Texas is Shameless

Paulie Malignaggi: HoganPhotos.com
Paulie Malignaggi: HoganPhotos.com
By Thomas Hauser

In August 2007, Paulie Malignaggi traveled to Las Vegas as a representative of Everlast at the “Magic” fashion show. Moments after his return flight to New York landed, he was taking his carry-on bag from the overhead luggage bin when another passenger recognized him.

“Hey, Paulie,” the man said. “I love you. You’re a great fighter. Don’t worry; Someday, you’ll win a title.”

Problem: Two months earlier, Malignaggi had fought twelve near-perfect rounds against Lovemore Ndou to capture the IBF 140-pound crown. Such is the visibility that attends world championships in boxing these days.

Paulie has struggled since then. He defended his title successfully against Herman Ngoudjo and in a rematch against Ndou, but looked ordinary both times. Then he relinquished the belt to fight Ricky Hatton and performed poorly against the Mancunian, suffering the second loss of his career (the first was at the hands of Miguel Cotto).

After winning a comeback fight against Chris Fernandez, Malignaggi returned to the bright lights to face Juan Diaz on HBO’s Boxing After Dark. When Diaz-Malignaggi was scheduled, I wrote that Paulie would be going to Houston “to take on Juan Diaz, the referee, and three judges.”

Malignaggi had similar concerns. The week before the August 22nd fight, he made more calls to reporters than a robo-call machine in the final days of a heated political campaign.

To get the Diaz fight, Malignaggi agreed to a 138-1/2 pound weight limit and an 18-foot ring (with presumably soft padding). Both of those concessions favored Diaz. But according to Paulie, he’d been promised neutral officials for the fight.

Neutral officials were important. Texas has a reputation for hometown officiating, and Diaz is a hometown hero in Houston. Then Malignaggi learned that the referee for the fight would be Laurence Cole (the son of Dickie Cole, who is the administrator of combat sports for the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation). Pouring salt into the wound, the judges would be Gale Van Hoy, David Sutherland, and Raul Caiz Sr.

Van Hoy is from Texas and has a reputation in boxing circles for looking kindly on Texas fighters. Sutherland’s designation (he’s from neighboring Oklahoma) was also cause for concern. And Malignaggi called Caiz (who is from California) “a gofer for Golden Boy [Diaz’s promoter] and a guy who’s biased in favor of Mexican-American fighters.”

“I understand the risks of going to the other guy’s hometown,” Malignaggi said. “But they’re trying to make it impossible for me to win. They’re doing everything to raise Juan’s hand before we even fight.”

The sad thing is that Paulie was right.

The history of officiating in Texas is troublesome. Laurence Cole went so far over the line in a 2006 bout between Juan Manuel Marquez and Jimrex Jaca that he was suspended for three months and fined US$500 after the Association of Boxing Commissions filed a complaint regarding his performance with the Texas Ethics Commission. Prior to that, Micky Ward was deprived of a knockout victory over Jesse James Leija (of Texas) and given a loss via technical decision when the same Mr. Cole incorrectly ruled that a cut suffered by Leija had been caused by a head butt rather than a punch. The deciding vote in Leija-Ward was cast by none other than Gale Van Hoy, who ruled 49-46 in Leija’s favor. The “neutral” judge (Duane Ford) had Ward ahead at the time of the stoppage.

When Rocky Juarez (another Texan) fought Chris John earlier this year, it appeared to a lot of people that the referee (Laurence Cole) manhandled John throughout the fight. Adding insult to injury, Juarez was awarded a draw, although most observers thought that John had won. Two of the judges in John-Juarez were Gale Van Hoy and Raul Caiz Sr.

These are just a few examples of the fuel that ignited Malignaggi’s concern. Other Texas referees and judges have also raised eyebrows with their performance in high-profile fights.

“Dickie Cole has promised me a fair fight,” Malignaggi told Max Kellerman of HBO shortly before he entered the ring to face Diaz. “Texas is not known to have many fair fights.”

Kellerman was of a similar view, telling a national television audience, “They have everything stacked for Diaz.”
Sutherland gave a preview of his scoring in the first televised bout of the evening, when Danny Jacobs (the fighter favored by Golden Boy) took on Ishe Smith. Jacobs won the fight. Most observers gave him six or seven rounds. Sutherland gave him all ten. At that point, one could have been forgiven for wondering whether Dickie Cole should ask Sutherland if he had the flu or cataracts or some other ailment that was impairing his vision.

Diaz-Malignaggi was a close fight. Cole warned Malignaggi several times for pushing off with his forearm, but seemed unconcerned with the low blows that Diaz threw throughout the bout. Malignaggi had a 191-to-178 edge in punches landed.

This observer scored the bout even at 114-114. Harold Lederman (HBO’s “unofficial judge at ringside”) had Malignaggi ahead 115-113. A poll of viewers conducted by Fightnews.com showed that roughly 60 percent of the respondents thought Paulie had won, while the remaining 40 percent were evenly divided between those who thought that Diaz had won and those who believed that the decision “could have gone either way.”

Then the judges had their say. Caiz scored the fight 115-113 for Diaz. Sutherland was clearly off the mark with a 116-112 card in favor of the hometown fighter. That left Van Hoy, who scored the bout 118-110 for the hometown boy made good, Juan Diaz.

Van Hoy’s score was a disgrace. “What fight was that man watching,” HBO blow-by-blow commentator Bob Papa asked rhetorically. “118-110 is inexplicable.”

“That was terrible,” Lennox Lewis concluded.

“There’s no excuse for a fighter not getting a fair shake,” Kellerman added. “The marketplace spoke tonight.”

The officiating in high profile fights in Texas is starting to look like the officiating in professional wrestling.

The National Football League doesn’t allow hometown officiating when teams travel to the Lone Star State to play the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans. Major League Baseball doesn’t have a separate set of standards for umpires who work home games involving the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros.

Too often, boxing countenances (and even encourages) favoritism toward hometown fighters. That’s one of the reasons why the sweet science is losing the respect of the American public.

HBO, by virtue of its checkbook, is the closest thing that boxing has to an effective governing body. If HBO cares about the integrity of the fights that it televises, it will issue the following statement:

“Boxing is a great sport. A good fight is wonderful entertainment. However, it’s an unsatisfying viewing experience for our subscribers when they see one thing unfold on the television screen in front of them and then the officials rule to the contrary. For that reason, HBO will no longer televise fights from jurisdictions in which we believe that fighters are not treated equally and fairly.”

Things would change in a hurry if HBO took that position. Money talks.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His next book (“An Unforgiving Sport”) will be published in late-September by the University of Arkansas Press.
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