In my last post on MMA vs. Boxing, we compared the two sports in terms of overall excitement and concluded that boxing, even when devoid of that various forms of corruption that have hounded it homework research since its inception, has a greater potential to fail than MMA. Conversely, MMA has a greater likelihood for thrilling, competitive fights than does boxing.
In this post on MMA vs. Boxing, I explore reasons why this seems to be the case.
Reason 1: The Referee.
MMA gives referees fewer excuses to insert himself into a fight. And that, generally, is a good thing.
With boxing, the rules are far more restrictive. No hitting below the belt, no rabbit or kidney punches, no elbows, no back fists, no holding and hitting, no stomping feet, no this, no that. So with more rules, it falls upon the referee to enforce them all. Then there is the no clinching rule, which in some fights keeps the referee almost as busy as the fighters. When you have guys winging punches at each other in close quarters, it’sÂ very natural for them to get tied up in a clinch. It’s referee’s responsibility to break them apart before continuing hostilities. Further, when adding the referee’s absolute prerogative to stop fights, penalize fouls, award knockdowns, and deliver 10-counts, you realize that a boxing referee is generally a pretty busy guy.
This produces, in my opinion, three negative results which often frustrate boxing fans.
1) Referees are often forced to make on-the-spot irreversible judgment calls of great consequence. Since referees are human and must process lightning fast action, many of these judgment calls end up being questionable to say the least.
2) Referees are given wiggle room in which to act on their prejudices against or in favor of a particular fighter. It gets worse when it’s someone else prejudices. True, one does not see much direct referee complicity these days (such as in the 1963 George Chuvalo-Mike DeJohn fight in which the referee actually helped DeJohn up from a knock down in round 6), but it can be more subtle than that.
For example, if the favored guy likes to fight on the outside, the referee will break up the fight the moment there is a clinch. Conversely, if the favored guy likes to fight on the inside, the referee will sit back and let the fighters punch their way out of a clinch. I cannot prove this, but I believe that this was a crucial factor when Ricky Hatton wrested the WBC light welterweight title in 11 rounds from Kostya Tszyu in 2005. Look at the video and see for yourself if the ref was a little slow at times to break up clnches.
3) Referees face the temptation of making the fight about them rather than the fighters. If you want your name splashed on the headlines and always popping up on the internet and immortalized in the annals of boxing, then make an outlandish call at a crucial moment in a high profile title fight. Human beings being corruptible entities, I cannot imagine referees not being at least tempted by such visions of glory (or notoriety).
Two classic examples of what I call ‘referee fail’ in boxing still leave a bitter taste in my mouth.
Richard Steele stopping the 1990 Julio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor light-welterweight title fight with 2 seconds remaining in the last round.
This had been a highly anticipated bout. Chavez was a Mexican icon at 68-0 moving up from lightweight. Taylor was the champion, also undefeated, and a 1984 Olympic gold medalist. It had been a great fight, with Taylor clearly winning the first 9 rounds or so. Chavez, who was tough as nails, started to dominate late, and arguably won the 10th and 11th rounds. With around 15 seconds left in the 12th and final round, he knocked Taylor down. Taylor beat the count at 6. But when he did not instantly respond when Steele asked him if he’s okay, Steele stopped the fight. There were 2 seconds remaining.
Chavez barely had enough time to cross the ring in 2 seconds let alone throw another punch. Many feel that Taylor deserved the victory, and Richard Steele, either for humanitarian reasons or because he wanted to be immortalized by some dramatic call, kept it from him.
Check here for more about the controversy engendered by Richard Steele.
Tony Weeks calling time twice in 10th round of the 2005 Jose Luis Castillo-Diego Corrales lightweight title fight.
It had been one of the best fights of the decade. With nonstop action, neither guy was clearly in the lead going into the 10th. Early in the round, a Castillo left hook dropped Corrales and knocked out his mouthpiece. After Corrales beat the count, Referee Tony Weeks called time to get Corrales a new mouthpiece from his corner. This gave Corrales more than the standard 10 seconds to recover. When the fight resumed, Castillo knocked Corrales down again. This time Corrales seemed to deliberately spit out his mouthpiece. After Corrales beat the count, Weeks called time again to first deduct a point from Corrales and then replace his mouthpiece again. Corrales was given an additional 17 seconds to recover, and when he did, he knocked out Castillo in perhaps the most dramatic come-from-behind KO in the last 30 years. Ironically, Weeks’ stoppage of the fight (shown above) was impeccable.
