Sunday, January 7, 2024

2024 Starts With Controversy

The start of 2024 in the world of Boxing on January 6th saw the return of undefeated former Welterweight contender Vergil Ortiz. Ortiz, who after scoring nineteen consecutive knockouts to start his career and seemed to be on the brink of challenging for a world championship, saw his career come to a halt due to a series of health problems including COVID-19 and dehydration, which stalled his return resulting in scheduled bouts being cancelled.

After seventeen months out of action, Ortiz finally did return to the ring, this time as a Jr. Middleweight to face veteran Fredrick Lawson at the Virgin Hotel in Las Vegas, NV. The story going into this fight was a simple one. How would Ortiz look after dealing with those health issues, but also returning in a higher weight class.

In Frederick Lawson, Ortiz faced a one time contender as a Welterweight, who came into the fight with a record of 30-3, with 22 Knockouts. Lawson also had an advantage over Ortiz in terms of activity and came into the fight off of two straight wins in 2023.

When it comes to fights where one of the combatants is coming off of a lengthy stretch of inactivity, regardless of what led to that inactivity, it is always interesting to see whether the opponent will be able to force the issue early and make it difficult for the fighter to work off any theoretical “Ring Rust." As most fights do, this encounter seemingly started with a feeling out process where the two fighters were trying to get warmed up and into the task at hand. 

With a little more than two minutes into round one, Ortiz connected with a jab that seemed to graze off the head of Lawson, but did back him up against the ropes. Ortiz proceeded to attack Lawson, who was against the ropes and seemed to be doing a reasonable job in protecting himself from the majority of Ortiz’ attack, but did take some left hooks to the body and some right hands to the head. Despite not appearing to be significantly hurt, Referee Tony Weeks stepped in and stopped the fight at 2:33 of the first round. 

While Tony Weeks is regarded as one of the best referees in the entire sport and has officiated nearly 900 bouts, many of which have been world championship bouts in a thirty-year career , he has not been immune from being questioned regarding a stoppage he made that many felt was the wrong call. Some may recall the June 2017 World Light-Heavyweight championship rematch between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev, where in a scenario similar to this fight, Ward unloaded on Kovalev in the eighth round, where with Kovalev against the ropes, Ward connected with a series of body shots that appeared to be on the beltline or low with Kovalev leaning over in obvious pain, Weeks stepped in and stopped the fight, but did go on in the days following the bout to say that he missed a low blow and the fight should have gone on.

This time in an interview shortly after stopping Ortiz-Lawson, Weeks in speaking with digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN stated that the reason he stopped the fight was because he saw Lawson's eyes roll back in his head.  Although much like with his stoppage of the Ward-Kovalev rematch, this observer feels Weeks made a bad call or at least was a little too quick in stopping the fight, it is important to remember that as I have often said over the years, more often than not, I will side with a referee under circumstances like this for the sole reason that they are the closest person to the action and as such can see things from inside the ring, up close that others in attendance and those watching a fight on television/streaming may not see. In this case, I did not see what Weeks referenced as his reasoning for stopping this fight. Weeks’ reputation however as one of the best referees in the sport as well as the fact that he was the closest person to the fighters as they were in the midst of combat means that he needs to be taken at his word in obviously he saw something up close that told him instinctively to stop the fight before any permanent damage was done if not God forbid worse. Unfortunately, it leaves not only a bad taste in the mouths of Boxing fans to begin 2024, but also along with the controversy of the stoppage, a feeling of inconclusive, because due to the fact that there was a quick stoppage, justified or not, not much was learned about Ortiz either now as a Jr. Middleweight or in terms of his conditioning, if the fight had gone at least a few rounds. 

Despite the view of yours truly that Weeks made a bad call in this fight, there are two things the reader and any would be armchair critic should keep in mind. One, referees and judges are human like the rest of us and are as prone as any of us to have a bad day or as I often refer to it “A Bad Night At The Office." Secondly, regardless of one's opinion, it is always better for a fight to be stopped too soon than wondering why a fight was allowed to go on longer than it should have when discussing a tragedy that has taken place. One thing any fan or critic should also remember is they do not have to live with the circumstances of allowing a fight to go on longer than it should where the result beyond wins or losses are either permanent injury or even death. While such dangers come with the territory in combat sports, it may be perhaps better to think of what a referee might have prevented in a circumstance where the consensus is a fight was stopped too quickly and controversially. One should also ponder what a referee might have to live with if they do not see the warning signs that a fight should be stopped and missing those signs results in tragedy. It is not something to take lightly.

“And That's The Boxing Truth." 

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