If anything could go ugly in boxing lately, it’s gone ugly. It’s like everyone involved in the sport is conspiring to kill it. I don’t mean literally. I doubt that’s the idea. But all its warts are flaring up, and it’s really gross to look at right now.
On a Top Rank-produced card on Fox Sports Net, Top Rank-promoted junior middleweight Vanes Martirosyan won a wide decision that should have been close at best and in my view was a win for his opponent, Kassim Ouma. There’s nobody who watched this fight who could reasonably have thought it was a bout where Martirosyan won eight of 10 rounds, but that’s how one judge had it, and the other two had it seven to three.
Boxing has got to do something about its judging. It’s becoming a major crisis, and when paired with some recent mega-foolishness — Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao falling through, Bernard Hopkins-Roy Jones II happening — it’s a real turn off.
A review of the fight, the card, and a side of Friday Night Fights thrown in there:
Ouma should be enjoying a redemptive win from a terrible slide where lack of discipline — including a spate of substance abuse — sent his career from 154-pound alphabet titlist and star of his own documentary to “opponent” for Martirosyan, a talent prospect who’d begun a rise as a contender. I had it five rounds to five, with the 9th round knockdown making the difference to give Ouma a 95-94 win. Instead, we’ll have to make him the uncrowned winner. He fought a good fight; he was like a version of his old pressuring self, but with some veteran smarts and sharpened defense added in there. He definitely lives to fight another day despite losses now in four of his last five bouts, but how much different might things be if the judges had saw it the way I believe a lot of people probably did?
At worst, Ouma should be on the other side of a very close loss. Martirosyan was stepping up, and he got more than he bargained for, or much of anyone bargained for, from Ouma. Ouma was meant to offer a test before Martirosyan went after the big names at 154, the Sergio Martinezes and Paul Williamses, but after this showing — despite the quality work Ouma did — I’d say it’s too soon for that. When he led — “being first,” in boxing terminology — he won the rounds with relative ease. But too often, Ouma flummoxed him with his awkwardness, via ducking-in moves and strange charges, and Martirosyan spent a lot of time waiting. In the 4th, Martirosyan’s left eye was cut and began to swell after a head butt, and it clearly affected Martirosyan’s composure.
Obviously, there were close rounds in this fight. It was actually a hell of a good fight. But this was another case, like those abysmal scorecards in Juan Diaz-Paulie Malignaggi I and Paul Williams-Sergio Martinez, where the judges must have decided before the fight began who was going to win. And it takes away from the fight itself. Again: Boxing needs to take a strong look at the way judges are paid — even if indirectly, they receive their fees from the promoter who promotes the event — and find a way to boost training and punishments for judges who hand in scorecards that are inexcusable in the eyes of anyone who knows even a little about how fights should be scored.
In other action on the FSN/Top Rank series debut, which I’d been looking forward to but which was marred terribly by those scorecards and the failure of featherweight prospect Miguel Angel Garcia’s opponent to show up (seriously, WTF is going on in boxing?):
Heavily-hyped prospect Jose Benavidez made his pro debut at the tender age of 17, scoring a knockout on what was essentially his first landed punch, a flush straight left from the orthodox stance. At 6’ junior welteweight trained by the current best teacher in the game, Freddie Roach, who’s extremely high on him, Benavidez has as good a pedigree as you could want. But his opponent was of such overmatched caliber that I don’t know anything about Benavidez that I didn’t know coming in to the fight. It was a typical pro debut in that regard.
Lightweight prospect Diego Magdaleno got tested early by Gerardo Robles, but Magdaleno grew over the course of the fight as Robles faded, and the prospect pulled out the wide decision. Magdaleno doesn’t have much power and he doesn’t have the defensive mastery some feather-fisted types have, so I’m not sure where he goes in the long run, but I liked his aggression and I liked him figuring out Robles after a rough 3rd round where Robles stunned him. Robles had luck when he just charged through Magdaleno’s punches, so I could see someone else duplicating that, but then, maybe Magdaleno learned something Saturday by finding good adjustments, which is the point of early fights in a boxer’s career. It must be mentioned that referee Jay Nady let Magdaleno get away with a ton of rough stuff, but Robles at the same time let it affect him too much.
Friday Night Fights:
Junior middleweight Demetrius Andrade seemed almost embarrassed to score an early KO in FNF’s opening fight. His opponent wasn’t fit to fight a 2008 U.S. Olympian, because the first clean head shot Andrade landed finished him. Andrade is talented, but this was a waste of time. What did he learn by doing this? I’m not opposed to prospects fighting relatively soft opposition early in their careers, so long as it’s for a purpose, like, say, seeing how he can handle different styles as a pro. Nothing ventured here, nothing gained.
I had less of a problem with that Yaundale Evans-Gino Escamilla fight. Yeah, Escamilla hadn’t won in five fights, but he was a tough guy who gave Evans some resistance and has never been knocked out – I even think you can make the case he won the 5th against the junior lightweight prospect, whose nickname, incredibly, is “Money Shot.” Anyway, Evans has some speed and versatility, but I thought he was sloppy and he wasn’t, as ESPN’s Teddy Atlas pointed out, able to finish a very badly hurt opponent in the 2nd, so he needs some work.
Not sold on Juan Carlos Burgos, despite a pretty conclusive win in the main event. He’s a tall featherweight who puts his shots together well when he decides to, but he’s slow and punches wide too often. It took him until the 9th to really turn the juice up on Juan Carlos Martinez before turning out the lights in the 12th, and I ended up being a tad more impressed by Martinez – not because he won rounds, because I only gave him the 1st, but because he was competitive in the losing rounds despite having lost a whopping 20 pounds after taking the fight on one week’s notice. Burgos may need to fight in an eliminator to get a shot at WBC titlist Elio Rojas, but Jhonny Gonzalez and Burgos couldn’t come to an agreement for that a couple weeks ago, so we’ll see what happens next.
Martinez’ weight loss brings me to a major, major problem with FNF. The opponents to the featured fighters – Burgos is ranked #1 by the WBC, somehow – almost always are coming in on just a few days notice. I can’t imagine why that’s the case. With Burgos-Martinez, it wasn’t even scheduled as the original main event when the FNF line-up was announced, and a Burgos opponent or maybe more fell through. Still, this was dangerous stuff. If Martinez would take a fight on a week’s notice despite having to shoot at losing 24 pounds – he was at 150 when he accepted, and fell short of making weight – then surely somebody acceptable would have been available who’d been in the gym and acceptable.
Almost every opponent on every FNF card is coming in on short notice. Almost every single one of them. And I know shit happens, but I just have to imagine there are a ton of boxers out there who would kill for a chance to fight on ESPN2, which, besides being able to tell the story to their grandchildren about how they fought on TV once, usually would mean a bigger paycheck than they’d get fighting off television. Most of these guys are going to get beat up by prospects somewhere anyway; why not do it on TV, and with a little extra cash? Surely FNF can find people who want that level of fights more than four days out. And if it’s having trouble doing that, it needs to find a better way. I’m as interested in seeing young prospects on television as anyone else, but their wins are diminished terribly when the opponent starts off without much of a chance and those chances are made worse by the short notice. I don’t expect much out of FNF with its skinny budget, but they need to correct this.