distressing lesson in how dangerous that can be.

The score was tied at six entering the round, and over the first 15 seconds, the fighters shared a sizzling exchange. The judges, being asked to employ video-gamer reflexes, awarded no points to either man.

Forty seconds into the round, Warren landed a beautiful counter left over a miss from Lee, and Lee got a point, "earning" a 7-6 lead.

With 20 seconds to go in the round, Warren missed a right hand, slipped to the canvas, and saw a point added to his score. The round ended in a 7-7 tie.

It was Round 4, however, that made this match water-cooler worthy (assuming there's a water cooler somewhere around which people watching obscure Olympic events on CNBC gather).

With 35 seconds remaining and Lee ahead 9-8, a timeout was called so that Lee could have the tape on his glove fixed. Warren spent those few seconds in a neutral corner, a golden opportunity to check with his coaches and make sure he knew the score.

It soon became clear that he didn't. Until there were only four seconds left on the clock, Warren played keep-away, just as a fighter with a one-point lead would.

Finally, U.S. coach Dan Campbell got the message through: You're behind, and you need to punch.

It was too late. Warren went home winless for the second Olympiad in a row.

For the 21-year-old, the culmination of a four-year wait to turn pro was not the crowning moment he envisioned. It was his Chris Webber moment, his Jean Van de Velde moment. He made a tactical error in the heat of competition -- and it cost him.

"We were yelling to him, we were screaming to him to throw punches and letting him know he was one down, but somehow he didn't hear it," said Campbell after the bout.

"My corner wasn't giving me nothing," Warren said, contradicting Campbell's claims. "I was looking over in the corner to see what was going on, there was no reaction."

Interestingly, Warren didn't say he believed that he was ahead. He insisted he didn't know the score at all during the final minute. And that leaves him open to serious criticism.

It should be the instinct and nature of a fighter to fight until the end. In some ways, with this open scoring, you take that element away. If you don't know if you're ahead, you have to fight till the final bell. It's your responsibility.

-- Teddy Atlas, on why boxers should fight until the final bell

"It should be the instinct and nature of a fighter to fight until the end," said NBC broadcaster Teddy Atlas. "In some ways, with this open scoring, you take that element away. If you don't know if you're ahead, you have to fight till the final bell. It's your responsibility."

Warren's mental mistake, however, was only part of the story here. In the larger picture, further evidence arose suggesting that the Olympic scoring system is a failed experiment that needs to go the way of the XFL and the glowing hockey puck.

Scoring fights just by counting punches contradicts the whole spirit of boxing competition. Power is supposed to matter in this sport.

This system is akin to judging a baseball game by counting hits, not runs.

And if you're going to just count punches, at least hire people who can do it competently.

"It wasn't just that fight," NBC blow-by-blow man Bob Papa said after the Lee-Warren stunner. "Of the 12 fights in a session, you could look at about eight of them and say, 'What was going on?'"

We all agree that pro boxing offers its share of perplexing decisions, but not in eight out of every 12 fights. Clearly, it's time for a change, and if those presiding over Olympic boxing can't figure that out for themselves, then the fighters need to send a message to them.

At the conclusion of these Olympic Games, the U.S. ought to boycott any competition that uses computerized scoring. And hopefully other countries (nobody has been screwed worse so far in Beijing than Ghana's body-banging Bastie Samir) will follow suit.

Certainly, the IOC doesn't want half of the potential fighters skipping the London Olympics in 2012.

But if things haven't changed in four years, the U.S. boxing team ought to just stay home.

Rau'Shee Warren is probably wishing he did.

Eric Raskin is a contributing editor for and former managing editor of The Ring magazine.