Bute-Andrade: Controversy…whatever the result

Lucian Bute27.10.08 - François Bouchard - What a fantastic night of boxing it was last Friday night at the Bell Centre. With the IBF super middleweight title at stake, Lucian Bute and Librado Andrade waged war for 12 action-packed rounds with a little controversy. Just to refresh your memory, Bute was pitching a perfect fight for 11 rounds until he fell into the trap and went head to head with the hard-charging Andrade, who took the opportunity and knocked Bute down with seconds left into the fight. With the clock ticking, referee Marlon B. Wright issued the count, only to have Andrade out of the neutral corner and motioning him back, which cost him precious seconds.

Wright then finished the count and judged Bute was able to continue after Bute offered his glove so the referee could wipe them off. With two seconds left it wasn’t enough and Bute won by unanimous scores of 117-109, 115-111 and 115-110.

Among those great super middleweight wars, the first that comes to mind is the unforgettable clash between Nigel Benn, then WBC 168 lb champion and his middleweight counterpart Gerald McClellan, a fight in which McClelland left his senses. The fight itself wasn’t without controversy: Benn was knocked out of the ring in the very first round and any other referee outside of England that night may have stopped it. But Benn was a Arturo Gatti-like type of fighter, one you could never count out and he came back indeed to blast McClelland in the tenth, not without the help of a 9th round clash of heads, some may say led to McClellan fate. Don’t forget Roy Jones jr. complete domination of James Toney, a virtuoso performance which put Jones among the top of the pound for pound ladder at the time. On local soil, who could ever forget the stellar performance of Eric Lucas outboxing slugger Omar Sheika? More recently, in a Jones/Toney- like performance, Joe Calzaghe completely dominated Danish dynamo Mikkel Kessler. Also, there’s the rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy “The Hitman” Hearns for the WBC-WBO titles, a fight which Leonard was down hard, courtesy of the famous Hitman right hand. In the 12th and final round however, it was Hearns who was in deep trouble, clinching to save his evident victory. But the judges decided otherwise and called it a draw. Controversy anyone?

Comparisons are inevitable in boxing. Lot of people compared last Friday’s fight ending with the first Stephane Ouellet-Davey Hilton fight. You could remember Ouellet, the then-WBC’s #1 middleweight contender, and Hilton, the comebacking dangerous puncher waging war for 11-plus rounds with Ouellet getting the better of it, only to also like Bute fall into the mouse trap, getting stunned by a right, his head outside the ropes, Hilton’s non-stop right punching and referee Denis Langlois stopping the fight with seconds left in the fight. Langlois was highly criticized at the time, Ouellet’s corner citing that the ropes held Ouellet.

Whatever decision Wright would’ve made last Friday he would’ve been criticized anyway. Nobody would like to be in shoes right now. He did what he thought was the right thing and among the IBF rules. Andrade didn’t quite stay in the corner. He gave a chance for Bute to prove himself, and then the bell rang. Imagine that for a second: what would’ve happened if he did stop the fight? The other half would’ve probably said he didn’t give a chance to the champion, that a fighter shouldn’t lose his belt that way.... on and on.

The fight that should draw comparisons is the 1990 first Julio Cesar Chavez – Meldrick Taylor fight. Taylor, a former gold medal from the famous 1984 USA team was on the golden road of stardom when he faced the Mexican legend. Chavez, undeafeated in 68 fights (all victories) compared to Taylor’s record of 24-0-1 had styles that meshed perfectly. The flair, the speed and smarts of Taylor against the Mexican’s aggression, power and endurance. For 11 rounds, same pattern, Taylor giving a virtuoso performance, only to get caught with seconds left by a big right hand. Referee Richard Steele wasn’t watching the clock; he was looking at a fighter battered and hurt and made a dramatic call. With two seconds left he waved the fight off. Two seconds. The same as last Friday. Steele would go on as a referee but was highly criticized and mostly booed. Later, we would learn that Taylor swallowed two pints of blood and had his cheekbone fractured. A lot of people think their career would’ve gone different ways had Steele decided otherwise.

How ungrateful is the task of the referee in such a boxing match. Steele was criticized and Wright is being criticized. However, boxing historians won’t see this fight as the first “Long Count”. You could bring up memories of the famous 1927 rematch between Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey. Most observers at the time believe if Dempsey would’ve gone to a neutral corner he would’ve regained the heavyweight title by seventh round knockout. Remember how Don King whined about Buster Douglas being the happy recipient of a long count when Mike Tyson downed him in the 8th round of their 1990 fight? Who could now remember Octavio Meyran after that fight?

Douglas did his part, he listened to the referee’s count, so did Tunney, so did Taylor, although his fate was different. Bute did the same, he listened to Wright and the later, according to the IBF rules, did his job like he was supposed to do. Mr Wright, you can sleep well, you made a tough decision with the tools you had.

For sure, there was controversy last Friday. Whatever the result there would’ve have been. There’s only solution for this to settle the dust: rematch! Not just to wipe the slate clean but to give the fans another gem of that brutal and magnificent sport that boxing is.

Thomas Hearns, who was in attendance watching his son fighting on the undercard, could talk you some more about controversy…

Article posted on 28.10.2008

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