You're a boxing referee. The evenly matched contest in front of you becomes one-sided without warning. While one fighter is slumped on the ropes, the other unleashes a flurry of potentially lethal punches. Charged with protecting the health of the combatants in front of you, you bravely leap in to halt the bout. And what then? Have you just protected a hurt fighter from excessive punishment, or robbed a man of his chance to fight on? If you tuned in to HBO's 1998 send off doubleheader, you probably saw both.
In the main event, Floyd Mayweather wasted no time in dominating Angel Manfredy. With the first punch of the fight, a blistering right hand that slammed into Angel's face and buckled his knees, Floyd Mayweather let everyone know that the pick 'em fight on paper was going to be a blowout in the ring. Using handspeed that completely overwhelmed the rugged Manfredy, Floyd popped his opponent at will in the first round. Manfredy's respect was summoned early, as each of Mayweather's shots hurt Angel, who was unable to land a single punch of significance. As good a Manfredy is, he still looked completely outclassed after the opening round. He would hardly have a chance to prove otherwise.
In the second, Mayweather continued using his footwork and blinding speed to subdue Manfredy, who came forward nonetheless. In the last minute of round two, Manfredy landed a couple of good body shots, and mimicked a momentary switch to southpaw that a confident Mayweather had thrown in for fun. But just as he was beginning to adjust to Floyd's speed, the end came.
Mayweather smacked Manfredy with a sharp right hand that buckled Manfredy's knees momentarily. Reacting to the punch, Manfredy dropped his hands as his face registered the frustration of being knocked around. Big mistake. As Angel gestured, Floyd attacked. He rushed Manfredy and caught him with another right and a left that sent him back to the ropes. And then Floyd really opened up on him. A left uppercut snapped back Manfredy's head and a follow-up right shook him further. Met with no resistance, Mayweather continued firing until a left hook buckled Manfredy into the ropes. Although the rules would have allowed for a knockdown, referee Frank Santore stayed back. Visibly hurt, Manfredy absorbed several more head snapping shots before Santore did jump in, this time to halt the bout. Mayweather TKO2.
The ring filled immediately. Floyd Mayweather Sr. leaped into the ring to hoist his son over his head. Angel Manfredy's entourage surrounded their fighter, who was in tears. Crushed in defeat after months of intense training, Manfredy's tears of sorrow swelled into a defiant rage. Unable to comprehend the beating he had just been administered, Manfredy called the stoppage "bullshit" and angrily demanded a rematch. But was the stoppage out of line?
While a bit on the quick side, the stoppage must be weighed fairly. Mayweather was only beginning to open up on Angel, and the deadly barrage would have continued had the referee not jumped in when he did. With Angel stunned on the ropes and not returning fire, it is difficult to see how anything other than a brutal knockout would have followed. A more serious contention may lie in Santore's failure to call a knockdown when Angel slumped into the ropes. The rules state that when the ropes are the only thing holding the fighter up, a knockdown should be called. The mandatory eight count that El Diablo would have received may have given him a chance at survival.
Contrasting Manfredy's anger, Floyd Mayweather (19-0/15) was all smiles. And why not? At 21 years of age, he has cleaned the clocks of the two men universally regarded as the two best junior lightweights in the division. Having cleared out his division, Mayweather stood proudly in the ring. Around his waist was his WBC world title belt, over his shoulder was the belt The Ring magazine awarded him after the fight for "Fighter of the Year", and in a trash can somewhere was the meaningless WBU belt that Mayweather had relinquished from Manfredy. One of boxing's hottest prospects has become one of boxing's biggest stars. With everything in place for a blockbuster showdown with Prince Naseem Hamed, 1999 should be an even better year for young Floyd Mayweather.
In fact, 1999 shouldn't be too bad for anyone except Angel Manfredy's future opponents. No doubt, Manfredy (25-3-1/20) will claw his way back to the top of the division, fueled by the belief that his loss to Mayweather was a travesty. Having dropped his "El Diablo" moniker for this fight in favor of boxing trunks with cherubic wings and kinder, gentler "Angel" persona, I wouldn't be surprised if Manfredy returns to his darker side. The bitter taste of defeat might only inspire him more.
Although the stoppage of this fight seemed justified, it may only be the case because it followed a stoppage that was considerably more erroneous. Hasim Rahman lost a fight that he was winning running away when a bizarre series of events turned his imminent victory into a TKO loss to David Tua.
Although the fight was for something called the IBF Intercontinental/USBA heavyweight Championship, the real battle was for the IBF's #1 ranking...a designation that will lead to a mandatory title defense from the winner of March's Holyfield-Lewis showdown. This fight was supposed to happen several months ago, but was scrapped when Rahman temporarily bolted from Cedric Kushner's stable to join the ranks of Don King Promotions. But Rahman returned to Kushner, King was sued, and the fight was back on. While Larry Merchant's labeling of the bout as "the most significant fight of the year" was a bit far fetched, the spoils that would befall the winner could not be overlooked.
Although David Tua looked ready for the fight, coming through the ropes at a tight 224 1/2, he couldn't get a thing going when Rahman opened the fight with a stiff jab. Unable to get his bread and butter left hook working, Tua seemed stalled out. Rahman surprised many by showing a poise previously unseen as he smothered Tua with punches, mostly jabs, for the first half of the bout.
Rahman was in complete control. His jab kept Tua at a distance that neutralized his offense, and when Tua did fire, Rahman always answered each punch he took with multiple shots of his own. After three rounds, Tua was credited with landing only 9 punches, an anemic output that improved only marginally over the next three rounds as well.
Coming into the second half of the fight, Tua was being told in no uncertain terms by the always frank Lou Duva that he was blowing the fight in a big way. Duva was right. Although Rahman didn't show much power, he was peppering Tua all night with multiple shots. Keeping his right hand pinned to his chin, Rahman took away Tua's left hook, a.k.a. Tua's only punch. Sweeping every round on the scorecards, Rahman was cruising to victory.
As requested, Tua upped his output in the sixth and seventh rounds, but was still being beaten by Rahman. After landing a few big punches in these rounds, Tua came back out for the eighth round with absolutely nothing. Even after an unusually long delay to retape Rahman's gloves, Tua could not get things moving. And then everything changed on a dime.
After sleepwalking through nearly the entire ninth round as he had the eighth, Tua unleashed two crushing left hooks to Rahman's head. The first slumped Rahman back onto the ropes, and the second snapped his head back in what looked like an exact recreation of Tua's knockout of David Izonritei. The problem: the second left hook came clearly after the bell to end the round had sounded. In fact, referee Tellig Assimenios was already between the fighters when the punch landed. As Tua returned to his corner, Rahman stood up, clearly hurt. As Hasim return to his own corner, he stumbled across the ring and into the ropes. Nearly out on his feet, he was given no extra time to recoup.
As the tenth began, Tua rushed Rahman, determined to see if Hasim was still hurt. He was. Tua backed him onto the ropes and let his hands go. A left hook caught Rahman and he buckled into the ropes, virtually sitting on the third rope. As in the main event, it was a perfect time to call a legal knockdown. It didn't happen. Rahman steadied himself a bit as Tua kept throwing. Unlike the Mayweather-Manfredy contest, however, while Rahman did catch a few punches, he was effectively slipping a number of them when Assimenios jumped in and stopped the bout. A shocked Rahman shoved the ref. It was a horrible call. On top of the fact that Rahman had initially been hurt by an illegal blow, in a fight he was winning by a huge margin, the stoppage in this fight was terrible. Tua was missing with a majority of his punches and while Rahman was not throwing back, he was still defending himself. Without question, it was a premature stoppage.
In post fight interviews, Tua (33-1/28) was ecstatic. When Larry Merchant pressed him on his overall poor performance and reminded him that Lou Duva had told him that he needed a knockout to win, Tua calmly replied "And I did just that." By contrast, Rahman was visibly upset, and with good measure. He got off a good line himself claiming that his record "is 29 wins and 1 robbery". He has a point.
Rahman's team announced that they would seek an immediate rematch from the IBF. They should get it. Not only is Tua's victory highly tainted, but the IBF should be more than willing to squeeze another sanctioning fee out of both camps. At the earliest, the winner of that rematch won't fact the undisputed champion until summer 1999...plenty of time to sort this out.
The story of the fight, however, was not the quick stoppage, but the poise showed by Rahman. Previously apathetic in his performances, Rahman showed patience, determination and a solid game plan tonight. His ability to use his jab to halt Tua came as a shock to many. And although he grew tired late in the bout, his demise was equal parts the result of a late punch and a bad call.
For his part, David Tua comes off the loser, despite the W in the record book. Dominated for virtually the entire bout, Tua took a lot of leather. While he continues to show awesome power late in the fight, he may not get to the second half of many bouts getting hit as much as he did tonight.
1998 ended with a bang. With two potential rematches in the works, 1999 offers much to look forward to.
-Genaro Hernandez, the man Floyd Mayweather beat to win his WBC title, officially retired this week. Although he was in the running for a shot at WBC lightweight champ Cesar Bazan, Hernandez opted to retire after a scan found trace amounts of blood in his brain. Although it's unknown if this came from his fight with Mayweather, Hernandez did note that in his announcement that he took more punishment in that fight than in most of his fights combined. Although Hernandez's meddle was questioned after he retired on his stool vs. Mayweather and DelaHoya, in my opinion he was a true warrior. He epitomized the "thinking" fighter, he was an excellent and pure boxer, and he could trade when he had to. What's more, you cannot mention Genaro Hernandez without bringing up his sportsmanship. In and out of the ring, Hernandez is a class act. Good luck, Chicanito, and thanks for the memories.
-Also retiring this week was Christy Martin. Last night she was beaten to a bloody pulp in losing to unknown women's fighter Sumya Anani over 10 rounds. Martin was out on her feet in the third, and ended the fight with a swollen shut eye and blood stained trunks. In her post fight interview, she bawled openly and claimed she would retire because she could never fight Lucia Rijker....a fight that has often been offered to her, but has always been turned down over purse demands. To Christy Martin, I say good riddance. Although she brought women's boxing to the mainstream on the Tyson-Bruno undercard, she had recently sent it back to sideshow status by partaking in gross mismatches and ducking real competition. Her monetary demands, frequent contract disputes, and excruciatingly easy schedule made her a classic Don King fighter. And who needs another one of those?
© 2001 Chris Bushnell. All rights reserved.