LAS VEGAS, Sept. 7 – It’s time for boxing to revive the concept of hanging judges. In the Old West, “hanging judges” were the guys who said, “Let’s hang him and then give him a fair trial.” In boxing, the idea would be to hang the judges themselves for ludicrous scorecards. It may sound like cruel and unusual punishment, but it could save lives.

Like mine.

And the people sitting next to me at ringside when a decision like the one handed down in the Samuel Peter-James Toney fight is handed down.

Actually, it would probably take a much worse decision than that one to threaten ringside, press and public. Let me flash back to January, 1979, Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan.

I had talked my New York Times editors into letting me take a side trip to Puerto Rico before heading to Miami for a Super Bowl. I wanted to do a piece on a fighter who, though I had never met him, had become one of my favorites, Carlos Palomino. I figured this might be the last chance I had, because I felt he was about to lose his welterweight title – this was in the days when more often than not there was only one title per division – to the hometown hero, Wilfred Benitez.

For once, my prognosis was correct. Sitting in the hot late summer sun at the baseball stadium, I watched as the self-proclaimed “Bible of Boxing” put on a clinic. The art of self-defense was never more pervasive. The masterful Benitez won at least 12 of the 15 rounds, I figured. Then they announced a split decision. The crowd moaned.

Pat Putnam, the Sports Illustrated giant who was seated next to me, tugged my arm.

“Get your stuff, we’ve got to get out of here,” he said.

The first scorecard was announced. Judge Zack Clayton had Palomino ahead.

The crowd’s anger could be measured by the debris suddenly flying through the air. Putnam and I scurried to the safety of the third-base dugout. It was a precaution that presumably was unnecessary when the final two scores overruled Clayton’s. But there often have been situations where crowds are turned into mobs without Rock Newman being in the house. After one unpopular decision at the old Felt Forum at New York’s Madison Square Garden, a bottle came flying out of the stands, skipped along the canvas and hit me squarely in the chest.

At least, it was a classy bottle.


Empty of course.

Now, there are some ring officials of whom the late Frankie Carbo – the mobster who pretty much ran boxing in the Fifties – would say, “See that guy? I can buy him for a cup of coffee.”

I’m not saying Clayton was one of these. I’m not saying he wasn’t, either. After the Benitez fight, I confronted the Philadelphian who was better known as a referee. I demanded that he explain his strange scorecard.

“You’ve got to count body punches,” he said.

Palomino was a fine body-puncher, but in this fight, Benitez landed most of those shots. His elbows took care of Palomino’s. I pressed on with the interrogation. Finally, Clayton said, “Well, the sun was in my eyes.”

Remember when the flaky Brooklyn Dodger pitcher, Billy Loes, lost a World Series groundball in the sun? Of course you do.

Maybe that explains Dick Flaherty and Alejandro Rochin, the two WBClown judges who scored last weekend’s bout for Samuel Peter by 116-111 counts, despite Peter losing a point deducted for cuffing James Toney’s ears with both hands.

Scoring off television, I had Toney winning, 115-113. I would not have minded if someone had Peter ahead by a point or two, though my gut told me that the St. James version of the Bible of Boxing had successfully outscored the crude Nigerian.

There have been worse decisions. Mr. Flaherty, a competent Boston referee, gave Kassim Ouma an improbable shutout over Sechew Powell earlier this year. That’s two fights where he was pretty far off. I’m not saying we should hang him, but let him swing before he judges again.

I know my standing proposal to, pardon the expression, “fix” boxing by doing away with judges completely and allowing the contestants to fight until the finish may be considered a bit too harsh for some tastes, but the decision of the judges can’t be final unless the judges know what the hell they’re looking at. And that includes you too, Harold Lederman.

PENTHOUSE: Peter and Toney deserve credit for putting on an entertaining show at the Staples Center. And who cares who won? I mean, for heavyweights to have a good show is enough. There still is little future for the division unless Peter can show much more improvement, as he did from his failed effort to outpoint Wladimir Klitschko.

And the division, as sorry as it’s been, has produced some decent action this year – Sergei Liakhovich’s victory over Lamon Brewster and Toney’s controversial draw with Hasim Rahman (from TV, I was in the minority who had Toney slightly ahead). This does not in any way contradict the premise that the division sucks. You can get competitive matches in novice Golden Gloves battles between game but incapable guys – or gals – who have no conception about the finer points.

That is all we can hope for with these clowns. And at least they are providing some interesting matchups – not that Nikolai Valuev vs. Monte Barrett will be found on anyone’s must-watch list, especially since it will be going up against the rubber match between Diego (Chico) Corrales and Joel Casamayor on that same evening of Oct. 7.

More intriguing, perhaps, is the Nov. 4 match between Liahkovich and the undeserving Shannon Briggs. Okay, so Briggs is just another in the long line of Foul Pole Golotas who get title shots for no perceived reason – you can’t blame Don King, this time, though the two great hair stylists recently joined follicles; before King, Shannon seemed set to get it on with Wladimir Klitschko on Nov. 11 – he hits hard enough to usually make it interesting for a few rounds before the asthmatic kid starts huffing and puffing.

