by David P. Greisman
Perhaps the most maddening thing about Rances Barthelemy’s late-hit knockout of Argenis Mendez isn’t what happened, or even how it happened, but rather that those in charge apparently need to be convinced that it happened in the first place.
There should be no doubt that Mendez and his promoter, Iron Mike Productions, will file the necessary protests and appeals with Minnesota’s athletic commission and with the International Boxing Federation, the sanctioning body whose belt was previously held by Mendez, a belt which belongs, for now, to Barthelemy.
The correct ruling should’ve been made in the arena. Minnesota doesn’t utilize instant replay. Officials shouldn’t have even needed it. Yet the major sports have found ways to use technology to review controversial calls. Boxing, as usual, tends to err on the side of error.
Nevertheless, there should be no doubt that the protest and appeal will lead to the knockout being overturned, ruled a no contest as a result of punches that rang Mendez’s bell — after the bell to end the round had already rung.
Mendez’s team and supporters might never agree with this, but this controversial conclusion to his 130-pound world title reign may end up being a blessing in disguise.
Mendez won the title nearly 10 months ago in a rematch with Juan Carlos Salgado, scoring a highlight-reel knockout with a single left hook in the fourth round of their bout. He defended the belt with a draw this past August against Arash Usmanee, a bout that headlined the season finale to ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights.”
Mendez returned to action, and to the network, on this year’s season premiere, facing his mandatory challenger, Barthelemy, who nearly a year to the day had taken a controversial decision over the aforementioned Usmanee, coincidentally on the first “Friday Night Fights” broadcast of 2013. Since then, Barthelemy had beaten a fighter named Fahsai Sakkreerin with a second-round body-shot knockout, a win that earned him this bout against Mendez.
Barthelemy-Sakkreerin had taken place in Minneapolis on a card featuring local middleweight Caleb Truax in the co-feature. This time, the fights were about a mile away, at the Target Center. Once again, Truax opened up the broadcast. And once again, Barthelemy left the ring after just two rounds.
The problem is that this conclusion came after that second round had already ended.
Barthelemy’s power and Mendez’s inability to take it were clear early, when Barthelemy landed a left hook to Mendez’s chin about 77 seconds into the opening round and Mendez’s legs splayed from beneath him.
Mendez made it through the round, which ended with referee Pete Podgorski standing several feet away as the bell rang.
No one gave any thought at that moment to where Podgorski was standing. He’d be in an even worse position just minutes later.
With about 18 seconds left in the second round, Barthelemy landed a left hook below the belt and followed up with a left hook/uppercut that hit Mendez’s chin and once again made Mendez’s legs betray him. Barthelemy followed up against his hurt opponent and put him on the canvas.
Mendez rose as the referee counted right. Six seconds remained in the round. Barthelemy came forward with a jab and a right hand upstairs, followed by a left hook that hit Mendez’s right glove.
The bell rang.
Barthelemy threw another left hook, again hitting Mendez’s glove, followed by a right hand that landed flush and a left hook that hit Mendez’s head clean and hard.
The bell rang again as Mendez crashed backward to the mat. Podgorski stepped to Barthelemy, who went to a neutral corner, where the fighter raised his gloves to the air. Podgorski then kneeled over Mendez, issuing a count. At six, Mendez turned over onto all fours. At seven, he rolled back onto one glove and fell to his rear end. He tried to get up again, once more putting himself on all fours before flopping back down. Podgorski soon waved the fight off, and Mendez continued his struggle to rise.
When the bell rang, and when the punches were still flying, Podgorski was a few feet behind Barthelemy.
Fighters are supposed to stop punching at the bell, but the heat of the moment is why we so often hear referees advising the boxers to listen for the bell, and why we so often see referees jumping in at the bell to prevent any further punching.
“It is good practice to take advantage of the 10-second announcement towards the end of the round by getting in good position so that you will be centered to the boxers at the actual end of the round,” advises the Association of Boxing Commissions in its rules and guidelines for referees. “Get in a centered position, call out ‘Time!’ and concurrently announce the end of the round with a hand signal.”
Podgorski is a 60-year-old referee based out of Chicago whose experience dates back to 1987, according to BoxRec.com. He has worked shows in the United States in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin, and he has also been called on internationally to be the referee at about 30 cards in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Mexico, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa and the United Kingdom. His highest-profile assignment of late was as the referee to the 2013 rematch between Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler. He’s also served as a ringside judge on occasion, though not often.
