Veteran referee Tony Weeks has finally spoken up.
In an interview conducted with Michael Woods of NY Fights, Weeks was asked to respond to widespread condemnation for the way he presided over the junior welterweight title bout between Rolando Romero and Ismael Barroso last month. Weeks infamously stopped the bout during the ninth round because he believed the 40-year-old Barroso was taking unnecessary punishment from Romero, who is 28 and is now the WBA 140-pound titlist.
One problem: replays showed that Romero’s combinations did not connect on Barroso. Adding to the public rancor was the fact that Barroso, who was the overwhelming underdog, was ahead on the scorecards of judges Tim Cheatham (76-75), David Sutherland (77-74) and Steve Weisfeld (78-73).
Many prominent people in the boxing world were swift to castigate Weeks’ decision, calling it one of the worst blunders by a referee in recent memory.
A month later, Weeks, who refrained from speaking to the media at the onset of the controversy, owned up to the faulty stoppage, saying that referees are not infallible and that he believed, at least from his angle, that Romero’s punches had landed on Barroso. Weeks also crucially noted that he was especially sensitive to the fact of Barroso’s relatively old age and that that knowledge contributed to him stopping the fight so swiftly.
“What was in my mind was, a 40 year old fighter, in a young man's game,” Tony Weeks told NY Fights. “Any official will tell you, you get a fight, and a fighter is at an advanced age, you're going to look at him a little harder than the other fighter…When I look at a fighter who's up there in age, there's two things I look at: his reaction when he takes his first hit, and his stamina in the later rounds.
“Up until the stoppage, Romero didn't really land flush, he landed flush in that last round. When he landed flush, Barroso went down. It told me right then and there, I don't know if he can take it.”
“Now, looking at it on the replay, of course I don't have at the time the advantage of slow motion replay, five different angles,” Weeks continued. “If I had been in that position I wouldn't have stopped the fight. Point blank I wouldn't have stopped the fight. Barroso was definitely on a short leash, Romero landed, it prompted me to stop the fight. In boxing, all it takes is one punch.”
Weeks reiterated that Barroso’s old age meant that he had to keep the Venezuelan on a tighter leash than Romero.
“But he was hurt, definitely hurt, then I stopped it, there was no resistance to that,” Weeks said. “But again, if I was in a different position, to see punches didn't land, I wouldn't have stopped it at that time. However, a 40 year old man can't take a punch like a 20 year old. That's always going to be at the forefront of a referee's mind.”
Perhaps factoring into Weeks’ hasty decision was the death of Leavander Johnson. The lightweight boxer passed away after sustaining injuries during his fight with Jesus Chavez in September of 2005, a bout that Weeks had refereed.
“It's easy for someone on the outside (to speak on the decision), but they don't have the responsibility of what happens to that fighter,” Weeks said. “All the responsibility is on the referee. When you have that responsibility, you have a different mentality. And if there has been a fight that affected you (via a tragedy in the ring), that informs you (actions as a referee). I was devastated (from Leavander’s death). I actually wanted to quit. It took me a while, it took a minute.”
Earlier this week, the WBA ordered Romero to defend his title against England’s Ohara Davies, which likely means an immediate rematch with Barroso is now out of the question.
Sean Nam is the author of Murder on Federal Street: Tyrone Everett, the Black Mafia, and the Last Golden Age of Philadelphia Boxing.