When it Comes to Boxing in Texas, Schorle You Jest
By Adam Pollack
On Saturday March 24 in Texas, as has been par for the course in this sport, all was not well with boxing. Unlike sports like the NFL, which makes sure that only the best are allowed to officiate, boxing allows just about anyone do to it. You just have to be chosen either by a state athletic commission or some sanctioning body. And their litmus tests for judgment, competence and integrity more often than not leave something to be desired. Quite often this is the case in the state of Texas, which has a reputation for choosing the worst referees and judges, and doing it over and over again so often that one might get the impression that they do it intentionally. Yet networks like HBO continue to televise fight cards in Texas. Fighters continue to agree to fight in Texas. Their managers/promoters fail to object to incompetent officials. We cry and bemoan incompetence over and over again, and yet governors do not fire incompetent commissioners, sanctioning bodies continue to use the same people, we do not see new and improved referees and judges, and it just continues. Does anyone really care? Or is something more nefarious going on? Are they actually happy about horrible decisions?
On Saturday night, Carlos Molina was in the process of beating James Kirkland. It was absolutely obvious. Yet, Judge Gale Van Hoy had Kirkland ahead. No competent judge could reasonably have Kirkland winning that bout.
But poor judging was the least of the concerns in this fight. Referee John Schorle allowed Molina to push, head butt, and grab incessantly without any points deductions and almost no warnings. True, Molina outlanded Kirkland and had him totally confused. But Molina was also fouling him, and yet referee Schorle did not seem to care.
Suddenly, at the end of the 10th round, Kirkland dropped Molina. The bell rang as Molina was in the process of going down. The referee knew the round was over. He administered the mandatory eight count as required. However, during the count, one of Molina’s cornerman entered the ring. This was idiotic. Everyone knows you do not enter the ring while the referee is administering a count. However, he likely entered because he knew the round was over and Molina had risen from the knockdown almost immediately, rising by the count of three. Referee Schorle momentarily suspended his count and waived the cornerman out. He finished the count, and then directed the boxers back to their corners. However, he then went over to ringside and disqualified Molina for his cornerman’s entry.
Since this was a WBC Continental Americas title fight, the WBC rules were applicable. WBC rule 15 lists 29 fouls, of which foul #29 states, “During a round, a boxer’s seconds entering the ring or stepping on the ring apron.” Said list of fouls are not grounds for automatic or mandatory disqualification as announced by Michael Buffer, but “may be cause for penalty or disqualification.” Rule 12 states, “The bell will not save a knocked down boxer in any round.” Rule 11 states, “There will be a mandatory 8 count after a knockdown.” So it was a technical foul to enter the ring during the mandatory 8 count.
However, fouls also include, “Use of elbows, shoulders or forearms,” “Butting with the head,” “Excessive holding the opponent or maintaining a clinch,” “Striking after the referee’s order to ‘break’ or ‘stop’,” and “Holding the opponent’s head or body with one hand while hitting with the other.” But Schorle and referees throughout the country do not immediately disqualify boxers for the first violation of these and other fouls, all of which cause more harm to the opponent than does a cornerman’s entering the ring after the bell has rung and his boxer has risen from a knockdown. Schorle should not have disqualified Molina for his cornerman’s minor foul.
As a purely technical legal matter, Schorle was within his rights to disqualify Molina. Molina’s cornerman made a huge blunder. This is why I don’t think Schorle should be totally vilified the way some are doing. But, we do expect the best referees to exercise sound discretion, and to use intelligent, well-reasoned judgment when making their calls. The cornerman was obviously confused. His entry in no way harmed Kirkland. The round was over, Molina had quickly risen, and the fight was going to continue, with Molina to receive the one-minute rest period. A disqualification terminating a fight is an extremely harsh penalty, one that should not be used indiscriminately. The referee should have used his better judgment and allowed the fight to continue. At worst, he could have deducted a point from Molina. There was no reason to issue what is essentially a death sentence for a minor technical violation, particularly in a sport where much worse, more harmful fouls are allowed to pass without a warning or even a point being deducted.
I don’t think Schorle was biased, because he allowed Molina to rough Kirkland throughout the bout. I just think he lacks judgment of the highest order, the type of judgment we would like to see from top officials operating at an elite level, as seen in other sports like football.
This issue has arisen before. On November 22, 1898, in the 9th round of the James J. Corbett vs. Tom Sharkey rematch, Corbett’s cornerman Jim McVey started to enter the ring to shout at the referee about Sharkey’s foul tactics. McVey got his left foot into the ring and three-quarters of his body. The police at ringside grabbed McVey and pulled him out. Referee John Kelly allowed the transgression to slide. However, a determined and very excited McVey yelled again and this time came full into the ring and shouted at the referee. At that point, the referee disqualified Corbett. The difference here was that the boxers were in the process of fighting when McVey entered.
Technically, Kelly was within his rights to disqualify Corbett. Queensberry rules stated, “No seconds or any other persons to be allowed in the ring during the rounds.” McVey entered the ring during the round.
