That’s Entertainment: Brawls Between Spectators and Controversial Decision Highlight Exciting Night in Houston

By Mark Monroe - The action really started to heat up in round 9 of unbeaten Daniel Jacobs’ bout vs. Ishe Smith on Diaz/Malignaggi undercard: that’s when a brawl erupted in the north side of the Toyota Center, demanding the attention of the arena’s spectators. For many of Space City’s fight fans, the prospect of watching two men conditioned to cause each other bodily harm proved less visually attractive than the spectacle unfolding in their midst. And it was indeed a spectacle: a group of eight or nine people (including at least one woman) relentlessly pummeling their enemy into the Stone Age..

At this point, spectators were beset with a moral dilemma: do you watch the contest between two conditioned and highly skilled athletes who you have paid to see, or do you watch a spontaneous Battle Royale between out-of-shape, inept civilians?

People with binoculars aimed them at the brawl rather than the match. Many people left their seats to get a closer look. Ultimately, this writer chose to watch to watch the fight between the professional operators in the ring rather than the one between his fellow spectators. However, this was easier said than done: although the brawl was broken up several times by bystanders, a complete lack of a response from security and police allowed the brawl to renew itself over and over until the end of the boxing match.

The crowd hooted and hollered, drawing the attention of promoters and fighters who had entered the ring to hear the scorecards. They looked just in time to see one of the weekend warriors in the stands get rolled down the steps of the Toyota Center like an improvised bowling ball. A bemused Sugar Shane Mosley chuckled as a Golden Boy Promotions executive standing to his left made a call on his cell phone (presumably to the police).

The police finally showed up, but the brawlers didn’t skip a beat, seamlessly integrating the new-arrivals into the melee. But Houston’s finest gave as good as they got, and were able to subdue the fans over the next 10 minutes or so. At least ten people were placed in handcuffs and removed from the stands, leaving an empty section behind them. (Sarcasm and comedy aside, rumors are that at least one person was stabbed. Here’s to hoping that he’s ok).

But the drama did not end there. Over the course of the next bout, spectators had the pleasure of witnessing not one, not two, but three more major brawls between fans in the Toyota Center. However, these were not protracted affairs like the original, as police responded to each one of them immediately. It became a sort of sport within a sport to guess which section of the arena
would host the next brawl (there were no brawls on the floor).

When Juan Diaz entered the ring to face visitor Paulie Malignaggi, the brawling stopped, as the audience was spellbound by the close contest. Chants of “Diaz, Diaz” and wild cheers filled the air whenever Juan landed a punch. The hometown hero pressed the action, and to everyone watching in the arena, he appeared to be landing the most effective shots. However, as the fight wore on, the roars of the crowd came less and less frequently, indicating that the Baby Bull was slowing down, affected by Malignaggi’s strafing jab/cross combinations (and possibly the cut on his left eye).

Close fights that don’t end by way of knockout almost wuniversally have controversial decisions, and this one was no exception. Paulie Malignaggi treated the Houston crowd to one of the most dramatic post-fight interviews in recent memory, claiming he had been robbed, that no fighter who comes to Texas ever “gets a fair shake,” and that boxing was “bullshit.” Confused by the chorus of boos that followed his tirade, Malignaggi insisted that he had nothing against Diaz or the city of Houston, which he referred to as a “good fight town.” Malignaggi eventually made his way out of the arena, but not before stopping a few times to discuss the outcome with several groups the Baby Bull’s fans, who enthusiastically gave him their own opinions regarding his after-fight behavior.

What Malignaggi doesn’t realize is that the Texas fans (and, by extension, Texas judges) could never appreciate his style of fighting. The most beloved fighters from Texas have always been punchers or swarmers who sack up and come forward (George Foreman, Cleveland Williams, Randall “Tex” Cobb, and now James Kirkland, Brian Vera, and Juan Diaz), and that is no accident. A fighter’s style is an expression of his hometown’s culture, and the city of Houston would never embrace a “slickster” who has only 5 knockouts out of 29 victories.

But the Houston fans didn’t just boo Malignaggi for his style; they also booed his personality. They booed him when he winked at them from his dressing room. They booed the gaudy wardrobe he donned as he entered the ring. They booed him when he danced. They booed him when he taunted. They booed him when he ran away. They booed him when he celebrated. And yes, they booed him when he complained about the decision, indirectly insulting the boxer, judges, and fans from the “good fight town” that he pretended to praise.

And, of course, they booed the fact that a squeaky Brooklynite with a flashy jab and fancy feet may have just won the contest against the courageous Baby Bull.
A knockout in boxing is the most objective way to win in all of sports. Scoring a knockout dissipates any subjectivity inherent in a judge’s decision. Had Malignaggi scored a knockout, he would have another win instead of another loss. But he also could have won on the cards. How? By trying to score a knockout. That’s what Paulie refuses to understand about the Texas judges.
Max Kellerman called it a marketplace decision. Malignaggi claimed he saw it coming. So why did he not adjust his style to meet the demands of the marketplace?

Of course, said decision was not “fair.” And Paulie may have won if the sport was more “fair.” And the best man should always win. So, fans of the sweet science were left with several nagging questions. Shouldn’t there be more transparency regarding judging, and equity regarding how the judges are chosen? Shouldn’t boxers have a union? And finally, shouldn’t there be better security at the Toyota Center? As one spectator near me pointed out, “even the high school football games around here have metal detectors.”

Article posted on 25.08.2009

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