By Jake Donovan
Mike Tyson has quickly endured a few rough patches while still in his 1st year as a boxing promoter.
The former heavyweight king joined forces with Acquinity Sports last summer to form Iron Mike Productions, which made its official debut last August in an event that served as the 2013 season finale of ESPN2 Friday Night Fights. In the main event, 130 lb. titlist Argenis Mendez was forced to settle for a 12-round draw versus Arash Usmanee, in a bout many felt should’ve gone to the champ.
Fast forward to Friday night and the 2014 season premiere of Friday Night Fights – same format, same fighter in headliner, and once again involved in a controversial outcome. The difference this time is that his promoter doesn’t plan to allow the verdict – a 2nd round knockout loss to mandatory challenger Rances Barthelemy – to stand without a fight of his own.
“It's amazing that the guy was hit after the bell,” Tyson said when interviewed shortly after the fight, speaking to the two punches that were thrown and landed well after the bell to end the second round.
“We heard the bell ring and then he was hit twice. It’s amazing,” Tyson continued.
Barthelemy (20-0, 13KO) floored Mendez earlier in the round, catching the slow-starting champ with an uppercut and a pair of left hands before sending him to the canvas with an ensuing flurry. Mendez beat the count and was on the verge of making it out the round as there were precious few seconds left on the clock.
Thanks to shoddy officiating, Barthelemy was permitted to get off enough punches to accomplish his mission. A power shot landed just before the bell to end the round, but referee Peter Podgorski was slow to get in between the two fighters, prompting Barthelemy to do what every fighter is instructed to do – protect himself at all times.
Free to unload on a defenseless Mendez, two more punches landed for Barthelemy to put the Dominican boxer down and out well after the bell. Rather than seek confirmation from ringside officials that the bell had rung to end the round, Podgorski instead remained aloof to the situation as he proceeded to count out Mendez, who desperately attempted to peel himself off of the canvas, to no avail. All of this was going on while Barthelemy repeatedly strayed from his neutral corner, going undisciplined and unnoticed by a referee who was requested by Mendez’ camp to not work the fight.
Upon receiving confirmation last December of the officials who would be working Friday’s bout, Mendez’ handlers plead the IBF – whose 130 lb. belt was at stake – to replace two local judges (William Lerch and Gary Merritt) with geographically neutral officials, and to replace Podgorksi with a Spanish-speaking referee, given the native tongue of both fighters.
The IBF budged on only one of the requests, replacing William Lerch with Richard Ocasio, who is based out of Las Vegas.
“[W]e will stick with Pete Podgorski, because he is a good referee and he is fair,” IBF Ratings Chairman Lindsey Tucker informed the Mendez camp on December 18, denying their request for a Spanish speaking referee to work the contest.
Neither language barrier nor ringside judging played a factor in the fight, although the brief action was easy to score if it ever came to that. Barthelemy won virtually every second of the fight, stunning Mendez in the opening round, before the big round two he enjoyed en route to what for now stands as the biggest win of his career.
“The guy was winning after the fight, there's no doubt about it.” Tyson acknowledged after the fight. “But he hit (Mendez) after the bell.”
What was a factor were the actions of Podgorski, normally a competent official but who seemed more like a spectator on Friday night. His performance has triggered swift action from Mendez’ handlers, who will file a protest with the IBF as well as the Minnesota Labor and Industry Board.
The hope is to have the official outcome changed from a 2nd round knockout to a no-contest, which would return the belt back to Mendez. From there – or even if the verdict isn’t overturned for whatever reason – Mendez definitely wants a shot at redemption.
“We're going after the rematch,” Tyson insists. “Rances is a great fighter, there's no doubt about it. But (Mendez) was hit after the bell.”
The bout marked Mendez’ second defense of the 130 lb. title he won via 4th round knockout in his rematch with Juan Carlos Salgado last March. The feat was revenge for a unanimous decision loss in Sept. ’11 on the road in Mexico.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox