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Bruno on Boxing

Joe Bruno
Bruno on Boxing
August 6, 2000

By Joe Bruno---Former Vice President of the New York Boxing Writers
Association and the International Boxing Writers Association

News Item: “Honest Injun” fight officials mar a fine Showtime Fight Card.

    Just when we get to see a competitive Showtime fight card showcasing four
fine fighters, incompetent and possibly crooked boxing officials force us to leave with  rancid taste in our mouths.

    The fight card took place Saturday night at the Mohegan Sun Casino in
Uncasville, Connecticut. In the opening bout, former junior lightweight champion Jesse James Leija was matched with tough up-and-coming prospect Juan Lazcano. Leija, a youthful 34,  had fought 47 times in his career, losing only four, and those to future Hall of Fame fighters Azuma Nelson (twice), Sugar Shane Mosley and Oscar De la Hoya. Lazcano, ten years younger than Leija, is a hot prospect and has some talent, but unless these old eyes deceived me, he was given a “house fighter” comp on Saturday night’s boxing show, courtesy of some very friendly Indians down on the Mohegan Sun Reservation.

    Leija started strong, out-punching and out-quicking Lazcano for the first five rounds. Lazcano came on in the sixth and seventh rounds, finally connecting with some of his roundhouse left hooks and an occasional straight right. After seven rounds, Leija was bleeding from a cut over the right eyelid and seemed to be in danger of being stopped on cuts.

    But surprisingly, Leija reached down into his ring-worn gas tank, and resumed control in rounds eight and nine. The tenth round was close and could’ve gone either way. But there was no doubt in Lazcano’s corner after the fight that Leija had proven he was the better man that night. Lazcano was downcast and glum, shaking his head over the  way he had not been able to perform against world class competition. In the other corner Leija was jubilant, confident he had done enough to keep him fighting for big paychecks for a least another day.

    There was a hint of larceny in the air when it took several minutes to count up the scorecards.  Judge William Hutt rightfully scored the 96-94 for Leija. Judge Fred Ucci scored it 96-94 for Lazcano, and somehow Judge Steve Weisfeld saw it 97-93 for Lazcano, giving Leija only three rounds in the entire fight. Disgraceful. This reporter had it 97-93 for Leija.

    Both TV commentators Steve Albert and Bobby Czyz had Leija winning comfortably in rounds, 6-3-1 and 7-3 respectively. After the decision was announced, Albert said, “It was improbable that Leija won only three rounds.” Czyz then quipped, “Improbable? It was impossible. There should be an investigation.”

    The Showtime fight was being simultaneously scored by fight fans in American on the Showtime website. They had it 10-0 for Leija, which was a little ridiculous, but not as ridiculous as Judge Weisfeld’s scorecard favoring Lazcano.

    Leija hit the nail on the head when he said after the fight, “I wasn’t shocked by the decision. I’ve been around too long. Main Events is the promoter and Lazcano was their house fighter.  I now how these things work.” 

    Leija may have made a slight, but understandable mistake about the promoter’s name. Lou Duva’s promotion group, headed by son Dino, was the
promoters of the fight. But Main Events, Duva’s old crew, is now under the control of Duva’s ex-daughter-in-law Kathy Duva, the wife of Lou’s deceased
son Dan. But Leija was right about his implication. The Lou Duva fighter got
the benefit of two judges largess and that plain stunk like puffs on a putrid
peace pipe.

    Did Duva pay the the judges off for their votes? Probably not. But any judge worth his weight in favors knows, go against the house fighter and forget any future assignments on that promoter’s card, or maybe any promoter’s future fight shows. Judges with reputations for voting against house fighters, get their next assignments judging cockroach races in back alleys; the bona fide Witness Protection Program for fight judges.

    The main event featured another Duva fighter, junior welterweight champion, Zab Judah defending his title against former champ Terron Millett. Except for taking a Millett left hook on the jaw in a first round during a heated exchange, dropping him for the second time in his career, it was Judah all the way. But the ending at 2:47 in round four, left viewers shaking their head at the actions of referee Mike Ortega, son of former middleweight contender Gaspar “The Indian” Ortega. Maybe no “Honest Injun” here either.

    Using blazing hand-speed and a middleweight’s punch, Judah dropped Millett a minute into the forth round for the second time in the fight. Millett was up at the count of one, and both fighter exchanged heat in mid ring. Millett launched  a hard overhand right, which Judah sidestepped. Millett’s momentum hurried him past Judah and he fell forward onto the canvas. Replays showed no punch had landed, but Ortega still ruled this a knockdown. Millett was again up at one, and seemed not too badly hurt.

    Ortega yelled for Millett to advance towards him, which Millett did, hands held high. Ortega barked at Millett, “Are you all right? Do you want to continue to fight?” Millett clearly said yes. Suddenly, Ortega yelled “No!” Then he waved his hands over his head signaling the fight was over. Millett said clearly to Ortega, “I’m cool.” But Ortega was firm. He was the sheriff, and in like the old black and white westerns,  the sheriff always has the final say.

    It probably wouldn’t have made a difference anyway. Millett was on the way out, if not in that round, then most likely in the next. But as a former champion, you would think a referee would give Millett every chance to turn the fight around. After all, he did drop Judah in the first round with a wicked left hook.

    To add insult to injury, Showtime was not allowed to interview Ortega after the fight, citing a commission rule that makes referees unavailable for interviews after a fight. We were given no clue as to why Ortega stopped the fight when he did, and this more than anything else, gives credence to the assumption that house fighters like Judah are given every advantage. Even ones they don’t need.

    The new fad is holding fight cards on Indian Reservations that house casinos, designed to separate gamblers from their hard earned cash. The reasoning is, casinos are sovereign, pay no taxes and answer to no one, not even the Big Indian Chief in the sky.

    As long as these Indian reservations are permitted to act with impunity, expect more bad decisions like the judges and ref Ortega made Saturday night at the Mohegan Sun. Almost as bad as when General Custer turned to his trusty aide and said, “They do seem like friendly Indians, now don’t they?”

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