If you enjoy watching men being punched in the nards a la the television program “Ow, My Balls,” that’s the video for you.
Yes yes, it was another of those kinds of weekends in boxing — the kind where good things happened, but controversy ruled. Every year, I’ve noticed, the sport seems to go through spells like this, where horribleness accumulates and overcomes everything else. Those spells come too often. They last too long. If you were a cynic, you’d say that’s boxing’s default setting. But wouldn’t it be nice if this spell went away soon? Yes. Yes it would.
- Abner Mares’ performance. Let’s start with something approximating purity, that is, a focus on the boxing itself. Mares deserves to be the #2 bantamweight at this point, but only by the skin of his teeth. He’s had three close bouts going 2-0-1 against three of the top men in the division, but ultimately he’s emerged victorious . He’s technical enough and has enough grit to compete with and defeat those men, but he’s slow enough and limited enough to lose to them, too. He’s a bit short of an ultra-elite talent, in other words, and I don’t know how or if that ever changes. On the less pure/more evil tip, Mares’ intentions in the fight vis-a-vis low blow-throwin’ has become a source of debate. It’s true that most committed body punchers have stretches where they stray low, but it happened too often Saturday for me to completely believe it was all one big accident. From there, your view of Mares depends on your view of how much you can endorse intentional cheating. If you believe he was fouling on purpose, maybe you think he was taking advantage of the system when it became clear he wouldn’t be penalized for punching low, and you admire the “win at all costs” mentality that American heroes like Michael Jordan endorsed. Or maybe you want more sportsmanlike behavior from your athletes, on the principle that truth and justice and whatnot are the real American way. This is a matter of taste. My suspicion is that Mares probably played dirty on purpose to some degree, and as such I’m less a fan than before. But I’m not totally off the bandwagon. As a fan of Miguel Cotto and Felix Trinidad, two fighters who have spent some time punching people in the balls, I guess it’s not the be-all, end-all for me, although some dirty fighters piss me off. Things like “like” are hard to quantify. Mares is exciting enough often enough and does so many things that I like in boxers (like combination punching) that I can overlook the dirtiness to a point. I’d prefer he scaled it back, though.
- Joseph Agbeko’s performance. The sciatica and the layoff and the struggles making weight and the double training camp for an older fighter probably hurt Agbeko early. But he did begin to find his rhythm late, dialing in with the overhand right that’s his key weapon and using his canny timing and volume to win rounds. Could he improve on this performance in a rematch? Dunno. I do know that if I was him, I would’ve had a few deliberate low blows for Mares. Broadly speaking, I don’t endorse the dirt. I don’t. But if someone is cheating against you, deliberate or not, and the referree won’t save you from it, a certain amount of street justice becomes valid. And if you get penalized, well, so what? You obviously don’t want to get disqualified, but you have to send a message to the other fighter at least once if nothing else that you won’t truck with no fouling. And Agbeko’s corner should’ve protested earlier and louder about what was going on. This isn’t me blaming the victim. Referee Russell Mora is the villain here, then a secondary villain might be Mares. This is just me prescribing retaliatory low blows where called for. If nobody else will stick up for you, stick up for yourself. Just sayin’.
- Scorecards. I gave Agbeko four rounds and only considered the 11th a 10-9 round for Mares because of the farcical knockdown and Abeko’s strong perfomance in the round, so I ended up with a scorecard virtually identical to the two judges who scored it for Mares. If someone scored it closer, it’s easy enough to see why; there were the usual assortment of close rounds for scorecards that proved controversial, albeit less so than Mora’s officiating. But picking up from friend of the site ham_napkin’s question about scorecards if the bout had been officiated correctly: I still would probably have given Mares the 1st round by 10-8 despite the debatable knockdown, because it was a call I myself missed at the time until seeing a replay. Agbeko would’ve won the 11th, 10-9, giving him a two point swing, not enough to overcome Mares. But, then, I would’ve docked Mares a point or more. I don’t own a time machine and can’t anticipate whether Mares would’ve stopped throwing low blows after one deduction. And we have no idea how much Agbeko’s performance was diminished by some of the low blows. All of this is enough to make me think Mares likely wins with a marginally better-officiated bout, but it becomes so much closer it’s impossible to know. Mora might have cost Agbeko this bout. He really might’ve.