But while this may be of some interest, especially in Brownsville, the big fight of the night will be Floyd Mayweather Jr. challenging Carlos Baldomir for the welterweight championship of the world.

But we do have some other heavyweight bouts to anticipate, if only for the geography. On Nov. 11, the younger of the Klitschko boys will defend his alphabet title against the undefeated Calvin Brock at Madison Square Garden. And though Oleg Maskaev must eventually make a mandatory defense against Samuel Peter, his promoter, Dennis Rappaport, is hoping to squeeze in a voluntary defense, probably against one of the many Europeans deemed unlikely to threaten bigger bouts for the 37-year-old American, in Moscow – the first heavyweight championship bout to be held that close to Lenin’s tomb.

Maskaev wanted to make the Nov. 11 date with Klitschko, but a bum elbow pushed him back a month and, because I like the guy, I hope he doesn’t get upended in a comparatively low-budget fight before making a big score against Peter or Klitschko.

I’d give him a shot against either, too. He has the kind of right-handed punch that, if he could land the way Toney did on Peter, would very likely shake the bigger man’s foundations. And he already knocked out the big Klitschko brother, though that was in the amateurs.

No, there are no saviors out there, but as long as the big boys can churn out competitive fights, as long as Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson don’t come back to kidnap the division for two years, we’ll wait. And in the meantime, we still have Marco Antonio Barrera and Rocky Juarez type fights to whet our appetites.

OUTHOUSE: Besides those two out-of-whack scorecards from out-of-state judges, the California commission – if any – should be concerned about the terrible refereeing job done by Maynard G. Crebs in the Robert Guerrero-Eric Aiken rout.

LIGHT ENTERTAINMENT: James Toney, of course, is not going anywhere, especially not to a fat farm or a school for diplomacy. But as long as he matches up well, and is perceived to be of diminishing risk as he ages, he’ll always get a shot at some unsuspecting character. No way, of course, Samuel Peter would give him a rematch and maybe I’m not the only one in believing that a second go-round with Hasim Rahman makes little sense. The four titleholders have their dance cards filled for the moment, so here’s a suggestion for Toney, straight from the lawyer for Wladimir Klitschko, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and, in this appropriate case, Chris Byrd.

“It’s time for James to fight Chris Byrd,” said John Hornewer, who has long wanted this matchup for his undersized heavyweight client. He was working for Roy Jones Jr. when Toney was undressed by that former heavyweight champion in the days both were super-middleweights. He feels Byrd, though the smaller (certainly lighter) man, would have little trouble with Toney. But the reason I recommend the bout is that for the first time, Toney – who says “I have no respect for no one” – might lose the pre-fight trash-talking contest. Maybe not to the goody-goody Byrd, but to Hornewer.

Horny has already started. He said Toney should have his nickname changed from “Lights Out” to “Flicker,” as in, “when he hits the switch, nothing happens.”

He cited Toney losing a belt due to steroids after outpointing John Ruiz, surviving the draw with Rachman and now demanding a rematch after a loss to Peter (a bout, by the way, Hornewer thought Toney had won after watching on TV). “He’s had so many reincarnations,” said Hornewer, “he should change religions. The thing that amazes me is how he comes back fat every time.”

MORE DIS AND THAT: Rocky Balboa will be going home to the Philadelphia Art Museum, not atop the steps where the movie character ran in training, but at the bottom. The Rocky films helped revive boxing in the late Seventies, maybe as much as the 1976 (same year as the movie) Olympic class, but I’m glad it is not this department’s duty to comment on its art value. I will say this: Sylvester Stallone should build a statue to Joe Frazier, the real Philly fighter on whom a lot of Balboa – especially using sides of beef in place of a heavy bag – is based….Evander Holyfield is going to face Fres Oquendo, a fair test to see if the soon-to-be 44-year-old should make some titleholder a bit of easy money, Nov. 10 at the Alamodome….Reminds me of the line Jose Sulaiman, being chauffered from the airport into San Antonio for Kevin Kelley’s losing defense to Alejandro Gonzalez in 1995 (yes, almost 12 years ago, Flushing Flash fans), spotted the Alamadome and, according to his driver, now Main Events VP Carl Moretti, said:

“That’s where they do that terrible thing to Julio.” Yeah, that’s where Jose’s judges “robbed” Julio Cesar Chavez against Pernell Whitaker. There should be enough rope to stretch the WBChief-for-life, too….I hope we won’t be crying “Remember the Alamodome” in November, but San Antonio seems to have become, if not the graveyard, at least the old age home of boxing. On Sept. 28, the aforementioned Mr. Kelley will be shoveled in front of Carlos Hernandez for Bob Arum’s bloody enjoyment and profit. And then Holyfield….What the hell, if Davey Crockett, Jim Bowie and John Wayne could all finish in San Antonio….Happy birthday to my little brother, Steve, who turns 63.