Rances Barthelemy returned to Friday Night fights last week to distinguish himself after 2013’s controversial win over Arash Usmanee. Instead, he completely reversed his progression to legitimacy by demonstrating a willingness to cut corners and a total lack of sportsmanship. Scoring his first knockdown over Argenis Mendez in round two, Barthelemy began his combination with a low blow which the referee didn’t call. The subsequent punches were legal and legitimate, but the fighter should have at least been warned about the blow. Admittedly, Mendez showed vulnerability to Barthelemy’s power in round one, so the fight may have concluded the same way no matter the circumstances, but now there’s no way to tell. In any case, the winning combination resulted in another knockdown from which Mendez could not recover. This recovery shouldn’t have been relevant, however, as the combination began and ended after the bell for the end of the round. The elated Barthelemy danced around the ring after being awarded the IBF Super Featherweight title. Possibly even worse than the way Barthelemy won is the fact that he could have won legitimately, maybe even with an exciting knockout that would propel him forward as a known fighter. Now all we know about him is that he doesn’t care how he wins. Is it his fault for accepting the win? No, it’s probably much more the referee’s mistake. But do we want champions who so eagerly eschew the rules and ethics of the sport?
The most remarkable part of the premier broadcast to me was Teddy Atlas’ 2014 wishlist. In it, he enumerated four officiating reforms that he would most like to see pursued in the coming year. I was greatly impressed both by their specificity and relevance to the sport:
1. Establish a panel to evaluate judges – Teddy suggests that the officials who commit acts of incompetence that result in unacceptable consequences for fighters should be held accountable and therefore penalized or forced to participate in further training.
2. Use objective ratings system such as the Transnational Boxing Rankings – Teddy suggests that the revenue-driven relationship between promoters and sanctioning bodies leads to misleading rankings and should be mitigated by the evaluations of a disinterested party.
3. Stop promoter-network exclusivity – Teddy suggests that the similarly inappropriate relationship between promoters and networks prevents appropriate matchmaking by keeping fighters from signing deals with other promoters.
4. Use state athletic commissions to establish code of conduct for cornermen – Teddy suggests cornermen be held to a standard of sportsmanship and propriety in order to bring class back to the sport.
All of these are insightful and important perspectives on the sport that the average viewer would never consider, or at least would never come up with on their own. By earnestly pursuing these goals boxing officials could increase interest in the sport and eliminate some of the decisions that challenge its legitimacy, and a few of Teddy’s rants that fans love so much. When Teddy Atlas says he loves boxing, you know he means it. Officials of all kinds, viewers, promoters, and even fighters, could learn a thing or two from the people who truly love the sport and invest their time and their hearts in its success. Thanks, Teddy.