Back then, a round ended when the bell rang, and a fighter could be saved by the bell. So under those rules, Molina’s cornerman would have been within his rights to enter the ring after the bell rang. Today, once a fighter goes down, technically the round is still in progress until the referee finishes his mandatory eight-count and determines that the fighter is able to continue, even after the bell has rung. Technically, Molina had entered while the round was in progress, even though the bell had rung.
However, there is also a history of referees using discretion and not disqualifying boxers for every technical violation of the rules. Fans and fighters typically have found disqualifications based on technicalities in boxing to be highly unsatisfactory. The best referees have been loath to disqualify fighters unless they had committed a flagrant harm foul or violated the rules so incessantly that they were forced to issue a disqualification. Anyone who follows the sport on a consistent basis knows this.
Corbett-Sharkey II was not the first time that Jim McVey entered the ring during a Corbett fight, nor was it the first time that John Kelly had dealt with the issue of a cornerman entering the ring during a round. In 1894, when Corbett fought Charley Mitchell, Kelly had not disqualified Corbett when his seconds, including McVey, entered the ring to prevent an enraged Corbett from striking a downed Mitchell. Back then, Kelly simply got them out and allowed the fight to continue. So, Kelly had acted inconsistently in the two Corbett fights that he had refereed.
Dissatisfied with the disqualification and reaction to the Sharkey-Corbett bout, when Sharkey fought Kid McCoy in January 1899, a term included in the articles of agreement stated that if a second entered the ring, he would be removed and the fight would continue.
In 2006, during the 10th round of the Floyd Mayweather, Jr. vs. Zab Judah fight, after Judah committed a flagrant intentional low blow and rabbit shot, Floyd’s enraged and upset cornerman Roger Mayweather entered the ring, during the round. Others followed into the ring and a melee ensued. In that instance, Referee Richard Steele did not disqualify Mayweather, Jr., and the bout continued, to everyone’s satisfaction. Would John Schorle have disqualified Mayweather, Jr.?
Schorle’s disqualification of Molina was to no one’s satisfaction, or almost no one.
We can look to the past for guidance regarding the omnipresent issue of poor judging and refereeing. In the 1800s and early 1900s, the selection of a fair minded, competent referee, who back then also judged the fight, was often a hot topic of debate between managers. This was a big issue, because managers were well aware that the referee had a lot of power, and his judgment could influence the financial fortunes of both parties, particularly when purses were split based on winner or loser. Regardless, a fighter’s future marketability and economic value is often based on wins and losses. Therefore, when it came to a big fight, it was up to the boxers’ managers to agree upon a referee whom they deemed to be competent and neutral. If they could not agree, usually the athletic club sponsoring the fight would choose the official, which more often than not would be the club’s regular referee, a man who was deemed to be the best and therefore used at most of its local shows. A top respected referee would often referee every single bout. Clubs had an incentive to use the best man. Otherwise, patrons would cease attending their shows, or managers might refuse to allow their fighters to box there. Also, since gamblers were such a large boxing fan base, they would not wager on and attend a bout unless they felt reasonably assured of the referee’s competence/fairness. Hence, it was in a club’s and the sport’s best financial interests only to use the best referees.
Unfortunately, today, fewer and fewer legislators, governors, commissioners, or sanctioning bodies have had the best interest of the sport at heart. If they did, they would only select the best judges and referees, and no longer use the ones who had proven otherwise. If politicians cared, they would fire commissioners who did not do what was best for the sport. Hence, the sport has continuously lost credibility. Ultimately, more managers and promoters should become actively involved in the process of who is selected and allowed to referee and judge a bout, as they did in the past. Because it is most certainly clear that politicians, commissions and sanctioning bodies have failed miserably in this regard, much to the sport’s detriment. And unlike the NFL or NBA, which have commissioners safeguarding the best interests of the sport as a whole, which ultimately benefits everyone involved, boxing really has almost no one looking out for it, and that includes politicians and commissioners.
Oh, and if you hadn’t noticed, the referee for the main event of Saturday’s card was Laurence Cole, son of Dick Cole, who is the Texas boxing commissioner/executive director for the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. Laurence Cole is the same referee who improperly told Juan Manuel Marquez, who had suffered a cut in a fight against Jimrex Jaca, that he was ahead on the scorecards. This led to a suspension, but Cole has been consistently assigned to elite refereeing positions thereafter, including Margarito-Pacquiao. Nepotism at its finest. Texas is not the only state that does this. See also California, another state which traditionally loves nepotism and incompetence. Why is it that no one does anything to stop this? Is it all about short-term economic and personal interests at the expense of the sport’s integrity and long-term viability?
Texas is the same state that failed to test urine samples for the fight card that featured Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. vs. Marco Antonio Rubio earlier this year, allegedly because they conveniently forgot to book a drug testing laboratory for the event. Chavez, Jr. has previously tested positive for a diuretic masking agent. And on Saturday, James Kirkland was unable to provide a urine sample before the fight began. I wonder if he was made to do so after the bout, and whether that urine will be tested. I called the commission/Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to find out, but no one was able to answer that simple question for me, and I am still awaiting a return call from the public affairs department.