• Steve Bunce

A referee for Froch-Groves II? Look no further

Steve Bunce March 11, 2014
Alfredo Angulo's fight against Saul Alvarez is ended © Getty Images

The crowds in Las Vegas can be notoriously savage when a referee displays some humanity and ends a brutal fight before they are the ready to return to the gambling tables.

The ringside area in boxing's neon capital is mostly civil, with high-rollers taking their seats late, casino executives talking on mobiles but the fans have paid a lot of money and they want blood. Last Saturday at the MGM the fans watched a massacre with glee and then booed for ten minutes when Tony Weeks, a veteran referee, finally saved Alfredo Angulo from his bravery and rescued him in round ten against Saul Alvarez in the pay-per-view main event.

Buncey's Vaults

Jake Matlala celebrates his win over Michael Carbajal © Getty Images
  • In Glasgow the ITV cameras stopped rolling when Paul Weir lost to Baby Jake Matlala in a WBO light-flyweight fight. It was a mad night and the promoter, Barry Hearn, 'rushed from his ringside seat and launched a foul-mouthed assault on ITV's Gary Newbon, Reg Gutteridge and Jim Watt'.
  • The fight was not shown because of advertising on Matlala's shorts and Hearn was livid: "You are a ******* disgrace," Hearn shouted at Newbon, "and you two [Watt and Gutteridge] should be ashamed of yourselves. Paul is fighting his balls off and you are not even commentating." Weir lost in the tenth.
  • In the other world title fight, which was shown, Eamonn Loughran lost his WBO welter title in just 51 seconds to Mexico's Jose Lopez. ITV had to show an old Sugar Ray Leonard fight when they had just 51 seconds of live boxing. "It was a disaster," admitted Hearn.

Angulo's face had changed shape during the one-sided slugfest and the abrasions on his cheeks, brows and head resembled the wounds from a slip on rough concrete and not from an encounter with another man's leather fists. Angulo was, it has to be said, still throwing punches, still snarling and calling Alvarez in, but bravery in a boxing ring often tips into idiocy, which is why men like Weeks have to do their job.

The rabid debate in British boxing circles about the intervention of Howard Foster in the first meeting between Carl Froch and George Groves proves that it is not only the Americans that like their fights to go until one man can no longer walk and talk. That is not sport and no amount of cash, including paying fifteen hundred quid for inner ringside at Wembley, entitles anybody to witness a death. Trust me, I have been ringside at two death fights, still have the pad with one boxer's blood on it; no cash transaction gives any fan the right to bay for more when a boxer wanders into the danger zone.

On Saturday night it was left to the great Paulie Malignaggi, a former world champion with one of boxing's biggest hearts, who perhaps perfectly captured the dilemma that exists between the expectation of fans, the spirit of the boxers and the task of the referee. Malignaggi cut through emotion and opinion and said that Angulo will now be able to watch his daughter grow up. Well said, that man.

Angulo had been on the receiving end from the opening bell, a willing target for an angry Alvarez, who in his last fight was made to look clueless at times when he lost to Floyd Mayweather. At the end of round one Angulo admitted that Alvarez was hurting him and the admission seemed to shock Virgil Hunter in his corner. Hunter tried to inspire his listless battered fighter to rally but Alvarez was simply too good; at the end of the ninth round Hunter's tone had changed and he warned Angulo that he was not going to let him take much more. It ended a minute or so later. In the aftermath Angulo, perhaps helped by the crowds' ridiculous reaction, complained. What else could a fighter with his heart do?

The fight cost 70 bucks on pay-per-view in the US and the win puts Alvarez back at the top of the mix with major fights against Gennady Golovkin, Miguel Cotto or Sergio Martinez all possible by the end of this year. The intervention means that Angulo, once he has been checked, can fight again and perhaps next time he will not leave his legs and speed in the gym, which I think is exactly what happened.

And so to Froch and Groves and, inevitably, the "man in the middle" question. Groves wants a non-British ref, Froch claims that is disrespectful and my feeling is that an American will be imported by the sanctioning bodies to satisfy everybody. There are referees with a reputation for letting boxers go too far and some that are rightly cautious. At Wembley on May 31 I want a man in the middle that will be brave enough to step in if one of the boxers is hurt and at the same time not worry about 60,000 or 80,000 fans screaming for more blood. On Saturday in Las Vegas, Weeks showed he has the guts for the big decision in the big fight. He could be the right man.

Buncey's Boxing Podcast
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Steve Bunce Close
Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.