Oh, No……..Not Again!!!!

By Bernard Fernandez
Updated: September 23, 2008

Gloves PHILADELPHIA — Sometimes, the most interesting dramas in boxing are not the ones played out in the ring, but behind the scenes.

An interesting hissing contest preceded the fight card at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Miss. back on September 13th, pitting the World Boxing Council against the Mississippi State Athletic Commission over whose judges would score two of the bouts.

WBC president Jose Sulaiman wanted WBC-approved officials for matches pitting WBC super lightweight champion Timothy Bradley against challenger Edner Cherry and, in a featherweight final eliminator, Elio Rojas against Hector Velazquez. The Mississippi State Athletic Commission, whose chairman is Jon Lewis, held firm that it would appoint its own people.

“The WBC Board of Governors and I cannot be responsible for any verdict resulting from local officials whose names we don’t even know as of today, and are not registered in the WBC by any boxing commission,” Sulaiman said in a prepared statement last Wednesday.

“Consequently, the WBC has decided to buy three ringside tickets for three judges of the highest certification who are registered in the WBC . . . these judges will provide the final and official results for the WBC world championship recognition and for the final elimination fight.

“We truly regret to have been forced to take this action and would give anything to obtain friendship, mutual reciprocity and an agreement with the local commission, which extended to us no acceptance, nor courtesy for even a conversation.”

For his part, Lewis threatened to have the ticket-purchasing WBC judges arrested. Eventually a compromise was reached that, one might presume, left no one happy. (Bradley and Rojas each won by unanimous decision.)

Sulaiman would have you believe the Mississippi-appointed officials are a bunch of rubes who can’t possibly grasp the intricacies of scoring a fight. And who knows, maybe they are. But then WBC judges “of the highest certification” occasionally have been the ones who come off as know-nothings, or worse.

Ask Pernell Whitaker about the expertise and fairness of WBC officials. On March 12, 1988, Whitaker thoroughly outboxed WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Ramirez in Paris, only to find out he was being tagged with a split-decision loss, the first blemish of his career.

Even more egregious was the majority draw that Whitaker, then the WBC welterweight champion, was obliged to accept in his Sept. 10, 1994, title fight with the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez in San Antonio.

My scorecard had Whitaker winning handily, 116-112. Even a pro-Chavez crowd of 63,000-plus in the Alamodome didn’t protest the decision, instead silently accepting the gift that had been presented to their hero.

Maybe — or maybe not — it’s just a coincidence that the beneficiaries of those two heists-by-pencil were of Mexican descent and the WBC is headquartered in Mexico City.

The latest mess in Mississippi reminded me of the April 25, 1998, light-heavyweight bout between Roy Jones Jr. and Virgil Hill in the Gulf Coast Coliseum. The final news conference was held 3 days earlier at a local casino-hotel.

Promoter Murad Muhammad broke with accepted practice by requesting that media members raise a hand and be recognized from the dais before directing their questions to one of the principals.

Ted Lewis, of the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, wanted to know how Hill, a North Dakotan who was going against the quasi-local Jones, whose hometown of Pensacola, Fla., was a relatively short drive away, felt about his chances for receiving an unbiased decision if the scheduled 12-rounder went the distance.

Before Hill could answer, an indignant Billy Lyons, then the head of the Mississippi commission, seized the microphone.

“I resent that question,” the white-haired Lyons said in his thick Deep South accent. “It impugns the integrity of our officials here in the great state of Mississippi. I want you to know, we have the finest officials here. We have the finest referees, the finest judges . . . “

“Tell that to Medgar Evers’ family,” interjected New York Daily News boxing writer/pundit Michael Katz.