By Jake Donovan
Nearly a month after losing his title via controversial knockout loss, Argenis Mendez has regained his championship status.
The legal process took longer than expected to run its course, but the Minnesota Combative Sports Commission has overturned the official verdict of his January 3 bout with Rances Barthelemy, declaring the fight a No-Decision. it was announced Thursday afternoon.
The original ruling in the ring was a 2 nd round knockout for Barthelemy, who for the past four weeks has paraded as a 130 lb. titlist. The feat came during the 2014 season premiere of ESPN2 Friday Night Fights, which aired live from the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
However, the fight-ending sequence occurred after the bell had sounded to end round two. Barthelemy was in control, including a scored knockdown late in the 2 nd round. The unbeaten Cuban once again had Mendez in trouble, ultimately knocking him out with a three-punch combination.
Unfortunately for Barthelemy, only one of the three blows came before the bell. The challenger failed to hear the bell to end the round, compounded by the fact that referee Pete Podgorski was out of position and failed to take control of the action in the ring. Mendez was drilled with two more shots to put him down and out.
The filing of the appeal – which came from attorney Patrick English, hired on retainer by Mendez and his manager, Jose Nuñez - was based on the following areas, all in accordance with the Unified Rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) :
B. Accidental fouls.
1. If an accidental foul causes an injury severe enough for the referee to stop the bout immediately, the bout will result in a NO DECISION if stopped before four (4) completed rounds. Four (4) rounds are complete when the bell rings signifying the end of the fourth round.
Referee Rules and Guidelines
A blow that strikes a boxer after the sounding of the bell is deemed to be a foul that the referee will determine if it was accidental or intentional.
The fight was reviewed by the executive director of Minnesota Office of Combative Sports, beginning with the official appeal from the Mendez camp on January 9. Minnesota commission policy calls for a three-step process for all appeals, the first beginning with an independent review from the executive director.
Had the executive director failed to find enough evidence from his own study to overturn the verdict, the case would have then been handed over to an appointed Grievance Committee. Had that not resulted in a change of the official outcome, it would have gone to the commission for a full hearing.
Matters were ultimately resolved with the first step of the process. The official ruling came nearly two weeks after the originally proposed deadline of 10 days upon receipt of the appeal, due to follow up responses and rebuttals from both camps, with the matter fully under review as of January 21.
In its report, the commission stated that the "ruling that Mr. Mendez had been legally knocked out was inadvertent through what can only be considered human error. Referee Podgorski acknowledges that he was getting into position, but the bell sounded while he was circling so his decision was based upon what he could hear and see at the time."
The decision made by the commission's office was based on the official appeal, testimony from both camps and the ring official. Ultimately, it was what the commission saw with its own eyes upon further review that brought forth closure to this matter.
"The video replay presented by both parties as evidence clearly shows the knockout punch was after the bell had sounded," the report reads. "No evidence was presented that Mr. Barthelemy intentionally through foul punches. The punches were an accidental foul which caused the knockout that ended the fight.
"The law requires that the Commissioner overrule the referee and enforce the plain language of the rules. For the purposes of the State of Minnesota, the boxing contest between Mr. Mendez and Mr. Barthelemy is a No-Decision
“We were always confident in the legal process,” insists Azim Spicer, COO of Iron Mike Productions. “Our case was heard, and the commission saw the facts for what they were. Rances Barthelemy fought a heck of a fight, but his victory came in a manner in which extends beyond the rules of competition.
“There’s no telling what could’ve happened if Argenis was given up to five minutes to recover from the foul. The good news is, we can perhaps find out in the future.”
Regardless of the outcome, the plan for Mendez and his handlers was to pursue a rematch. The International Boxing Federation (IBF) ruled from the beginning that there were sufficient grounds to demand a return bout. When such fight is ordered, it will come with Mendez still as the defending 130 lb. titlist.
“Argenis worked hard to win that title for it to be taken away,” Nuñez states of the ordeal. “I’m grateful for the support the IBF has always shown ‘Genis, and they didn’t hesitate to speak on the issue the moment it was clear that the fight should have ended in a no-contest.
“I understand why the Minnesota Office of Combative Sports had to take their team before reaching a verdict. I thank them for being thorough in their handling of the case, allowing them to reach what was honestly the only fair conclusion from what took place.”
Mendez’ title winning performance came last March in a rematch with Juan Carlos Salgado. The win came 18 months following his first fight with Salgado, in which he dropped a tightly contested decision on the road in Mexico. The rematch was far more conclusive, as Mendez dominated en route to a 4 th round stoppage.
The no-decision gives the Dominican – who represented his nation in the 2004 Athens Olympics - two successful defenses of that title, though he has yet to post an official win in either title defense. His previous encounter also ended in controversy, when he was forced to settle for a 12-round draw versus Arash Usmanee last August in upstate New York.
The bout with Usmanee marked the official promotional debut of former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, who joined forces with Garry Jonas’ Acquinity Sports to form Iron Mike Productions.
Barthelemy will remain the mandatory challenger to the title, a distinction he earned with a pair of wins in 2013. A semi-final eliminator saw the Cuban score a disputed decision win over Usmanee 52 weeks prior to the win-turned-no-contest versus Mendez. A more appropriate entrance to the title stage was made in his final eliminator, scoring a 2 nd round knockout of Fahlan Sakkreerin last June.
The win over Mendez, had it held up, would have served as by far the biggest of Barthelemy’s career to date. The next step will be, first if a rematch is secured, and then if he will be able to duplicate what he was able to accomplish for six minutes and a few seconds in their bout earlier in the month.
Fittingly enough, Iron Mike Productions and Warriors Boxing are slated to co-promote an upcoming edition of ESPN2 Friday Night Fights, which takes place February 7 in Chicago, Illinois. Perhaps by then or even in the days following the event, discussion will take place to map out the future of both fighters, whether in a sequel or steering separate courses.
“Now that justice has been served, we will be more than happy to sit down with Leon Margules and the staff at Warriors Boxing (Barthelemy’s promoter),” Spicer informs. “There is unfinished business between the two fighters; they both deserve the chance to settle the score. I know our guy (Mendez) wants the chance to redeem himself, and I’m sure Rances wants the opportunity to prove that he can win the world title within the rules of the sport.
“Whatever direction we take will be in the best interest of our fighter, and I’m sure Rances’ team will act in the same manner for their fighter. For now, we are grateful for the outcome reached by the Minnesota Office of Combative Sports, and for giving Argenis Mendez and our entire team peace of mind after such a trying ordeal.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox