IBHOF inductee Graham Houston looks at how cuts can save or spoil a fighter’s night after a spate of no contests or technical decisions at the weekend.
There was nothing wrong with the thinking behind the technical decision rule. A fighter gets cut in a clash of heads, can’t continue and, if four rounds have been completed, the bout goes to the scorecards to determine a winner. If the bout ends before four rounds have been completed it’s a no decision (or “no contest” if you prefer).
What could possibly be wrong with that? It’s fair, right?
Well, as we saw last weekend, there is one terrible flaw with the technical decision rule. And, no, it’s not always fair.
Take the flyweight title fight between Mexico’s Julio Cesar Martinez and Puerto Rico’s McWilliams Arroyo. Each man was down in the first round but Martinez was coming on strongly in the second round. Martinez knocked Arroyo down and had him on the brink of being stopped when the bell sounded to end the round.
However, Arroyo was cut over the eye in a clash of heads. He complained in the corner of blurred vision. The fight was stopped and, as four rounds hadn’t been completed, the bout was ruled a no decision.
Martinez was deprived of what looked a guaranteed KO victory.
Then there was the rematch between featherweights Adam Lopez and Adan Ochoa in Las Vegas. Lopez looked well on his way to repeating a previous decision win over Ochoa. He won the first two rounds and all three judges’ cards. But Ochoa was cut in a clash of heads. Referee Allen Huggins went to Ochoa’s corner at the end of the second round to see if he was able to continue. The ref appeared to advise Ochoa that if he couldn’t see clearly, the bout would be a no decision. Ochoa told the referee that, actually, he was indeed having trouble seeing. So, the fight was ruled a no decision. I can’t say for sure that Lopez would have won but it certainly looked that way.
As if to prove the theory that bad things happen in threes, there was still another head-clash ending on the weekend, when Brazil’s Esquiva Falcao suffered a severe slice over the eye after banging heads with Quebec’s unsung but competent Patrice Volny in the sixth round. Falcao told the referee and doctor that he couldn’t continue, the bout went to the scorecards, and the Brazilian Olympic silver medallist got out of Dodge with a split technical decision win. Before the head clash it had looked the sort of fight that either man could win. I had Falcao in front but Volny was looking strong and landing some sharp shots. If I’d been holding a betting ticket on Falcao I would have been feeling very nervous.
Three fights, then, with unsatisfactory finishes. (Well, unsatisfactory depending on your outlook.) We had fighters who looked sure to win having to settle for no-decision rulings, and a fighter losing a decision in a bout that he seemed to have a real chance of winning.
Now, let me be clear. I don’t blame Arroyo, Ochoa or Falcao for in effect bailing out. Why should they continue, boxing under the handicap of a cut, when the rules allowed them to take an easier route?
But it has now become commonplace for fighters to use the technical decision rule as a kind of get-out-of-jail card. Even the great Julio Cesar Chavez told ringside doctor Flip Homansky that he couldn’t continue after he and Frankie Randall banged heads in the eighth round of their rematch in Las Vegas, which JCC won on a split technical decision. It was an evenly balanced fight but one that Chavez was by no means certain of winning. I felt empathy for Randall, who had shocked the boxing world by defeating Chavez in their first meeting and was at the very least in with a good chance of winning the rematch.
Whether or not the fighters in question would have continued had it been ruled that a legal punch caused their respective cuts, only the fighters know. As Teddy Atlas would say in his role as a TV analyst: “I’m not in his body.”
Now you might think this could all be easily resolved: If a doctor feels a cut isn’t bad enough for a fight to be stopped, but the boxer insists his vision is impaired so badly that he can’t carry on, then the fighter loses by abandonment.
That’s all well and good, but what doctor would take the risk of clearing a fighter to continue when the boxer is telling him he can’t see properly?
So we have the situation whereby a boxer — or the boxer’s corner — can use the rules advantageously when a cut is deemed to have been caused by a collision.
It’s getting a bit bizarre. When a fighter is cut from a punch, a corner will often assure the referee and doctor that the cut isn’t bad enough for the fight to be stopped. But when a head clash is ruled, we often have a different dynamic.
The technical-decision rule is here to stay, but I find myself missing the old days when, if a fighter was cut, whether from a head clash or a punch, and the referee or doctor decided the fight should be stopped, then the boxer lost and his opponent won. Simple as that.
Yes, there were cases when it was unfair for a boxer to lose due to getting cut, sometimes grossly unfair — but at least everyone knew where they stood.
Main image: McWilliams Arroyo’s fight-ending cut at the weekend. Photo: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing.