|Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images|
The Showtime Bantamweight Tournament ended tonight with more of a groan than a bang, as a night most folks in boxing expected to be unforgettable, ultimately was.
Abner Mares, now 22-0-1 (13 KO), was gifted the IBF bantamweight belt (and defended something called the WBC Silver bantamweight title) with a majority decision over fellow tournament finalist Joseph "King Kong" Agbeko, who falls to 28-3 (22 KO).
To put it lightly, It wasn't a great night for anyone involved.
The Showtime crew did little more than hunt for low blows all night.
Abner Mares was unable to really celebrate winning, met with looks of disbelief and boos hurled from the Las Vegas crowd following the fight.
Needless to say, it was crappy for Agbeko, who fought an admirable fight, but was never rewarded for remaining a fair sportsman.
But referee Russell Mora deserves a round of applause for his downright rank officiating of the Bantamweight Tournament finale - a showing so bad it put his other recent trespasses to shame.
His showing tonight is likely the worst by a good margin, but hardly an isolated incident, and that's just staying recent.
In September of 2010, Mora spotted Anthony Peterson a number of low blows against Brandon Rios before taking two points and eventually disqualifying Anthony at the end of round 7.
Then in February of this year, the WBC's Jose Sulaiman sought to have Mora reprimanded following the highly questionable call to allow Fernando Montiel to continue after getting up from a huge Nonito Donaire knockdown looking like something out of a George A. Romero flick. In all fairness Mora quickly stepped in when he realized Montiel was in zero shape to continue. It just shouldn't have taken him so long to realize it.
And Mora's inept meddling was apparent in rounds 8 and 9 of the bout between Robert Guerrero and Michael Katsidis last April, where Russell snatched a couple of points away from Katsidis in the 8th for punches that seemed neither deliberate nor ridiculously damaging, then attempted to sneak in a makeup call by deducting a point from Guerrero the following round for a cup shot that appeared inadvertent.
Oh, and in the second round he declined to call a knockdown after Katsidis caught Guerrero with a left hook, Robert's knees dipped and his glove touched the canvas, too.
This guy's last 12 months have been embarrassing.
But perhaps his most despicable offense is robbing the boxing world of a fight that was destined to be great. Never mind that it was a fight to determine at worst the second-best guy in a nice division.
Oddly, Mora made the correct call a number of times early in the bout, warning Agbeko as he missed a jab or hook and used that arm to pull Mares' head in a bit, which in turn caused some of Abner's body shots to stray low. But not all were aided by Agbeko's glove, and Mares cracked Agbeko to the hip more than once with only one warning from Mora. Ol' Russ did call a knockdown in the first that looked more like a foot tangle, however.
It was entertaining at times though, if you were able to shut out the incessant yelping of the Showtime commentators.
But the situation turned surreal about halfway through the bout.
As a fatiguing Mares continued to stray low all on his own, Mora skipped around the ring like a broken record, warning a dejected-looking Agbeko for the same infraction that simply wasn't happening, while bouncing a cushiony slaps on the wrist Mares' way.
Relatively forgivable was the early knockdown call, but hilariously reprehensible was not only ruling a knockdown on maybe the lowest punch of the evening in the 11th, but refusing to admit error, citing some make-believe rule in his head, even after watching a slow motion replay of the sequence after the fight.
Russell Mora's post-fight talk with Showtime sportscaster Jim Gray was a weak attempt at justifying a reffing job that was like a bad joke that went on for 36 minutes with no punchline. The perennially hated Gray was actually praised for being a pushy louse this time and immediately approaching Mora after the fight, demanding an explanation.
Perhaps the biggest downer is that at least one truly honest effort has been lost in the headlines. Even after the repeated fouls, Joseph Agbeko resisted the urge to lash out, aside from a few soft rabbit punches in protest. The "knockdown" in the 11th would have been the perfect time for Agbeko to gracefully and understandably concede defeat in the face of such one-sided incompetence.
Instead, "King Kong" soldiered through it and stunned Mares with booming counters a few times, earning what probably would have been a hard-fought draw without the atrociously blown call in the 11th.
And while Mares deserves a measure of criticism for continuing to foul, intentional or not, he looked ambitious early on, and he too battled through some rough exchanges.
There were spells in the bout where the hoped-for brawl threatened to surface, both guys showcasing solid in-fighting and trading bombs from a longer range. The 11th round in particular was outstanding for a minute or so, making Mora's decision to screw Agbeko out of the round whether he deserved it or not all the more shameful.
Fittingly, both "Russell Mora" and "Jim Gray" were trending on Twitter immediately following the fight. No "Abner Mares," and certainly no "Joseph Agbeko."
Just weeks removed from some well-publicized really bad calls in boxing, a clear message needs to be sent that neither corruption nor stupidity will be tolerated.
Simply put, the only way to deliver justice to Mr. Agbeko and not compound the head-thumping idiocy, is to mandate an immediate rematch.
To read my article concerning other recent snafus and routine travesties in boxing, click the following link:
Beloved Onslaught: Reflections After the Seeting
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