Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Herring-Oquendo Controversy

 In a landscape that has largely been dominated by the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic throughout 2020, Boxing as well as all sports that are currently active have attempted to carry on as best as possible under the circumstances. Among the complications the sport of Boxing has faced since it has attempted to resume in June surrounded the WBO Jr. Lightweight world championship fight between champion Jamel Herring and longtime contender Jonathan Oquendo. A fight that incurred two postponements due to the champion testing positive twice for the COVID-19 virus resulting in two separate postponements of the bout.


It is not uncommon when bouts are postponed multiple times to see those fights either pushed back a significant period of time before attempting to stage a fight again or, to see those bouts cancelled outright as one party in a potential bout might choose to go in a different direction rather than waiting for a fight to be rescheduled. Even when Boxing is under normal conditions, such circumstances can be extremely frustrating for everyone involved in a promotion of a fight including, but not limited to the fighters themselves.


The unique and frankly troubling circumstances of COVID-19 however, has not provided much in the way of alternative options for fighters who have seen scheduled bouts delayed due to impacts of the virus and the ongoing epidemic as a whole. It was not a surprise that the fight between Herring and Oquendo would be rescheduled for a third attempt that finally culminated in the two fighters squaring off on September 5th at the MGM Grand Convention Center in Las Vegas, NV.


As has been the case in regard to fights and fighters that have been effected by COVID-19, the primary question this observer had in his mind as this fight approached was what type of fight would we see. To be more specific, what did the COVID-19 virus take out of Herring physically as well as what impact if any would the delays have on Jonathan Oquendo in this fight. In regard to the champion Herring, it was logical to wonder what impact COVID-19 has had on him because after all, there is still much that is not known regarding the long-term effects of the virus that had unfortunately resulted in the deaths of thousands here in the United States and many more globally. 


The encounter between Herring and Oquendo can best be described as not the most entertaining fight when the two finally entered the ring to do battle with Herring’s Jr. Lightweight world championship on the line. Some may choose to say that the fight was ugly. Why would one say that? In Boxing and by extension all combat sports, there is a saying that more often than not proves to be true. “Styles Make Fights.”


There are times where the styles of two fighters will mesh perfectly and produce memorable encounters that many will refer to as classic battles. Other times however, two fighters styles will differ to such degree that encounters will result in not the most entertaining to watch and more importantly for those scoring a fight, an often difficult task to distinguish which fighter has the upper hand.


This was a fight where when the two combatants were separated at distance, the advantage was in Herring’s favor. When the champion was able to keep some separation between himself and the challenger Oquendo, it was not difficult to distinguish who had the upper hand.


 Herring’s ability to use movement, get his punches off first, and more specifically catch Oquendo as he was coming forward. In contrast to the champion, Oquendo’s strategy was a simple one, come straight forward and apply pressure on Herring. This however, did lead to the challenger being knocked down by a short left uppercut by Herring that Oquendo was caught by in the third round.


Despite the knockdown, Oquendo’s pressure approach did eventually change the dynamic of the combat as when he was able to get on the inside, he was able to limit the champion’s movement with a grappling, mauling strategy. It was a strategy however, that ultimately proved to be the challenger’s downfall as Oquendo was warned periodically for head butts throughout the fight. One such head butt opened a cut over the right eye of Jamel Herring in round five.


Although the clash of heads was ruled intentional by Referee Tony Weeks, who deducted a point between rounds five and six from Oquendo as a result, the gash which appeared to this observer to be in a spot over the eye where blood would be going into the eye and obviously create difficulty for the champion in terms of his ability to see out of the eye as the fight progressed. While this was not difficult to assume based not only on the position of the cut, but also, having covered countless fights over the many years I have covered combat sports and having seen similar cuts occur, as this fight went on, there were some fans across social media platforms as well as some involved in the sport who questioned whether the cut would enable Herring a way out of what was becoming a difficult fight due largely to the constant pressure Oquendo was able to put on him as well as not allowing the champion to have much breathing room on the inside.


