Lee Groves

10: Notable Olympic boxing controversies

 9. August 2, 1996 – Serafim Todorov (Bulgaria) W 3 Floyd Mayweather Jr. (USA)

Sixteen years have passed since this, Mayweather’s last official loss inside the ring. But many who saw this featherweight semifinal believe, perhaps rightly so, that this “L” should have been a “W.”

To this point, the 19-year-old Mayweather had been dominant. He led Kazakhstan’s Bakhtiyar Tilegenov 10-1 before registering a second-round stoppage and cruised to a 16-3 decision over Armenia’s Artur Grigorian. He survived a late charge by Cuba’s Lorenzo Aragon (who would win silver in 2004) before prevailing 12-11. Meanwhile, Todorov, who was competing in his third Olympics, captured decisions over Evgeniy Shestakov of the Ukraine (11-4), Robbie Peden of Australia (20-8) and Falk Huste of Germany (11-6) to advance to the medal round.

As has been the case with computerized scoring, obvious connects were missed and questionable blows were granted credit. A solid hook to Todorov’s face in round one escaped credit, as did a right to the temple in round two. On the other hand a cuffing left, a whiffing right to the body and a slinging right toward the head – all of which missed the target – nevertheless enabled Todorov to score a point.

Still, Mayweather led 7-6 entering the third round but within moments Todorov landed two body shots to grab an 8-7 advantage. Mayweather ripped a hook to the ribs, a short right uppercut to the jaw and a right to the face, but, for whatever reason, none of those blows moved the meter. A long left to the face by Mayweather tied the score at 8 but yet another nondescript punch gifted Todorov with a 9-8 edge. With 35 seconds left Mayweather cranked a double hook to the head and body that wasn’t credited but Todorov’s right the face was, upping the margin to an almost unassailable 10-8.

Mayweather closed to within 10-9 with a chopping right but Todorov broke free and ran out the clock. Though the TV audience knew the score, no one in the arena – including Egyptian referee Hamadi Hafez Shouman – did. Most thought Mayweather had done more than enough to win and an unofficial CompuBox count conducted by the author revealed Mayweather led in every round en route to a 47-26 connect lead. That’s why Shouman mistakenly raised Mayweather’s arm upon the announcement of the 10-9 decision. When Shouman reversed himself, the intensity of the boos were almost stadium-shaking.

U.S.-based official Bill Waeckerle was so enraged by the verdict that he resigned from IABA, calling Mayweather’s loss a “blatant example of incompetent officiating.” He said referee Shouman cautioned Todorov at least five times for slapping without an official warning and “even worse, the judges were counting them as scoring blows.”

American official Gerald I. Smith filed a formal protest claiming Shouman favored the Bulgarian fighter because his boss, Emil Zhechev, is also from Bulgaria. Smith demanded that the decision be reversed, which, of course, didn’t happen.

As for Mayweather, he reacted with grace. He hugged his seconds, then bowed toward all four corners and departed without any overt emotional displays.

“Of course I thought I won,” Mayweather said when Shouman raised his hand. “And if you thought I won, you know the truth.”

Unfortunately for Mayweather, the judges at ringside had their own version of the truth. 

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