By Robert Brizel, Head RCM Boxing Correspondent
In an international Real Combat Media interview exclusive, famed boxing referees Earl Brown, Benjy Esteves Jr. and Ron Lipton explained what happens in a professional boxing referee’s mind as the bell sounds ending a round. The referees granted exclusive interviews in light of the controversy which occurred in Minnesota on January 3, 2013, in the ESPN main event, when two punches thrown either before, at, or after the bell resulted in referee Pete Podgorski counting out International Boxing Federation Super Featherweight World Champion Argenis Mendez at the end of the second round, giving challenger Rances Barthelemy the world title. After the bout, it was claimed the knockout blow occurred after the bell had sounded ending the round, a fact not evident in the television telecast.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohNGadq0ql8 ESPN Review of Barthelemy-Mendez knockout
Commentary by Teddy Atlas and Todd Grisham. Quoting Teddy Atlas, “Clearly, the referee (Pete Podgorski was) out of position, behind the fighter instead of on the side, not aware where the time was, not in position, and that’s why the punches went after the bell. (The outcome changed to a) No-Contest? Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Not the fault of the fighter, not the fault of Barthelemy. Not the fault obviously of the fighter who got hit either. It’s the fault of the referee, he wasn’t in position. You have to protect yourself at all times. The referee, though, has to take control in that kind of a situation, has to know what the time is, has to know that it’s towards the end of the round, has to get in position, so if anything happens at the end of the round. He’s right there to jump in. he was NOT there.”
Despite the evaluator logic of Teddy Atlas, the bell rang, and clearly the two finishing punches, while they had enthusiasm and momentum, based on the above replay under scrutiny, had to have been launched after the bell sounded, heard by both fighters. The fact the referee was out of position, whereby if he was in position the round would have ended without the two late punches being thrown, proves the argument the IBF will use to declare the bout a No-Contest, no matter how the Minnesota Commission rules the Mendez appeal.
One eyewitness, Chicago fight manager Wasfi Tolaymat, was at ringside behind the timekeeper and claimed in a separate Real Combat Media interview the knockdown and ten count came before the bell sounded. However, fight footage from two different angles refutes this argument. The time of 2:59 is impossible, because the punches in question, even if their momentum came before the bell ending round two, landed after the bell had sounded, meaning 3:00 to 3:01 or later the count had to have officially begun. If the count began after 3:00 OR if the count began at 3:00 plus a fraction of a second, this cannot be since anything after 3:00 would mean the count began beyond the official end of the round. It remains to be seen how then referees giving their interpretations of similar theoretical situations, are still able to justify the momentum of a punch thrown after the 3:00 mark.
The official time of the knockout was 2:59 of the second round. However, former world heavyweight champion turned boxing promoter Iron Mike Tyson insisted the two final punches thrown by Rances Barthelemy clearly were thrown after the bell, so he planned to attempt to put together a rematch.
“I am going to call for a rematch,” Mike Tyson explained. “Mendez was hit twice after the bell. I am going to complain and go to the Minnesota Athletic Commission. Barthelemy was winning the fight, but he still hit Mendez after the bell, and that wasn’t fair at all.”
Fairness does not necessarily correlate to the correct interpretation of Minnesota rules.
World championship referee Ron Lipton compared the strange ending of Mendez versus Barthelemy to the July 29, 1988, World Boxing Association World Welterweight title bout between champion Marlon Starling of the United States and challenger Tomas Molinares of Columbia. A right hand landed by challenger Molinares after the bell ending round six sounded knocked out Starling. The WBA upheld the result and affirmed Molinares as the new world champion. New Jersey Athletic Commissioner Larry Hazard supported referee Joe Cortez.
However, in one of the first known examples supporting instant replay, the New Jersey Athletic Commission declared the bout a No Contest after Home Box Office fight footage showed the final right hand thrown by Molinares had been initiated after the bell ending the round had clearly been heard. Starling did not remember the knockout, telling HBO commentator Larry Merchant that his right ankle had got twisted somehow at the end of the round when he and Molinares got entangled. A hospital examination showed Starling had a sprained right ankle, but no other damage. Molinares suffered from depression after the bout, and the WBA title was subsequently stripped from him. He never won again.
The end of round occurrence is not limited to boxing. A similar incident happened at the Fifth World World Karate Championships in 1990 at the Budokan in Tokyo, Japan. In his third fight, the late Swiss Martial Arts Master Andy Hug came up against Brazilian Martial Arts Master Francisco Filho. At the end of a round, as the bell rang, Filho landed a roundhouse spin kick (called Mawashi Geri in Japanese) to the side of Hug’s head which left Hug unconscious on the floor. Despite protest from Hug’s Swiss corner, though it was later confirmed Filho’s kick had indeed struck after the bell rang, it was ruled FIiho had started his kick before the time was up ending the round. Filho was declared the winner.
Real Combat Media: “Should Bathelemy have won by the title by second round TKO?”
Referee Ron Lipton: “It should have not been a TKO last night. It was shades of the Tomas Molinares versus Marlon Starling (a similar outcome in 1988).”
Real Combat Media: “How does a referee interpret a punch thrown at the bell?”
