FRANCISCO LORENZO DQ4 HUMBERTO SOTO

Mandalay Bay, LAS VEGAS, June 28
BELIEVE it or not, this is the winner. / Photo: SUMIO YAMADA

I thought I’d seen it all until Saturday night, when a beaten-up fighter on the edge of extinction somehow ended up as the winner.

Yes, I’m talking about the madness in Las Vegas when Mexico’s Humberto Soto was disqualified for hitting Francisco Lorenzo with a glancing punch to the top of the head as his opponent was on the floor.

I don’t know where to begin. I feel about as outraged as Emanuel Steward looked when, almost trembling with emotion, he told Jim Lampley in the HBO summing-up of the travesty: “That was bad!"

I don’t think that the word “bad” is strong enough. This must rank as one of the worst pieces of refereeing in boxing history — not the worst, I would back off on saying that. The worst might have been Ray Flores allowing Sandy Saddler to commit brutal, flagrant fouls against Filipino Flash Elorde in San Francisco in 1956, an infamous night for American boxing. (See my Filipino five article on the ESPN.com website.)

Now let me say right away that refereeing can be a tough job. Judgement calls have to be made — such as when to step in and stop a fight. A referee’s actions are not always popular and can be open to dispute. This, though, was a total mishandling of the situation.

Soto was dominating this fight. He was hurting Lorenzo and breaking him down.

In the fourth round, the fight had “matter of time” written all over it. The veteran from the Dominican Republic had been knocked down, his face was battered and bloodied and Soto was steaming right through him.

Cortez moved in as if to stop the fight and I said to myself: “Good call.” But, no, he jumped back out again, as if he had suddenly had second thoughts, and then everything went crazy. Soto kept punching, Lorenzo went down as if on his own volition and the Mexican fighter gave him a parting shot to the top of the head.

With Cortez conferring with the Nevada commission members at ringside, and Lorenzo on the floor, doing a good impression of Luis Santana in his two DQ wins over Terry Norris, I suddenly realised, to my horror, that something very controversial was about to happen — that the fight would either be declared a no contest or that Soto would get disqualified. The former would have been bad enough, the latter was a fiasco-type finish of the worst order.

Emanuel Steward said that, with Lorenzo’s awkward style of bobbing up and down, Soto probably wasn’t aware that Lorenzo was all the way down when he hit him.

I’m not so sure about that. Fighters these days seemingly cannot resist getting in that one, last shot. Andre Berto did it against Miguel Rodriguez the previous weekend but referee Laurence Cole let him get away with it — it was basically a “one for luck” type of hit and not a blockbuster shot and it had no bearing on the outcome. Rodriguez was just about out of the fight, and Cole realised that.

That is the whole point of what happened in Las Vegas. The fight was over, for goodness’ sake. Lorenzo was done.

Here’s what I think Cortez should have done. I think he should have waved it off, given Soto the TKO win, but told him sternly afterwards: “Humberto, that last punch was when the guy was down, be very careful in future because that could have got you disqualified.”

Instead, Cortez did disqualify him.

Lorenzo, being the crafty old pro that he is, seemed to be taking full advantage of the situation in the moments before the verdict was made official, putting a glove to his head, rolling over on the canvas in a theatrical way.

No, of course, I didn’t take the last punch but it certainly looked fairly innocuous. I mean, when Rocky Marciano hit Jersey Joe Walcott with his right hand you didn’t have to take it to know that Walcott had been hit very hard indeed. I think that people who have watched boxing for a while have a pretty fair idea what constitutes a hard punch and what doesn’t.

This is the third time that Cortez has been involved in a controversy to my knowledge. The first was in the Holyfield-Ruiz rematch in Las Vegas when, in the 10th round, Ruiz collapsed from what looked a beltline left hook followed by, as I recall, another, more powerful and perfectly legal, hook to the body. Instead of counting Ruiz out, Cortez gave him time to recover and took a point from Holyfield.

Ruiz — and I give him credit for it — rallied to win, but he got a gift from the gods that night. Holyfield’s “low” blow looked right on the border. Ruiz won the fight when he probably should have been counted out. In his book The Holyfield Way, Holyfield’s long-time friend and lawyer, Jim Thomas, has some scathing comments to make about Cortez’s handling of the situation although in his telling of the events it was a borderline hook to the body, then a hook to the chin, that dropped Ruiz.

Cortez’s most recent controversy prior to Saturday night's came in his handling of the fight between Ricky Hatton and Floyd Mayweather Jr. last December. The British fighter and his camp felt that Cortez refereed Hatton out of the fight by constantly cautioning him and not letting him fight inside.

I defended Cortez on that one: I felt that Mayweather would have won no matter what, and that even if the referee did break up the inside fighting a bit quickly it really had no impact on the outcome.

Cortez showed impeccable judgement in two big fights, for which I praised him: letting Juan Manuel Marquez continue despite being dropped three times in the first round by Manny Pacquiao (many referees might have stopped the fight) and disregarding Bernard Hopkins’s histrionics when the cunning Philadelphian was crying foul against Joe Calzaghe.

Now this. What a shame, because in years to come Cortez will, no doubt, always be remembered most of all for this farcical affair.

Under all the circumstances, a “no contest” decision would have been by far the lesser evil.

Something very similar to the events of Saturday night happened in Las Vegas in October 1999 when Mike Tyson dropped Orlin Norris with a left hook thrown after the bell to end round one. Norris got up but when he went to his corner he complained that his knee was hurting and that he could not continue.

To some it looked as if Norris was trying to bail out. Tyson, meanwhile, claimed he hadn’t heard the bell. What to do? Referee Richard Steele conferred with the then executive director of the Nevada commission, Marc Ratner, a true boxing guy as well as being a top-notch administrator. Ratner advised the referee that a “no contest” verdict was the way to go. As I reported from ringside for Boxing Monthly: “I suspect that Tyson was not disqualified because neither referee Steele, nor commissioner Marc Ratner, were entirely sure whether or not Norris really and truly could not continue.”

In Saturday’s fight, a boxer who was in actuality a beaten man was declared the winner.

Things like this make one despair of boxing. I know I’m not alone in feeling despondent over what happened, so much so that I’m thinking of giving myself a rest from the website for a while. I will review the Pacquiao-Diaz fight tomorrow and after that I think I might take a hiatus.

My mind goes back to 1979 and a Saturday afternoon shambles in Las Vegas when a light-heavyweight title fight between Mike Rossman and Victor Galindez was cancelled, minutes before it was due to televised, due to a dispute between the Nevada commission and the WBA over the appointment of officials.

Representatives of the WBA said they would not recognise the fight as being for the title if it went ahead with Nevada state officials instead of WBA ones. Rossman was in the ring at Caesars Palace waiting for Galindez to appear. Promoter Bob Arum offered the Argentinean an additional $25,000 to meet Rossman in a 15-round non-title fight. Galindez refused. The Argentinean camp didn’t want to risk incurring the displeasure of the WBA. While Rossman waited, the Galindez team walked out.

An exasperated Arum, interviewed by the ABC network, famously exclaimed: “The lunatics are running the asylum.” I thought of those words as a knockout winner somehow ended up a loser on Saturday night.

Last Updated: 
June 29, 2008 - 5:10am