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First female boxing judge makes her points

Posted Jun 11, 2012 by Bob D'Angelo

Updated Jun 11, 2012 at 11:05 PM

The controversy surrounding Timothy Bradley’s stunning victory against Manny Pacquiao proves once again that boxing is a subjective sport. Unless you win by a knockout or TKO, the decision rests solely in the hands of the judges who score the fight. It’s a matter of interpretation.

Bradley improved to 29-0 after winning by split decision, as judges Catherine J. Ross and Duane Ford scored the fight 115-113 in favor of the underdog. What’s important to note is that while the majority decision is being ridiculed, the consensus is that it was poor judgment — and not that one of the judges was a woman.

Nearly 40 years ago, the gender of the judge would have been the issue. But thanks to a 5-foot-1, 115-pound pioneer, boxing judges are now more readily judged by their skills — and not by their gender.

Carol B. Polis made history in February 1973, becoming the world’s first professional boxing judge. And while she refers to herself as “Rocky with a purse,” she has overcome more than the fictional Rocky Balboa ever faced. She juggled her time as a boxing judge with her life as a single mother, a grandmother raising her grandson. She stared down (or up, given her height) Don King and breast cancer with the same chutzpah and intensity.

“I didn’t use mirrors,” Polis writes in “The Lady is a Champ” (Velocity Publishing Group; $19.99, paperback, 306 pages), “but I reflected constantly.”

Polis and co-author Rich Herschlag (this is his ninth book) recount her groundbreaking career, in which she judged 27 title fights. Not bad for a woman who was married to a referee and had no interest in boxing; in fact, watching the fights made her squeamish. But she learned the science of judging, made her mistakes out in the open and persevered. Soon she was traveling to Europe and Argentina to judge fights.

Her experience in Argentina was particularly interesting — and unsettling. Polis loved judging in Italy, and the Italian people seemed to enjoy her too.
Polis even landed a part in “Rocky V,” as a judge at ringside. Logical, right? But apparently that was a fight in itself, since she originally was tabbed to play a crowd extra. But she battled her way into a role more suited to her talents, even if she only got about five seconds of exposure in the film.

Polis also appeared on shows like “What’s My Line?” and “To Tell The Truth.” She also was investigated by the FBI for her participation in a boxing tournament in Maryland promoted by King, and ducked out of the way of bottles tossed in her direction by irate fans who disagreed with one of her decisions.

An amusing story finds Polis in Las Vegas, wondering who was being paged when this announcement came over a hotel’s public address system: “Princess Fatima, please come to the front desk.”

It bugged Polis so much that she asked some WBA officials, who told her the hotel was paging prostitutes: “Would any available hooker please come to the front desk” was the uncoded version.

It’s one of many interesting stories. But to coin a boxing phrase, some points have to be deducted.

Mostly they concern editing glitches that should have been prevented. The most glaring one is the reference to former heavyweight champion Leon Spinks as “Spinx” and Marvin Hagler as “Haggler.” To be fair, both are corrected in later references.

References to “Sumpter, S.C.” (it’s Sumter) and flare when the proper word was “flair” also interrupt the flow of the story. At least in my mind; that’s the editor in me coming out.

But in the final analysis, Polis’ stories about her experiences outpoint the mistakes. She subscribed to a simple theory taught by her father: “Can’t means won’t.”

As she proved during her career, “can’t” was not part of Polis’ vocabulary. She can look back on a meaningful career that opened doors for a new generation of judges.

“The Lady is a Champ” is a detailed look at some of the inner workings of boxing — and how judges approach matches and maintain their focus while bedlam erupts around them. Boxing fans will enjoy the insider’s perspective. And if you enjoy an underdog, Polis’ story will be an inspiration.

 

 

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