Bernard Fernandez: Time to change the system and stop bad boxing decisions

Posted: July 19, 2011

HEY, EVERYONE. Remember me? I haven't been around for about a month now, the result of vacation, obligatory furlough and, upon my return to these parts, a nasty kidney infection that landed me in the hospital.

So, what's been happening in the world while I was far away or undergoing more testing than a laboratory rat?

Well, there are always those two inevitabilities, death and taxes. Even as free-spending Congress debates ways to further pipeline our cash into the fast-emptying federal coffers, the 10-count was tolled for cherished trainer Bouie Fisher, former Boston Herald boxing writer George Kimball, former WBC super featherweight champion Genaro "Chicanito" Hernandez and respected ShoBox announcer Nick Charles, all of whom lost lengthy battles with cancer; Veteran Boxers Association Ring 1 member Jimmy Lowry; and local radio sports reporter Donna McQuillan Luongo.

That's a lot of sad goodbyes crammed into too short a time frame. But there is another old standby of the fight game that, unfortunately, reannounced itself during my lost month.

The controversial decision.

Although I didn't see the fight live or on television, much of what I have heard about the majority nod awarded to Paul Williams in his July 9 WBC super welterweight elimination bout against previously undefeated Cuban Erislandy Lara in Atlantic City serves to further invalidate the integrity of the flawed 10-point-must scoring system. That, or it casts aspersions on the judgment of the three individuals whose minority opinions were the only ones that mattered.

Several persons whose opinions I respect have cited the "victory" for Williams, whose face was beaten bloody by repeated overhand lefts from fellow southpaw Lara, as another stickup by pencil. By all accounts, it was the biggest in-ring heist since, well, WBA middleweight champion Felix Sturm retained his title on a dubious, home-country split decision over England's Matthew Macklin in Cologne, Germany, on June 25.

To his credit, Aaron M. Davis, who heads the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, responded to the brouhaha by indefinitely suspending judges Donald Givens (who submitted a scorecard favoring Williams by 116-114), Hilton Whitaker III (who saw Williams as a 115-114 winner) and Al Bennett (114-114).

But while those judges have received a public spanking, the outcome remains the same.

"[The NJSACB] has not found any evidence of bias, fraud, corruption or incapacity on the part of the judges," Davis - who, it must be noted, appointed these relatively inexperienced guys to such a big fight in the first place - said in a prepared statement.

"The NJSACB does not have legal authority under these circumstances to invalidate the official result. This is due to the fact that all scoring is a matter of subjective judgment. In a similar fashion, we cannot mandate a rematch."

Head-scratching decisions have been with us always, but the recent epidemic suggests that boxing has problems that can't be cleansed by a quick, low-pressure water spray on decades of stain and rot. Although it has been my hope that the many good, dedicated people in the sport would eventually set right the course, it is increasingly evident that they are too frequently overruled by the greedy and self-serving in entrenched positions of power.

So, until further notice, I am throwing up my hands and giving up. Boxing's would-be reformers, of which I include myself, can't win. Maybe we never could.

Oh, sure, there is something called the Association of Boxing Commissions with a loose grip on the reins in this country, and federal laws in place like the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, but those are largely toothless and unenforced. State commissions have become patronage mills for deep-pocketed contributors to whichever party is in power in a particular jurisdiction, leaving the mostly foreign-based alphabet organizations to operate without proper oversight in this country.

If the alphabet boys can do business with virtual impunity within American borders, what is the alternative? The creation of a long-discussed federal boxing commission? Sure, we all see how well the legislative process works in Washington these days, and ask anyone in New Orleans who lived through Hurricane Katrina about the efficiency of FEMA.

My utter disdain of the system in place was reaffirmed recently when WBC president-for-life Jose Sulaiman concocted some sort of excuse for stripping the legitimate middleweight champion of the world, Argentina's Sergio Martinez, paving the way for Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. to win the vacated WBC 160-pound crown on a split decision over Germany's Sebastian Zbik on June 4 in Los Angeles.

You probably already know that Sulaiman's organization is headquartered in Mexico City and that the well-protected Chavez Jr., is the son of a Mexican icon. The WBC almost always issues favorable rulings for Mexican fighters. Even Chavez Jr.'s father, the legitimately great Julio Cesar Chavez, occasionally benefited from Sulaiman's largesse. Remember the majority draw Chavez escaped with in his 1993 bout with Pernell Whitaker, who outboxed him from pillar to post? Sulaiman did not order a rematch, which would have been justified, and he sure as heck didn't suspend judges Mickey Vann and Franz Marti, who turned in identical 115-115 scorecards.

Even more disturbingly, the sanctioning-fees-grabbing WBC has made available its green championship belt to the public, the same one it awards to its titleholders, for $3,867. You, too, can own the same jewel-encrusted strap Bernard Hopkins won on that historic May 21 night in Montreal, and you don't even have to take a punch!

The shame of it is that superb boxing matches, like the brutal, give-and-take majority draw between Pawel Wolak and Delvin Rodriguez on July 15 in New York, are as pure and exciting as anything in the competitive arena. Nights like those keep fans like me coming back, although we know our devotion is not always reciprocated.

I literally feel the pain of my fellow fight-loving sufferers. Maybe it's the lingering effects of my kidney infection.

Then again, maybe it isn't. *

Send email to fernanb@phillynews.com

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