By Petrer Lerner: There was a bit of everything happening in Italian boxing over the weekend: the long-awaited return of the protagonists of last year’s fight of the year, two EU and a European title fight, two impressive visitors, the comeback of the former pound-for-pound king of Italy, plenty of knockdowns and an absolutely gruesome miscarriage of justice.
It all started with a bill on Friday promoted by Conti Cavini in Montefiascone, about an hour and a half north of Rome. Headlining was 40-year old Giuseppe Lagana, a flyweight from the south of Italy who put in something of a ’Cinderella Man’ performance last October when he beat the favoured Bernard Inom for the European title. Going into that fight at 24-9-1 he was not given much of a chance against the Frenchman with a much more impressive resumé. However, he pulled it off, winning by technical decision after seven rounds.
His reward was a shot at the full European title, held by Silvio Olteanu, a Romanian fighting out of Spain. This was Olteanu’s first defence of the title after finally getting the better of Valery Yanchi, another Eastern Europeaner resident in Spain. Olteanu lost twice to Yanchi early in his career, drew with him for the vacant title last October and finally beat him - picking up the title as well - by split decision early this year.
Olteanu proved to be just too much for Lagana, comprehensively stopping him in five rounds. Olteanu had that dog-with-a-bone intensity of a newly-crowned champion who has no intention of giving up his belt. Snarling and grinning his way through the rounds, he was particularly potent with the left hook, though it was the right which floored Lagana the first time. That moment came in the third when a series of right hands turned him around and put him down. He seemed out on his feet but got a helping hand when referee Ian John-Lewis (promoted from judge after Mark Green felt ill) took him to the corner to pull his trunks up. That merely delayed the inevitable. In the fourth Lagana was floored by a jab then in the fifth he went down again and his cornerman got up on the apron waving a towel. John-Lewis ignored him but waved the fight off a moment later when Lagana was sent stumbling backwards by a jab.
Olteanu’s impressive performance was overshadowed however by what happened earlier that evening in the fight between Andrea Di Luisa and Luciano Lombardi. It’s not unheard of for a football player to be mistakenly booked by a referee for diving when he has in fact been genuinely fouled. How many of us have heard of a boxer being disqualified for playacting after he has been blatantly fouled and the referee has acknowledged the foul?
This is what happened in Montefiascone and it must go down as one of the most clamourous and dubious refereeing decisions ever to take place in a boxing ring.
The fight, for Di Luisa’s Italian super middle title, was testy to say the least. Lombardi persistently held, without the slightest admonishment from referee Antonello Paolucci. Di Luisa, a hot-headed sort at times, expressed his frustration by pushing, rabbit-punching and the odd forearm to the throat during the clinches. Throw in the occasional careless headwork by both and it is easy to see why the fighters were irritable. There lies the responsibility of the referee to take the match by the scruff of the neck and protect both fighters from fouls. Paolucci thoroughly failed to do that. He could have been watching the fight on his sofa at home for all the authority he tried to impose. So instead of the referee laying down the law we had the spectacle of the two fighters taking breaks from the action to verbally argue.
Someone had to reach boiling point and it was Di Luisa in the fourth round who exploded. He pulled back his head, strained his neck and slammed a clear headbutt - Victor Ortiz-style - straight into Lombardi’s face, followed by two left hooks. Lombardi went down into a heap in the corner. He lay prone for a good few seconds while confusion reigned. The referee failed to call ’time’, Di Luisa shrugged his shoulders and people milled about the apron. Nobody had any idea if the fight had been stopped, if points had been taken off, if Lombardi would be given time to recover or if the round would continue. At this point the referee had completely lost control. After about half a minute Lombardi got up and the logical conclusion was that either the fight would continue, with Di Luisa being deducted two points (as per the rules for an intentional foul), or he would be disqualified. Instead it was announced that the fight had finished and Lombardi had been disqualified for ’simulazione’ - in other words acting. The referee had decided that Lombardi’s reaction was over the top.
It was an incredible and even disgusting decision for several reasons: a boxer commited a henious and acknowledged foul yet won the fight thanks to that foul; unless a referee has advanced medical equipment, a team of doctors and ample time to conduct scans and examinations at ringside (completely unrealistic of course), there is no way he is in a position to judge that a fighter is playacting after suffering a headbutt and two left hooks from the biggest puncher in Italy - how can he have any idea of verifying if the fighter has suffered concussion, internal bleeding or double vision?; neither the Italian Federation nor the EBU even have a provision for points deductions or disqualification for acting; and Lombardi’s reaction was not particularly dramatic or prolonged. Surely the best course of action would have been for the referee to call ’time’, assess the situation in his own time, verify if Lombardi could continue or not and then punish Di Luisa accordingly.
Lombardi was probably behind on points and was unlikely to have won so it’s not exactly accurate to say he was robbed but he was certainly denied a chance to try and win by a referee whose actions were completely incompetent and irresponsible.
What’s particularly worrying, beyond any possible accusations of favouritism or inability, is the potential for physical damage resulting from such a call by the referee. In recent years we’ve seen Francisco Lorenzo somewhat milk it against Humberto Soto and the varied opinions on just how hurt Andre Dirrell was after Arthur Abraham’s cheap shot. There was even Juan Esquer’s incredible display of rolling, writhing and hysterics against Milan Melindo in January - surely due some sort of prize at the end of the year. These sort of situations often go hand-in-hand with controversy and debate. The rules - especially regarding intentional low blows - are open to abuse from fighters who would otherwise lose a fight. But that should surely be of secondary importance when we are talking about rules which first and foremost protect the health of a fighter. Imagine if Dirrel had been told to continue in his fight with Abraham otherwise he would have been disqualified for acting, and he then suffered secondary concussion.
