Saturday night’s Top Rank on ESPN quadrupleheader produced an entertaining night of fights, with three bouts ending in knockouts, while Sergey Kovalev earned back the WBO light heavyweight title with a unanimous decision win in his rematch vs. Eleider Alvarez.
Unfortunately, the card took place in Texas, which inevitably meant we’d get bad judging, bad refereeing, or a combination of the two. The Top Rank show settled on bad and dangerous refereeing, and it became a point of discussion for ESPN’s commentary and studio team.
The ESPN broadcast opened up with Richard Commey (28-2, 25 KOs) winning the vacant IBF lightweight title with a second-round TKO of Isa Chaniev (13-2, 6 KOs), thus lining himself up for an April unification bout with Vasyl Lomachenko. It really should’ve never seen a round two, if not for referee Laurence Cole.
Commey floored Chaniev with a devastating right hand at the end of round one, and as you can see in the video below, Chaniev was jelly-legged and waving in the wind when Cole gave him the green light to continue after the mandatory eight-count. Chaniev survived the round (thanks to tripping Commey), and was stopped after two knockdowns in the next frame.
During a studio segment, ESPN’s Max Kellerman tore into Laurence Cole for not stopping the fight in the opening round, and called out the Texas commission for continuing to assign Cole to these fights.
“Clearly should’ve stopped the fight after that knockdown, when Chaniev didn’t know where he was. I understand reffing live events and a prizefight. It’s difficult to do, I’m not pretending it’s easy. But at this level you are compared to your peers, to other good referees! And Laurence Cole by those standards has consistently shown poor judgment, and he showed it again. And yet nevertheless — in the sport it’s known that Texas has a pretty weak commission — Cole continues, and has for decades gotten top assignments!
“Context matters. If Tyson Fury is fighting for the heavyweight belt and is flattened by Deontay Wilder in the 12th and final round in a fight it looks like Fury’s winning, by all means give Tyson Fury every opportunity to get up and win or defend the heavyweight title. This is the first-round of a title eliminator, when a guy got drilled and didn’t know where he was. And he was allowed to take a dangerous beating, for what?! It is bad judgment.”
The far more egregious case of refereeing incompetence came from Gregorio Alvarez, who let Diego Magdaleno (31-3, 13 KOs) take far too much punishment against super-prospect Teofimo Lopez (12-0, 10 KOs). It was one-way traffic through six rounds when Lopez crumpled Magdaleno with a left hook.
Not only did Alvarez let it continue, but so did Magdaleno’s highly irresponsible corner, who should never have let him see a round seven. Guess what happened? Yeah, a horrifying KO. Alvarez was inexplicably giving a count before he realized at “eight” that Magdaleno wouldn’t have gotten him if he’d counted to eight-hundred.
ESPN’s commentary team of Joe Tessitore, Tim Bradley, and Mark Kriegel heavily criticized both Magdaleno’s corner and the referee for not looking out for Diego, who was was too tough for his own good. The lambasting continued when they went to studio analysts Andre Ward and Max Kellerman.
“The corner of Magdaleno should’ve saved him from himself,” Ward said. “Magdaleno was a warrior. He’s not going to stop fighting. You have to step in. It’s not time to rah-rah your guy, or to get your guy fired up. It’s time to step in and say “Son, I’m going to stop this fight because I love you, we’re going to live to see another day.’ That didn’t happen.”
“Typically a good referee gets close to the action — either about to jump in or he jumps in,” Ward added. “The referee was a spectator. I don’t know how long this guy has been judging — excuse me, reffing fights. But he shouldn’t be judging fights or reffing fights, because he goes home and now Magdaleno has to deal with everything that just took place in a seventh round that should’ve never taken place.”
Kellerman followed up by noting the ridiculousness of Alvarez counting on that KO shot, and then once again blasted Texas’ beleaguered commission over its historical incompetence.
“I said it earlier in the show, Texas is a great state for boxing,” Kellerman said. “They love boxing here, it’s a great site for boxing. But it is a weak commission who continually gives inept referees plum assignments and they consistently exercise poor judgment.”
I certainly commend Kellerman for not holding back on the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations, and especially Laurence Cole, whose continued place as a boxing referee is in large part because his father, Dickie Cole, was the head of Texas’ commission for 21 years before retiring in 2014. Cole has a long list of just pathetic refereeing, including allowing Orlando Salido to land however many low blows he felt like throwing in his win over Vasyl Lomachenko. In that fight, HBO’s Jim Lampley just lost patience and said, “I hate to say it, but I think Laurence Cole has done his normal, dreadful job. He’s just a dreadful referee.”
MMA and boxing fans are certainly also familiar with questionable judging in Texas, let alone awful referees. And I highly doubt UFC strawweight Cortney Casey will ever want to fight in that state again given what she went through with her drug test. And yet major events repeatedly land there from both sports.
It is good to see commissions such as Texas’ taken to task on live television, you just wish it wasn’t one of the main stories in the aftermath of a high-profile card such as Saturday’s.