“Upon receiving confirmation last December of the officials who would be working Friday’s bout, Mendez’s handlers pleaded with 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,” reported BoxingScene’s Jake Donovan. “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 Dec. 18, denying their request for a Spanish speaking referee to work the contest.”
Podgorski’s lingual skills weren’t why Mendez-Barthelemy ended the way it did. Rather, his mistakes as a referee compounded the difficult situation that Mendez already was facing.
Barthelemy dominated in the first round, and CompuBox credited him with landing 20 of 57 punches, compared to just 3 of 22 for Mendez. In the category of power punches, Barthelemy was 15 of 29 in the opening round; Mendez went 0 for 9. The numbers were closer but still in Barthelemy’s favor in the second round. His advantage in power was clear, however. So, too, was the likelihood that the end would’ve been near.
We don’t always know how a fight will end. We’ve seen too many dramatic comebacks to be completely sure. Yet what those six minutes of action showed this past Friday was that Barthelemy was in control.
His late hits — unfettered thanks to Podgorski’s positioning — should end up taking away a win that likely would’ve been coming anyway.
The athletic commission and the IBF shouldn’t even need to wait for an appeal or protest. Their eyes and ears should’ve been enough to begin a review. And their eyes and ears should be enough once Mendez moves for them to look at the videotape.
“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,” read the ABC’s rules.
The final shots were clearly after the bell. Though there’s an argument for the foul to be ruled intentional — the bell had rung, after all — a review will probably find it safer to conclude that the foul was accidental.
Under ABC and IBF rules, that will make the fight a “no decision.”
If that’s not enough, there are precedents.
Among them: Mike Tyson knocked Orlin Norris down after the bell ending the first round of their 1999 fight. Referee Richard Steele took two points from Tyson. Norris remained in his corner at the beginning of the second and said his knee had been hurt during the knockdown. Nevada officials ruled the foul accidental and called the bout a no contest.
That was the right call. The wrong call is what happened in the 1999 fight between David Tua and Hasim Rahman, when Tua landed a big left hook after the bell sounded to end the ninth round. Rahman was visibly hurt but came back out for the 10th, when Tua closed the show. Perhaps Rahman would’ve been better served by playing up the damage from the illegal blow…
There was no “playing up” done by Mendez. He went down hard from a knockout blow after the bell, and that means he suffers less damage to his reputation than there would’ve been had he lost legally. He could end up getting a rematch with Barthelemy, though he would need to approach the sequel with a new strategy. Or he could decide to move to lightweight, concluding that it wasn’t just Barthelemy’s power that hurt him, but also the process of draining his lanky frame down below 130 pounds.
It’s a shame when a fight is decided by a referee’s actions. Howard John Foster’s premature stoppage of Carl Froch vs. George Groves last year not only robbed Groves of a chance to come back, but also took away the possibility that Froch would have soon won anyway, and without controversy.
Mendez-Barthelemy is similar, though decided due to a referee’s inaction.
Barthelemy shouldn’t have thrown the punches. Yet as with James Kirkland’s final blows landed on Glen Tapia last month while referee Steve Smoger moved in too late, these were punches that never should’ve had the opportunity to land.
The 10 Count
1. In case you missed any of BoxingScene’s year-end awards, here’s the stellar coverage from Jake Donovan and Cliff Rold:
Round of the Year: https://www.boxingscene.com/high-drama-finish-boxingscene-round-year--73242
Knockout of the Year: https://www.boxingscene.com/one-shot-title-bscenes-knockout-year--73276
Fighter of the Year: https://www.boxingscene.com/superman-soars-boxingscenes-2013-fighter-year--73323
Network of the Year: https://www.boxingscene.com/boxingscene-awards-2013-network-year--73137
Fight of the Year: https://www.boxingscene.com/boxingscenecoms-2013-fight-year--73268
Robbery of the Year: https://www.boxingscene.com/vera-beltran-screwed-win-here-robbery-year--73084
Upset of the Year: https://www.boxingscene.com/boxingscenecoms-2013-upset-year--73347
Prospect of the Year: https://www.boxingscene.com/bscene-awards-2013-prospect-year-felix-verdejo--73197
Event of the Year: https://www.boxingscene.com/boxingscene-awards-2013-event-year-one--73117
Comeback of the Year: https://www.boxingscene.com/segura-heavy-handed-return-comeback-year--73168
2. What a weird week involving Mike Tyson as the promoter in roles so antithetical to what he was like as a boxer.
First, Tyson stepped between a pair of undercard fighters as they jawed and nearly skirmished with each other at the weigh-in.
