Arthur Mercante Jr: The Bravest Referee in Boxing

By: Dave Cacciatore - Sometimes people make mistakes and the whole world finds out about it. Like when an oil company decides to drill in water that is too deep in the Gulf of Mexico with unsafe technology resulting in an explosion that kills eleven people and spills millions of gallons of crude across the sea. Sometimes people make mistakes and no one finds out about it. And other times people make mistakes, we all find out about it, but nothing catastrophic happens. This last category is where Arthur Mercante Jr’s performance in the Yuri Foreman-Miguel Cotto fight falls..

Was Yuri Foreman’s career ruined by Arthur Mercante Jr’s actions? No. Did he take serious punishment when the fight was extended? No. Did the fans have the opportunity to watch a few additional rounds of courageous boxing? Yes. But was Arthur Mercante Jr’s decision the right one? No.

Arthur Mercante Jr’s decision not to stop the fight was the wrong decision because it was about Arthur Mercante Jr and not about Yuri Foreman. Suddenly the attention of Yankee Stadium, the HBO audience, and the boxing public was on him, Artie Jr. With the focus being on Arthur Mercante Jr acting the part of the tough guy, the guy ordering people around, the guy keeping the fight going, the guy probably risking Yuri’s health.

It cannot be disputed that the rules allow a referee to disregard a towel thrown into a ring. But listen to what Mr. Mercante Jr says in his post fight interview with HBO and in subsequent interviews. “I overruled the trainer.” Mr. Mercante Jr makes it clear that he thought Yuri was giving a good account of himself in the ring and that therefore the fight should not have been stopped for that reason. This is not Arthur Mercante Jr executing his duties as an official with the primary charge of the safety of the fighters; this is Arthur substituting his judgment for that of the man who trained and knows Yuri Foreman, Joe Grier.

The question then becomes who is Arthur Mercante Jr to make such a decision? The answer is a man who made the same decision before with disastrous consequences. A man who did not learn from his mistakes. A man who watched another brave fighter named Beethaeven Scottland take round after round of abuse, so that the fans could watch a few more rounds of courageous boxing. The only difference is that time Beethaeven Scottland’s career was ruined and he was permanently injured.

It also needs to be said that while it is true Arthur Mercante Jr was free to disregard the towel, it is equally true that he was not free to disregard when Yuri Foreman’s corner stood up on the ring apron. That act is universally recognized as a disqualifying offense, regardless of who threw the towel, or who denied throwing the towel after the fact. And it shows that Mr. Mercante Jr’s decision had less to do with the proper execution of his job, or being a stickler to rules, and more to do with drawing eyes to his performance while doing his duties. It is why the scene in the ring at Yankee stadium was such an anomaly, when had you ever before seen a corner throw in a towel and go into the ring and the fight still continues?

In boxing like in government, harmony is dependent upon a separation of powers. Fighters fight, trainers train, referees ref, but the last two have the obligation to look after the safety of the fighter. And only the trainer is charged with charting strategy. This is because fighters do not have a history of looking out for themselves in the ring and fighters consent to being coached by their trainers. Brave champions like Yuri Foreman do not care about odds, about injuries, or about risks. Their mindset in the ring is monolithic, victory with costs to be measured out later.

Yuri Foreman was losing and in with the best opponent of his life, and that was before he injured his leg. Yuri has never has been renowned as a knockout puncher and had not shaken Cotto in the fight. The odds of him winning in the moments before the injury were bad and then after they were almost non-existent. The risk of injury to Foreman was also great fighting the biggest and most skilled puncher he has ever faced with an injured but undiagnosed leg that made even walking difficult. The risks were high the chance of rewards were low, but that did not matter because the bravest referee in boxing was going to roll the dice again with a fighters health.

Article posted on 09.06.2010

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