Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Forget Implied Transgressions - It's Official

Photo: AP/Isaac Brekken

Sometimes it's difficult to fathom that bombs-away warriors like Matt Saad Muhammad and Arturo Gatti, who would fight through just about anything, stepped into the exact same boxing ring as guys who don't appear to have reservations about winning the not-so-kosher way.

In a boxing era where losing is like being inked with a scarlet letter, it's possible the sport has become so unforgiving that decisions made in the midst of giving and receiving punishment go on to define fighters.

Or perhaps we simply allow watching guys ply their craft at the highest levels of the game to set unrealistic expectations that we then apply to all contenders, scrubs and journeymen alike. 

Whatever the reason, Zab Judah's low blow fiasco from two weekends ago fueled debates over what constitutes "quitting," and whether or not what Zab did should fall in line with that definition, among other existential boxing discussions. 

Fans, journalists and other non-fighters in the game are frequently criticized for labeling the guys who actually lace the gloves up and get in the ring, and fighters should probably get more leeway than they do in situations that are ambiguous or borderline. 

But much like the soccer player that stops, drops, rolls and grabs an ankle after little or no contact, folks on the outside looking in are justified in their complaints when fighters dishonorably discharge themselves from fights, looking for DQ wins or official punishment for a foul that either didn't happen, or was grossly exaggerated.


Unless you are or were a fighter, achieving actual understanding of what they go through when it's fight or flight is impossible. But one would imagine it takes an unusually sound resolve to not bail out at the first sign of trouble.

When it comes to physical endurance and toughness, there's no question that the ability to soak up shots, illegal or not, varies from fighter to fighter; it's a trait that goes a long way in determining the ceiling of a fighter's potential. 

The following sketchy situations seemed to be more about a fighter's integrity and heart, though:

- In both 1994 and 1995, junior middleweight Luis Santana was able to convince different referees in back-to-back fights that Terry Norris had fouled him with flagrant, coma-inducing punches. It was well-known that Norris had a penchant for going a little apeshit when he smelled blood, memorably popping Ray Leonard with a right hand after he put the former champ down in the second round. 

Against Santana the first time, the champ Norris lost his WBC 154 lb. belt when he hit the Dominican in the back of the head after the challenger turned his back. Santana fell to the canvas, seemed cognizant, then sunk down as if it had taken a good 30 seconds to hit him. In the rematch five months later, Referee Kenny Bayless seemed to be issuing a warning to Santana at the end of round 3, and Norris stepped forward and smacked Santana with a fairly light right hand, claiming later he didn't hear the bell to end the round. Norris was disqualified in both, and Santana's career was all but over after getting steamrolled in the third fight. 

- Heavyweight John Ruiz is a particularly disgraceful example of inventing fouls where there were none. Against Jimmy Thunder in 1997, Ruiz overreacted to a few shots to the belt, eventually falling to a fetal position and rolling around for a little while, forcing a point deduction that salvaged a split decision win. 

His title-winning rematch with Evander Holyfield in March, 2001 saw Ruiz constantly tap the back of his head after legal punches to his temple, attempting to signal illegal rabbit punching from Evander. In the 10th round, Ruiz again went down from a shot to the belt, going completely limp and still as if unconscious. Perennial dolt Joe Cortez took a point from Sir Fields, yet refrained from warning Ruiz despite retaliating against Holyfeild with a handful of legit low blows at the end of the round. And a little over a year later, Ruiz again faked multiple low blows against Kirk Johnson, again with Joe Cortez refereeing. And this time Ruiz retained his title with a DQ win. 

- Always good for making some kind of scene, junior middleweight Kermit Cintron is also a repeat offender. But as a thoughtful Valentine's Day gift in 2009, Kermit actually managed to argue that a cut plainly caused by a punch in the 5th was a crazy headbutt, and then haggle his way back from getting knocked down by a 100% legal shot and counted out against current middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, throwing a childish hissyfit in the middle of the ring as Martinez celebrated his win and the action was halted. But referee Frank Santore Jr. made the inept, bumbling call to resume the fight after letting Cintron get a 4-minute rest. And just in case that wasn't enough stupidity, two judges scored the fight a draw at the end of 12 rounds - cause for jubilation in Cintron's corner.

Notable are Cintron's incessant complaining of rabbit punches while leaning forward in the Margarito rematch, and his bizarre back spasm, then broken arm, then injured leg after pulling off the Triple Lindy against Paul Williams and launching himself into orbit. 

- Another instance where a major title changed hands on a disqualification involved awkward counter-puncher Montell Griffin in March of 1997. Through eight rounds, champion Roy Jones Jr. found Griffin's style and Eddie Futch-implemented gameplan frustrating, and Griffin was likely ahead in the fight.  A quick left hook towards the end of round 7 put Griffin down briefly, but the Chicago native went back to work the following round, making Roy Jones look more ordinary than he ever had before. And in round 9, Jones finally dialed in and hurt Griffin with a series of right hands. As Griffin took a knee to gain his composure, Jones swatted Griffin with a right-left that had the latter slumped down and acting as if someone took a pick axe to his head, before arguing his case all cross-eyedthen hopping to his feet. 

