August 15, 2011

Thoughts on Agbeko vs Mares & Mora‏
A good fight was ruined by a bad referee. That's the best way to describe what happened this weekend in the final round of the Showtime bantamweight tournament. King Kong Agbeko and Abner Mares fought hard to get to the tournament finals and when they finally fought eachother, they fought hard against eachother. The problem was the "fishy play" of referee Russell Mora. He made at least two critical bad calls and injected himself into the fight not so much by what he did, but by what he didn't do. And what he didn't do was control the repeated low blows of Abner Mares.

Challenger Mares went low early and often but Russell Mora seemed disinterested in the fouls. He did not seriously warn Mares and he certainly did not penalize him. The whole mess became even more exaggerated when Showtime announcer Al Bernstein began to make repeated note of it during the fight, and the situation reached a head when Jim Grey interviewed the referee in the ring after the fight and called him out for his bad performance point blank.

For the record, Mares won a majority decision over Agbeko, as well as the IBF Bantamweight title, but he did so on the strength of two falsely called knockdowns, and on his ability to foul all night without being penalized.

Let's be clear: Referee Russell Mora was terrible in this fight and I'm still not sure which was more of a shame to see: Abner Mares defending the referee's bad calls after the fight to Jim Grey or to hear the referee actually defending himself to Jim Grey! When Jim Grey was interviewing Mares in the ring after the fight, the new IBF Champion thanked several people, and I was seriously wondering if Jim Grey would ask Mares if he wanted to send a special thanks to referee Russell Mora! He should have because Mora was more directly responsible for his victory than anyone else, including himself.  "I never hit him low", Mares told a bewildered Jim Grey after the fight. The whole situation was a total Twilight Zone moment for everyone involved.

An otherwise close competitive fight was marred by bad and missed calls. In the first round, Agbeko slipped and it was ruled a knockdown by Russell Mora. Bad call. Through the rest of the fight Mora simply refused to enforce the rules and he allowed Mares to go low with impunity. Missed calls. In the 11th, after repeated low blows throughout the fight, Mares punched Agbeko right in the groin and Agbeko fell to the canvas fully expecting, like everyone else, that Mares would finally be penalized for a flagrant low blow. Imagine the surprise of Agbeko when Mora ruled it a knockdown and began a ten count. Bad call + missed call = worst call! At this point, Agbeko stood no chance on the scorecards, and it's a wonder he was even willing to continue fighting at all given that he truly did have to fight Mares and Mora at the same time!

By making two bad knockdown calls against King Kong Agbeko and not taking a single point from Abner Mares for repeated low blows, Mora literally took the fight from the rightful winner Agbeko and gave it to Mares. The fight should be declared a No Contest, the belt returned to Agbeko, and an immediate rematch ordered. If it had been properly officiated, Agbeko should have won by a close decision or at worst escaped with a draw. Corrupt or incompetent, or just a referee having a terrible night, I really have no idea.

Being a boxing referee is a tough thankless job. Just ask Richard Steele. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they get it wrong and Russell Mora certainly did himself no favors in the Mares-Agbeko fight. Here's hoping that in the inevitable much needed rematch, the Ghanaian native Agbeko truly channels the spirit of Azumah Nelson-Jeff Fenech II like he said he was going to do in this fight. Agbeko, like his countryman Nelson before him now has something to be fired up about, the proper motivation for a dominating performance like that, and he now knows for sure that he can't leave his destiny in the hands of judges or the referee.
Said Mares immediately after the fight, "Don't ruin my moment!"

Sorry Abner, I really couldn't help it.

I never hit you low.