As we close the book on August we can look forward to the fall, which means two things: the beginning of football season and the resumption of world class boxing. As a kid I used to love the summer months. And why not? It meant liberation from school and the summer vacation was the most anticipated time of the year – save for the Christmas holiday.
I used to cringe as a youngster when I'd be watching cartoons in early August and I'd see 'back to school' commercials, hawking everything from school supplies to clothes. As the ads came on I would quickly turn the channel as if somehow that would delay the inevitable. But as the days went by in August, you knew what was coming. It was like the IRS, there was no avoiding it.
My how times have changed. Now, while I could do with our without the holiday season, I do feel like a kid waiting for Christmas as I look ahead to the beginning of September. Hey, as you find out that there is no Kris Kringle – and it's you paying for all the gifts that Santa Clause gets credit for – and you don't get the summer off, your perspective changes, I guess.
It's the difference between 12 years old and 32.
The summer months in boxing are usually slow months for the business, this year it seemed it almost slowed to a crawl. And even worse, what was notable was marred by questionable officiating. Like the school kids around the country, it seemed good judgment was also on summer vacation.
It all started on June 5th when Oscar De La Hoya took on Felix Sturm for the WBO middleweight title. This was one-half of a showcase doubleheader which was staged to set up a showdown between 'the Golden Boy' and Bernard Hopkins.
After Hopkins took care of Robert Allen, it was up to De La Hoya to do his part to make the September 18th fight happen. He was taking on the unknown Sturm, who, despite his belt, was nothing more than an opponent brought in to provide a few rounds at middleweight before handing over his belt at the end of the night to add to Oscar's vast collection.
But a funny thing happened – Sturm was under the impression that he was there to actually win and had the gumption to take the fight to De La Hoya. It seemed after 12 surprising rounds that the German had done more than enough to retain his title. But, the reality is that he didn't do nearly enough to disrupt a multi-million dollar event that was already scheduled.
Sturm may have won the fight, but the show – De La Hoya versus Hopkins – had to go on. Sadly, for the game of boxing, it was business as usual.
Then on July 6th we had a fight between Courtney Burton and perennial spoiler Emanuel Augustus. Now, if you've seen this bout, which was televised nationally on ESPN2's Tuesday Night Fights series, it was simply the worst decision this reporter has ever seen. It made Whitaker-Chavez look like the very definition of justice and fair play.
For ten rounds Augustus mastered Burton with a wide array of counter-punching and his patented clowning. No objective arbiter could have possibly given Burton more than a round or two. But here's the problem, Burton was the 'house fighter' which meant that everyone from the referee to the judges would go out of their way to give the decision to Burton, which is precisely what happened.
The referee in question, Dan Kelly, was so inept and biased, you began to wonder if this was incompetence or corruption. Augustus was fighting this night against two opponents in the ring – his opponent and the referee.
When the verdict was announced, ESPN2's announcing crew of Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas were apoplectic. And when Atlas got into a live on-air argument with a member of the local commission, it made for great TV. But it's also the type of episode which in many respects has led to the demise of boxing on television.
Then you had the case of Zahir Raheem who took on Rocky Juarez in his hometown of Houston, Texas as part of a HBO 'Boxing After Dark' triple-header on July 17th. For Raheem, a featherweight out of Philadelphia who represented the United States in the 1996 Olympics, this was a do-or-die fight.
No, it's not like he's nearing the end of his career or lacking in talent. To the contrary, Raheem is a guy who's in the prime of his athletic life, with sharp skills. But in this day and age, he's a guy that other managers and promoters usually look to avoid. He's got a slick style that is difficult to decipher and unfortunately like many other African-American boxers today, he doesn't draw much at the box-office and is therefore a fighter who has problems getting marquee fights.
But it was his good fortune that Juarez's management decided to take the risk and face him on this night. It was everything that Raheem could have asked for, a big fight on the games biggest stage. A win here and he's a player. Lose, and he probably has to start all over.
Raheem boxed smartly, after taking an early knockdown he would regroup to control the tempo for most of the remaining rounds. Juarez, who does not handle movement well, had problems corralling the fleet Raheem. But referee Robert Gonzalez took care of the problem for him.
Time and time again, the ridiculously biased and over-officious Gonzalez would either warn or penalize Raheem for some fouls that could be best described as specious. In addition to taking points away from Raheem, it had to affect him mentally. Hey, boxing is tough enough, it's even tougher when you're facing insurmountable odds.
He knew going in that Main Events – which has Juarez – was promoting this fight in his opponent's hometown. He expected those types of disadvantages. But I really don't think any fighter goes in with the thought that they would be stuck with a referee whose sole intent is to try and disqualify him.
Predictably, Raheem would lose a close decision. And it wasn't so much that Juarez won it, but more so that Gonzalez lost it for him.
As the leaves begin to turn soon, let's hope that the officiating we've seen in the summer months takes a turn for the better, too.