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Media review: Call the Hamzah Sheeraz foul

Hamzah Sheeraz
Alex Pantling/Getty Images
Skeete didn’t recover from flagrant illegal blows. The Hamzah Sheeraz foul should have been called, writes George Gigney as he examines the weekend’s boxing coverage

IT was not a particularly successful night for the BT Sport broadcast team on Saturday night. The Queensbury Promotions card at the Copper Box Arena in London had some interesting talking points, not least of which was Anthony Yarde’s destructive performance in the main event. However, it was a flagrant foul that was softly punished in the chief support that had most people talking. Bradley Skeete was soundly outboxing Hamzah Sheeraz before being dropped in the ninth round. While he was clearly on the floor, Sheeraz hit him with at least two full-blooded shots. It was, frankly, disgusting and referee Steve Gray should have taken more decisive action. He gave Skeete time to recover and deducted a point from Sheeraz, but the fight should have been ruled a disqualification there and then.

The question was clearly put to Richie Woodhall on the commentary about whether or not the point-deduction was harsh enough punishment, and he said it was. He was asked if anything more should have been done, and he said “no.”

Skeete was unable to recover from the illegal blows and was eventually stopped. Gray made a mistake in not disqualifying Sheeraz – and it’s an admittedly tough call to make – and the broadcast should have made this clearer.

Allowing Sheeraz to go on and win the fight, with the commentary supporting that decision, sets a dangerous precedent. He could have done serious damage to Skeete, and this incident sends a pretty clear message that you can get away with breaking the rules.

The BT punditry team was a little more critical of Gray’s call and Sheeraz’s transgressions, but still nobody claimed it should have been a disqualification.

It was suggested that Skeete should have stayed on the floor after the illegal punches and ‘milked it’ in order to force the disqualification, but Skeete is not that type of fighter. He is brave and proud and wanted to win more clearly.

That decision should not be a fighter’s, though. They should not be expected to make that call, especially after receiving unprotected blows to the head. In such a situation, the referee needs to take the proper action. If they, for whatever reason, can’t, why not use video replays, similar to VAR in football?

The footage clearly shows the punches being thrown and landed well after Skeete took to his knees and a review of them in real time would have made a decision over disqualification very simple.

The notion of hitting a defenceless opponent had actually been encouraged earlier on the card when Karol Itauma stopped Tamas Laska in one round. Itauma landed a sickening body shot that Laska folded over from, leaning into the ropes and dropping his hands.

Itauma was in position to land whatever he wanted on his opponent but held back, allowing the referee – again, Gray – to step in and stop the fight.

David Haye on punditry expressed his disappointment that Itauma didn’t render Laska unconscious by hitting him when he had dropped all his defences, claiming that all fighters should want to pursue such vicious knockouts.

In fairness, it’s that sort of brutal mindset that led to Haye winning major belts in two weight classes, however Itauma’s restraint should be commended. He did enough to win the fight and nothing more; he saw his man was on his way out and let the referee do his job.

Earlier in the broadcast, Kamil Sokolowski pulled off an upset over fledgling heavyweight George Fox, outpointing him over eight. The Pole seemed to produce the better work in most of the rounds, but the commentary team consistently favoured Fox.

When Sokolowski rightfully lifted his arms at the final bell, Woodhall commented that he was doing so to congratulate himself on lasting the distance, perhaps even snatching a draw. It was a bizarre comment, given that most other observers felt the underdog had pretty clearly won.

There’s also no getting around the fact that the broadcast was way too long. It kicked off on BT Sport at 7.30pm but didn’t wrap up until well past 11.30pm. Besides this being a real slog for anyone wanting to watch the whole thing, it limited the opportunity for analysis in between fights.
Haye, Steve Bunce and Paul Dempsey on the punditry table provided some excellent insight into the action, for example explaining how Sheeraz’ inability to adjust the position of his hands put him at a disadvantage against Skeete. It would have been nice to get more of that.

Some of BT Sport’s pre-fight scheduling was also great, in particular the ‘face off’ between Yarde and Arthur. It’s a popular format, originally devised by HBO, that works well and this one saw Carl Frampton guiding the discussion.

He’s perfectly suited for the role. He didn’t impose himself too much on the discussion, but also ensured it stayed on track. As a former elite fighter himself, he knows the right questions to ask and how to ask them. It was a brilliant watch.

The DAZN broadcast of Devin Haney’s win over JoJo Diaz was solid, though there was far too much talk of an ‘undisputed’ lightweight champion. Such rhetoric just lends more credence to the sport’s sanctioning bodies and their spurious titles.

What DAZN consistently does well is bring in fighters to work on the broadcasts. On this occasion, it was Alycia Baumgardner and George Kambosos Jnr, the latter of whom is coming off his seismic upset win against Teófimo López.

They were both terrific, but Kambosos deserves particular credit. Since beating López, he has granted interviews to almost any media outlet that’s requested one. He had every right to go away and celebrate his victory, but instead he’s kept himself in the public eye and done wonders for his personal brand.

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