Deep in Southern Texas, a man who deserved better had a Texas Two Step tattooed on his heart, on Saturday afternoon.
The rude welcome occurred in a town called Hidalgo, near the Mexican border, and the man who will bear the scars from the treatment, who deserved so much better, traveled from Scotland. Not sure how many travelers to Texas, the Lone Star state, which collectively prides itself on a frontier spirit, a “tell it like it is” mindset, with so many of the citizens inclined to advertise a proud mindset of independence of spirit, will leave the state having been been stomped on in such a manner, but your heart goes out to the Scotsman, Ricky Burns.
After 12 rounds of rumbling, the scorcards were read: 117-109, 1116-110, 116-110, for the Texan, Omar Figueroa. So at least the two points taken from ref Laurence Cole, who turned in a subpar outing, making himself way too much part of the fight, instead of being, ideally, pretty much out of sight, out of mind, didn't obviously affect the outcome.
Yes, the stomper, to my eyes, wasn't so much opponent Figueroa, who coincidentally or not lives in Texas. No, it was the man tasked with being a fair and impartial arbiter of the proceeding, one Laurence Cole, who in my mind deserves a heaping helping of scorn for his (mis)condusct on Saturday afternoon.
Cole, from the get go, seemed to be acting as if Burns owed him moolah and told him his mom wears combat boots when asked to be paid back…
This was the Premier Boxing Champions main event, a super lightweight attraction which ran on CBS. Therefore, being on terrestrial TV, more folks than usual were able to check out the methods of Cole, who has a rich and lengthy history of stepping in cow pies while being the third man in the ring.
Burns started strong, color man Paul Malignaggi told us in round one. Cole interjected himself in the mix, too much, almost right away. He warned Burns for a behind the head shot which Malignaggi and fellow analyst Virgil Hunter said looked OK.
In round two, viewers saw Cole yank the arm of the Scotsman away from Omar, while the two were mixing it up. That, friends, is an unorthdox move, and one which can result in a clear deficiency situation for the person who is having an interloper tug on their body while they are trying to fend off the offense of their foe. The customary move is to demand that a fighter disengage a limb, once, twice, and then, really only on last resort, when a referee has noted that there is a break in the action, might he choose to resort to interceding physically. Again in round two, Cole grabbed Burns' arm, like he was breaking up a scuffle between a couple of rough-housing toddlers, rather than two world class prizefighters. Hunter commented on it, and said he disagreed with the practice. “There he does it again,” said Hunter. Then he warned Burns again. “Cole has become a big factor in this fight,” Hunter said, before round two ended.
I almost expected Cole, whose face often features the look of a teen who has been caught canoodling himself in the bathroom by a finger-wagging parent, to walk to the Omar corner, ask the kid if he wanted an espresso…
In round three, Hunter and Paulie couldn't stop fixating on Cole, and blow by blow man Mauro Ranallo hopped in too. “I think he heard us, he's letting them fight out,” said Ranallo, before Cole once again did the arm grab. This time, though, he did it to Omar…
Round four saw Cole being Cole-y; he warned the tourist, like a cop pulling over the guy with the Grateful Dead sticker. Omar punched after Cole yelled stop, but received no chiding. The two men worked hard, and the fight was a bit sloppy, but fun to watch…apart from the ref's stepping into the spotlight. Omar dipped his head in, as he did time and again, but Burns got warned for pushing his head down.
In round five, Cole gave a second warning for holding…right before Omar held. Burns did some work behind the head, though maybe because Omar dipped his head on the way in. Billy goat-ing Figueroa kept on using the top of his head as a butting agent into the sixth. “I think they should be allowed to fight,” Hunter told us after the fifth. He intoned for a “fair fight,” for Omar to be held to the same regulations as the Scot.
In round six, Omar, in his first fight at 140, brawled ruggedly, made it ugly and the ref made it uglier. He took Burns' right arm and yanked it away while the men were fighting. To be fair, it wasn't an easy fight to over-see, but Cole did himself no favors with his work.
On to the seventh…Cole was Mr. Grabby Hands to start the round. He slapped Burns' arm, then grabbed Omar, and I wondered if he was getting a bonus for each time he touched them. “It's been a beautiful ugly fight,” Ranallo told us. To round eight..Mr. Grabby yanked Omar, then warned Burns for leading with his head. With a minute left the ref took a point from Burns, for holding. Malignaggi didn't like the call, and he called it a harsh move. Omar plowed ahead, head down, and then threw some rabbit punches, and didn't get chided.
In the ninth, the two men kept rumbling. Cole was pretty chill, bless him. In the tenth, grabby did it again, to the Texan, so give him points for consistency. Both were too tired to grab as hard so Cole was now backing off more so. In the 11th, Cole went a grabbin, agin. Burns winced at a left hook to the body. Then Cole took a point, another one, from the Scot, for grabbing. BECAUSE he was DEAD TIRED after eating a hellacious body shot. Poor call, and a shady look which benefitted the home towner. Not very kind to the tourist, Mr. Cole…
In the 12th, Cole was out of range, thankfully, for long stretches. Then he got hands-y, but of course. Happily, neither fighter landed a punch after Cole gave them an edge by holding the foe's arm, so that's a good thing.
So, we went to the cards, knowing Omar got an extra two points, compliments of Cole, from his iffy, maybe severely iffy, point deductions. The judges gave it to Omar, and many on social media howled. CompuBox said Burns went 270-886 to 289-799 for the Texan; I thought a win for either man would be understandable, and reserve my scorn not for the judges, but for the ref, who has a track record of missteps and seems to be rewarded for his incompetence, with continued activity, rather than being sent for remedial training, on the Golden Gloves circuit.
It was a fun/ugly fight to watch, made that much worse by the work of a man with a track record of doing just this. How many more times will I and others like me have to write this article? He has a history, he did the grabb-y thing in the Chris John-Rocky Juarez fight; and should have been banned for two years when in 2006 he told Juan Manuel Marquez he was ahead on the cards and wondered if he wanted to have the fight stopped after a butt; he was critiqued hard for his work in the Andre Dirrell-Arthur Abraham and Orlando Salido-Vasyl Lomachenko fights, and was removed from duty after being announced as the overseer of the Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey fight.
Malignaggi might have had a flashback, to when he met Juan Diaz there in 2009. After losing a decision, he announced, “I had to deal with a lot of politics. That was ridiculous. I knew I was going to have to deal with this…I'm telling you, this state never gives a fair shake to anyone coming to this state to fight hometown fighters. It never happens.”
Time for Texas to do the right thing, and send Laurence Cole to the scrap heap. His missteps are too numerous to ignore, not if they seek to remain a viable landing place for big bouts.