By Thomas Gerbasi
As soon as the final bell rang on January 19th, Juan Carlos Burgos knew the score. In his second attempt at a world title, he had done his job and beat Rocky Martinez. He was the WBO super featherweight champion of the world. All he needed to do was hear Michael Buffer read the judges’ scores and have the belt handed to him.
“When the final bell went off, I knew I had won the fight,” said Burgos through translator Alex Camponovo. “I had a good feeling about what I had done in the fight, and when they announced the first judge’s card and there was a wide margin of points on my side, I felt pretty comfortable.”
That first score, a 117-111 tally for Burgos handed in by Waleska Roldan, was pretty much in line with what most observers thought was fair. Some thought 116-112 Burgos, maybe even 115-113 for the Tijuana native if they were being generous to Puerto Rico’s Martinez.
Then came in the next score: 116-112 from Tony Paolillo for Martinez. As the groans among the hardcore fans began, some still held out hope in those moments between the reading of the second and third scores that sanity would prevail.
Score three: 114-114.
“When they announced the other two, it was pretty devastating,” recalled Burgos. “I felt like a bunch of bricks were on my back. It was just a heavy, heavy thing to go through and it didn’t feel right. I knew I had done enough to win the fight.”
Burgos pauses briefly, something that even a language barrier can’t hide. Not even two weeks removed from what should have been the biggest and happiest night of his boxing career, the wounds are still raw, but he’s trying not to let them show.
“I’m a man of faith, I always believe there’s always a reason for something, and I’m young,” he continues. “I’m only 25 years old, I have a lot to learn, and I’ve dedicated my whole life to boxing. I know there are good things ahead of me.”
During the week after his loss, boxing fans raged, the media pounced, and his co-promoters – Thompson Boxing and Banner Promotions – called for a rematch and issued press releases expressing their outrage. It’s usually like this after a controversial decision, but as soon as the second or third week after the fight, outrage turns to either apathy or acceptance.
“That’s boxing,” you’ll hear plenty of times during that period. After that, a bad decision is usually forgotten.
It’s not forgotten by the fighter on the wrong end of the verdict though. Martinez gets to keep his belt and move on. Burgos? He’s in limbo at the moment, his immediate future in the hands of the WBO after his promoters protested the decision in the hopes of getting a sanctioning body mandated rematch.
“Everything was filed with the committees that the WBO has, we spoke to the president (Paco Valcarcel), so we’re just waiting and hoping there will be some answer from that side sometime this week,” said Camponovo, the General Manager of Thompson Boxing.
If Burgos gets his rematch, then there will be a measure of justice, at least in terms of righting a wrong. It doesn’t get him a deserved win though, and it doesn’t guarantee that his second fight with Martinez will go any better or more importantly, be judged any better.
And the judging should be the real issue here. First, why the wide disparity among the judges, where Roldan saw Burgos winning by a wide margin, Paolillo judging Martinez a big winner, and Signorile calling it even? Second, why were three relatively inexperienced judges given a world title fight at the same time? According to Camponovo, there was a more experienced judge originally assigned to the fight, but he was removed on the Thursday before the Saturday bout, something that came as a last minute surprise to the promoters.
“There was one judge that we were very comfortable with because of his experience,” said Camponovo. “But unbeknownst to any of us on the promoter’s side, they never told us that there was a switch. When I questioned Paco about it after the fight, he told me that he was notified on Thursday that the New York Commission had made the switch. But no one from the commission side or from the organizational side told us that there was a change, which was very unfortunate. So I raised that question to the WBO and also to the commission.”
And what Burgos and Martinez were left with were three judges who, according to the HBO broadcast, had a combined nine title fights worth of experience (Paolillo 7, Roldan 2, Signorile 0). HBO’s unofficial ringside judge, Harold Lederman called Roldan an “outstanding young judge” before the verdicts were rendered, and despite her inexperience, she is noted as being the one judge who got it right on fight night.
As for Paolillo and Signorile, the idea of Martinez winning or earning a draw seems far-fetched at best, even after watching the fight more than once and being as generous as possible in scoring for Martinez. One person you don’t have to convince when it comes to the outcome is Burgos.
“I watched the fight three or four times,” he said. “I watched it when I was all relaxed. I tried to get stuff out of my head and just watch it with a clear mind. And every time I’ve seen it I’ve seen the same result. It’s very clear in my mind that I won eight or nine rounds of the 12. The only ones that saw the fight some other way were the ones that gave me the draw and gave it to Martinez.”
So what could Paolillo and Signorile have been watching? Perhaps Burgos didn’t get credit for his savage and consistent body attack, a frequent criticism of judges who don’t score what has become a lost art in the sport today. Or maybe the fact that Martinez moved forward and stalked Burgos all night gave the impression that his aggression was effective, when it often wasn’t. Burgos, in breaking down his performance, is critical of his game plan at times, but not to the point where it was enough for Martinez to steal the required rounds to win or get a draw.
