The past three weekends have seen PBC fighters on center stage in the United States. In each instance, there was a lesson in boxing politics. Let’s take a look.
On February 10, Bounce TV televised a PBC triple-header. Robert Easter impressively dismantled an overmatched Luis Cruz, and Terrell Gausha looked lethargic in outpointing Luis Hernandez. But the story of the night was the WBA super-bantamweight title fight between Rau’shee Warren and Zhanat Zhakiyanov.
Warren was a heavy favorite. And the odds widened exponentially when he knocked Zhakiyanov down twice in the first round. In round three, the momentum shifted. Zhakiyanov appeared to drop Warren with a pair of right hands, but referee Gary Rosato ruled that Rau’shee’s trip to the canvas was caused by a push. Thereafter, Zhakiyanov forced the pace. Warren, bleeding from the nose, had his moments but spent a great deal of time avoiding conflict rather than engaging in it.
The fight was contested at The Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio. Warren was the house fighter in every sense. He’s a favorite of PBC impresario Al Haymon; he’s a three-time U.S. Olympian; and he’s from Ohio. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Rau’shee would get the judges’ nod. Zhakiyanov is from Kazakhstan.
Then came the decision . . . Larry Hazzard Jr, 115-111 for Warren . . . John Stewart, 115-111 for Zhakiyanov . . . Ryan Kennedy, 116-110 for Zhakiyanov.
The wide discrepancy in the scoring was similar to the gap that existed last year when Warren lost a split decision to Juan Carlos Payano. On that occasion, two judges scored the fight 113-111 for Payano while the third judge had it 115-109 for Warren.
Kudos for the honest scoring that boxing fans saw in Warren’s fights.
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Good judging was the takeaway from the February 10 PBC card in Toledo. Bad refereeing was the takeaway from the February 18 card featuring PBC fighters in Cincinnati Ohio.
Showtime televised the featured bouts. In the opener, Marcus Browne and Thomas Williams squared off in a light-heavyweight contest. Sixty-eight seconds into round two, Browne scored a flash knockdown, dropping Williams with a stiff jab. Then, with Williams defenseless and clearly on the canvas, Browne whacked him with a vicious left to the side of the head.
This isn’t the first time that Browne has punched an opponent who was on the canvas. He also did it in his last fight, an April 16, 2016, outing against Radivoje Kalajdzic at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. In that bout, midway through round one, Kalajdzic visited the canvas on what was clearly a slip. And Browne hit Kalajdzic with a jolting straight left when Kalajdzic was down. Instead of warning Browne for his transgression and deducting one or more points, referee Tony Chiarantano mistakenly called the incident a knockdown and ignored the foul.
Referee Ken Miliner was no better in overseeing Browne-Williams. Williams was badly hurt by the illegal blow. Browne should have been disqualified for a flagrant foul. Instead, Miliner counted Williams out. Then a light went on in the referee’s head, and he deducted a point from Browne while allowing Williams five minutes to recover. But that missed the point.
Williams was in no condition to continue after being knocked woozy by an illegal punch. He staggered and seemed a bit disoriented when he rose. He was not allowed to sit, nor was he examined by a doctor during the recovery period. He was knocked down twice more and counted out in the sixth round.
To repeat: Browne should have been disqualified for a flagrant foul.
Miliner also evinced an embarrassing lack of familiarity with the rules of boxing. Just before the action in Browne-Williams resumed, the referee was overheard on a Showtime microphone saying several times that the fight would pick up with the start of the third round rather than continuing the interrupted second stanza.
In the main event, Adrien Broner took on Adrian Granados. The contract weight was 142 pounds. But Broner had trouble making weight and Granados was advised – take it or leave it – that the new contract weight was 147 pounds.
Broner isn’t the only fighter with a history of blowing off weight requirements. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, among others, comes quickly to mind. But Broner has raised the practice to an art form with no repercussions to date. That tarnishes the integrity of the competition.
Broner-Granados was scheduled for ten rounds. Ernie Sharif was the referee. Unfortunately, Sharif allowed Broner (who was the house fighter and hometown favorite) to foul throughout the bout.
In round three, Broner rocked Granados with combination that consisted of an elbow to the nose followed by a head butt that opened a cut on the bridge of Granados’s nose. That was followed by more elbows, more head butts, forearms to the throat, and other maneuvers that might be acceptable in mixed martial arts but aren’t in boxing.
Sharif looked on as a somewhat interested spectator might throughout it all.
It was a difficult fight to score. I gave the nod to Granados by a 96-94 margin. The judges awarded Broner a split-decision victory, which led Granados to complain during a post-fight interview, “They were playing with me. We had to change the weight. They’re just playing all types of f****** games. That’s bullshit. Give me a fair go. You all are treating me like I’m a dumb ass. Come on, man. That’s bullshit.”
Broner has lost both times he went in tough (against Marcos Maidana and Shawn Porter). He fights like a man who’s looking for shortcuts and, in recent years, has regressed as a fighter. He should be fighting at 140 pounds but appears to lack the discipline to make that weight.
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And more on officials . . .
In all three of PBC’s February 25 fights on FOX, the referee stopped the bout with the loser still on his feet. Each stoppage was appropriate.
In the first televised bout of the evening, heavyweights Dominic Breazeale and Izuagbe Ugonoh engaged in an inartful slugfest that was more brawling than boxing. But it was fun while it lasted.
Breazeale was knocked out by Anthony Joshua in seven rounds last June. In that outing, he showed toughness and courage but not much more. Ugonoh was born in Poland to Nigerian parents, fought his first nine pro contests in Poland, and then moved to New Zealand where he had eight more bouts.
