“And I'm not sure whether to thank or ream the ref, who missed knockdowns that would have helped me, but also allowed me to go Graterford on Pascal.” (Hogan)
If, as the old adage holds, the best referee is the one who doesn’t call attention to himself, you’d have to deem Ian John-Lewis a miserable failure. Just about the only ones who managed to ignore him completely Saturday night were Bernard Hopkins and Jean Pascal.
It was Richard Schaefer, arguing for his client Hopkins, who demanded a slate of neutral officials for Saturday’s fight in Montreal, so if you’re looking for somebody to blame John-Lewis’ presence on, you could start with the Golden Boy CEO.
It’s unclear exactly how John-Lewis came to be nominated for his role at the Bell Centre, but it’s reasonable to assume it was not with the recommendation of his national federation. At least half a dozen world-class referees work under the auspices of the British Board of Boxing Control, but Ian John-Lewis is not one of them.
“I was frankly amazed he got this fight,” a British boxing expert told us after watching John-Lewis’ abominable performance in the 46 year-old Hopkins’ historic win over Pascal in the WBC light-heavyweight title fight.
On April 15 of this year, less than five weeks before the Hopkins-Pascal fight, John-Stewart was “severely reprimanded” by the BBBofC for making a royal mess of a March super-middleweight fight at the Liverpool Arena. Although Wayne Reed had cleanly knocked down local Joe Ainscough in the last round of their three-round “Prizefighter” prelim, John-Lewis, who had meted out the count, apparently forgot having done so and scored the round 10-10, awarding the fight to Ainsough on a 30-28 shutout on the only official scorecard.
After the hearing, the BBBofC warned the 48 year-old referee from Gillingham that he was on thin ice and that further transgressions might result in his being banned from the sport.
Just a week ago, John-Lewis drew further scrutiny when he bewilderingly scored a London fight for hometowner Tom Dallas, even though most ringsiders felt the durable American opponent Zack Page had won at least six of the eight rounds. Even Dallas’ promoter Frank Maloney termed the verdict a “lucky” one and described the referee’s work as “a bad day at the office.”
And last October John-Lewis was the referee who allowed Vitali Klitschko to administer such a savage beating to Shannon Briggs that the American wound up in a Hamburg hospital with assorted facial fractures, a concussion, and a torn biceps tendon.
In other words, his work in Montreal wasn’t simply a case of a good referee having a bad night, but one of a bad referee having another bad night.
Granted, two of the aforementioned infractions that got John-Lewis called on the carpet involved scoring, and scoring was not part of his brief in the Hopkins-Pascal fight. At the same time, the referee’s failure to acknowledge two pretty clear-cut knockdowns did potentially skew the judges’ scorecards. (In the ninth and tenth rounds, a Hopkins right hand caught Pascal on the head, and on both occasions Jean remained upright only by bracing himself with his gloves on the canvas mat.)
The rulebook says you get hit and your gloves touch the ring mat, it’s a knockdown. The mistakes in back-to-back rounds seem retrospectively less important only because they did not, in the end, affect the outcome, only the margin of victory.
But John-Lewis’ handling of the fight up until then must also be called into question. From the third round on, he allowed Hopkins to grab Pascal in a clinch and then bang away with his free hand – initially to the short ribs, and as the evening wore on, increasingly to the kidneys. Although he warned him on several occasions, the referee never seemed close to taking a point, and by then it was clear that only punitive action was going to deter Hopkins from the practice. When a fighter keeps throwing illegal punches after he has been ordered to break, it reflects a total disdain for the authority of the referee. No, John-Lewis didn’t lose control of the fight; he never had control. And who can say how much the evening-long assault to his kidneys took out of Pascal in those later rounds?
Hopkins’ arsenal also included a couple of head-butts, a thumb to Pascal’s right eye, and at least one low blow.
Pascal can’t be absolved from blame, either. With equal impunity, he whacked Hopkins with an astounding number of rabbit punches down the stretch. Pascal did not, as Harold Lederman charged after the fight, “get away with it all night long,” but (encouraged by his corner, which by then could be confident that there would be no repercussion from the referee) he did land better than a dozen punches behind the head over the last three rounds of the fight. By then Hopkins had all but given up his own holding-and-hitting tactics; B-Hop needed the clinches for breathing space.
HBO, encouraged by the promoters, made a huge deal out of Hopkins’ quest to break George Foreman’s record for winning a title, and then spent the rest of the night denigrating the title in question. This was at least in part the result of HBO’s institutional stance, which considers the recognized sanctioning bodies the scourge of boxing. They sometimes are, but this doesn’t mean that the IBO or the titles created by Golden Boy’s boxing magazine are necessarily an improvement.
The only mention of the WBC came in Michael Buffer’s bilingual introductions – and then, the organization was consigned to co-equal status with the IBO and Ring titles. Lampley, who sometimes seems to have made this thing downright personal, referred only obliquely to “the governing body” which ordered the Pascal-Hopkins rematch, and suggested that while Pascal had won “a belt” when he defeated Adrian Diaconu, his title somehow lacked legitimacy until he fought Hopkins to a draw back in December.
You want to pretend the sanctioning bodies don’t exist, fine. But then on the same telecast, Lampley waxed rhapsodic about Hopkins’ 20-fight reign as middleweight champion. For the first 14 of those, Hopkins held only the IBF title. He had held it for eight years, in fact, before The Ring recognized him as champion. So which is it, Lamps? You can’t have it both ways.
Adrian Diaconu is a lazy, untalented, clumsy oaf, but Chad Dawson actually managed to make him look good.
With the spectre of Ian John-Stewart hovering over the Hopkins-Pascal fight, by the way, Lampley noted that the Dawson-Diaconu action had been “so clean that I never even mentioned the name of Mark Griffin, the referee.”
Good thing, since his name is Mike Griffin.
—Emanuel Steward performed another bit of quick-change artistry, working Dawson’s corner for the Diaconu fight before jumping behind his analyst’s microphone for Hopkins-Pascal, but did anyone notice that Russ Anber performed the same trick in reverse? The Renaissance Man of Canadian boxing worked the Dawson-Diaconu fight as an analyst for Canadian television, and then materialized in Pascal’s corner for the main event.
—Nothing Bernard Hopkins does should surprise us any longer, but the man is 46 years of age, a world champion again, and a mortal lock for the Hall of Fame if he ever does stop boxing. Why does he still feel the need to come into the ring dressed like he’s about to go trick-or-treating?