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Monday, May 30, 2011

When to Stop the Fight?

Within the past year, referees controversially allowed three different fights, in which Jewish boxers participated, to proceed. Last June, a torn ACL and a white towel weren't enough to persuade Arthur Mercante Jr. to stop the contest between Yuri Foreman and Miguel Cotto. A few months later, Erkki Meronen signaled Alexander Frenkel to continue his pummeling of a half-conscious Enzo Maccarinelli. And this past February, Gilbert Richardson failed to stop the fight between Christina Ruiz and Emily Klinefelter, resulting in a burst blood vessel in Klinefelter's brain.

It is easy to second guess boxing referees who have to make split second decisions during the heat of battle. It is a difficult job and referees can be forgiven for missing certain calls. But a referee cannot miss when it comes to a fighter's safety. Above all else, that is the referee's primary responsibility.

On June 5, Foreman defended his WBA junior middleweight belt against Miguel Cotto in Yankee Stadium. The bout was competitive until Foreman tore his ACL 45 seconds into the 7th round as he bounced around the ring. As Foreman continued to fight, hobbled, he fell again with 1:38 left in the round. HBO commentator Jim Lampley exclaimed, "He's done! There's no way he can continue in the fight at this point." Mercante disagreed.

In the heat of the moment, perhaps it was natural to get caught up in the drama. The severity of Foreman's injury wasn't known until after the bout. But, a minute and 45 seconds into the 8th round, Foreman's then-cornerman Joe Grier threw in the towel knowing the injury had compromised his man. Mercante refused to accept Grier's suggestion to halt the fight and it continued until Foreman was put down by a body shot in the 9th.

Dr. Margaret Goodman believes the fight should have been stopped much earlier. In an article published on The Ring's site, Goodman writes, "Can a boxer compete with one hand? Yes, if he can mount an offense and/or move away from punches. A one-legged fighter is a disaster waiting to happen, a sitting duck, especially against a puncher like Cotto."

On why he continued to fight, Foreman told Tim Keown of ESPN The Magazine, "It was the fight of a lifetime... When you're on the biggest stage, you keep going until you can't go anymore. It's the referee's job to draw the line."

And that is precisely the point. The fighter has been conditioned to keep fighting. Someone else must step in and stop it. When Alexander Frenkel landed a gruesomely perfect left hook on the chin of Enzo Maccarinelli in the 7th round of their bout last September 18, Maccarinelli's head bounced around as he fell to the canvas. His noggin finally rested on the bottom rope.

Maccarinelli instinctively staggered to his feet. But it was clear that he was unable to protect himself. The referee, Erkki Meronen, had a split second to decide whether to stop the fight or to allow the European champion, Maccarinelli, to attempt to keep his title. He allowed the two combatants to continue. A quick one-two combination put down the woozy Maccarinelli. The fight was then stopped and Maccarinelli was administered oxygen.

Foreman and Maccarinelli were thankfully able to recover in the short term, and their careers will continue, but Emily Klinefelter wasn't as lucky. After her bout with Christina Ruiz on February 5, Klinefelter wound up in the hospital with a burst blood vessel in her brain. She had been knocked down repeatedly, but kept managing to return to her feet. Ruiz's manager, Emilio Ledezma, later said, "The girl was taking a beating. The ref should’ve stopped the fight [earlier]." Of Klinefelter, Ruiz noted, "Her eyes were kind of rolling back, and I thought they were going to stop the fight, but they didn’t."

After the final knockdown, in the 3rd round, Klinefelter was laid out, unresponsive. The fight finally stopped when referee Gilbert Richardson counted to ten. It's easy to criticize Richardson for failing to stop the bout earlier knowing Klinefelter's eventual fate. But Klinefelter, a decorated amateur and undefeated professional fighting in her hometown, kept rising to her feet. And her corner didn't intervene, either. Yet, one wonders if there is any justification for Richardson to count all the way to ten before calling off the contest.

Of course, the failure of officials to stop fights earlier is not limited to bouts that involve Jewish fighters. Instead, that three such bouts have taken place within this rather small sample size is an indication of a problem. There is little more exciting in boxing than watching a fallen fighter get back up and triumph. But this excitement cannot happen at the expense of the health of the boxer. This is a problem that is not unique to any single commission or country. It is pervasive. And it must be rectified. When in doubt, referees must be taught to stop the fight. A controversial early stoppage is always better than a controversial late one.


  1. The only one of the three fights I saw was Foreman-Cotto-and I give Mercante the benefit of the doubt;obviously unlike his performance against Wolak,Foreman was competitive againt Cotto and without going through the misery of watching it again,I don't remember Foreman getting his head smashed in.I go out of my way to avoid women's boxing,but I'd guess what happened started to happen way before the fight,which I think had a lot to do with Griffith-Paret III,in which Paret became live television's first boxing fatality-and referee
    and ex-highly regarded boxer Ruby Goldstein was
    criticized for not stopping the fight,while former middleweight champ Gene Fullmer who gave
    Paret a beating in their fight four month's earlier thought he was largely responsible for it.

  2. Whoops..I should be kayoed for forgetting yesterday's 73rd anniversary of Barney Ross's last stand against Henry Armstrong(Armstrong's
    next title fight against Lou Ambers for the lightweight title would be the toughest of the three title fights he'd win to technically be the first fighter to hold three titles at the same time-and lends some credibility to the argument that Barney was past his best stuff for the fight.Ross gave up one of his titles a short time before he won the welterweight title from Jimmy McClarnin)..Also,a classic movie about Barney Ross-absolutely,nobody has a more classic story-is long overdue;Ross went 2-0 on lawsuits on "movie" attempts on his life.John Garfield punked out because of Barney's drug addiction after Guadalcanal and instead,the fictionalized movie 'Body and Soul' was made.Barney also won on 'Monkey On My Back' which is still the worst movie ever made and which was marketted with posters of him portrayed by Cameron Mitchell with a needle in his arm.