This morning, it’s unanimous that hometown referee Marlon B. Wright performed a tremendous disservice to the sport in Montreal last night when he acted to save Canada’s Lucian Bute from a possible knockout loss that would have handed his super middleweight (168 lbs.) title belt to Librado Andrade. It is almost entirely unanimous that Andrade deserved the knockout win. I was in the extreme minority in thinking the ref’s actions at the end of the fight, while shady beyond belief, should not have prevented Bute from winning.
Because I’ve had some time to review the video and think it over, and because in my fury at Wright last night I gave some short shrift to some other aspects of what went down on Showtime, it’s worthy revisiting the whole shebang.
First, there was another fight on the televised card, that being Ronald Hearns against Paul Clavettes. Hearns is the son of the famed Thomas and a 154-pound, 29-year-old prospect, owing to his late start in the sport.Hearns is gigantic, with a broad back and lengthy arms like his dad, and as such he can punch a little, knocking out Clavettes in the 6th round. Clavettes gave a spirited effort, but he was too slow, couldn’t punch at all and lacked the technical prowess to do what he needed to do, which was get close and smother Hearns’ power. Hearns is improved since I saw him last a year or two ago — a triple jab! — but his lack of amateur experience really hurts him; his balance and defense are lackluster at best. He’s on track to fight John Duddy, who’s got better experience if less athletic talent and hits hard enough to find out whether Hearns can take a punch.
Back to Bute-Andrade.
I only gave one example last night of Wright’s rotten refereeing prior to the final, but there were a few other examples.
Bute held excessively, I thought, one of my biggest pet peeves. He did so because Andrade had a better chance on the inside. Wright separated them even when Andrade had one hand free and another ref might have let that kind of infighting continue. Who got the first warning for holding? Andrade, who initiated about zero clinches the whole fight. Late in the 11th, Wright warned Bute.
It’s not that there wasn’t stuff Wright could’ve legitimately warned Andrade about. He did use his head to butt Bute a little, and there was an elbow or two. Wright cautioned Andrade on the former, and entirely missed the latter. So, in the “corruption” versus “incompetence” argument, score one for incompetence, I guess.
Anyone with eyes could have seen that Andrade was shoved to the ground in the 10th, but the referee scored it a knockdown. Just silly.
In the final round, on at least two occasions, Wright stepped between Andrade and the woozy Bute for no justifiable reason. It strikes me as highly likely that the idea was to give Bute a few seconds to recover. And you can make an argument that Bute was held up by the ropes a couple times in the final stanza before finally going down, so a referee less inclined to help Bute might have ruled a knockdown or two. What’s funny about that is that Bute almost surely would have benefited from the 10-second rest, or even a 20-second rest, since he was so far ahead on the scorecards and two knockdowns wouldn’t have affected the scoring much. In trying to help Bute — and that’s my interpretation of Wright’s motive, since I think “competence” wasn’t the real issue — he probably hurt him.
Lastly, when Wright halted his 10 count to shout at Andrade to return to his corner, it still is unclear where Andrade was, because Showtime’s cameras didn’t show Andrade. But Wright did walk halfway across the ring, and Andrade never was in the shot. Therefore, if Andrade wasn’t standing in the corner, he wasn’t far from it at all, and didn’t deserve the lecture, for that and all the reasons I mentioned yesterday.
Wright’s malfeasance is, and should continue to be, the focus in the aftermath of this fight. But even upon reviewing the tape, I still think Bute legitimately won. And it’s me, Showtime’s Nick Charles and ESPN’s George Kimball against, at this point, everyone else in the world who thinks that Andrade was robbed of a knockout victory.
Among the majority there, I doubt you can find anyone who, from the moment Bute landed on the ground to the moment he stood up, can count to 11. He beat a count of 10, even if one wasn’t properly administered by Wright. Count yourself, if you don’t believe me. (Wright thought Bute wouldn’t have beat the count, which on first thought was very fishy to me but now makes me wonder about his competence level again.)