Referee Tony Perez appeared to initially award Jones the win by knockout, but then-head of the New Jersey State Athletic Control, Larry Hazzard, overruled the decision and awarded Griffin the win by DQ. No defenses were made though, as the fictitious character Jones kept referring to as "RJ" in the promotion obliterated Griffin in less than a round.

- 1920's and '30's British heavyweight "contender" Phil Scott had 6 wins by disqualification, and a reputation for falling to his knees and claiming to have been hit low - even when his opponent hadn't thrown a punch, as reporters had claimed happened against light heavyweight Yale Okun in 1927.

- In June, 2008, Francisco Lorenzo attempted to win the interim WBC 130 lb. title by way of Worst Supporting Actor. In round 4, just as Soto appeared to be on the verge of a stoppage win, a bloodied Lorenzo fell to his knees, presumably to avoid punishment, and Soto landed a left hook to the back of Lorenzo's head that was more whisper than punch. Lorenzo collapsed and grabbed his noggin, and referee Joe Cortez, who made several other mistakes during the bout, conferred with ringside officials for minutes before deciding on a DQ. The habitually sub-par Cortez was unrepentant and even smug in the post-fight interview. 

In a bizarre twist, WBC president Jose Sulaiman made the right decision for once, declaring the title vacant and refusing to honor the official result. 

- Even Philly middleweight great Bernard Hopkins isn't above pretending a legal punch is low. Hopkins had been accused of faking a torn ankle ligament courtesy of an extremely hands-on Mills Lane basically shoving Hopkins out of the ring in his first fight with Robert Allen. In fact, his entire career is littered with odd incidents like grappling with Antwun Echols and getting slammed on his shoulder, Robert Allen exaggerating a tap to the stepkids himself in their rematch and literally pretending to be knocked out before hopping up when his corner told him he couldn't win by DQ that way, etc. 

But he's really played up fouls like it's going out of style in the last few years. He tried to win by DQ against Joe Calzaghe in the 11th round by making a face like he bit into a lemon following a low-ish punch; both Pascal fights, but especially the first where he appeared to thumb Pascal in the eye and rub his head into Pascal's face all night; and lastly grabbing his head and wincing in pain after a tap to the back of the head against Roy Jones in round 6, despite raining crotch punches and shots to the back of the head on Roy the round before. Hopkins would later say he fought the last half of the fight "seeing stars." 


It's worth noting that almost every fighters mentioned above is or was considered a world class pugilist when the situations in question went down. 

For instance, Hall of Fame lock Hopkins takes pride in being able to con referees into letting him fight his fight and essentially call the shots. While he's been the focus of complaint recently, he was widely considered a "tricky" or "crafty" maestro for much of his career. 

The line between shameless cheating and a smart decision can indeed be thin in boxing, if not often determined by perspective and timing. 

To be fair to the aforementioned rascals, a foul warrants action, be it a warning, taking a point or worse. The issue though, is exaggeration and melodrama impair the referee's ability to properly asses the situation in order to make the fairest call. Many rules regarding fouls are conditional, with phrases like "...if a fighter is no longer able to continue..." contained somewhere therein, and they become more difficult to interpret when perhaps a guy is lying about whether or not he's able to go on. 

Regardless of a fighter's moral virtue, many of the above situations where a foul actually took place hinged on the referee's inability to separate the fighters quickly enough, maneuver around the ring well, or even just make a logical decision on his feet. 

In Zab Judahs's case specifically, referee Vic Drakulich was not in position to see the punch that Zab called low, prompting a brand new argument for use of instant replay in the sport that's been slow to catch up in terms of necessary technology in recent years. 

Instant replay in boxing may be a better idea in theory than it is in practice, though. In football, baseball and basketball, plays can be whistled dead, halted and mulled over for a bit without much issue. In boxing, where does that lull come? Does a referee let a guy who just got clobbered recover while they check the instant replay and see if the shot was to his temple or behind his ear? Or worse, if a fighter is to wait until the round ends to confirm a foul with instant replay, what if the foul victim gets knocked out in the meantime? 

They are pertinent questions to ask if we're to take an honest look at this issue. 

As much as the integrity of some fighters is rightly called into question as all involved invoke the unspoken, or even just implied code of boxing ethics that discourages guys from trying to win the unsavory way, a long, serious discussion must be held regarding the state of referee accountability in the sport. 

If a fight is on television, it's generally officiated by one of the same gaggle of referees we've seen around for 20, 30 and even 40 years. Like judging, rules, training and protocols need to be revamped, and new blood needs to be pumped into the machine.

At the end of the day, nobody else can tell a fighter how they feel, or how they're affected. But perhaps we're less in need of making a referee's job as idiot-proof as possible, and more in need of weeding out the idiots. The catchphrases, stutter steps and overbearing yelling (I'm looking at you, Joe Cortez, Richard Steele and Jay Nady) are unnecessary. 

There may be no such thing as a sort of enforceable sportsmanship or fairness, but if expectations of all involved in the sport are set high, it may prove to raise the level of perceived class in the sport considerably. 


Click Here to "Like" Beloved Onslaught on Facebook - or follow Patrick on Twitter: @Integrital

No comments:

Post a Comment