As Ryad Merhy turned in a narcoleptic performance against Jared “Big Baby” Anderson on Saturday night, securing the No. 3 spot on the leaderboard of shame for fewest punches thrown in a 10-round fight during the CompuBox era, ESPN broadcaster Tim Bradley said he never wanted to see Merhy again.

I felt similarly. Merhy might be a perfectly nice guy, but it was past midnight on a Saturday and he was doing his best to lull me to sleep while I had agreed to cover his fight with Anderson for BoxingScene. The crowd booed, viewers at home threw their hands up in disgust, and even Anderson must have been unsatisfied at how little he was able to engage.

Since the fight, writers and fans have trashed Merhy. Dan Rafael of the Fight Freaks Unite Substack tweeted that his podcast recap was more entertaining than the fight itself. The comment section for my article on the fight is filled with comments like “WITHHOLD MERHY'S PAYCHECK NOW!!!!” and “The less said about Merhy, the better. Lame duck ass fighter.”

I can hear those same commenters loading up new obscenities for what I’m about to argue. While I would never dispute that the fight was boring, I think there is a limit to the criticism a fighter deserves for refusing to engage. 

Let’s take Merhy’s performance out of a boxing context for a moment. Because of his display, ticketholders probably felt a bit stiffed for their money (though they still got to watch several other fights on the card, including the exciting Efe Ajagba-Guido Vianello co-main) and those who watched the contest probably felt like they’d wasted their time. 

But you’d think everyone hating on Merhy had experienced the worst night of their lives from the way they were talking about his performance. This wasn’t a pay-per-view; the card was streaming on ESPN, a service that I imagine few people paid for just to watch Anderson-Merhy. We’ve all watched dud 1-0 baseball games that lasted three hours, but you don’t hear anyone saying they never want to watch the Nationals again. It’s the unique demand for all-action wars in boxing that has sparked the anger at Merhy’s performance.

I spoke to Thomas Gerbasi, fellow BoxingScene contributor, to get another perspective. Gerbasi fought in the New York Golden Gloves in 1997. He got knocked out, hard, in the first round and spent between 30 and 40 seconds unconscious afterwards, 

“Yeah, it’s scary!” Gerbasi told me. He knew that getting hit was an inevitability – the likes of Willie Pep and Pernell Whitaker took numerous hard shots – and was staring across the ring at a fighter who he said looked capable of running through a wall. 

“After I got knocked out, I was even more scared,” Gerbasi said. He did not feel pain when getting hit with punches – rather, a thudding impact he likens to getting hit in the head repeatedly with a basketball. But after getting knocked out in that fight, none of which he remembers, he intimately understands the dangers of boxing. 

“You will never see me taking shots at guys for putting on a boring performance,” Gerbasi affirmed. He listed a number of ways one can rationalize Merhy’s lack of output: maybe he knew Anderson’s lack of self-control outside the ring and hoped he’d crumble, maybe he wanted Anderson to tire himself out, or maybe he’d just heard everyone talking about the next big thing in the heavyweight division and decided he didn’t want to get hit with Anderson’s best punch. 

“Maybe he just needed the money. You don’t know,” said Gerbasi.

“I think you gotta give these men and women at least an iota of respect for getting in there – for your entertainment. Nobody should be fighting! This is not what we were meant for. But if you pass your medical tests, who am I to tell you not to?”

His take on the reception Merhy deserves for throwing so few punches? “You don’t like this guy’s performance? Don’t watch him.” Seems easy enough. Maybe showering a fighter in abuse for delivering 30 boring minutes of boxing isn’t so necessary after all.

On Saturday, Merhy got in the ring with a young monster in the heavyweight division and decided he’d rather stay out of harm’s way. Here’s a challenge: remove all the abnormally high expectations and customs of boxing. Then imagine looking Merhy in the eye and telling him that you would never have done what he did. 

Unless you’re a fighter yourself, I don’t think you can credibly do that. I know I couldn’t.

I also can’t imagine getting knocked out, taking a jab to the face, or even lightly bouncing a basketball off my head. What I can imagine doing is mailing it in at work for a night, because I’ve done that, and wanting to make some money without working my ass off, because I’ve wanted that. I don’t know the precise reason why Merhy fought in the way he did, but I can relate to whatever it is more than a boxer’s desire to have an action fight.

Boxing is complicated. Sometimes it’s called a sport, sometimes entertainment. Really, it’s fluid between those two states, and when we want boxing to be one, it’s usually the other. Errol Spence gets called a bum for losing his undefeated record to a generational talent one day and Shakur Stevenson gets dogpiled for fighting boring in a win against Edwin De Los Santos the next. 

What is the goal in boxing, then? Is it to entertain or win as much as possible or stay as safe as one can in this dangerous sport? I think any of those goals are valid. So while I’m disappointed in Merhy’s performance, I’m not going to pretend that I can’t possibly rationalize why he fought the way he did.

I’m not advocating for Merhy to get further opportunities at the expense of fighters who made more of an effort to win (read: all of them). Just for a little less venom at the fighters more susceptible to their fear receptors than Arturo Gatti. I’d venture to say that between the embarrassing loss, the thousands of fans booing him, and the difficulty he’ll have getting fights in the future, Merhy has been sufficiently punished for his safety-first approach. We do not need to withhold his purse on top of that. 

It’s fair for Tim Bradley to pile into Merhy on air. Bradley has given the majority of his life to this sport and fought the very best and most fearsome boxers of his generation – Manny Pacquiao (three times!), Juan Manuel Marquez, Ruslan Provodnikov – and showed astonishing bravery in those fights. For those of us who have never stepped in a ring, pointing out our boredom and frustration at Anderson-Merhy is perfectly reasonable. But to act like Merhy has committed some kind of a crime when all he did was try a little too hard not to get hit by a rising heavyweight’s sledgehammer punches? It’s time to get off our high horse. 

Owen Lewis co-founded the website and is the author of The Golden Rivalry, an online book about the Novak Djokovic-Rafael Nadal matchup. BoxingScene is the home of his first boxing bylines.