A more valid point among the majority is that, at the point Bute rose when time had run out, he was in no condition to continue, and therefore the fight should have been stopped.
On this, I disagree, but I think fair-minded people can differ on this and often have. I do believe, though, that history is on my side on this one.
Meldrick Taylor-Julio Cesar Chavez comes to mind. In the final round, in the final couple seconds, referee Richard Steele stopped a fight that Taylor would have won if it had gone ot the scorecards. Chavez decked Taylor and Taylor got up, but Steele stopped the fight. Taylor’s state of mind was questionable; I think he was OK enough to get the win, because he stood up, and Chavez wouldn’t have been able to land another punch if he wanted to. I disagreed with the ref’s decision, one of the most controversial in boxing history, but I can see the other side of the argument such that I understand it to be a judgment call.
But ther there are numerous other examples of fighters in very, very bad shape getting an opportunity to continue because of a break in the rounds.
Check out Acelino Freitas-Jorge Barrios in the 11th round. Barrios, after his knockdown, gets up fairly quickly, but he’s in terrible, terrible condition, wandering around confused and staggering back to his corner after the count. The ref might have been within his rights to stop the bout. He did not, and I agreed with the decision. I think Barrios’ corner should have stopped the fight between rounds because Barrios was a sitting duck for Freitas in the 11th, but that’s a different question.
There are two more recent examples, from this year. Heavyweight Kevin Burnett got clocked in the final second of the final round of his bout with Horace Ray Grant. He got up, but he looked awful. The referee did not rule a knockout. I agree with the ref. Burnett won the decision. Likewise, heavyweight Chris Arreola decked Chazz Witherspoon at the end of a round. Witherspoon managed to rise by the 10 count. He was in frightful shape, but the referee allowed him to continue. I agreed with that decision. So frightful was Witherspoon’s state that his corner prematurely entered the ring in an effort to guide him back to his corner, thus resulting in Witherspoon’s disqualification.
In Freitas-Barrios, Burnett-Grant and Arreola-Witherspoon, there was virtually no dissent about the referee allowing the decked opponent who beat the 10 count despite being essentially unconcious to continue.
But even if there was dissent, I come down in those cases firmly on the side of the man who was able, under extraordinary circumstances, to stand up at the conclusion of the round. If I was in the corner of Barrios or Witherspoon that night, I would have thrown in the towel between rounds. But it’s a different question whether an outside party should stop it for them. It’s not about being saved by bell in those circumstances; they weren’t, and couldn’t have been, under the rules that I believe were in place for those bouts, and for Bute-Andrade. It’s about the fact that there is a chance that Barrios, Witherspoon, Burnett and Bute all might have, theoretically, been able to continue once the next round — or hypothetical next round — began. Luckily for Burnett and Bute, there was no next round. By virtue of their ability to rise before the count of 10, they deserved to win.
I do not, under the circumstances, blame Andrade trainer Howard Grant much for pushing the referee. He shouldn’t have done it, but it’s among the more excusable acts of aggression toward a referee I’ve ever seen. I would not have blamed Andrade for being a jerk about it. But Andrade’s just a cool cat, and an upstanding dude. He found it in his heart to hug Wright after the fight. He had nothing but good things to say to Bute afterwards. He thought he won, and didn’t hide the fact, but by virtue of the way he fought and the arguable nature of his loss, he comes out looking pretty good here. “If there was a way for me to lose,” he said afterwards, “this is the way I want to lose.”
What should happen? I think a rematch is a necessity. Bute sounded reluctant but ultimately said he’d be willing, and Andrade wants it. I’m not saying the IBF should order it, because I’m not a big fan of the prerogatives of the alphabet organizations, but I wouldn’t object too much if they did, because I would agree with the outcome. More importantly, Bute should give Andrade a rematch whether one is ordered or not, if he wants to prove that his win was legitimate. Most importantly, I think Wright should never referee a boxing match again. And I think his behavior should be investigated by someone, anyone, to see if he was told to officiate the bout that way. It stinks that bad.