Weekend Afterthoughts, Mainly About James Kirkland Vs. Carlos Molina

Punching is BORING. Isn’t it so INTERESTING to evaluate questions like this: What does “interfering” mean, according to the Association of Boxing Commissions? At what exact moment was Carlos Molina “down” against James Kirkland? Thanks, Texas, for repeatedly giving us the opportunity to closely scrutinize such THRILLING questions, questions that render actual fisticuffs to the sidelines.

But OK. We’ll talk actual fisticuffs, too, if you insist. This edition of Weekend Afterthoughts really mainly just focuses on the end of the Kirkland-Molina junior middleweight fight itself. And some of the aftermath, sure.

(By the way, if you thought the funny business in Kirkland-Molina was bad, check out what goes down in the video above in Round 1, when the bell is sounded 47 seconds early when one fighter was badly, badly hurt. It could always be worse, right gang? Right?)

The Various Rules At Play

Since this fight was administered under Association of Boxing Commissions rules according to HBO, those are the rules we’ll rely on for examining this.

First rule that matters:

“The Referee will administer mandatory eight (8) count after all legal knockdowns.”

So far, so good — although we’ll get some complicating factors later. It was a legal knockdown, I think we all can agree. Referee Jon Schorle did seem to be making a move toward stopping the action when Molina got tangled into the ropes, but it’s hard to tell what kind of effect if any this had on what transpired. Was he interested in ruling a knockdown then? Was he going to break them? If he was going to break them, did it somehow distract Molina to see that? It’s impossible to tell without some mind-reading.

Second rule that matters:

“The bell to end the round should not be sounded by the Timekeeper during a count. In the event that a knockdown occurs at the end of the round and the bell rings, the Referee will disregard the sounding of the bell and continue his mandatory count. The Timekeeper is to ring the bell after the count and the Referee’s evaluation. The boxers are to receive a full one-minute rest period immediately after these situations.”

Originally, I was of the mind that the timekeeper rang the bell prematurely, but I later made clear after some examining of the tape that this was a gray area. Obviously, the count hadn’t started when the bell rang, so from the standpoint of that first sentence, the timekeeper is all good. The second sentence is where things get murkier. Did the knockdown occur “at” the end of the round? This is no small matter. At any rate, Schorle behaved as if it did when he disregarded said bell and began his count. The timekeeper never again rang the bell.

There’s been some discussion about whether the timekeeper should not have rang the bell until later. This is another one that requires a bit of mind-reading, or at least more footage than we have. If the timekeeper was paying attention to the action and seeing that a knockdown was happening, then yes, the timekeeper should not have rang the bell at that moment. But we don’t know if the timekeeper sensed a knockdown was about to occur (Molina is falling down [or has fallen down — more on this later] at the moment the bell sounds) and have no reason to assume the timekeeper could tell precisely was happening (since it wasn’t immediately clear if it was a knockdown, and might not have been clear to the timekeeper prior to Schorle’s ruling of a knockdown), nor do we know if the timekeeper even was paying close attention to the action and instead was focused on ringing the bell at the precise moment and was mid-strike. I’m inclined to give the timekeeper the benefit of the doubt here because we’re talking about needing to juggle a lot of things and make precision judgments without having the benefit of eyes that can see everything or anticipate everything.

Third rule that matters:

“The round ends when the bell rings to end the round.  In the event that legal blows during the round negatively affect a boxer, and he or she goes down after the bell has sounded to end the round, the Referee will consider that the round is over and that the one (1) minute rest period has begun. The Referee may then allow the boxer’s corner to assist him or her, and or summon the Ringside Physician to evaluate the boxer.”

I think we might be able to set this one aside, but it’s still relevant, because it’s similar to something Molina’s team has brought up. It’s hard to tell the precise moment when Molina has suffered his knockdown. Is it before the bell sounds, after the bell sounds, or at the moment the bell sounds? Replays are unclear to me, but I lean toward “simultaneous” or “before.” If that’s the case, we defer to the previous rule. But this rule, incidentally, is a little bit in conflict with the first rule, in that this is one instance where a legal knockdown DOESN’T result in a count.

The moment of Molina’s knockdown is probably going to be pretty important in the event of an appeal seeking a “no contest.” Now, we’re talking about Texas, where they don’t get things right the first time and don’t have a track record of reversing their mistakes, so this might end up being academic. But if we’re evaluating the grounds for an appeal, this is an important question.

Fourth rule that matters:

“Motion the scoring boxer to the furthest neutral corner.”

This is guidance for the referee in the event of a knockdown. Kirkland was not, so far as I can tell, motioned to a neutral corner; indeed, he moves to his own corner post-knockdown. This rule violation doesn’t have a decisive effect, but it might have accounted for any confusion from Molina’s corner — if for some reason they couldn’t hear Schorle’s count, and saw that Kirkland was in his own corner, and heard the bell, they might’ve thought they were good to enter the ring.

Fifth rule that matters:

“Entering the ring during a count or the bout and interfering will subject the corner’s boxer to a loss by DISQUALIFICATION.”

