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Ghouls and Rules in Boxing
by By Adam Pollack
At the 2002 Winter Olympics, Canadian figure skating pair David Pelletier and Jamie Sale won silver and the Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidzewon gold. However, almost everyone agreed that it was a tragic judging decision because the Canadians clearly skated better.
After an investigation was conducted, it was discovered that the French judge had been pressured by her own skating federation to engage in vote swapping, granting the Russians gold in pairs so that the Russians would grant the French gold in ice dancing. In light of this, the Canadians have been granted a gold medal in addition to the Russian pair who won controversially (but get to keep their gold) and the French judge has been suspended indefinitely for misconduct. This is the fourth time a duplicate medal has been awarded in Olympic history.
This brings us to revisit the 1988 Summer Olympics, where something was rotten in South Korea. Roy Jones, Jr. fought brilliantly in the final against South Korea's Park Si Hun. He obviously won all three rounds. However, the gold went to Hun, and amidst the controversy Jones, Jr. was granted the Val Barker best boxer award for the tournament. Given that he was being called the tournament's best boxer but had not won gold, it was essentially an admission that Jones, Jr. had been wronged. Yet, to this day, he has not been granted the gold he rightfully earned. This should be corrected.
This also causes me to recall another controversial outcome in the 1988 Olympic Games, one that has long been overlooked. Riddick Bowe fought Lennox Lewis in the superheavyweight finals. Bowe fought very well in the 1st, and even hurt Lennox at one point. The referee did not give Lewis a standing 8. The referee did give Bowe continual cautions for ducking under Lewis's punches and even took a point off.
In the second round, Lewis hit Bowe with some good punches that stunned Bowe and the referee jumped in with a standing 8. Then Lewis hit Bowe with another good right and the referee immediately jumped in and stopped the bout. The rule is that three standing 8 counts in the round stops the bout. However, Bowe had only been granted two counts.
True, the referee can stop the bout at any time, but that is usually reserved for a moment where a boxer is hurt so badly that he should not continue in the bout. Bowe was stunned a bit, but he was not anywhere near hurt to the point that the bout should have been stopped, even by amateur standards. Bowe steadied himself relatively quickly and put his hands up in the ready position. However, rather than giving him a count to assess whether he should continue, the referee simply pointed him to his corner and stopped the bout. To this day, I have been convinced there was something very fishy about that stoppage. The pro fight between Bowe and Lewis should have been a natural, but their failure to fight remains the biggest hole in championship boxing in the 1990's.
I have been thinking a lot lately about a number of rules in boxing that need to be addressed. In the bout between Michael Lerma and Kassim Ouma, Ouma hit Lerma after Lerma had clearly been down. Referee Joe O'Neil gave Lerma a long count, but did not take a point off or give Lerma any real additional time to recover. When Shane Mosley was clearly hurt by a head butt against Vernon Forrest, the bout was resumed by referee Steve Smoger only moments later without allowing the doctor to look at the cut on Mosley or allowing the boxers to have some time to recover. Safety should have been more of a concern in these fights. After harmful fouls, regardless of whether they are intentional or unintentional, boxers should be granted a perioed of time to recover.
When a boxer is struck after he is down, there should be an automatic point deduction, and the struck boxer should have a certain amount of time to recover (say five minutes). Striking a downed opponent is dangerous and is a harm foul. Therefore it should be dealt with severely. In the bareknuckle days, if you committed such a rule violation, you automatically lost the fight.
Currently, if as the result of a low blow a fighter is incapacitated, that fighter has up to 5 minutes to recover and resume the bout. This is for safety and for fairness to the harmed boxer. Safety concerns should mandate that when a fighter suffers a head butt or is hit when he is down he should also be granted a recovery period.
A downed fighter is already hurt and is generally in a defenseless position. To hit him at that point is extremely harmful and grants the violator a huge benefit. A head butt is the impact of two hard skulls clashing against one another. There is no padding on skulls. Bone on bone impact jars the brain, and combined with the cumulative impact of punches, creates the greatest likelihood of concussion and brain damage in the sport.
Contrast the harmfulness of these blows with the low blow. Fighters wearing gloves hit a fighter who is wearing a foul protector. This is not to say low blows are not harmful, but certainly are third on the list in terms of harmfulness, behind downed blows and head butts. Therefore it is only logical that the same or even greater recovery period should be granted to boxers who suffer these harm blows.
I am convinced to this day that the vicious head butts Gerald McClellan suffered in his bout with Nigel Benn lead to his serious brain damage. The referee never gave him a recovery period from head butts or rabitt punches in that fight. If such rules were mandatory, we would see fewer serious injuries, and fairer outcomes in bouts.
Since I am on the safety tip, I would also like to address the interaction of advertising and safety in boxing. I read that the Nevada Athletic Commission was banning temporary tatoos on the backs of fighters. This is a terrible, hypocritical, and biased rule. It takes away income from fighters. In boxing auditoriums, there are banners, ads on the ring, ads on corner posts, and ads on big long puffy things along the ring apron - I'll call them bumpers. Everyone and their mother is able to advertise in every way imaginable in boxing, but when a fighter does it, it gets banned.
Let's consider the impact on safety advertising has in boxing. For years we have watched boxers slip and fall on the ad in the center or corners of the ring. These ads are not of the same material as the canvas, and when they get wet, boxers slip and fall. This can harm them on the way down. It also affects defense and offense, because they can't move or punch as well because they can't get traction. It also causes them to go down more easily, causing referees to call punches knockdown punches when they are not. Therefore, these ads are affecting the outcome of bouts as well as putting the fighters at risk. However, the commissions have not banned them or required they be made of different material, and the advertisers themselves have shown no concern for the fighters, failing to make the ad a safer material.
Another type of ad that is affecting safety and the outcome of bouts is the bumper ad along the ring apron. One of the reasons why aprons extend out further than the ropes is because when a fighter steps back along the ropes, his feet often go behind the ropes and need a place on the canvas to secure themselves. All too often, fighters are putting their feet on these bumpers instead of the canvas and are injuring themselves by twisting ankles or losing their balance and falling. This also affects bout outcomes becasue sometimes they go down, tripping over these things, and the referee rules it a knockdown. The remedy would be to ban them, or require ring aprons to be larger so they can be set further back, or for the ropes to be brought in further so these bumpbers won't be as close to the ropes.
Although these ads consistently impede bouts and affect safety, commissions have done nothing. Yet, when fighters place temporary ads on their backs to turn a few extra bucks for themselves (after all - they are the ones getting hit, putting their health in jeopardy, and entertaining us) these ads get banned. These ads have no effect on saftey, nor do they affect the outcome of bouts. The Nevada Athletic Commission and others, if they have any integrity or sense of fairness, or concern for safety, should turn their attention to ads that are a whole lot worse than the temporary ads on the backs of boxers.
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