By Sean Waisglass: Although Emanuel Augustus, who presently fights out of Chicago, IL by way of Baton Rouge, Lousiana, out-hustled Courtney Burton for the majority of their 10 rounds Tuesday night, it turned out that in fact it was the local officials who where doing the hustling. They whipped up a potent mix of questionable refereeing with unprofessional judging and somehow found a way to award Burton, who is from Michigan's Benton Harbour, a highly controversial and undeserved split decision.
They may not be perfect, but the Compubox punch stats that ESPN2 use give a solid general idea of what took place, and the numbers seemed to reflect what everybody but two of the three judges saw: Augustus had landed 302 of 802 punches thrown, while Burton landed 231 of 757. Much of Augustus' landed blows were power shots.
For most of the rounds, Augustus controlled the action by using lateral ring movement and keeping a steady punching pace. When he let Burton get in close, the experienced journeyman used shoulder rolls and waist movement to lessen his opponent's effectiveness. Augustus consistently utilized jabs, body work, crisp combos, and hard lead rights while Burton followed him around trying to get in range.
The fan-favourite showman Augustus also clowned around heavily in a few rounds, pounding his chest or smiling and boogying down to his fistic rhythm, seemingly both expressing his confidence and trying to psyche Burton out. Burton put in a good effort and had a few good rounds, but although he landed some nice hard shots from both his orthodox and southpaw stances, he never found his groove, and was usually one step and couple of punches behind the energetic Augustus.
Augustus seemed to land a hard hook to the belly in the fourth that dropped Burton to his knees, but referee Dan Kelly - who would controversially become a key factor in the fight - ruled the on-the-belt blow low and allowed Burton time to recoup.
Kelly routinely busted Augustus' chops for questionable infractions, including another clean body shot which Kelly stopped the action and warned for being a hip blow, and a stunning warning to keep his head up in the eighth after Burton had him in a clinch and rabbit punched him three times. The dubious refereeing climaxed in the ninth when Kelly strangely took a point from Augustus when he twisted and spun himself under Burton's arm to get out of a clinch.
As if the blatant favouritism on the part of the referee wasn't enough, two of the judges decided to get in on the action and went in the kitchen and did a little home cooking - and I don't have to tell you what it smelt like...
Ed Mosley incompetently scored the bout 97-92 Burton, while the shamelessly biased Robert Paganelli scored the bout 99-90 in favour of the home-state boxer, astonishingly giving Augustus only one round.
Augustus has already got 24 losses, what's one more, right?
Jack Richards had it a more reasonable 98-94 for Augustus. According to David Mayo in an article in the Grand Rapids Press, all three judges were from the Grand Rapids, Michigan area.
Burton dubiously raised his record to 21-2, while Augustus drops to 28-25-6.
This is the second atrocious home-town decision on an ESPN2 broadcast this year - the first being Matt Vanda's 'win' over Sam Garr this past January on Friday Night Fights. Much like Tuesday's fight, the rising prospect put in a good effort, but was unable to keep up with a seasoned journeyman, and was nonetheless awarded a victory despite any sane observer's knowing the contrary.
ESPN2 commentators Teddy Atlas and Joe Tessistore exploded on air Tuesday night. Wrap-up footage showed Tessitore perplexedly asking ref Kelly why the point was taken after the ninth, then incredulously and obviously exasperated, asked for clarification when the indignant Kelly responded "for spinning".
Altas, who's known for being passionate to say the least when it comes to the failings of the sport, flew into a rage when the scores were read. He hadn't boiled over this fiercely since 2001 when James Butler sucker punched Richard Grant on ESPN2 air with no gloves on after losing their match.
After Tessitore had taken the score sheet from the announcer to examine the scores, a Michigan official came over to retrieve it, and when confronted about the decision, claimed it was a majority decision. This created further confusion as Atlas angrily chastised and questioned the official regarding what the proper scores were. It turned out the scores were sadly, read correctly, and that this official - a boxing official in the home state of Floyd Mayweather Jr., James Toney, Emanuel Steward's Kronk dynasty, and the great Joe Louis - did not know the difference between a majority and spit decision.
The broadcast ended with Atlas pleading into the camera for someone to do something to help our ailing sport.
When it comes to the debates on the overall heath of the sweet science and the sport's obvious decline (read: the need for the boxing to get back in the public's good graces), folks argue that it's lack of exposure, it's lack of classic-era-like talent, it's the ridiculous sanctioning bodies with foolish rankings saturating the sport with belts... To paraphrase the famous James Carville-coined Clinton campaign slogan that convinced voters Bush Sr. didn't have his finger on the pulse of the public's concern: it's the bad decisions, stupid.
If a casual fan was watching Tuesday night, he saw a good solid well-fought contest between two pros; one of whom was entertaining, skilled, and seemed to logically win the match. When sour scores are rendered for the other guy, that casual fan, who minutes earlier enjoyed the pleasures of a good scrap, now thinks boxing is either a) fixed or b) so screwed up a whole it's barely a legitimate sport. Thus, the odds of the fan watching another televised fight any time soon, much less pay to see one, are about as good as if you were to ask if he/she wanted a drink from a spit bucket.
I've rarely been at a bar and heard casual fans complain that one fighter was ranked higher than another by the WBA, or that they don't know who the proper lightweight champ is. But when a bum decision is rendered, I see many a fan who was cheering and smiling during the action now shaking their heads in disappointment, angrily dismissing the sweet science, or even worse, condescendingly laughing at the ridiculous result of the blood and sweat of two professionals. And even if not all controversial decisions are corrupt, the truly bad decisions spoil the credibility of debateable ones.
Postscript: when watching a tape of the fight again yesterday, I let it run at the end while I scribbled notes. The match it was recorded over ran a little longer than Augustus vs. Burton, and came on-screen as the decision was being read. It was De La Hoya vs. Sturm.
July 8, 2004.