One can appreciate the difficulty of making a decision in a passionate atmosphere, with people shouting from all sides and without the benefit of replays. But that is the referee’s job and it his responsibility to do it competently.
Antonello Paolucci made a very bad and potentially dangerous call to cap a poor refereeing performance. Andrea Di Luisa committed an unacceptable act and won the fight thanks to that act. Luciano Lombardi was victimised for being a legitimate victim.
Di Luisa thus keeps his Italian title but it was an unsatisfactory return to say the least after his epic loss to Alì Ndiaye last year.
The next day in the Sardinian town of Quartu Sant’Elena, Di Luisa’s arch-nemesis, Mouhamed Alì Ndiaye, defended the EU super middle title that was his reward for prevailing in their gruelling fight. His opponent was Jose Maria Guerrero, a Spaniard who had done very little of note in his career, despite a 29-3-1 record. His biggest victory was perhaps over an ancient Juan Nelongo Perez, the durable fighter from Tenerife who took Clinton Woods the distance during his pre-Roy Jones days. His other notable fights were losses - to Mario Veit and to Juergen Braehmer at the start of the year.
It was hoped that Alì would have made a statement to build on the momentum gained from the Di Luisa fight. Instead what we got was typical Alì - at times beguiling, at others infuriating. He got the job done in nine rounds and while it lasted showed all his best and worst tendencies. There were spells and glimpses of the wonderful natural talent he has - defined by a languid but vicious style, every type of punch imaginable, piercing accuracy and an acceleration from seeming torpor into destructive combinations that is quite frightening. There were moments when it seemed that, if he wished, he could blow Guerrero away. The left hook to the body that put the Spaniard down in the seventh was perfect. Yet there are periods in which he seems to be drifting, almost dawdling through a fight, and physically he doesn’t seem to be able to sustain his virtuosity for more than a one complete round. If he does get his big chance for the European title - and a fight with James DeGale would be really intriguing - then he’s as capable of getting outworked as he is of shocking everybody. Maybe that’s just the enigma he is. What is clear is that talent-wise he’s some way above the junior European level.
Credit must go to Guerrero. He never stopped trying and he never went into survival mode in the face of the intermittent lashing he received. He finished on his feet too, pulled out at the start of the tenth by his corner due to the accumulation of facial damage that had been inflicted upon him.
The other big fight on the Quartu bill saw Luciano Abis, fighting in his hometown, facing Rafal Jackiewicz. After holding the EU welterweight title for almost two years, the hope was that revenge against his old Polish rival - Jackiewicz outpointed Abis back in 2009 - would lead him into a shot at Leonard Bundu for the full European title. He must also have been hoping that Jackiewicz’s one-sided defeat at the hands of Kell Brook last year was the sign of some kind of declline.
It was not to be. The Pole, whose now 41-10-1 record belies the fact that he has only lost twice in the last 7 years and 28 fights (against Brook and a majority loss against Jan Zaveck for the IBF title), was simply too composed and smart for Abis. First he confused him, then he discouraged and finished him. A tight guard, irregular patterns of movement and a reluctance to give anything away meant that Abis was faced with a foe who was difficult to catch cleanly. Pretty quickly the Sardinian seemed short of ideas. Sneak right hands over Abis’s jab soon started to make their mark, followed by clumping right hands to the body. With each of these perfectly judged counters Jackiewicz would immediately return back into his shell, like a trapdoor spider emerging for a second to catch his prey before disappearing back into his hole. These punches started to take their toll with Abis becoming ever more ragged and disorganised. In the seventh the breakthrough came with a hard right over the jab putting him down. A follow up combination had him down again. The towel came in upon the resumption of action.
Abis, at almost 33 years of age, probably has time to come again. However, his inability to adapt or even try different approaches in this fight is worrying given that he’s been a pro for twelve years and came in with a respectable 32-2-1 (15) record. He has decent power and can often look commanding against limited opposition but it’s difficult to see him ever getting beyond EU level.
On the undercard was Andrea Sarritzu, once considered by some Italian websites to be the best boxer in Italy in any weight class. He was a winner of five European title fights (the only active Italian boxer who can match this is Gianluca Branco) and he pushed Omar Narvaez to a draw and a split decision for the WBO belt. That standing had to be revised last October when the little man from Quartu was broken down by South Africa’s IBF champion, Moruti Mthalane. Now at 36 years of age, and with his best performances coming ten years ago, Sarritzu feels he’s still got something to give. For his comeback he got a soft touch in David Kanalas. This young lanky boxer from Hungary may have had a 7-2 record going in but those two defeats were first round stoppages at the hands of Paul Butler and Willie Casey. Sarritzu took four rounds to get the job done. A shot at Olteanu seems the likely route that Sarritzu will take - he is number one in the European rankings after having given up the title before the Mthalane fight. That would be a tough ask. Olteanu may not be at the level of Mthalane but he seems much spikier and more dangerous than most of Sarritzu’s recent opponents at European level.
May 28, 2012