Isn’t that a pivotal-sounding “and” there, between the “bout” and “interfering?” In other words, it sounds like a cornerman entering the ring alone isn’t grounds enough for a DQ. They have to enter the ring AND interfere. The definition of “interfere” appears pertinent here, but when I review the tape, I don’t see anything resembling interference. The cornerman gets in with his back turned, doesn’t do anything to guide Molina or any such thing, and then is shooed right back out. Maybe, though, Schorle could make a case that the cornerman “interfered” somehow with his count. I can’t say. And it’s probably a smart idea to have a liberal definition of “interfering” here, because you wouldn’t want people to feel like they could enter the ring just so long as they, I dunno, crouched down in the corner or something.

The bottom line:

There is so much here that falls into a nebulous zone. In the immediate moments of Molina dropping, sorting out what Schorle should have done, or the timekeeper should have done, is putting an awfully big burden on these people to make instantly correct decisions in areas of the rules that aren’t perfectly clear in how they apply to this particular incident. It would be hard to fault them on any variety of actions.

And with the DQ call itself, it’s not as if Schorle didn’t have grounds for a DQ. He did. My reading of the “interfering” rule suggests that he shouldn’t have issued the DQ. But the grounds remain. And while we have heard scattered accounts of what happened in Molina’s corner vis-a-vis whether the cornerman was warned in advance (some say yes — click on the link here for links to those people, by way of attribution that was in the post all along for those so inclined to click them) or whether there was any attempt to stop the corner from entering at the fateful moment, we don’t have a complete account with all parties weighing in; nevertheless, the burden of responsibility here suggests the corner should’ve known better and foolishly gave Schorle those DQ grounds.

In the end, I still wish Schorle hadn’t issued the DQ. All this nebulosity adds up to a referee who could have used discretion to not DQ a corner for this particular rule violation. As friend of the site linusesq said, with things being so inconclusive it’s difficult to argue that Molina should’ve been given the death penalty.

But this is an evolving situation and I wouldn’t be surprised if we learn more before we can draw any absolute conclusions — if we’ll ever be able to do so.

Now, the rest of the Kirkland-Molina afterthoughts:

  • Golden Boy’s calls for a disqualification. I don’t have a huge problem with GBP lobbying for a disqualification midfight, if that’s what they did as Molina promoter Leon Margules said. It’s not the most sporting way to get a win, sure, to get a DQ on what amounts to a bit of a technicality. And since Texas has shown a tendency to make it so the “house” fighter wins time and again, the correlation between GBP shouting for an outcome that eventually came to be doesn’t have great optics. But promoters are gonna do what they can to get their guys wins, and it’s not like they were cheating by shouting for their desired outcome.
  • Kirkland-Molina II. Whatever we’re hearing now from Kirkland and trainer Ann Wolfe about wanting a rematch, I’m now willing to bet it never happens. All indicators are that Kirkland’s team would rather go after someone like Cornelius Bundrage, and in situations like this, the team often ends up overruling the fighter’s personal wishes. If Kirkland and Wolfe do insist on an immediate rematch and force one, though, I’ll be super-impressed, rather than only somewhat impressed by a characteristic most fighters have, which is to say after a controversial fight, “Sure, rematch anytime.”
  • Molina’s holding. In some quarters, Molina’s holding has been segmented out as the real sin. Aesthetically, it was. And it had an indirect influence on what happened in the fight, at minimum. But the DQ had a very, very, very direct influence on what happened because it was the actual outcome. To me, that decision by a referee to exercise discretion exceeds in magnitude and importance the discretion used in the case of holding. That said, I’ll say what I said before: I really do think Schorle should have warned Molina about the holding. And if he didn’t back off after a warning, he should’ve been penalized. If that had happened, would we be talking about a different fight right now? Quite likely. It is remarkable how ineffectual Kirkland was when he had a free hand in the clinches, but that doesn’t excuse that what Molina was doing was a violation of the rules. If Schorle was able to warn Kirkland for talking to Molina during the fight — no violation of the rules I’m aware of — he sure as shit should’ve found the time to warn Molina for his holding.
  • What to do about Texas. I’m not sure anything can be done. The state has long been the worst big-time boxing jurisdiction in the United States, and it will retain its “big time” status as long as it’s got a friendly tax environment and the ability to pack a house. If I was a pro boxer who wasn’t a Texas native, I would resist the urge to make the tradeoff of “better paycheck” to “strong chance you’ll get screwed over.” That urge seems to be resisted, though. And we can hope that the promoters and networks boycott the state, seeing that the repeated controversies there are the kind of thing that can turn off fans in the long run. But we’ve seen time and time again that the vast majority of boxing powers-that-be only see the green right in front of them, and rarely lay the necessary groundwork in their long-term thinking for making more money down the line. Were those promoters or networks to punish Texas by avoiding it, maybe there would be a change atop the commission’s leadership, where Dickie Cole has ruled for as long as I can remember being irritated by Texas’ boxing commission. And maybe, some day, Cole would leave of his own volition. But do we have any guarantee that his replacement would be any better? Nah. Texas increasingly seems like one of those inconvenient truths we have to live with, as boxing fans.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.