Friday, March 24, 2023  |


Pat Russell’s early stoppage raises old questions

Pat Russell steps in to prematurely end the fight between Jessie Vargas and Tim Bradley. Photo by Naoki Fukuda.

Referee Pat Russell steps in and prematurely ends the fight between Jessie Vargas and Tim Bradley. Photo by Naoki Fukuda.

Seems inconceivable that someone couldn’t differentiate the clapping sound of the 10-seconds-to-go alert with the ringing peal of the bell rung to signal the end of the round.

But it does happen, it did happen, on Saturday night, at StubHub Center, when veteran ref Pat Russell got confused and stopped the final round of the Timothy Bradley-Jessie Vargas early.

After the bout, which saw UD 12-winner Bradley get rocked badly and get a hand up by Russell’s premature stoppage, the ref said he made an honest mistake.

The Internet got to “work,” and lacerated the 67-year-old Russell, who has been reffing pro bouts since 1983, according to BoxRec.

There were aspersions cast that his hearing aide was on the fritz and that he has aged out, that it was time for him to shift away from the third man role. In fact, it emerged after that this is to be Russell’s final year as a ref, that was pre-planned, he’d been aiming to steer away from that gig.

We can only ponder and offer our two cents: Is “age” to blame for his misstep?

Not provable … without knowing the status of his hearing capability, whether his hearing or ability to discern certain pitches or tones has diminished over time, or for some other reason, we cannot know. It bears asking, perhaps, being that he is responsible, to a point, for the safety of the hitters he’s watching over when tasked with refereeing about. No, it’s not a mere exercise in nosiness, or an example of excessive scrutinizing because of an ageist bias, given the gravity of his assignment.

If it makes Mr. Russell feel any better, check out this video clip from 1977, from the first Matthew Franklin (later Matthew Sadd Muhammad) vs. Marvin Johnson light heavyweight tangle. Note that at 45:52, referee Ozzie Sadler “pulled a Russell,” and stopped a round early, apparently mistaking the 10-second alert for the end-of-round bell sound. And Saddler was nowhere near 67, for the record …

Stuff happens … and yes, it would be intellectually dishonest to pretend to ignore the certainty that with age comes deterioration of faculties … and that’s not to say aging was to blame here, but refereeing is a taxing position, physically, mentally, and at least, it behooves all commissions to assess their arbiters, making sure they are in total working order – their body, their eyes, their ears, the whole nine.

Those fighters most certainly deserve that standard.