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NYSAC’s handling of Foreman-Cotto fight could’ve resulted in disaster

08
Jun

Referee Arthur Mercante Jr. showed a great deal of compassion when he finally stopped the Yuri Foreman-Miguel Cotto fight after Foreman went down from a vicious body shot. Should he have shown even more compassion by stopping the fight when Foreman injured his knee and could no longer move well? Photo / Ed Mulholland-FightWireImages

Following the performance of New York State Athletic Commission officials during the Yuri Foreman-Miguel Cotto fight on Saturday at Yankee Stadium, several stories have been written about the white towel thrown into the ring by Foreman’s trainer, Joe Grier.

What are the rules? Was referee Arthur Mercante Jr.’s grandstanding in not listening to the corner’s wishes the only option? Are the boxer’s wishes to continue as valid as anyone’s else’s? Or what role should they play? Should the officials care who the champion is when a boxer is clearly overmatched? And should giving the paying public its money’s worth even be mentioned, let alone a factor?

Yes, rules are rules. But determining whether the Foreman fight should have been stopped earlier had little to do with rules and everything to do with judgment.



There is protocol that must be followed during a fight. Athletes and cornermen are given instructions at the weigh-in and in the dressing room as to how a fight can be stopped. Of course, these are non-issues when a fighter is in trouble. Foreman was in trouble on Saturday night, but no one – neither the referee, the doctor, the head of the commission, nor the television commentators – bothered to notice.

Everything officials are taught in medical seminars went out the proverbial window when the heat was on that night.

A boxer must protect himself at all times. If he can no longer accomplish that simple task, a fight must be stopped. Can a boxer compete with one hand? Yes, if he can mount an offense and/or move away from punches. A one-legged fighter is a disaster waiting to happen, a sitting duck, especially against a puncher like Cotto.

Sharmba Mitchell fought Kostya Tszyu in a highly anticipated title match-up Feb. 3, 2001, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. I was the chief physician that night. Just like Foreman, we knew Mitchell had a pre-existing problem with his knee. He was cleared by his orthopedic surgeon to compete. But we made the fighter, corner and referee aware that should his knee become a problem, and if he could no longer protect himself from punishment, the fight would be stopped. It was obvious to all concerned that Mitchell was unstable on that leg after the seventh round; the corner, referee, fighter and I discussed it between rounds; and the fight was halted. Yes, it was a loss on Mitchell’s record, but he continued his career.

I can also vouch from experience that a fight can become a lethal game of Russian roulette as to how much punishment a fighter can take. You believe you would recognize that moment but you can’t always do so — no matter how much experience you have or how well you know the boxers.

Discussions of towels in the ring or when and how the cornermen should have asked to have the bout stopped is just smoke and mirrors – a way to ignore the truth. Yes, officials are human beings and human beings make mistakes, but neither a referee nor a ring doctor can afford an off night. And we don’t need headlines of another ring death to remind us of this fact.

The other main instance in which a referee should stop a fight is when one boxer has no chance of winning.

One only had to look at the first few rounds of Cotto-Foreman to see that Foreman, although a good fighter, was not going to beat his opponent. This was evident before the ninth round. The scorecards even reflected this fact. I know only too well this is something difficult to accept when you have a big fight with championship-level boxers in a big venue with millions watching, but it was the truth in this case.

Most importantly, where was the ring physician in all this mess? The referee should always seek the advice of his physicians even if he is the only one with the authority to stop a fight. The fact is he is not alone up there. Acting as if he is, can be extremely dangerous.

Foreman collapsed as a result of his injured knee more than once that night. If the doctor didn’t examine the fighter between rounds after the first time he went down, in the seventh round, the referee should have called the doctor in to make an assessment. And if the referee isn’t paying attention to the ring physician, the doctor can mount the ring apron to be certain he or she is seen. Even the head of the commission or executive director can intervene if neither the referee nor the doctor is doing the right thing. I remember former New Jersey Commissioner Larry Hazzard saving many a life by intervening to help a troubled boxer.

Lastly, a referee or a doctor basing his decision in allowing a boxer to continue on the fighter’s own wishes is a recipe for disaster. Yes, Foreman had the heart of a champion that night. He even admitted he would never quit. This is even more reason not to base a medical decision on the boxer’s opinion. Fans love boxing because there is no heart greater than that of a champion, but during the heat of battle, they should be the last ones to determine their ability to continue.

So, NYSAC, I know you care and value what you do. And, the last thing you want is controversy over an official’s call. I know groups like the Association of Boxing Commissions and American Association of Professional Ringside Physicians will try to clarify regulations to avoid Saturday’s confusing situation. However, if this remains the experts’ approach, then they are all missing the point or concentrating on smoke and mirrors to justify a bad call.

Instead, I implore these organizations to recognize that being a great referee or doctor means having good judgment. When a fight is lost, there is no point in further risking a boxer’s brain cells — irrespective of who is wearing the gloves, where the bout is taking place, or how many fans are watching.

Dr. Margaret Goodman is a practicing neurologist in Las Vegas. She is a former Medical Advisory Board Chairman and Chief Ringside Physician for the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

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