By Jake Donovan
The collective fates of Rances Barthelemy and Argenis Mendez, as it pertains to their title fight earlier this month, are now solely in the hands of the Minnesota Combative Sports Commission (MCSC). All parties were afforded an opportunity to have their say, with the appeal now in the hands of the commission’s executive director, Matt Schowalter.
Mendez’ team filed an appeal on January 9 seeking a reversal of the official outcome from his bout with Barthelemy on January 4 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Barthelemy was in control for the duration of the brief affair—which served as the main event for the 2014 season premiere of ESPN2 Friday Night Fights—but final combination came after the bell had sounded to end the second round of their scheduled 12-round 130 lb. title fight.
The punches after the bell put Mendez down for the second time on the night, having been dropped earlier in the round. Referee Pete Podgorski was out of position to properly break the fighters at the bell, nor were his actions in line with an official aware of the surroundings and circumstances. Rather than rule the instance an accidental foul and grant Mendez up to five minutes to recover (in addition to the one-minute rest period in between rounds), the referee ruled the fight a technical knockout.
For the moment, Barthelemy serves as the newly crowned 130 lb. titlist. However, with appeals filed to both the Minnesota commission and the International Boxing Federation (IBF), there remains a possibility the Cuban is forced to give back the belt and return to his previous role as mandatory challenger.
All parties had until Monday, January 13 to offer comment to the MCSC Executive Director, who will review the matter exclusively before reaching a verdict. Leon Margules, who promotes Barthelemy and served as co-promoter for the event, took note of such opportunity in his own interview with ESPN.com.
“[T]he referee is the sole arbiter of the fight. There's no question that Rances was on his way to the knockout victory, and anyone who watched the fight knows that,” Margules told ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael. “He was hurt badly even before the knockout.
“Everything has to be evaluated. There is a reason the referee is a sole arbiter of the fight and he made a decision. Do I think he did a good job? I think that he maybe he saved the kid (Mendez) from further punishment. He called the knockout a legal blow. To take my fighter's title away from him that he earned in the ring is wrong.”
Margules’ comments echoed a similar—albeit unpopular—take offered by ESPN2 Friday Night Fights color commentator Teddy Atlas. The former trainer has repeatedly insisted that the outcome should remain pat, that Mendez was on his way out and to strip Barthelemy of the title would be an injustice.
However, there is a sidebar: Atlas has well-documented history with Mike Tyson, Mendez’ promoter as of last summer. The two had a dramatic falling out while together under the wing of the late Cus D’Amato in the 1980’s. As the story has been told, Tyson–in his mid teens at the time—made a pass at Atlas’ 11-year old niece and also verbally threatened to rape her. Atlas responded by putting a gun to Tyson’s head and demanding the fighter stay away from his family or else suffer tragic consequences.
Some 30 years later, the two were reunited on-air last August, when Tyson approached Atlas to apologize prior to the start of the 2013 Friday Night Fights season finale. At the time, Atlas claimed to have accepted the apology, but circumstances have since changed as he still harbors enough resentment to fail to properly separate his own agenda from his role as a noted analyst and a voice in the sport.
That said, it’s understood (even if not agreeable) why Atlas would continue to take a blind eye to the insistence that a foul took place in the ring and, therefore, warrants further review.
As far as Margules agreeing with such a take… well, Mendez’ team can understand that as well.
“Leon is simply taking a position in support of his fighters and their desired result, whether right or wrong,” believes Garry Jonas, CEO of Iron Mike Productions. “If he were Mendez’ promoter he would definitely not be taking that position. Somebody who has been in boxing as long as Leon knows better, that there is no way that dominating the first two rounds of a fight assures the outcome.
“We’ve all seen too many fights where the momentum has changed, along with the fact that one punch can alter a fight. A champion deserves the opportunity to change the momentum and get back in the fight. Many champions of the past have done so, far too often to even count.”
Mendez was attempting the second defense of the 130 lb. title he won in a 4th round knockout of Juan Carlos Salgado in their rematch last March. His lone defense was a disputed 12-round draw with Arash Usmanee last August, in a bout most believed should have gone in favor of the Dominican ring veteran and with room to spare.
Barthelemy’s introduction to the title stage came with his own fight with Usmanee, wrapped in similar controversy. The unbeaten Cuban scored an unpopular decision win in last year’s Friday Night Fights season opener to move within one fight of a mandatory title shot. His follow-up effort was far more convincing, scoring an emphatic 2nd round knockout of Fahsai Sakkreerin last June to earn his shot at Mendez.
To his credit, Barthelemy was well prepared for his first title fight. There was nary a moment when the 27-year old was off his game, looking supremely confident while Mendez struggled to get untracked.
This much was not lost on Mendez’ team, least of all the most famous face in the building that evening.
“Barthelemy was clearly ahead in the fight against Mendez. However, in the art of professional boxing we have rules and regulations that must be followed,” notes Tyson, who was also the first person interviewed in-ring after the fight, at which point he immediately informed of the intention to appeal. “If not, boxing will continue to have the black eye it has been receiving over the last decade and it will continue to allow other fighting entities like the MMA to take precedent over boxing, the fighting sport that reigned supreme for over 200 years.
“My job as promoter is not to allow boxing to fall into the doldrums of the fighting world and to look out for the best interest of my fighters. As of now, all my congratulations and best wishes to Rances Barthelemy for a terrific performance prior to the end of the fight.”
Iron Mike Productions COO Azim Spicer was equally impressed with the challenger’s performance, noting “the fact that Rances hit him well after the bell is simply an unfortunate incident for him as he was looking very good up to that point. But it doesn't change the rules of the game, and that delivering a knockout punch clearly after the bell doesn't count.
“The bottom line is that had he not thrown those punches especially the last one there would have been a round three and anything could have happened from that point on. That's what makes boxing the great sport that it is, two rounds doesn't make a fight.”
The Executive Director’s exclusive review is the first of a potential three-step process, with the director’s final decision to come no later than 10 days after the appeal is received. In this case, it would put the deadline at January 19, which is a Sunday. With the following day being a national holiday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), it’s entirely possible the final decision doesn’t come until next Tuesday.
If the director cannot find grounds to overturn the verdict, it will then be submitted to the commission as a whole. Should the appeal remains unresolved at that point, Mendez’ team will have the chance to plead their case via a full hearing.
Regardless of the final outcome of the appeal, redemption will ultimately be sought by Mendez.
“I've spoken with Mendez; he is more upset with his two round performance than with the late punches that were thrown and he wants to redeem himself,” Spicer insists. “Mendez and Iron Mike Productions wouldn't have it any other way other than to have a rematch.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox