Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pascal-Bolonti Controversy:”Conclusive?” Not Quite!

The main storyline that emerged leading up to former WBC Light-Heavyweight champion Jean Pascal’s fight against top contender Roberto Bolonti was that if Pascal were victorious, a world championship fight against undefeated unified WBO/IBF/WBA Light-Heavyweight world champion Sergey Kovalev would be next for Pascal. Prior to this fight, I commented that it would be interesting to see if the potential title shot against Kovalev would influence how Pascal would fight against Bolonti and whether he would look for a knockout.

This fight did have the look on paper of an interesting clash of styles between Pascal, a fighter known for his hand speed, lateral movement, and unorthodox style against Bolonti, a fighter who entered the fight with a near 64% career knockout percentage having scored knockouts in twenty-four of his thirty-five career wins. Bolonti however, also failed in two previous attempts in stepping up his class of opposition against Tony Bellew and former WBO Light-Heavyweight world champion Juergon Braehmer. What would happen when the two fighters met on December 6th at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada can be summed up in one word “Inconclusive.” Some may also say that this fight was simply over before it could really get started.

The first round of this fight was relatively uneventful as both fighters were wary of each other and each were able to have periods of effectiveness in what was the definition of a “Swing Round.”  Neither fighter stood out from the other and you could make an argument for either winning the round. It was in the second round however, where the fight would begin to open up and then take a sudden and controversial turn.

A quick jab from Pascal would drop Bolonti seconds into round two. It was a flash knockdown as Bolonti was caught off balance and was not hurt. Bolonti subsequently got up quickly and the fight continued. Pascal began to let his hands go and landed some crisp body shots on Bolonti. As the fight seemed to be heating up, it would be brought to a sudden and controversial end.

In the final minute of round two while the two fighters were in a clinch that ended up on the ropes, Referee Michael Griffin ordered the two fighters to break. Before the two fighters could be separated however, Pascal would land a short right hand to the jaw of Bolonti sending him down to the canvas and out cold. After several minutes of confusion as to whether or not Pascal should have been disqualified for hitting his opponent with a punch on the break that resulted in the fight being stopped, it was determined that it was an unintentional foul and that the fight would be ruled a no contest. Bolonti did regain consciousness, but was carried from the ring on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital. As of this writing there is no update on the medical condition of Roberto Bolonti. The obvious question here coming out of this fight, was the ruling of a no contest the appropriate call?

For his part Pascal stated after the fight that he did not hear Referee Michael Griffin’s order to break before throwing the right hand that ended the fight. It appeared however, at least in this observer’s eyes that Griffin was in the process of attempting to separate the fighters as Pascal threw and landed the punch. Although it is certainly understandable that Pascal may not have heard Griffin due to the noise of what was a packed house at the Bell Centre and thus the punch on the break being unintentional, there may be some who feel that a disqualification was warranted. This observer had the reaction that Pascal should have been disqualified. The clock indicating how much time was left in the round clearly showed that Griffin had his hands on Pascal at least a full three seconds before Pascal threw the deciding blow. 

My reaction was based on Referee Michael Griffin having his hands on the fighters attempting to separate them before Pascal threw the punch that subsequently knocked Bolonti out. Although it is understandable that Pascal may not have heard Griffin verbally call for the fighters to break from the clinch, Pascal throwing the punch after Griffin had begun the process of physically separating the fighters and had his hands on the fighters would seem to indicate that Pascal should have been disqualified. Video replays of the incident clearly confirm that Pascal threw the punch after Griffin had begun to physically separate the fighters.

There may be some who are of the opinion that although the punch from Pascal did appear to be unintentional, the end result was that one man was knocked out as a result of a foul. This differs significantly from when a fight is stopped either as a result of an accidental clash of heads where one fighter sustains a cut that prevents that fighter from continuing or a fight where one fighter suffers an injury from being tangled and put down by his opponent while in a clinch as was the case in the first fight between Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson in 2011. In that fight Hopkins missed a punch and ended up off balance and leaning on the back of Dawson in the second round. Dawson lifted Hopkins up and dropped Hopkins to the canvas. Hopkins suffered an injury to his left shoulder and could not continue. Although on that night the fight was ruled to be a knockout win for Dawson, the result would later be changed to a no contest by the California State Athletic Commission. 

The question here in regard to this fight however, is whether or not Pascal should have been disqualified for landing a punch while the referee was in the process of trying to separate him and his opponent, which knocked his opponent out. Under the circumstances and having reviewed the fight several times, I believe that Jean Pascal did not hear Referee Michael Griffin’s instruction to break. I do also believe however, after reviewing the incident several times that due to Pascal throwing the punch after Referee Michael Griffin had begun to physically separate the fighters that there is likely grounds for a protest to be filed by the camp of Roberto Bolonti in what would likely be an attempt to have the result changed to a win for Bolonti.

Whether or not there will be a protest remains to be seen. In comments made after the fight to The Canadian Press head of the Quebec Boxing Commission Michel Hamelin stated that the fight was ruled a no contest due to both fighters throwing punches during the clinch and went on to state that it was Referee Michael Griffin’s decision to rule the fight a no contest and not the Quebec Boxing Commission’s decision. 

This is similar to the stance that the California State Athletic Commission took initially following Hopkins-Dawson 1 in 2011 where Referee Pat Russell initially awarded the fight to Dawson via second round knockout. It remains to be seen whether an appeal from Bolonti’s camp will be filed, but in this observer’s eyes there should be at least a video review of the incident so at the minimum there can be clarification for the fighters, their camps, Referee Michael Griffin, and the public so that any confusion can hopefully be resolved.

As for Referee Michael Griffin, although this observer believes that a disqualification of Pascal was warranted, it was a judgment call by the referee in charge and under circumstances like this I believe it underscores the importance and need for instant replay to be universally adapted when situations like this occur. Although I do not agree with the call of this fight being ruled a no contest by Griffin, it is important to remember that referees, judges, and others who are responsible for regulating the sport are human and mistakes can happen. Earlier this year, three of the sport’s major sanctioning organizations the World Boxing Council, (WBC) the World Boxing Association, (WBA) and the International Boxing Federation (IBF) announced their intention to adapt the use of instant replay to settle disputes like what happened in this fight in regard to world championship fights.

The obvious flaw however, is that it does not have any bearing on non-title fights such as this fight was and thus it will be up to each respective Athletic/Boxing commission around the world to adapt to the use of instant replay to settle disputes regardless if a world championship is at stake. There needs to be a universal standard in order to ensure that when circumstances like this emerge that there will be a conclusive outcome and that fights will not be left in a cloud of confusion. It is something that is long overdue.

The other question coming out of this fight is whether or not Jean Pascal will still face Sergey Kovalev for Kovalev’s unified world championship in March of next year. It may be true that Pascal did not lose against Roberto Bolonti, but it is also true that he did not gain a victory over Bolonti either. Although the fight between Kovalev and Pascal may indeed still happen next year, this observer believes that if Roberto Bolonti is medically cleared that the fairest thing to do would be for the sanctioning bodies to mandate an immediate rematch between Pascal and Bolonti. A title shot should only be awarded to a “Conclusive” winner.

 Whether or not the confusion that surrounds what happened in this fight will ultimately be resolved by way of protest and/or a commission review remains to be seen. In my eyes however, the appropriate course of action would be for a rematch to take place as was the case when Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson fought for a second time in 2012.  Simply put, it would be the right thing to do for all parties involved.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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