We all saw on slow-motion replay what appeared to be a devastating low blow by Abner Mares in the 11th round of his fight against Joseph Agbeko on Saturday in Las Vegas.
Should officials have used that evidence to right the wrong that most observers believe occurred in that fight?
The answer, said Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Directior Keith Kizer, is no.
Nevada allows its referees the use of instant replay but not to determine whether a punch is legal and never during the fight.
“The instant replay rule is only used in the case of fight-ending injuries,” Kizer told RingTV.com on Monday. “We haven’t had to use it yet, but it’s reserved for instances when a bad cut or a swollen eye ends a fight and the referee isn’t sure if the injury was the result of accidental head butt or a legal punch. If replays show what caused the injury, that obviously effects the outcome of the bout.”
Could the guidelines under which instant replay is used be expanded to address such things as low blows in Nevada? Could officials have simply watched a replay of the 11th-round low blow between rounds and reversed referee Russel Mora’s ruling (which may have allowed Agbeko to keep his bantamweight title)?
The Nevada commission does not believe a referee’s decision should be reviewed after fighting has resumed – even between rounds – because to do so could mislead a fighter, who might base his strategy on the ref’s initial call, Kizer told RingTV.com in a previous interview.
“Let’s say Fighter A believes he wins two of the first three rounds of a four-round fight. In the final round, Fighter B puts Fighter A down but it’s ruled a slip. The fight appears to end in a draw. However, after the final bell, it’s determined by review that the slip was actually a knockdown, giving Fighter B a one-point victory.
Fighter A could then say, ‘Had I known I was down a point, I would’ve had more incentive to risk slugging it out,’” Kizer said.
One option would be to call time out at the time of the disputed call. However, Kizer said that would radically alter the nature and rhythm of boxing, which is three minutes of fighting, one minute rest.
With or without instant replay, most fans could plainly see that Mares was landing too many low blows and borderline punches without being penalized.
Kizer agrees that Mora should have taken a point from Mares after sufficient warning and he says the referee realizes that he missed too many low blows — including the pivotal shot to the groin in the 11th round — after reviewing the entire 12-round bout on Sunday.
“Mora told me that the punch (he thought caused a legal knockdown in the 11th round) was definitely a low blow,” Kizer said. “Mora also said that he should have deducted a point from Mares prior to the 11th round. He said there was a point during the 10th round where he was close to doing so, where he almost deducted a point, but didn’t.
“He told me ‘It was the perfect time to do it. I didn’t and I should have.’”
That said, could Kizer have stepped in when it became obvious that Mora was letting Mares get away with punches below the belt?
Longtime fans of the sport can recall numerous instances when Larry Hazzard, the former head of New Jersey’s boxing commission, would yell instructions to floundering referees from ringside and sometimes enter the ring to stop a fight.
Despite his personal opinions of how poor a referee‘s officiating may be, Kizer said in most instances it’s not his place to intervene when a fight is in progress.
“It never entered my mind to tell Mora what to do during the Agbeko-Mares fight,” Kizer said. “That’s not my job. Hazzard was a former referee and had his own way of doing things, so maybe he had a different perspective than I have, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to act as a super referee and tell a referee when he should take a point during the fight. Once the fight starts the referee is in charge.
“The only time I will get involved during a fight is when I believe a fighter is taking too much punishment because then it is an issue the fighter’s safety. Even in those instances I won’t go directly to the referee. I will go to the ringside physician and ask ‘Do you think he’s had enough?’ I will talk to the doctor between rounds when the referee can be a part of the dialogue and he can tell me or the doctor that he’s keeping a close eye on the fighter. I can give my opinion, the doctor can give his advice but it‘s the referee‘s ultimate decision to stop a fight.”
It’s clear that in the state of Nevada the referee is the boss when the fight is in progress. However, what can be done after the fight? If everyone is in agreement that the referee did a horrible job can and blew calls that could have effected the outcome of the bout, can the official result be overturned?
Again, the answer is no.
“There are only four instances when the official result of a fight is changed: if there was a miscalculation on one or more of the official scorecards, if there’s proof of collusion, if the referee misinterprets one of the rules, and if the fighter who wins the bout tests positive for a banned substance,” said Kizer, who added that all four occurrences are extremely rare.
“If a fighter wins a bout and then tests positive for an illegal substance the result of the bout becomes a No Contest; it’s as if the bout never took place as far as the records are concerned. The referee’s misinterpretation of the rules used to happen from time to time before unified rules of boxing were adopted by all the commissions in the United States. Prior to the unified rules, each sanctioning body had its own rules for championship bouts, which was confusing.”
Not as confusing as the Nevada commission’s inability to control poor officiating is to fans, many of whom believe Mora should be suspended or, at the very least, reprimanded.
That’s not going to happen either, said Kizer, who believes that Mora is usually one of the state’s better referees.
“We’ve spoken about the Agbeko-Mares fight twice and we’ll have a formal sit down later in the month,” Kizer said. “What’s important from my perspective is that Mora learns from his mistakes. Even the best referees have bad nights and they learn from them.
“Mora is going to talk to the senior referees, like Kenny Bayless and Joe Cortez, and get their feedback on what happened. It’s something younger referees should do even after a good night. He’s got to do this if he’s going to bounce back and get something positive from a major negative.”
But what can Agbeko and his team, including his promoter Don King, do to get something positive from Saturday’s debacle?
There’s no official “do-over” for referee incompetence mandated by the commission but King can (and probably will) appeal to the IBF to order an immediate rematch.
“I strongly encourage a rematch, which is something I’ve never done before,” Kizer said. “Game six of the 1985 World Series and Armando Galarraga’s perfect game can’t be played over again because of blown calls by the umpires, but in boxing we have rematches.
“That’s what needs to happen with the Agbeko-Mares fight.”
Doug Fischer can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Rosenthal contributed to this article.