Boxing and referees

Conrad M. Cariño

Conrad M. Cariño

I wonder if Mark Nelson, the referee of the Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn over the weekend, should be chastised for supposedly allowing the Australian to do some roughhousing on the Filipino eight-division champion as repeatedly cited by Filipino boxing commentators during the actual fight.

Maybe Nelson should have warned Horn once or twice for hitting during a clinch or even allowing the Australian to paw Pacquiao’s head wound during the latter rounds. At the most, Nelson should have deducted a point or two from Horn for his supposed roughhousing on Pacquiao.

Maybe I have too much respect for our very own Carlos Padilla, who I believe (despite officiating less number of title fights compared to Nelson) is one of the best “third man in the ring” the sport has ever seen. And maybe the late Arthur Mercante Jr. of the US also became my model on how the third man in the ring should officiate a fight. Mercante officiated 145 title fights.

Although I would agree that Nelson could have done a better job during the Pacquiao-Horn fight, I cannot say he was totally biased for the Australian. Case in point was he didn’t stop the fight in the ninth round as Pacquiao was pummeling Horn. He even warned Horn he would stop the fight if the Australian would be in trouble in the next round.

To my mind, any soft-hearted referee would have stopped the fight in the ninth round given that Horn really took a barrage of punches from Pacquiao. They would reason that it would be better to let Horn fight another fight than getting his brain damaged or killed. If Horn ended up in the hospital with brain damage even if he won the fight, I am very sure fight fans would call of Nelson’s lynching.

But should we still call for Nelson’s lynching for allowing Horn to get away with his supposed roughhousing tactics on Pacquiao?

My answer is “no.”

While I believe Nelson could have done a better job during the Pacquiao-Horn fight, Horn was an amateur roughhouser compared to Marcos Maidana who once held world titles in the welterweight division.

Maidana literally roughed up Floyd Mayweather Jr. during their title showdown in May 2014. His roughest tactic on Mayweather was to tie up one arm of the American and land bolo punches. Maidana managed to open a cut on Mayweather’s left eyebrow that could have unsettled the American. But the American still won the fight by rallying in the later rounds. In short, Mayweather dealt effectively with Maidana’s roughhousing.

In their rematch, Mayweather put up a better showing and knew how to deal with Maidana’s dirty tactics.

But does that mean Nelson is among best referees in boxing?

I would say that Padilla was among the best boxing referees I have ever seen and he demonstrated this during the “Thrilla in Manila” or the third bout between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, and the slugfest between Salvador Sanchez and Wilfredo Gomez.

During the “Thrilla” that was Padilla’s first world title bout, he did not let Ali get away with too much holding and clinching, as I observed it. And in the Gomez-Sanchez fight, he stopped the bout even if Gomez beat the 10-count after getting knocked down in the eighth round.

Referees can actually be placed in a quandary if they stop a fight too soon or too late; stopping a fight too soon will invite a chorus that the referee handed over the victory to the other fighter, while stopping the fight too late can get a boxer injured badly or killed inside the ring.

And if a referee allows one boxer to get away with foul tactics, he would be branded as being bias for the dirty fighter. But if he tries to keep a fight completely free or any dirty tactics, he could be chastised for spoiling the action.

One often-criticized tactic of boxers is to get their heads close to their opponent so they can throw hooks and uppercuts. But this tactic can also result in intentional or unintentional head butts, which can cause cuts and nasty bleeding. Now just imagine if referees just allowed boxers to throw punches from a distance without their heads getting close; only the fighters with long arms would win and the hook and uppercut—which are knock out and knock down punches—will hardly be used.

So let’s face it—no matter how “sanitized” boxing has become over the years, never expect all fights to be totally clean especially if the tempo inside the ring increases. Besides, in boxing, two fighters sign a contract to knock each other brain’s out, and the referee’s primary duty is to make sure nobody gets badly injured or killed. And it’s not as simple as it looks or sounds.


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