“I think what was detrimental to the fight for me was all those rounds in which I slowed down my output rhythm. It was the fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds, where I let him push me against the ropes. I think that was the biggest mistake that I had in the fight, and I think the judges started seeing a different fight at that point. The problem is, he wasn’t effective. He was throwing flurries of three, four punches, but none of them were really landing flush on me. But sometimes the judges will get impressed by a guy pushing forward, and if I’m at fault for something during the fight, it’s the fact that I slowed down my rhythm during those rounds. In a rematch what I would do is basically the same thing that I did early on, and maintain my rhythm throughout 12 rounds, and show the same boxing ability that I had originally, and try to impress the judges a little bit more. But I think the judges were impressed by the way he was pushing more than actually fighting. I was more accurate, I was able to land more shots, a lot of power shots and body blows. I probably lost a couple of rounds during the fight due to him pushing me back against the ropes.”
So what happens next for Burgos should he not get his immediate rematch? That’s where the waters get murky. An obviously talented young fighter who came up in an ideal fashion in terms of staying busy against a wide array of styles, Burgos won his share of regional titles before getting a fight with Hozumi Hasegawa in November of 2010 for the vacant WBC featherweight title. Burgos would lose the bout in Japan, but it was an exciting and competitive 12 rounder that let the fans know that he would be back sooner rather than later.
“It was a very close fight, it was a great fight, he was much younger than what he was a when he fought Martinez, and it was a great opportunity for him and he learned a lot from it,” said Camponovo. “At no moment whatsoever did we say that he won that fight. It was a close decision, he lost it, but he battled it out and he went all the way to Japan and put on a great performance.”
Options for Burgos at 126 pounds weren’t too plentiful though, so he moved up to 130 pounds, where he won five straight, including wins over unbeatens Luis Cruz and Cesar Vazquez and veteran Cristobal Cruz, to earn a mandatory shot at the WBO belt. Sounds easier than it was in reality.
“A guy like Juan Carlos is not known in the American market, and he’s not very well-known in the Mexican market because he’s fought 90 percent of his fights in the United States, so we have to really see what his place in the sport is,” said Camponovo. “And for us to open the door, we sometimes have to push it in or go through the window. And these opportunities, like a world title fight, don’t come around that often. He fought his way all the way to being a mandatory challenger, fought guys like Cruz on a card that everybody thought he was gonna be just an opponent, and then we had to get him on television again and expose him a little bit more to the American market and make sure the guys from HBO were aware of him. Then we had to take a backseat and wait for (Miguel) Beltran to fight Martinez for the vacant title, and all that. So it takes time and takes its toll.”
But when you get there and your guy performs, you hope – at the very least – that the winner of the fight wins the fight. That didn’t happen. And in a sport where it’s expected that the four fists in the ring decide the outcome of a bout, now Burgos and his team must play a waiting game and hope that in the second verdict surrounding this fight – one involving boardrooms, sanctioning body execs, and videotape, but no fists - the right call will be made.
“If the WBO doesn’t make the right decision here, then we have to again re-tool his career,” said Camponovo, the frustration evident in his voice. “It’s pretty devastating for a fighter that works so hard, for the people that work for him to get him the right opportunities, and to get to that place and they get – I’m not gonna say cheated, but very close to that. There’s an ineptitude factor here, there’s a bureaucracy in this whole system, and it makes fighters, the promoters, the managers and the fans victims. I know there are people that think that Martinez won, and I know that Martinez probably thinks that he won, but I would say that over 80 percent of the people think that Burgos won that fight, and I’m one of them. I didn’t think that he won every single round. He probably lost three, four rounds of the fight. But there’s no chance that he lost that fight at all. It wasn’t even a draw.
“It’s a complicated thing to go back, figure out what to do, and see what we’re gonna do,” he continues. “Are we gonna bring him back on an ESPN card? Is he gonna be satisfied with that type of fight? He has to go back and do everything from scratch just to get another opportunity. It’s tough. It’s not a regular job where you get a paycheck every other week or every Friday. It’s a different game here, and based on what the WBO is gonna say, then we’re gonna have to figure out what we’re gonna do next, and it’s not an easy solution to any of the possibilities that we might have out there.”
As for Burgos, he’ll play the waiting game as well until he gets the chance to put the gloves on and try again. He hopes it will be against Martinez with that WBO title on the line, and as far as he’s concerned, if it does happen, he will be the one defending his title – at least in his mind.
“It affected me quite a bit that night and it was pretty harsh to swallow what I thought was a for sure victory for me,” said Burgos of January 19th. “It obviously changed my plans to do a lot of different things, but in my mind, I think that I’m a world champion already. In the eyes of a lot of people, including myself, I was the champion. Two people didn’t see the fight that way, but that’s not gonna change anything. I’m a mature person and I’m fortunate enough to have a strong family that supports me and that is always with me. I was pretty sad that night, but they picked me up and told me that I had all their support. So we’ll make different plans to move on and figure out what happens next. But I just want to make sure that I get my rematch and show those two judges that they were wrong and show the whole world that I can be a world champion.
“I’m getting over this, and it’s not the end of the world,” he continues. “There are worse things that can happen to me.”
In other words, “that’s boxing.” The question is, when is that going to stop being the excuse that washes away the sins of this sport?