- Russell Mora and culpability. Mora kinda sorta indicated upon seeing a replay that the 11th round knockdown was a low blow, then hardened his position and said it wasn’t, then subsequently has, behind closed doors, reportedly come to realize his mistake. He’s right that some of the low blows came about because of Agbeko pushing down Mares’ head, but it wasn’t the majority or anything like it — many of those were pretty blatant, obvious low blows that everyone at home and in the Showtime commentating booth and in the crowd saw as low, and they weren’t standing right in front of them like Mora was. So was this incompetence, or bias? Both are viable answers, but I’ve never been a fan of “boxing writing via mind reading.” The incompetence argument points back to a couple crappy Mora decisions: It was insane, really, to allow Fernando Montiel to continue against Nonito Donaire after Donaire scored that knockdown, because Montiel didn’t do the basic thing required to continue, i.e., walk forward when Mora commanded him to do so. That’s a dangerous, dangerous misunderstanding of the rules. Mora also had previously encountered criticism for his aggressive point deductions for the low blows from Michael Katsidis against Robert Guerrero, a call he somewhat rectified by docking Guerrero a point for same in the next round. And he pulled the plug pretty fast in the Yudel Jhonson-Richard Gutierrez bout. That’s enough of a track record to suggest he’s not very good at this refereeing thing, because those are three controversial (to say the least) calls this year alone. The bias case? He certainly did seem to spend a lot more time warning Agbeko for his minor offenses than he did Mares for his major offenses. That feeds into the next point. But for now, the word from Nevada is that Mora will spend some time in the minor leagues. I could’ve backed a bigger punishment, like a suspension, but for now I’m glad to see some kind of repurcussion.
- Golden Boy’s role. Don King was all about the “Mora is a Golden Boy-friendly referee” accusation, but his accusation was based on a call from someone he wouldn’t name, and Yahoo’s Kevin Iole pointed out that Mora doesn’t have a big track record with Golden Boy’s meaningful fights. It’d have been better if Iole interrogated King a little bit about what King’s accusations meant, exactly, but he was a step ahead of Thomas Hauser, who apparently hasn’t learned his lesson about anonymous sources and said some vague shit about Mora being considered a “Golden Boy-friendly referee” “in some circles,” when it sure would’ve been nice if he told us anything about those “circles” and whether it was more than one of them, i.e. King and his flack. Anyway, Golden Boy didn’t do itself any favors with matchmaker Eric Gomez tweeting about loving Mora, and with Oscar De La Hoya implying the Showtime commentating team had bet on Agbeko. Ultimately, Golden Boy still takes a lot more of this kind of “where there’s smoke there’s fire” fire than most other promoters, as Doug Fischer correctly pointed out here.
