IBHOF inductee Graham Houston looks at disqualification calls by referees in light of recent events where boxers have bent the official rules with roughhouse tactics.

Three fights in the past month got me thinking about the matter of disqualifications. 

It’s not often a boxer gets disqualified these days. Even a quite flagrant breach of the rules isn’t always accompanied by the deduction of a point. 

Last weekend in Texas, lightweight banger Rolando Romero fouled Anthony Yigit twice in the same round. He threw Yigit to the canvas, and later in the round he hit the Swedish southpaw with a right hand as referee Rafael Ramos was breaking the fighters from a clinch. Ramos told the judges to take a point from Romero for hitting on the break.

A week earlier in London we saw unbeaten super-featherweight Archie Sharp body slam his Mexican opponent Diego Andrade to the canvas. Referee Howard Foster gave Sharp a stern caution but a point wasn’t deducted.

And in Minnesota on June 27, Filipino 140-pounder All Rivera clearly hit Omar Juarez while his opponent was on one knee in the ninth round. I’m not sure referee Mark Nelson even cautioned Rivera, who won the fight by majority decision.

Now, I’m not in favour of an instant disqualification. But I do think referees have to be careful in how much leeway they allow a boxer who has committed a foul.

What if Andrade had stayed down and claimed sort of injury after Sharp hurled him to the ring floor? Then we could have had one of those fiasco-type situations.

Same with Omar Juarez. What if he had stayed down after Rivera tagged him while he was on one knee?

And then there’s the Romero vs Yigit bout. Yigit seemed shaken up by Romero’s on-the-break blow. He walked away and it briefly looked as if he might take a knee. Yigit could have taken the easy way out, but he had too much pride to do so.

In each instance there was the potential for, shall we say, an unsatisfactory ending.

It’s a fine line for referees. Archie Sharp and Rolando Romero were clearly winning their fights. It would have seemed wrong for either man to be disqualified. Sharp was probably, in his own mind, simply showing Andrade who was boss. Romero seemed to be frustrated by Yigit’s holding.  

As for Rivera, he had just scored the sole knockdown of the contest, one that actually made the difference on the scorecards, but for me a one-point deduction would have been in order. The illegal low didn’t look particularly accidental. (If you watch the Rivera vs Juarez fight highlights video on YouTube you’ll see what I mean.)

At the end of the day, rules are rules.

Hitting a man while he’s down has unfortunately become somewhat commonplace. So much so that, if my memory serves me correctly, the ringside analyst Al Bernstein once actually commented after a boxer had dropped his opponent: “I’m glad he didn’t hit him while he was down!”

If a boxer is in the middle of throwing a series of punches and his opponent goes down it isn’t always easy to hold the last one back. (The same can apply when a blow is landed after the bell.) 

This is where a referee needs to exercise sound judgement.

Sometimes a fighter might think his opponent isn’t all the way down.

Too often, though, it seems to me that a fighter just can’t resist getting in one, last shot, for good measure.

In the end, it’s up to the referee to decide if a foul was accidental.

Take the matter of low blows. Most low blows are, I believe, accidental (unless Andrew Golota is involved) but Felix Trinidad did seem to hit Fernando Vargas with a “professional” low blow in their torrid battle. 

A referee will usually give two warnings for accidental low blows before telling the judges to take a point. If the low blows persist, what’s a referee to do?

For instance, it did look to me that Anthony Peterson wasn’t trying too hard to keep his punches in legal territory when he was disqualified for persistent low blows against Brandon Rios in their 2010 lightweight title elimination bout. 

Twice the referee instructed the judges to take a point from Peterson, who had been knocked down and was getting overwhelmed by the much stronger Rios. It’s possible Peterson was disorientated. Or maybe he was just doing whatever he could to try to keep Rios off him. But the last in a series of low blows was one too many.

Rios was on the receiving end of a veritable low-blow barrage that night. Four years later, Rios was again the winner on a DQ when referee Vic Drakulich sent Diego Chaves to his corner in the ninth round of a fight in which there was rough stuff on both sides. Rios had a point deducted, Chaves was docked two points. Drakulich gave Chaves a final warning, then disqualified him when the fighter from Argentina seemed to rub his gloves across Rios’ eyes. That was a case where the referee, by giving the boxer a “last time” caution, really had little option but to DQ him.

Something else to consider: It’s always possible that a boxer will try to sneak a win by DQ, either by appearing to feign injury or perhaps pretending to be concussed, depending on the infringement. 

It’s easy for those on the safe side of the ropes to pass judgement; as Teddy Atlas used to say in his TV commentary: “I’m not inside his body.” But I’m sure we’ve all seen some pretty obvious acting jobs over the years.

And sometimes, DQs have been wrong, plain and simple. 

For example, I will never agree with referee Joe Cortez’ decision to DQ Mexico’s Humberto Soto in the fourth round of Soto’s 130-pound title bout against Francisco Lorenzo, of the Dominican Republic, in Las Vegas in 2008. 

Soto had the fight won. A bloodied Lorenzo was down twice in the fourth. 

When Lorenzo sank to his knees for the first knockdown he was clearly a beaten fighter. The bout could have been stopped at that point. Lorenzo had nothing left. “Mentally he’s finished as well as physically,” Emanuel Steward noted in the HBO commentary.”

The second time Lorenzo went down, Soto, probably frustrated by his opponent’s ducking and diving tactics, threw a left hook that seemed to glance off the Dominican veteran’s shaved skull. Lorenzo put a glove to the back of his head and clearly wasn’t getting up. He was cut over the right eye, his nose was bloody, and he was through. That’s when things went wrong.

Boos rained down as Lorenzo, seated with his back against the ropes, eventually rolled over and stretched out on the ring floor. Cortez, one hand placed over his clip-on microphone, leaned through the ropes to engage in conversation with Nevada commissioner Keith Kizer. Then, after some seven minutes, it was announced that Soto had been disqualified. 

Steward was incensed, feeling that Lorenzo’s ducking, bobbing style contributed to Soto’s errant blow. “The guy was going up and down, up and down, how can you tell his knee was on the floor?” Steward exclaimed.

HBO’s unofficial scorer Harold Lederman vehemently agreed with Steward, asserting: “This is a clear TKO victory for Humberto Soto — that’s all there is to it!”

But, no, the official verdict was that Soto had been disqualified for hitting his man while he was down. The HBO crew deemed the verdict a travesty of justice, and I was far from alone in agreeing with that viewpoint. A thoroughly beaten fighter left the ring as the “winner” that night.

And that’s the thing. A transgression of the rules can lead to chaos. Boxing doesn’t need it. 

Main image: Romero (right) tangles with Yigit at the weekend. Leo Wilson Jr/Premier Boxing Champions.