Referee Ron Lipton: “There are only two ways to go. The referee has to rule whether it was an intentional or unintentional punch after the bell. The ruling must be done succinctly, clearly and immediately! If it is ruled immediately unintentional, if the injured boxer cannot continue it becomes a No-Contest if the bout ended in under four rounds. If it (the professional bout) was over four rounds, (the fight) goes to the scorecards and the bout would be declared a technical draw, even if the injured boxer was behind on the cards, If (the injured boxer was) ahead on the cards, he or she wins. No punch after the bell can be rewarded with a victory if the recipient cannot continue from it. If the punch is ruled intentional, the injured boxer wins on a Disqualification.”
Real Combat Media: Do you see the final punch Barthelemy threw at Mendez on ESPN?”
Referee Ron Lipton: “It might have been unintentional.”
Real Combat Media: “Referee Pete Podgorski appeared to be in the wrong position as the bell rang.”
Referee Ron Lipton: “Any referee (gets ready for the end of the round) should have heard the 10 second warning.”
Real Combat Media: “What should the Minnesota Combative Sports Commission rule?”
Referee Ron Lipton: “At the very least (the bout should be ruled) a No-Contest.”
No way (can the result of the bout be affirmed as) a TKO, (as this would be) most unfair to the boxer (Argenis Mendez) struck after the bell.”
Real Combat Media: “The IBF World Super Featherweight champion, Argenis Mendez, appeared to be knocked down close to the bell, at the bell, or after the bell.”
Referee Earl Brown: “The barometer most of us use (as referees) is how close the final punch is to the sound of the bell, because you are in a comparative mode. If you are a fighter, you are trying to get punches in, you are not counting seconds two seconds before the bell rings.”
Real Combat Media: “When does the professional boxer who threw the controversial punch in question at the end of a round get the benefit of the doubt?”
Referee Earl Brown: “If the fighters are in combat, a punch is thrown and the bell goes ding, and then a punch is thrown, you give the fighter throwing the punches the benefit of the doubt. You have to if a punch is in flight, and if it hits the opponent. On the other hand, if the bell rings, and then there is a pause, then you can hold (the late punch) against the fighter (who threw it) in anger or retaliation. One guy hits the other guy, the other guy tries to hit back. That you’ve got to stop, the referee can’t allow that.”
Real Combat Media: “How do you judge how close a punch is to the bell ringing?”
Referee Earl Brown: “This is determined by how close the punch happened to the bell. Once you see retaliating stuff after the bell or after a break, you have to deal with it immediately and warn the fighter to stop.”
Real Combat Media: “How does a referee assess the fighters in the ring?”
Referee Earl Brown: “You don’t know what is on a fighter’s mind. If you set the rules during the fight, and the fighters know, they will follow. If you don’t, the ring gets out of hand. A lot of these things happen at the beginning of a fight. A punch can be instructive, If a punch is retaliatory, you have to deal with it.”
Real Combat Media: “I was present in Atlantic City for two bouts where the final bell was not heard, Derrick Webster versus Sabou Ballogou (fight went past the eighth round ending the bout in error), and Yusaf Mack versus Omar Sheika (fight went past the twelfth round ending the USBA title bout in error). Does a situation ever occur where the referee is unable to hear the bell?”
Referee Earl Brown: “sometimes you don’t hear the bell. There’s times in the ring when I don’t hear the bell go off due to crowd noise. How do you blame the fighters? If it happens right at the bell or close to the bell (a punch is thrown) you can’t always hold that against the fighters.”
Real Combat Media: “What do you think of the possibility of instant replay in professional boxing?”
Referee Earl Brown: “I am a proponent of instant replay. Even if it opens me up to criticism, I would rather get the decision right. If they would use instant replay, you can slow it down and analyze it all kids of ways. Normally, in most situations, if you go through instant replay, you can get the correct decision.”
Real Combat Media: “How does the referee’s mindset figure into a bout?”
Referee Earl Brown: “Most things we do as a referee are a judgment. I make sure to tell every young referee to make sure he is in good psychological and emotional shape, (in order) to maintain your position and see everything in the ring. If a referee can’t see these things happening, it’s his fault. I take this job very seriously. Our job-as referees-is to maintain a fair and equitable work place for both fighters. If we do not do that, we are not doing our job.”
Real Combat Media: “What constitutes a legal blow when a round ends?”
Referee Benjy Esteves Jr.: “If there’s a punch that has been thrown on the way before the bell or at the bell, that’s a legal blow. As referees, we have to make these decisions. Sometimes, we as referees don’t hear the bell. If a punch is thrown at 2:59, it’s a legal punch because it was thrown before the bell rang. The punch is on the way, and it hits or lands after the bell, it’s a legal punch.”
Real Combat Media: “Benjy, Real Combat Media has covered your refereeing in both New York and New Jersey. Is there a difference in how the round ends?”
Referee Benjy Esteves Jr.: “Yes. Texas and New Jersey use the five second indicator. You have 5-4-3-2-1. You are going to get inside (the two fighters as the referee as the bell rings). If you have ten seconds (as the indicator before a round ends), at six seconds you may be too early. If you’re too early, you’ll wind up on the outside. A five second indicator for referees really helps because you are able to maintain your position and see everything in the ring.”
Real Combat Media: “Pete Podgorski, who refereed Mendez versus Barthelemy, was the referee in December 2010 in Chicago when the cruiserweight I was then advising, Carl Davis of Chicago, won the vacant USBO Cruiserweight title by ten round decision over former IBF World Cruiserweight champion King Arthur Williams.”
Referee Benjy Esteves Jr.: “Pete Podgorski is a world class referee, one of the finest in the world.”