- Jim Gray interview. Gray has been mostly praised for his interview with Mora where he was highly confrontational. It’s hard to even call that an interview, though, in spots. The first question implied that Mora was trying to help Mares win the fight; the final remark was a simple declaration of how wrong Mora was. I’m all for adversarial interviews when people are flatly wrong on the facts, but what’s the point of telling Mora he’s wrong at the end of that interview other than catharsis? What did we learn from his answer to that “question?” If Gray was presented as not a “journalist” who conducts “interviews” but as a berater of wrong-doers, I’d be much more in favor of how Gray behaved Saturday after the fight. I did like him showing Mora the replay and threatening to do it a second time, and I did like him taking Al Bernstein’s criticism and giving Mora a chance to respond. It wasn’t all bad. I just didn’t like the framing at the beginning and the end, and I didn’t really like him telling Abeko he hoped he got a rematch. Speaking of…
- Rematch. The IBF will hear an appeal and consider ordering a rematch, an outcome I can support. But those who are using this as an example of the sanctioning organizations as some force of justice are grasping at straws. Only in a vacuum is this anything other than laughable. Nobody denies that the sanctioning bodies are occasionally capable of good things (even though we have no way of knowing whether Mares-Agbeko II might happen without them, given market pressures). But add up the number of fighters they’ve screwed over, of unjust bouts they’ve ordered, of boxers they’ve stripped for no reason other than whim and financial gain for themselves, and tell me that the number of times they’ve done right by fighters eclipses that stack of wrong. For that matter, tell Vusi Malinga about how just it would be for the IBF to order Mares-Abeko II. He’s been waiting as the mandatory for going on a year and claims that the IBF promised him a shot at the winner of Mares-Agbeko.
- Nonito Donaire. Donaire was going all “blame Golden Boy” for standing in the way of him facing Mares, but that’s misguided to say the least. Showtime has rights on Mares’ next fight, reportedly, and HBO has rights on Donaire’s. There’s not enough money in Donaire-Mares for the two networks to compromise and join forces. Donaire’s promoter Bob Arum has said Donaire would face the winner of Mares-Agbeko II, which he couched as some kind of “gotta do right by boxing” crusade but instead is a bit more of a pragmatic stance given the current obstacles. The good news here is that the winner of Mares-Agbeko II even could face Donaire, who’s flirted with moving up to junior featherweight before deciding a definitive champion at bantamweight by fighting the winner of Showtime’s bantam tourney.
- Next for Michael Katsidis. Coming off a win over Michael Lozada in a move up to junior welterweight, Katsidis is now looking to plant roots in the division. He’s looking at the winner of Erik Morales-Lucas Matthysse. Wiser would be to look at the loser, since Amir Khan could claim the winner. In that scenario, Katsidis-Morales figures as the more desirable bout, with both men being at this stage of their careers where they’ve stacked up a lot of miles. Katsidis is also looking at a rematch with Joel Casamayor, who himself has picked up a lot of miles since the first bout. Katisidis is, at least, looking at mostly the right direction for his career: It’d be crazy for him to fight somebody like Khan, another name he’s mentioned. Katsidis has maximized his talents and has come up short against those at the world-class level. He can have himself quite a profitable, popular and fulfilling career against the second tier.
- Teon Kennedy card. Kennedy reportedly cost himself a shot at Donaire by losing over the weekend, although I don’t remember anybody reporting beforehand that a Donaire fight was on the line. Alejandro Lopez, who beat Kennedy, has already been offered a rematch by his recent conqueror, Aaron Garcia, although a Jorge Diaz rematch might also be in the cards. Garcia was set to fight Matt Remillard on the undercard, but Remillard, as Alex McClintock reported for us, is said to be going to jail. No word yet on why.
- ESPN2 card. Word trickled out quickly that Kermit Cintron had trouble making weight for Friday Nights Fights and is abandoning his plans to return to welterweight, which strikes me as a convenient excuse; maybe it explains his lack of power, but it doesn’t explain his lack of fire. Also, some people were pretty high on this Dannie Williams knockout, which I failed to mention over the weekend.
- Monte Barrett-David Tua II. I completely overlooked this heavyweight fight this weekend, but it was nice to see Barrett get a big win so late in his career, when he was rightly written off as an “opponent” on his last legs. That Tua had trouble beating this guy twice says something about where his career is, and since he was reportedly in line for a fight against a Klitschko brother, maybe it saves him from a real beating by the class of the division.
- Luis Concepcion. Per the video below, the flyweight made short work of Manuel Vargas. His rival for a 2011 Fight of the Year candidate, Hernan Marquez, has said he’s down for a rematch in October in Mexico. Make it so.