A HUGE talking point of last weekend’s bill at the O2 Arena – aside from Vasyl Lomachenko being absurdly good at boxing – was the ruling of Charlie Edwards’ World Boxing Council flyweight championship defence against Julio Cesar Martinez on the undercard as a No Contest. Martinez looked to be on his way to victory in round three before he uncorked a flagrant illegal blow that slammed into the fallen WBC champion’s side and sent him gambolling in pain. Do not underestimate how much that punch would have hurt, either. Even if the Englishman had seen the blow coming, and he couldn’t have done because he was rolled up on the floor nursing the effects of a legal punch that landed seconds before, it would have been agonising. It was little wonder he could not get up to resume battle.
Referee Mark Lyson ruled that Martinez won the fight by knockout. It was announced to the crowd that the rampaging Mexican was the new champion. It was a cruel way to lose a world title but not a massively surprising judgement. After all, illegal blows are extremely common in boxing and all too often ignored, particularly if the fighter landing them is in the ascendancy.
Evidence can be found throughout history. Roberto Duran’s ball-breaking blast to Ken Buchanan in 1972 springs to mind as perhaps the most famous. But there was even evidence on the same night as Edwards-Martinez – in the same arena and in front of the same cameras and the same crowd – as Joshua Buatsi scored with a low blow before halting Ryan Ford in a light-heavyweight bout for a minor World Boxing Association title. Imagine if Mariana Borisava, there as the WBA supervisor, had reached for the microphone and announced that Buatsi’s victory was being struck off the record books. She’d have been laughed out of the arena. But would she have been wrong to do so?
Not according to the WBC president Maurico Sulaiman, who did exactly that after he watched replays of (his Mexican countryman) Martinez lamping the stricken Edwards and then overruled the British referee’s decision. Sulaiman is not without his critics, but Boxing News has always found him to be open and keen to improve the sport he clearly adores since he took over as head of the WBC in 2014. And in that regard, being so quick to punish an illegal blow in an important fight should restore some faith in the sport’s justice system.
But there was something exceptionally bothersome about Sulaiman walking into the ring and overturning a decision like that. While the bout was fought under WBC rules and he was therefore perfectly entitled to alter a referee’s call, doing so on the spur of the moment after watching a replay on a nearby screen, was a little too cavalier.
Sulaiman got lucky this time, but what if he wasn’t in an arena where everyone agreed with his decision? There would be chaos. The manner of the announcement, which directly followed Mauricio himself translating the unsuspecting Martinez’s victory speech for the Sky cameras, had more than a hint of pantomime villainy about it. But of course, in the UK, while giving reprieve to a British fighter, Sulaiman became the hero.
We should also remember that while the contest was fought under WBC rules it was contested in a British ring where television replays are not permitted to play a part in the outcome of a fight. That’s not to say they shouldn’t, by the way, but if and when the decision is made to allow replays to be used in evidence, one would hope there would also be a process in place that would alert the referee to any illegal blows (before a knockout is ruled) so the referee – and only the referee – can then decide on the correct course of action.
On this occasion, it can be argued that Sulaiman did the right thing. However, it sets a highly precarious precendent when the head of a sanctioning body is permitted to step into the ring and overrule the outcome of a fight.