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The Tszyu v. Judah Debacle
by Adam Pollack
I don't think the Kostya Tszyu v. Zab Judah championship fight should have been stopped when it was. I don't think it was the worst stoppage I have ever seen, because Judah's legs were gone, but it wasn't the best.
The rule is folks, since the late 1800's, a boxer has 10, count them, 10 seconds to present himself ready to box. In fact, before the Marquis of Queensberry Rules were instituted, under the bareknuckle London Prize Rules boxers had 30 seconds after a knockdown to ready themselves. Given that boxers today have to recover very quickly from a knockdown, circumscribing their ability to do so even further, as referees have been increasingly known to do these days, is unfair. Just because a boxer isn't ready at 4 or 5 doesn't mean he won't steady himself by 8 or 9.
Obviously when fighters are knocked down they are hurt and have lost their legs. If they weren't hurt, it wouldn't be boxing, and they wouldn't have gone down. Of course Judah's legs were gone and of course he could get hurt. If that is the criteria, then a fight should be over once someone goes down (or in some of these mismatches, the fight should be stopped before the fight begins), or maybe the rule should be that boxers only have 5 seconds to look okay. Are we changing it to a 5 count?
The rule is, realizing that a hurt boxer may require some time to recover, a boxer has been granted 8-10 seconds to recover. Judah should have been afforded that time. The count should have continued at least to 8. At 8, if Judah hadn't steadied himself, then I wouldn't have a problem with the stoppage. The rule is that when a boxer falls down twice from one knockdown, the count continues to 10 and does not restart. However, the count continues and if the boxer rises again before 10, he may continue.
However, when Judah fell down again, at about the count of 4 or 5, Nady IMMEDIATELY stopped the fight. Sure his legs were clearly gone, but he was talking to the ref - his head was clear. He should have at least been afforded the opportunity to gather himself. Sometimes, after a few seconds, the circuits reattach, so to speak. The count should simply have continued. Judah wouldn’t have been hit again during the count. The 10 count is the time the rules allow a boxer to collect himself. Nady could have at least taken a couple of seconds to further evaluate Judah. However, he had no desire to do so, but instead was rather eager to stop the bout.
Referees all too often pull the trigger on the stoppage without counting at all or stopping their count before reaching 8. Keep in mind there is a difference between a standing 8 count and a mandatory 8 count. A standing 8 is what a ref can give a boxer without him even going down. This exists only in a few jurisdictions. This is irrelevant in the Judah bout because he was not provided a standing 8 because he was knocked down.
Universally acknowledged and in effect for the Judah bout is the mandatory 8 count. In the old days of gloved boxing, when a boxer was knocked down, the fighting would resume as soon as the boxer rose. However, the mandatory 8 count eventually was instituted. That is, the referee continues counting to 8 even when the boxer has risen. This gives the boxer additional time to recover and allows the referee time to assess the boxer for 8 seconds to determine if he should be allowed to continue. A ref who fails to allow the boxer that time to recover and refuses to assess the boxer for the full 8 seconds is like a judge who makes his decision before reviewing all of the evidence.
I am not saying in no instance should a ref stop a fight immediately. Certainly, in the case of a fighter who has taken a lengthy beating culminating in one of those brutal, devastating knockdowns that we all recognize, and know that the guy isn't going to get up, and even if he does, shouldn't be allowed to continue, then it is proper to stop the bout immediately. But in the case of a single shot early on, as was the case in the Judah bout, then let the count continue at least to 8. Many fighters have had clear heads, their legs gone, but managed to get up, steady themselves, and recover and win. Ali's legs were gone against Frazier. Holmes's legs were gone against Snipes, Shavers and Weaver. But they managed to move, punch, grab for dear life, and recover. Champions can do that. When Holmes staggered about after his knockdowns, thank goodness the refs gave him the chance to recover, because if they hadn't, he would have denied his opportunity to prove his greatness and heart.
Boxers deserve the opportunity to steady themselves. I am reminded of a similar knockout - Tyson v. Berbick. Trevor continued to fall and roll around after Tyson decked him. However, Mills Lane continued the count, affording the champion every opportunity to steady himself. That was the proper thing to do.
Boxers today are in a difficult spot, a catch-22. Judah should have stayed down until 8. The problem though is that when a boxer doesn’t rise quickly, quite often refs take that as a sign that he isn't able to continue and they stop the bouts in the middle of the count. This incentivizes the boxer to rise quickly so the jittery ref doesn't stop the bout before the 10 count. However, then the boxers may be rising too soon, before their legs are ready to do so, giving the refs their excuse. This, once again, is not proper and does not have to happen. Boxers should, at minimum, be allowed the count of 8, if not at least 10.
The fights where guys usually get seriously hurt are where there is sustained pounding over many rounds. This was not the case with the Judah fight. There are different kinds of knockouts. There are the dangerous kinds where the guy is semi conscious and isn't there mentally, and there are the kinds where the guy's head is there but his legs aren't. The former is the kind you stop. The latter, you give the guy a chance to see if he can get out of trouble. The trouble with the leg knockout isn't that the guy's brain is ready to be hurt, but the fact that because he has no legs, he is more likely to get hit with shots that will hurt his brain. However, the good ones can grab, punch and wobble around a bit until they do get their legs back and can win. Lennox Lewis' loss to Oliver McCall was the leg kind of ko. His head was completely clear but his legs were gone. When Holmes went down from Shavers, it was like that as well.
When Judah rose, he looked at the ref and was clearly coherent, speaking to him. However, it were his legs that were gone. Given just a little more time, he could have gotten his legs together. The fact that the bell would have rung as soon as Nady allowed him to continue meant he would have had another minute to recover. I do agree that fighters can't be saved by the bell and that referees need to stop a fight when a fighter is unable to continue, regardless of the time in the round. However, the fact is that referees do know when the round is about to end because the timekeeper smacks down hard on the ring apron 10 or 5 seconds before the end of the round specifically to let the referee know that the round is about to end. This had occurred in the Judah fight. Nady clearly could have given Judah the full ten count, said ‘okay,’ and probably knew the bell would have rung at that point.
I also believe referees should take into account a fighter’s history. If they are the type of fighter who has been knocked down and risen to continue, that should be a factor in the analysis of whether to stop a fight. Also, if a fighter is an experienced veteran, he is more likely to have the knowledge regarding how to get out of trouble even when hurt. Such fighters should at least be given a chance. Judah had been decked twice previously by Terron Millett and Jan Bergman and came back to knock his opponents out. This should have been a consideration. Nady also stopped the Corrales v. Gainer fight too soon in the early rounds against an experienced veteran who had been down before.
As for the aftermath, what Judah did was completely wrong. I agree with the 6 month suspension because of the intermittent nature of the sport. It isn't like Judah can be forced to sit out for a game or two as could be the case in other sports. Forcing a fighter to not fight for lengthy periods of time is essentially taking away his right to earn a living, which I believe is improper unless the action is so egregious it is beyond the pale. If Judah punched Nady, I might agree with a lengthy suspension, but he only pressed on him. However, I don’t think the $75,000 fine was large enough given that Judah made around a million dollars for the fight. If the fines aren’t stiff enough, fighters will push the envelope. Keep in mind also that Judah didn’t simply press on Nady. He also had time to think and pick up a stool and throw it. For the good of the sport and the safety of its participants, this cannot be allowed. The fine should have been larger, and if Judah does anything similar again, a lengthier suspension should be mandatory.
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