Ugonoh was the aggressor in rounds one and two against Breazeale, landing reasonably often as Dominic plodded stoically forward.
In round three, Ugonoh got careless, found himself on the receiving end of a right hand, acquainted himself with the canvas, and rose to stagger Breazeale before the round was done. Then, after the bell, Breazeale landed a thudding right hand to the kidney, and Ugonoh sank to the canvas in pain. Referee Jeff Dodson let the matter pass without warning, as he’d done when Breazeale tackled Ugonoh earlier in the stanza.
In round four, two overhand rights wobbled Breazeale. This time, Dominic missed the open-field tackle and stumbled to the canvas. But in round five, Breazeale turned things around, winding up with two overhand rights that everyone in the arena except Ugonoh could see coming. That put Ugonoh down for the second time. He beat the count but was being pummeled when the referee intervened to save him from further punishment at the 50-second mark.
Next up, Jarrett Hurd battled Tony Harrison for the vacant IBF 154-pound belt. Both fighters had beaten the usual suspects. But Harrison was knocked out in the ninth round when he stepped up in class to fight Willie Nelson in 2015. That said something about Tony’s staying power.
In the early rounds of Hurd-Harrison, Hurd was the more confident, more aggressive fighter. Harrison fought cautiously, picking his spots and throwing enough counterpunches to keep Jarrett honest.
In round three, Harrison found a groove and became busier and more effective than before. In part, that was because Hurd didn’t know how to cut off the ring (or if he did, he couldn’t implement the strategy). In part, it was because Hurd seemed mystified by a counterpuncher.
Then, in round eight, Harrison began to tire and one wondered if the Willie Nelson fight was in the back of his mind. If it wasn’t, it should have been. Two minutes eight seconds into round nine, a straight right dropped Harrison to the canvas. He rose, looked disoriented, spat out his mouthpiece, and referee Jim Korb stopped the fight.
That set the stage for Deontay Wilder vs. Gerald Washington.
Since winning his WBC heavyweight belt 25 months ago against Bermane Stiverne (who has fought only once since), Wilder has faced Eric Molina, Johann Duhaupas, Artur Szpilka, and Chris Arreola. That’s low-level competition.
Washington, age 34, is a former college football player who played defensive end, mostly as a back-up, for USC. He had 14 amateur fights and didn’t turn pro until four months after his thirtieth birthday. Prior to attending college, he was a helicopter mechanic in the United States Navy.
In an effort to hype Wilder-Washington, the promotion kept talking about what a “great athlete” Washington is. The same was said about former college football player Michael Grant before he was knocked out by Lennox Lewis, Dominick Guinn, Jameel McCline, Carlos Takam, and Manuel Charr. Grant was a better athlete than Washington and also a better fighter.
Wilder defended the choice of Washington as an opponent, citing his own seven-month layoff due to a broken hand and torn biceps before adding, “We all know boxing is a business first. No matter what fans want to see, no matter what anybody wants to see, boxing is a business.”
Fighting in Birmingham as a native son of Alabama, Wilder was the local hero and a 12-to-1 betting favorite.
The first few rounds of Wilder-Washington saw Wilder do next-to-nothing while Washington tried to establish his jab. But Washington fights with his feet spread so far apart that he pushes his jab rather than stepping into it. Worse, Washington leans in when he throws the jab and brings it back low and slow. That’s a no-no in boxing and raised the question of what would happen when Wilder got around to timing Washington’s jab and dropped a right hand over the top. The answer came in round five . . . KO 5. At the time of the stoppage, one judge had Wilder ahead 39-37. The other two judges had the fight even at 38-38. That was hometown scoring.
Later in the evening, Wilder got into another fight. This one against Dominic Breazeale in the lobby of the Westin Birmingham Hotel where the fighters and their respective camps were staying.
Wilder had signaled bad blood toward Breazeale at the post-fight press conference, telling the media, “He had an altercation with my little brother. You don’t mess with my little brother. If you have a problem, you come to me and we can handle it. We can deal with it accordingly. So with that, I’ve got a problem with him. And it ain’t no problem that I wanna see him in the ring. So I’ll see him.”
See him, Deontay did. The fight spilled out onto the street and police intervention was necessary to restore order.
On Sunday morning, Breazeale posted a statement on Instagram that read, “I want to address the fact that Deontay Wilder and a mob of about 20 people unprovokedly attacked my team and my family in the lobby last night. My coach and I were blindsided by sucker-punches and my team was assaulted as well, all in front wife and kids. This cowardly attack has no place in boxing and, believe me, it will not go unpunished.”
Wilder had a previous run-in with the law when he was arrested in 2013 after an incident in a Las Vegas hotel room and charged with domestic battery by strangulation. According to a police report, the woman in question had a possible broken nose, swelling around her eyes, a cut lip, and red marks on her neck. Wilder’s attorney later said that Deontay was apologetic and had mistakenly thought the woman was planning to rob him. The matter was settled out of court.
But returning to in-ring combat . . . Wilder can whack with his right hand. The short chopping punch to the temple that dropped Washington would cause problems for any heavyweight. However, a good heavyweight might be experienced enough to not get hit by it. And Deontay has flaws as a fighter. Lots of them, including the fact that he pulls straight back from punches instead of slipping them.
It would be nice to see Wilder in the ring next against someone on the order of Luis Ortiz or Jarrell Miller. But more likely, he’ll fight Joseph Parker or an even less-threatening opponent while biding his time for a big-money bout against Anthony Joshua, Wladimir Klitschko, or Tyson Fury. That might be a good business strategy. But it makes Wilder an intriguing contender, not a champion.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book – A Hard World: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing – was published recently by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.
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