Fouling in boxing is an art form. Muhammad Ali was an expert at pulling opponents’ heads down. Floyd Mayweather used his forearms. Bernard Hopkins’s favorite combination after age 40 was a feint jab-lunge-straight right-headbutt (Tim Bradley also employed this maneuver, but I’m convinced that it was just the momentum of his giant skull pulling him forward). Joel Casamayor was the Pedro Martinez of fouling, because you knew something was coming, but never what it was or at what angle. If newspaper accounts of the time are to be believed, Fritzie Zivic wrapped his gloves in barbed wire and had iron spikes surgically implanted in his elbows, but I digress. The point is that lots of fighters foul, and the best make sure they don’t get caught doing it. When a foul is obvious, it’s a move to buy time when hurt (Felix Trinidad and Fernando Vargas both employed this move in their 2000 bout), or because you’ve lost your composure like Andrew Golota. It’s the referee’s job to make sure this doesn’t happen and punish the offender.
Thursday night at The Bubble in the MGM Grand Las Vegas, the referee for the main event televised on ESPN was Robert Byrd. The bout pitted featherweights Jessie Magdaleno and Yenifel Vicente in a 10 rounder that had the potential to be quite entertaining. Magdaleno (28-1, 18 KO) dropped Vicente (36-5-2, 28 KO) with a short right hook in the 1st round and from there we got chippy exchanges and fairly consistent action. Until round 4. Vicente and Magdaleno got tangled up along the ropes and Byrd called for them to break. Of course, Byrd was so far away from the action that it took a second for the sound to reach. Magdaleno, back to the ropes, pulled slightly up, and Vicente fired a straight right hand square on his testicles. As Magdaleno recoiled in pain, Vicente landed a flush right to the cheek, dropping Magdaleno hard. Byrd was just about in position to separate them as the punch landed.
Magdaleno was given the customary five minutes to recover from the foul, and Byrd docked Vicente two points for the infraction. The action commenced afresh and Vicente went back to pressing Magdaleno, who was increasingly looking to box. And just like that, another perfect crotch shot. Byrd docked Vicente a third point. Again, he was not in position to break the fighters quickly.
In the 5th, Magdaleno again backed away in circles and tried to create opportunities for counters. He managed to do just that, and dropped Vicente a second time with a right hook. Now down by a minimum of five points, Vicente pressed and came forward with a sense of urgency. The fight continued in this pattern for rounds 6-9, Vicente pressing and flinging mostly inaccurate punches, while Magdaleno did a backward walking tour of the ring. It gave the appearance that a lot was going on, but very little was landing cleanly. The thing about watching Magdaleno “box” is that you can tell that’s not what he wants to do. That’s not his temperament as a fighter, it makes him seem like he’s in mismatched shoes. What also stood out in several instances was Byrd missing more low blows from Vicente because he was consistently all the way across the ring.
Knowing he absolutely needed a knockout to win, Vicente stormed out in the 10th and landed another homerun low blow. Byrd took a fourth point but elected not to disqualify Vicente. Clearly finding this an affront, Vicente went for another bollocks bombardment, finally earning his DQ. This was not an entertaining fight, but it could’ve been much better with a competent referee. Byrd was never close enough to the fighters to break them cleanly and missed a number of fouls because he was at a bad angle. The referee exists to protect the fighters, and Byrd is incapable of performing the job. There’s no point in waiting until someone gets seriously hurt because of his incompetence. The Nevada commission needs to force him to retire.
That debacle aside, this was an entertaining card. It opened with a 10 round brawl between featherweights Adam Lopez (14-2, 6 KO) and Luis Coria. Though somewhat short on technique, the fight was long on action. Coria (12-3, 7 KO) chugged forward relentlessly winging hooks and uppercuts. In the early going, Lopez obliged and traded with Coria, often taking the worse treatment in exchanges, but by the mid-rounds, trainer Buddy McGirt had gotten his man to settle down and do everything behind his jab. That’s Lopez’s wheelhouse, to begin with, but Coria made it look doubly effective with his pathological need to block every jab with his face. Ever stalwart, none of this discouraged Coria. He dutifully followed Lopez around, since, in addition to having zero head movement, he also can’t move laterally. However, even as Lopez appeared to be taking control, his face was showing the effects of Coria’s attack. By the 7th round, both of Lopez’s eyes were swelling badly, and as he tired, Coria began dragging him back to the trenches. Lopez began to move less and trade more, periodically righting himself long enough to fire his jab and keep moving.
Lopez was awarded a majority decision by scores of 96-94(2x) and 95-95. TQBR also scored the fight 96-94 for Lopez. Fights are often as much about fighters’ weaknesses as strengths, and in this case, their weaknesses made sustained action, albeit at a skill level well below world-class.
Lightweights Eric Mondragon (3-0-1, 2 KO) and Mike Danny Sanchez (6-0-1, 2 KO) made the most out of their TV exposure by putting on a cracking 4 rounder that ended in a majority draw. Both fighters went down in the 1st round and were clearly hurt. That didn’t seem to matter to either as they remained engaged for the entire fight, neither man able to clearly wrest control from his opponent.
(Photo by Mikey Williams/Top Rank)