Then my colleague Keith Idec had this astute observation following Rances Barthelemy’s controversial win over Argenis Mendez: “Mike Tyson was standing in the ring tonight, complaining about a fighter fouling. Yes, that happened.”
3. What an inopportune performance for middleweight Caleb Truax on the “Friday Night Fights” undercard. He underwhelmed against late replacement Ossie Duran; all three judges scored the bout a draw. Those boxing fans and observers tweeting their scores saw both men winning.
“Should have won 6-4. No argument though because I fought like crap,” Truax tweeted on Sunday.
“Disappointed in my performance, but I’ll learn and improve,” he tweeted on Saturday. “No room for off nights in boxing.”
He’s right, given that he’s vying for a shot against the top middleweights. This wasn’t the kind of performance that’ll help him make a case.
It’s the guys who are already on HBO and Showtime — or who are already signed with a powerful promoter or manager — that can afford an off night.
Truax is fortunate that he sells tickets in Minnesota; that could help bring ESPN2 back for another “Friday Night Fights” card, which will give him another chance to put himself back on his desired path.
4. I was disappointed to read, via the Twitter account of InterBox executive Ian Edery, that Jean Pascal and Lucian Bute are only subject to testing for performance enhancing drugs about once per month.
Pascal and Bute are scheduled to face each other in less than two weeks.
It’s easy to conclude that doing something is better than doing nothing, particularly given fact that commissions don’t do anywhere near stringent-enough testing, and given the number of fighters who don’t agree to any random testing whatsoever.
That’s the wrong conclusion.
In this era of smart doping, such sporadic testing only gives the illusion of regulation. It reminds me of when baseball was only testing players twice a year, essentially making it an IQ test.
We don’t know if Pascal and Bute, or most other fighters, are doping. And we won’t have more of a chance of knowing until the testing is done by more fighters and done more often by testers.
5. The Jan. 18 broadcast featuring Pascal-Bute is just one of two nights in the first two months of 2014 that big-time boxing will be aired in the United States. The other night is Jan. 25, when HBO puts on Mikey Garcia vs. Juan Carlos Burgos and Showtime airs Lamont Peterson vs. Dierry Jean.
A rematch between Jhonny Gonzalez and Abner Mares, originally scheduled for Feb. 15, has been postponed due to Mares suffering an injury in training camp.
HBO2 will have a Zou Shiming-headlined card from Macau on Feb. 22. Beyond that, there are overseas cards (including Gennady Golovkin against Osumanu Adama on Feb. 1), smaller shows on Fox Sports 1, NBC Sports Net and “ShoBox,” and also the return of ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” — which thankfully gave this scribe something notable to write about this week.
This sparse boxing schedule to start off 2014 is quite the contrast from the packed weeks that ended 2013.
6. If only the Winter Olympics had boxing. Alas, fighting is frowned upon in Olympic hockey…
7. Not that much of the rest of the first half of 2014 has been fleshed out either. We know that March 1 will be busy, with a rematch between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Bryan Vera on HBO, supported by featherweights Orlando Salido vs. Vasyl Lomachenko on the undercard. In the U.K. that day is a lightweight title bout between Ricky Burns and Terence Crawford. And Germany will play host to the third fight between 168-pound titleholder Robert Stieglitz and Arthur Abraham.
Canelo Alvarez is supposed to fight on a March 8 pay-per-view against an opponent yet to be announced. (It will likely be either Alfredo Angulo or Carlos Molina.)
Ditto for Manny Pacquiao on April 12. (The leading candidates are apparently Timothy Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov.)
And the same can be said for Floyd Mayweather on May 3. (It’s believed that he could end up facing Amir Khan, but nothing’s official until it’s official.)
8. This boxing schedule’s so bad that I just might force myself to watch Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone in “Grudge Match.”
9. Evander Holyfield’s stint on the latest season of the United Kingdom’s “Celebrity Big Brother” reality series might end up being even shorter than his brief run on “Dancing with the Stars.”
Holyfield was eliminated from “Dancing” in just the third week of the competition. As for “Big Brother,” he was one of a group of people put up for “eviction” after the opening episodes.
His fate will be decided this Wednesday (Jan. 8).
10. Stuck with a bunch of brats and in danger of being evicted from a mansion?
This truly is “reality” TV for Holyfield, isn’t it?
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]