The Russell and Doggett show
Boxing has a tendency to touch the surreal and provide moments where we rub our eyes and wonder ‘did that really happen’? This was again in evidence on a strange weekend of refereeing gaffes on either side of the world which unfortunately overshadowed events in the ring. In Carson, California, Pat Russell incomprehensibly stopped a fight seven seconds early and appeared to hand Jessie Vargas a dramatic, last gasp win over a hurt but recovered Timothy Bradley while in Bangkok Larry Doggett allowed Amnat Ruenroeng to bodyslam, chokehold, grapple and even mount a bemused John Riel Casimero.
First to the StubHub Center in Carson. With just 22 seconds remaining, the seasoned Bradley appeared comfortably ahead on points against WBA 140lbs champion Vargas when the younger man, with his head down, threw a ‘Hail Mary’ right hand that left the Californian on rubbery legs.
Using every ounce of his experience, a backpedalling Bradley desperately tried to regain his faculties as Vargas roared in for the finish and appeared to have survived when Russell inexplicably jumped in to apparently save the four-time world champion from further punishment.
Pure bedlam ensued with an ecstatic Vargas jumping in his corner and raising his arms aloft to celebrate the most unlikely of victories as Bradley stood by the ropes in a state of total bemusement. In the confusion, some news outlets initially proclaimed Vargas a dramatic 12th round TKO winner (Crystina Poncher on the Top Rank feed immediately called it correctly realizing that Russell had mistook the clapper at 10 seconds for the final bell).
But wait! Russell, an old 67, claimed to have heard the final bell and was, in fact, signalling the end of the contest. Confused? Perhaps the highlights above will provide further clarification. Sadly, it appears as if veteran Russell experienced a ‘senior moment’ and his days as an elite referee have almost certainly passed their expiry date. Russell’s botched ending may even gift the aggrieved Vargas a rematch in a fight he was destined to lose clearly on the scorecards - 115-112, 116-112 and 117-111.
Russell’s barely believable error (which he later termed ‘an honest call’) was, at least, a mistake in isolation. Earlier in the day at the Hua Mark Stadium in Bangkok, referee Larry Doggett facilitated 12 rounds of ‘peek through your fingers’ blunders that robbed Filipino puncher Casimero of a fair chance at unseating Thai trickster Amnat Ruenroeng as IBF flyweight champion.
Where to start?! This foul-infested fight bore no resemblance to a boxing match and swiftly descended into a no holds barred, MMA style encounter with Amnat slamming the Filipino to the canvas on NINE separate occasions and pushing him through the ropes like an envelope in the sixth round.
A legitimate third round knockdown for the challenger was called a slip while Amnat was awarded a spurious knockdown in the seventh when Casimero was bundled to the canvas. The Thai was allowed to hold on to Casimero like a limpet throughout including one bizarre 40-second ‘slow dance’ in the seventh and gripped his challenger in chokeholds and headlocks for long periods of the contest.
As a third man, Doggett was as useful as a member of Amnat’s entourage who had remained in the ring after the first bell and should have deducted points and subsequently disqualified the Thai long before a belated, almost insulting deduction in the 11th round. It was too little, too late.
The awkwardly effective Amnat prevailed on the scorecards unanimously 116-107, 113-112 and 115-107 yet the fight, while oddly compelling, left an extremely sour taste. What promised to be an intriguing match between the slick Thai champion and heavy-handed Filipino had been allowed by Doggett to descend into pure, unadulterated farce.
Russell and Doggett stole the show on Saturday. Through advanced age (Russell) and incompetence (Doggett) we may see neither officiate again. Their blunders even managed to obscure another indecisive moment of officiating by Ian-John Lewis in Liverpool. It was that kind of weekend.