Although Weeks was not technically violating the rules, his decision to deduct the point immediately after the second knockdown directly affected the outcome of the fight. Had he not done this or had he planned on doing it between the rounds, Castillo would likely have been the victor.
Here are a few other recent examples:
In round 2 of their 2003 super-middleweight bout, Joe Calzaghe swarmed over Byron Mitchell and had him clearly hurt. But Mitchell had been trying to defend himself and was still throwing punches. Mitchell then stumbled backwards into the ropes without Calzaghe landing a punch. After barely looking at Mitchell, the referee called the fight.
In round 12 of their 2008 super-middleweight bout, Librado Andrade battered a near-helpless Lucien Bute around the ring. Meanwhile, the referee found any excuse he could to insert himself between them. When Andrade finally knocked Bute down with less than 5 seconds to go, the referee inexplicably did not start counting right away. Had the referee done his job correctly, Andrade might have won by last second KO.
In round 10 of their 2010 bout, super-middleweight Arthur Abraham knocked down Andre Dirrell, and the referee inexplicably ruled it a slip.
Bantamweight Abner Mares must have landed around 20 low blows to Joseph Agbeko in their 2011 title match. The referee either ignored them or warned Agbeko for pulling Mares’ head down (which he did not often do). In the 11th round, Mares flagrantly struck Agbeko in the cup. It fact, it was so flagrant it has to be seen to be believed.
When Agbeko fell, the referee ruled it a knockdown. Mares won a majority decision, so it is likely that this knockdown gave him the edge in the end. An utter disgrace.
In round 5 of their 2012 bout, super-middleweight Carl Froch knocked Lucien Bute into the ropes. The referee correctly ruled it a knockdown, but because he separated the fighters with his hands held high, Froch’s people assumed the fight had been stopped. They stormed into the ring to celebrate while the referee was still administering a standing 8 count.
In many ways, the MMA referee have similar functions to the boxing referee. But how are they different? Well, put simply the MMA has a whole lot less to do.
First and foremost, the MMA referee must prevent a fighter from getting killed or having a limb broken. He has little excuse to insert himself between the combatants otherwise. As such, it’s usually pretty darn clear when he should act.
His other duties include keeping fighters from gripping the fence, calling time for low blows or eye pokes, calling the doctor to look at bad cuts, and to break up stalemate positions.
Yes, sometimes it’s necessary to disqualify a fighter for breaking rules. In many cases, however, this happens after a fight has been stopped. The most high-profile examples would be Anderson Silva-Yushin Okami from 2008, Jon Jones-Matt Hamill from 2009, and Erick Silva-Carlo Prater from 2012. In each, one fighter rendered the other fighter unable to continue through illegal means and was disqualified after the fact. So in these cases, unlike the referee fails listed above, the referee had no impact on the action during the fight, only the decision after it. If you are going to have a referee determine the outcome of a fight, this is probably the way to do it.
There have been referee fails in MMA as well, but it stands to reason that with fewer reasons to get between the fighters, there are fewer fails in MMA. One major example includes the Bobby Lashley-Chad Griggs heavyweight fight from 2010. An exhausted Lashley had the mount over Griggs (an extremely advantageous position) and was staying reasonably busy. For some reason, referee Jon Schorle felt he wasn’t busy enough and called for a standup, completely erasing the work Lashley had done getting his advantage over Griggs in the first place. After the doctor checked Lashley’s eye, Griggs proceeded to beat Lashley until Lashley could not continue. And Schorle determined this a few seconds after the round had ended.
The only other major referee fail I can think of in MMA occurred with the same referee. In 2006, welterweight Rob McCollough landed a straight right to the jaw of Olaf Alonso, knocking him out and sending his mouthpiece hurtling across the cage. Referee Schorle decided that retrieving the mouthpiece was more important than protecting the helpless Alonso who was now lying prone on the canvas. The unconscious Alonso received 3 horrific shots to the head before Schorle could run across the cage and rescue him.
In general however MMA referees tend not to make their presence known until it’s absolutely critical that they act. More often than not, the outcomes of fights are determined by the fighters, not the referee, which sadly does not happen as often as it should in boxing. This is why we have fewer controversial stoppages in MMA than in boxing. Don’t believe me? Do a Google search and see for yourself. Or better yet, let me do it for you:
6.81 million versus 217,000. That about says it all, doesn’t it?
Next up: Reason 2. The Gloves.