Professional judging has been under scrutiny this year thanks to some scorecards that frankly do not make sense. Last night, in New York we were treated to two more that again leave you questioning the integrity of the sport.
New York born Puerto Rican sensation and rising super-middleweight star Edgar Berlanga extended his unbeaten career to (19-0, 16 KOs) after winning a unanimous decision over former Gennadiy Golovkin opponent Steve Rolls (21-2, 12 KOs).
Nicknamed ‘The Chosen One’ the 24-year-old was fighting inside Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theatre in front of a partisan crowd. It was a 10-round super-middleweight main event and a first defence of Berlanga’s WBO NABO belt. A heavy favourite, power that has seen 16 opponents not hear the final bell and a man tipped for great things: On paper it looked like he would bowl Rolls over but in fact all he had to do was show up to gain a win.
In the end judge Frank Lombardi scored it 96-94 for Berlanga while the tallies of Tom Carusone and Mark Consentino reached a 97-93 conclusion for the unbeaten fighter.
For the first two rounds Berlanga followed Rolls around the ring. A British term to describe him in the first six minutes would be ‘ploddy’. He waited too long to throw anything while his opponent just had to use fundamentals to win the rounds. Rolls’ jab would be key in the fight and be his most telling shot throughout.
Berlanga’s stalking impression continued in the third. An accidental elbow in the second cut the crowd favourite and later he said, “I started seeing blurry in the 5th or the 6th round”.
The third overall was a close three minutes which the bigger looking Berlanga won thanks to his jab getting going late on and covering anything Rolls had to offer.
A little bit of momentum built in the 4th for Berlanga. He was getting closer to his moving target who was content to flick out the jab. The jab of the Puerto Rican was more commanding in this session and was also getting the better of some exchanges.
The Rolls jab sped up in the 5th and he got a one-two off early in the round. Berlanga’s corner were calling for feints, jabs, and one-two-threes but instead it was Rolls who was beginning to carry out such tactics and looked the far more settled and accomplished fighter.
The sixth was close. Jabs were established once again and an overhand right from Berlanga appeared to have Rolls in some bother. In fact, one observation was that if Berlanga did land it might not take long to end the fight. But he never detonated those hurting bombs which gave Rolls more and more confidence.
In the seventh the Rolls jab was sharper than ever. A couple of crisp one-twos and a three-punch combination had him in control. The first two minutes was his comfortably. Berlanga’s nose was bloodied. Rolls was taking over but some cockiness allowed Berlanga to catch him with a right near the end. It was a warning but not a change in fortune.
Berlanga’s corner consisting of his father and Andre Rozier were calling for simple boxing. Something Rolls was doing. The Canadian landed a right hand over the top and continued to control proceedings. The MSG crowd sensed Berlanga was in trouble, not hurt, but in danger of losing his unbeaten record. A sole shot to the body was arguably Berlanga’s main highlight of the 8th.
“I want big work these next couple of rounds,” Berlanga’s corner demanded. And they got it in the 9th. This was Berlanga doing what he should have done from the first minute of the fight. He was head hunting and then landed an uppercut followed by a left hook which pleased his fans. Rolls then got caught by Berlanga’s best punch of the fight. The underdog threw a roll of the dice right hand which was timed perfectly by an uppercut. This proved what the power of Berlanga could do. Rolls was not right and for the first time in the fight, he was in danger. A jab then a right hand from distance and a cuffing shot around the ear put the exclamation point on Berlanga’s best round.
He should have tried to close the show in the final three minutes. “Edgar, Edgar,” the crowd roared but their man still seemed unsure and allowed Rolls back in. Jabs were fired, arms were tired and in the final seconds both men let their shots go in an attempt to get the nod from the judges.
This reporter had it 97-93 for Rolls but could conceivably see a 96-94 too for the away fighter. No closer than that. Not a draw and certainly not a win for Berlanga. However, the scorecards that then arrived felt predictable such is boxing’s habit to discredit the work of the man not supposed to win unless he has a 10-8 or two in his favour.
Boxing reached a point a long time ago where the fans know who is going to win if it goes to points, regardless of performances. It’s a sour taste to sit with while you watch a fight unfold. Sure, Rolls didn’t exactly batter Berlanga from pillar to post but he outboxed him with ease at times.
Berlanga hadn’t boxed in New York for three years. This was meant to be a showcase, he talked of fireworks beforehand. All he produced was the odd sparkle that was quickly put out.
In a post-fight interview Berlanga had the look of a man who knew he dodged a shattering defeat with a worrying performance. His words may read as an act of defiance, but they were unconvincing.
“You could tell he was fighting scared.”
“I was looking for the big shot. My elbow was bothering me a little bit.”
“Tonight, he was a scared fighter.”
“I know everyone’s gonna run now.”
What Steve Rolls did at the MSG Hulu Theatre on March 19 was lay the blueprint in how to beat Edgar Berlanga.