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Referee Wright sends Andrade to a neutral corner (Tom Casino)
Referee Wright sends Andrade to a neutral corner (Tom Casino)

By John Lumpkin: Being a referee is not easy. It is a job where people judge you by their inability to see you, yet there is nowhere to hide. To meet this criterion, you are largely dependent on the fighters and their corners voluntarily following the rules when it is not always in their best interest to do so. To make matters worse, very few people are actually aware of the specific rules you are tasked with enforcing. Follow the rules to the letter of the law and if the crowd doesn’t like it, you are a pariah.

Referee Marlon B. Wright has taken a lot of criticism for his handling of the Lucian Bute – Librado Andrade fight. For those of you who missed it, Andrade knocked Bute down with less than 5 seconds to go until the end of the fight. Wright began administering the mandatory 8 count and Bute was up on his feet at 6. At the count of 7, Wright stopped counting when he noticed Andrade was not staying put in the neutral corner and turned to direct Andrade back to the neutral corner for several seconds. Wright than resumed the count where he left off stopping at 8. Wright then motioned for the fight to continue and the bell sounded ending the fight.

The controversy was simply that by the time Wright motioned the fight to resume; approximately 20 seconds had elapsed since Bute was knocked down. When Wright turned to address Andrade after Bute had arisen, have gave Bute an additional 6-seven seconds to regroup until resuming the round. The count was also slightly off the number of seconds as it recorded that Bute was up at 6, rather than that actual 8-9 seconds he took. It should be noted however; that nowhere in the Unified Rules of Boxing does it actually state that each count should be equal to one second.

On the surface, this seems grossly unfair to Andrade. What most people missed was that Wright did exactly what he was supposed to do for the right reasons. The situation and the controversy were created largely because the announcer was unfamiliar with the rules in which the bout was being governed. Everyone assumed that the announcer was correct in his astonishment of the referee’s apparent errant actions. According to the regulatory guidelines of the Association of Boxing Commissions’ Unified Rules of Boxing, "When a knockdown occurs, the downed boxer’s opponent shall go to the furthest neutral corner and remain there while the count is being made. The referee may stop counting if the opponent fails to go to the neutral corner, and resume the count where he/she left off when the opponent reports to or returns to the neutral corner.”

If there was a criticism to be made of Wright’s handling of the bout, it should have come before the actual knockdown. There were several instances prior to the knockdown where the ropes were preventing Bute from hitting the canvas and a sustained period of time where he was not adequately defending himself. Many referees would have issued a count or stopped the bout and they would have been perfectly within their rights to do so. Of course, had he done so, he would have been widely criticized as well. While not part of any rule book, most of us like to assume that the champion should be given every reasonable opportunity to retain his title.

There are several important lessons we should take from this bout. First and foremost, it is important to understand the rules. If everyone and especially those tasked with broadcasting the fight understood the rules governing the sport they were watching, there wouldn’t be a controversy. We would have instead heard the commentators noting that Andrade should be careful to stay in the neutral corner and praising the referee for his alertness of the situation. This certainly would not have prevented some people from disagreeing with the outcome, but at least it would not have created the unjustified volume of outrage it did.

The second lesson we must consider is that we are fast becoming our own worst enemy. It seems that every time something occurs in the sport that we do not have a complete understanding of, we immediately assume that something fishy is going on and that the individuals we can identify as being part of the situation must be corrupt. This is actually a very serious allegation that should only be made when there is credible evidence to back it up. It is surprising that the networks are not more cautious with the use of this terminology and how they apply it. Marlon Wright’s reputation was hurt because people who should have known better were irresponsible. Whether you agree with his interpretation and application of the rules or not, Marlon Wright did not deserve to have his integrity questioned.

October 28, 2008

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