Photos by Sumio Yamada
BRANDON RIOS W12 (split) RICHARD ABRIL
We seem to be getting more controversial decisions than at any time in boxing history. At one time, hotly disputed verdicts seemed somewhat rare, although we did have them. Now, as I have often noted, you have to hold your breath every time a fight goes to the scorecards.
On Saturday night, for instance, it seemed that Richard Abril had done enough to get the decision over Brandon Rios in their lightweight fight on HBO, but Rios escaped with a split decision.
This was one of those fights where it seemed that no one apart from the winning boxer’s camp and the judges (well two of them) thought that the decision went the right way.
We had Abril boxing a clever but cautious fight, picking up points and doing a good job of shutting down Rios’s offense, either by using his long legs to move away or immediately clinching after throwing his punches — what was once called a “punch and clutch style”.
Rios looked sluggish after his second successive training camp in which weight making was an issue — the familiar fire just wasn’t there and there didn’t seem the same power in his punches. He was, though, doing his best to work hard and to keep punching, although, apart from the right hand that had Abril stumbling back several steps in the opening round, nothing much of significance landed.
I was in line with judge Adalaide Byrd’s score of 117-111 in favour of Abril, but this was the type of fight that could have been interpreted two ways.
You could say that Abril was outsmarting Rios, using artfulness to overcome aggression. It wasn’t pretty but it was effective.
It was also possible to take another view, which was that Rios was the boxer who had come to fight, and that his efforts were being stifled by his opponent’s spoiling tactics. Whereas Abril was doing a good job of not getting hit, Rios was hustling and bustling and showing the judges that he wanted to win.
The PPV commentary was giving Abril round after round but I was thinking as I was watching the fight that while I, too, had Abril winning I could see the possibility of rounds going Rios’s way.
One thing I have noticed over the years is that if a fighter simply keeps punching he always has a chance on the scorecards. We have seen it so many times in these disputed decisions — think of Paul Williams against Erislandy Lara, or Tavoris Cloud against Gabriel Campillo.
I had Lara and Campillo winning those fights but the losers were dogged and determined, as was Rios.
Now, it is possible to be swayed by the TV commentary, and sometimes the commentary is misleading — as Rich Marotta, the veteran commentator, admitted on Saturday night, he has seen fights wildly wrong. Probably we all have.
What I was seeing, though, was Abril getting in the jab, hitting Rios with sneaky right hands to body and head, frustrating him, messing him around, fighting his type of fight while denying Rios the opportunity to fight Rios’s fight.
However, what the judges could have been seeing was Abril being too negative, too careful, focusing more on not getting hit than on fighting to win.
Judge Adalaide Byrd had no doubt that Abril had won, but Jerry Roth, considered one of the best judges in the world, was equally sure that Rios had controlled the contest, scoring 116-112 in Rios’s favour. Judge Glenn Trowbridge obviously saw effectiveness in each man’s method with a score of 115-113 but he gave Rios greater credit than he gave Abril.
Referee Vic Drakulich’s cautions to Abril for holding might have sent a message to the judges, too, a message that Abril was being a bit too survival-minded. Drakulich cautioned Abril as early as the opening round to stop holding and cautioned him sternly in the second. I noted another severe caution to Abril to stop holding in the seventh round. While no points were deducted, you can be sure that these cautions to Abril were not doing him any favours in the minds of the judges.
Although it seemed to me that Abril was doing enough to keep eking out the rounds, you never know how the judges are seeing a fight
Yes, I felt that Abril was hard done by, but scoring boxing matches is an imprecise science, and in a contrast of styles — a “cutie” against a come-forward battler — there is always likely to be a difference of opinion in the way the judges mark their scoresheets. We had this difference of opinion on Saturday night in Las Vegas.