By John Hargate
“It’s a f**king disgrace,” spat Tommy ‘The Tiger’ Tolan as he stormed past me on the way to his dressing room at the York Hall on Wednesday night, steaming with fury. Moments earlier referee Jeff Hinds had stopped Tolan at 1.07 of the first after he’d been caught and rocked by 2008 Beijing Olympian Billy Joe Saunders, who moved to 12-0 (8) on the BoxNation televised bill.
The crowd sat in stunned silence at the York Hall. In the press row, journalists exchanged looks as if to say “What was that all about?”. Others simply sat there shaking their heads, bewildered.
2011 has been a particularly bad year for premature stoppages in British rings. Everyone who loves boxing and has anything to do with the sport understands that a fighter’s safety and health is the number one priority. That said, too many fighters are being stopped at the first sign of trouble. A dip in the knees is often enough to inspire some British refs to jump in, arms waving.
Being a referee is a hard job and one that carries a tremendous weight of responsibility. All referees deserve our admiration and respect and are only human after all. Jeff Hinds is usually competent and does his job well. He made a mistake - we all do at times - but the British Boxing Board of Control must now sit down over the Christmas period and decide whether or not these early stoppages are acceptable and if not, take action.
Tolan, 38, looked distraught as he sat steaming with anger in his dressing room after the fight. Some fighters always complain about being stopped no matter what but it was clear to see that Tommy, who drops to 4-8 (3) with the defeat, was genuinely upset and felt he’d been wronged.
“It’s a f**king disgrace. It’s an absolute disgrace. Listen, we’re boxing, we’re not playing tiddlywinks.” Tolan clenched his jaw, looked down at his fists and clenched those too.
His trainer Gerard McCafferty cut in. “If a boxer gets hurt, you stop the fight and give him a count. You don’t just jump in and f**king end the fight. [Tolan] has just been out there doing six rounds with Rocky Fielding – a super-middleweight Prizefighter champion. Six hard rounds. He showed what he can do. It says to me ‘boxing stinks.’
“This is his [Saunders] first serious opponent. Tommy comes alive the more the fight goes on and he missed the guy with a great left hook there and I think maybe they’re a bit worried or something.” McCafferty was every bit as angry as Tolan. The dressing room bristled with Irish indignation.
“I can’t understand why the referee jumps in and stops the fight,” McCafferty raged. “There are people sitting in their house, paying £10 to watch BoxNation to see a fight. We come to fight. Ready to fight for eight rounds. And we didn’t get a chance. They didn’t let us.”
Saunders had jumped on Tolan from the opening bell and landed a succession of accurate jabs and back hand hooks from his southpaw stance, some of which landed clean and seemed to trouble Tolan. At the time of the stoppage Tolan was upright, back against the corner and appeared to be in no serious trouble. Ten seconds more, a couple of clean, hard, unanswered punches and it might have been a different story. If Hinds had felt the ropes were stopping Tolan from going down then it would have been within his rights to give Tolan a count. He should have done either than or have given him more time to try and survive.
McCafferty continued to rant as Tolan sat in stunned silence, shaking his shaven head slowly, fury burning in his eyes. “As I was saying to you before, people are paying money to watch fights. And that’s why people are turning their backs on boxing. Now I’m all for the safety of a boxer but that there was a joke.
“You look at sports like M M A and stuff. That’s why people are wanting to watch them. They’re exciting and there are two gladiators in there fighting. Tommy’s a gladiator, he gets in to fight. For some reason, the referee there, I don’t know what planet he’s on.”
McCafferty looked me square in the eyes. “Billy Joe knows himself,” he said quietly, seething. “Jimmy Tibbs, his trainer, even said “What the f**k was that about?” He repeats it again. I shrug and tell him I thought it was premature.
The Irishman turned his back and muttered a few words. “It’s a disgrace,” he growled, starting to walk away. “No wonder boxing gets a bad name.”