By Graham Houston
Referees came under fire in two big fights this weekend, Joe Cortez for his confused officiating in the bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Victor Ortiz, of course, but also, to a lesser extent, Wayne Hedgepeth for his stoppage of the Saul Alvarez-Alfonso Gomez fight in Los Angeles. To a lesser degree, Tony Weeks received a bit of criticism for docking Jessie Vargas a point for a low blow in the fight with Josesito Lopez.
Obviously, Mayweather’s fourth-round knockout win over Ortiz was the big talking point of the weekend, and I can’t fault Mayweather for firing the two fight-ending shots against an opponent who wasn’t expecting to be hit. If Ortiz wanted to give Mayweather a second hug in apology for Ortiz’s blatant butt, instead of obeying the dictum “protect yourself at all times,” well, that was his choice. These are professional boxers, not amateurs boxing in the Olympics. Time was “in”, and Mayweather had an opponent standing in front of him with his guard down. Did anyone really expect Mayweather to follow a gentlemanly code of conduct, especially after, moments earlier, Ortiz had inflicted a cut inside his mouth by butting him?
Mayweather did what Jack Dempsey did back in the Roaring Twenties when Jack Sharkey turned to the referee to complain about a low blow — he hit his opponent on the chin.
To me, it was just a matter of time before Mayweather wore down and stopped Ortiz in their welterweight title bout that was televised on PPV from the MGM Grand, Las Vegas. Ortiz was competitive but I don’t think he could have kept taking Mayweather’s right hands all night.
I think that Ortiz was getting frustrated at being made to miss. Even after rushing Mayweather to the ropes in the fourth round he couldn’t get a really clean shot home, so instead he rammed his head into Mayweather’s face.
Ortiz was disqualified for an impetuous act early in his career. Butting Mayweather cost him a point. Had the fight continued I would not have been too surprised if Ortiz had committed some other transgression of the rules — such as tossing Mayweather to the floor in a clinch — as his frustration mounted.
As for the way the fight ended, it seemed to me that, having told the judges to take a point from Ortiz’s score for the butt, referee Cortez waved the fighters to continue, saying: “Let’s go.” Then, Cortez seemed to be trying to get the attention of someone outside the ring, perhaps seeking to make sure that the timekeeper knew the bout had been restarted, and that’s when Ortiz got nailed.
I had the uncomfortable feeling that Ortiz, with his “Let’s be pals” routine, had virtually acceded superiority to Mayweather. For me, the fight was over even before Mayweather produced the knockout punches.
Mayweather’s tirade against Larry Merchant afterwards reflected no credit on the fighter. I can appreciate that Mayweather feels that HBO’s veteran analyst has been unduly critical, but there were better ways to handle this, maybe by making light of it.
In the big show’s chief supporting bout, the commentators felt that referee Wayne Hedgepeth jumped in too soon when rescuing Alfonso Gomez in the sixth round of the veteran’s 154-pound title challenge against Saul Alvarez. I thought that the referee did Gomez a favour. Gomez had been fighting well, but once Alvarez started to let his punches go the difference in physical strength and firepower became very apparent.
I thought that Alvarez’s big right hand took a lot out of Gomez in the sixth. When Gomez was backed up on the ropes he seemed to sag, and he appeared to have the head-hanging-down look of a fighter who has had enough. Contrast this with Hank Lundy, who was trying to fire back when under siege on the ropes against David Diaz, or Hector Sanchez, who was rolling and swaying away from punches on the ropes when Vincent Arroyo was bombing away at him. A fighter has to show a referee that he is in possession of his faculties and is trying his best to stay in the fight, and I don’t think that Gomez was doing that. Yes, the referee was a little quick on the trigger, but I believe that he saved Gomez from taking some big hits that this game fighter didn’t need to be taking.
Predictably, the fight between unbeaten junior welter Jessie Vargas and Josesito Lopez was one of the best of the weekend, 10 highly entertaining rounds of boxing. I thought that Vargas deserved the win, 95-94 (6-4 in rounds but Vargas docked a point for a low blow). Lopez was too often moving in without throwing punches, and Vargas picked up points with flashy five-punch combinations. Vargas stole the fight, maybe, but he stole it legitimately.
Should Tony Weeks have taken the point from Vargas? The commentators thought it was a bad call, but my notes remind me that Weeks had twice told Vargas to keep his punches up, and he may have considered Vargas’s left hook in the eighth round to have been a deliberate attempt to slow down Lopez. In the end, the point deduction made no difference except that Vargas won by split instead of majority decision.