Everyone whether they be a fan, or amongst those of us who cover the sport are certainly entitled to their own view as to how they see things. From my perspective, as someone who covers Boxing, I have never attempted to claim to know what goes through a fighter’s mind in situations such as this because no matter what someone viewing things from the outside might believe, no one can speak for what a fighter and to be more specific, what a fighter’s body might feel except for the fighter themselves.


It did appear however, that the cut was one that was only going to worsen as the fight progressed and I did not believe the bout would go much further beyond the fifth round due to the severity of the cut. Perhaps not surprisingly, the bout was stopped after the eighth round when Herring informed a ringside physician that he could not see out of his right eye. Frankly, my initial reaction after the cut occurred in round five was that the fight would be stopped within a round or two based on how severe the gash appeared to be. Based on this, I was surprised that the fight had made it through eight completed rounds before it was stopped.


What was a clear outcome based on the rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC), whose unified rules govern world championship bouts that states in the event of a foul that is ruled to be intentional by the referee officiating a bout, and that foul causes the fight to be stopped, the fighter who committed the foul is disqualified, there was an element of controversy that emerged following this fight being stopped. Despite the foul being indicated as intentional immediately upon its occurrence by Referee Tony Weeks in round five, the subsequent point deduction against Oquendo that followed, and the cut caused by the intentional head butt/foul ultimately causing the fight’s stoppage, there appeared to be some confusion among members of the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC).


This was a new scenario that I personally cannot recall seeing before where a referee clearly indicating an intentional foul and subsequently calling for a disqualification, only for the state athletic commission sanctioning/overseeing a bout appearing to question whether the call should have been to go to the official scorecards for what would have been a technical decision after eight completed rounds of the scheduled twelve round world championship bout. Although I had never seen this happen before, it did prompt me to respond to what I was watching as this was taking place on social media with an all too familiar line that yours truly has become known for through the years. “Like Peanut Butter And Jelly, Boxing And Controversy Just Go Together.”


In fairness, I have seen worse instances of “Controversy “ during my time covering the sport of Boxing, but this was a little different than what one normally associates with the term “Controversy.” While some have criticized the Nevada athletic commission officials for what appeared to be a lack of understanding of the rules by a normally stringent commission, I began thinking of what may have caused the confusion. 


One should keep in mind that since the month of June, the state of Nevada has been one of the few states in the United States that has sanctioned Boxing and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) bouts on a regular basis since the COVID-19 epidemic began since the state has allowed combat sports to resume behind closed doors. While some may view this fact as an excuse for the commission being unaware of protocols regarding scenarios of an intentional foul according to the unified rules, it is important to keep in mind not only the amount of bouts that take place per card as well as in many instances, when a fight is stopped due to a head butt/clash of heads, it is ruled to be accidental by the referee and under most circumstances in a fight that is scheduled for longer than a four round distance, the rule is if a fight is stopped due to an accidental foul, the fight goes to the scorecards after four completed rounds and if a bout is stopped before four rounds due to a foul deemed to be accidental, the fight is declared a technical draw.


While this explanation may be confusing for some, it is important to remember that like everyone else, Referees, Judges, and commission officials are all human and sometimes people can have a bad day/night at the office. Fortunately, what appeared to be confusion by members of the NSAC did not result in what would have been an incorrect ruling and the outcome of this fight remained what Referee Tony Weeks had ruled, a disqualification against Oquendo giving Jamel Herring the victory and a successful defense of his world championship.


It was a victory however, that left some asking more questions and it had to be an unsatisfying victory for the champion under the circumstances. Although Jamel Herring appears to be on a collision course with former Featherweight world champion Carl Frampton, I believe there is unfinished business between Herring and Oquendo. Whether or not there is a second encounter between the two remains to be seen.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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