September 24, 2018
September 24, 2018
Lawrence Okolie

Action Images/Andrew Couldridge

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DISQUALIFICATION. A big word; a menacing six syllable beast.

DQs are rare in boxing. They’re a last resort, something a referee turns to when left with no other choice. Spectators don’t want to see them and fighters don’t want to win or lose by them. They’re unsatisfactory but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t happen, and in my opinion we should have seen one on Saturday night at Wembley. It gives me no pleasure to say it but from where I was sitting referee Victor Loughlin should have disqualified Lawrence Okolie from the British cruiserweight title fight he was officiating between Okolie and champion Matty Askin.

It was a terrible fight, a truly awful spectacle, but that’s not what’s important here. You can never guarantee entertainment in boxing, or indeed in any sport, and all experienced observers realise and accept that. What is important is that a contest is fair and I didn’t feel that what transpired in the ring between Askin and Okolie was fair.

From the first bell the challenger was guilty of persistent fouling, an approach that made it impossible for the champion to engage in a legitimate contest. Okolie’s actions didn’t go unchecked with Mr. Loughlin deducting points on three separate occasions for a variety of offences. Three points is a lot to lose and in the majority of cases enough to ensure that the culprit loses on the cards, should the fight go the distance, particularly as more often than not a fighter who resorts to consistent fouling is generally under the cosh and desperately trying to survive. But that wasn’t the case in this instance, not that the context of the fight should matter, because so alien was the approach that Askin was being confronted with, it was Okolie who was winning the rounds.

Lawrence Okolie

You could see how frustrated the Barrhead official was getting. He wanted what all refs want, which is a fair, clean fight, and he wasn’t getting one. So he reprimanded the perpetrator and then deducted points. But it didn’t work, with the boxer failing to heed the warnings he was given and at that stage, having exhausted all other options available to him, it would have been reasonable for the referee to have disqualified Okolie and to have pronounced Askin the winner. The British Boxing Board of Control lists a number of acts that are not permitted in the boxing ring in section 3.38 of its Rules and Regulations, of which there are 15 acts in total, with the key one in this case being act f); “holding, butting, or careless use of the head, shouldering, wrestling or roughing.” It then follows that list of 15 acts by stating that “in any of the above cases the Referee shall name the Boxer at fault and call upon him to desist and may in his sole discretion have the power to caution or disqualify a Boxer for any such act with or without reference to any medical opinion.” Victor Loughlin called upon the boxer to desist on numerous occasions, and he failed to do so, a lack of compliance that made disqualification justifiable. Victor is a very good referee, an A star referee under the BBBofC which in my mind places him amongst the best in the world such is the standard of officiating in the UK, so I’m not saying that he was definitively wrong not to DQ the boxer, I have no authority whatsoever with which to say that, just that I would have felt it would have been reasonable for him to have done so. Some people will agree with that, other won’t, boxing is an extremely subjective sport, but I think the key question we have to ask ourselves here is this: Was Matty Askin confronted by a legitimate approach from his opponent throughout the course of the fight that he could reasonably be expected to have to overcome? For me the answer is no. In my eyes Askin was subjected to persistent and highly effective fouling that left him unable to fairly defend his title and that, as far as I’m concerned, cannot be right.

As I said at the beginning, nobody wants to see a DQ. Okolie is a very promising young fighter who has now won British and Commonwealth titles in his first 10 fights and a very self-aware one too, something that was demonstrated his own brutal assessment of his performance that he posted on Twitter just hours after the final bell. The honesty was refreshing, and good to see, but this discussion isn’t about personality, potential, or profile, it’s purely about the rules of the ring and their being applied in a way that is fair to both fighters and in that regard I think Askin can justifiably feel that he was let down.

I’d like to see the Board order a rematch. I’m painfully aware of course that after Saturday there won’t be much appetite for one amongst the boxing public, but they should order it anyway. A British title should not be won or lost in such a manner.