JOAQUIN HENSON:  REFEREE, JUDGES BUNGLE JOB

LAS VEGAS, May 11, 2004
 
(STAR)
By Joaquin Henson  -  The decision stunk up the MGM Grand Garden Arena and ruined an epic battle that featured two courageous gladiators uncompromising in their quest for global recognition as the world featherweight boxing champion.

In the end, neither Manny Pacquiao nor Juan Manuel Marquez was declared the winner or loser. It went down into the record books as a split draw. Judge John Stewart of New Jersey saw it 115-110 for Pacquiao. Judge Guy Jutras of Montreal scored it 115-110 for Marquez. And judge Burt Clements of Reno had it 113-113 all.

The verdict was unacceptable not only to the fighters, who deserved better for their efforts, but also to fans who thought it was a cop-out.

Worse, referee Joe Cortez didn’t work the fight fairly and squarely. He’s known for his signature self-proclaimed description of being "firm but fair" which is what his school for fight referees is called. But last Saturday (Sunday morning, Manila time), Cortez blinked when it came to making the tough calls.

Two years ago, Cortez didn’t hesitate to slap two point deductions on Kirk Johnson for low blows and eventually disqualified John Ruiz’ challenger in a World Boxing Association heavyweight title bout. He was as decisive in taking away a point from Joel Casamayor for hitting at the break in a unification superfeatherweight championship bout against Acelino Freitas in 2002.

But Cortez, who is Hispanic like Marquez, wasn’t decisive at all in his 163rd world title fight. He issued four warnings to Marquez for hitting below the belt but never deducted a point. Under usual circumstances, a point deduction is ordered by the referee on the third infraction.

If Cortez had deducted a point from Marquez, Pacquiao would’ve won on a split decision.

A five-point margin for either fighter was unimaginable. The extremes shown in Stewart’s and Jutras’ scorecards raised a howl among boxing experts. The 10-point disparity was conspicuous and smacked of either incompetence or bias.

Jutras, 71, was clearly on blinders. He scored 10 of the last 11 rounds for Marquez, awarding only the eighth to Pacquiao. Stewart scored six of the last 11 for Pacquiao. Clements gave seven of the last 11 to Marquez.

It wasn’t the first time that Jutras turned in a questionable scorecard. In 2001, he was the only judge who scored for Manuel Siaca in a WBA supermiddleweight title fight against Byron Mitchell in New York. The two other judges Ove Ovesen and Tom Kaczmarek saw it identical 114-112 for Mitchell but Jutras scored it 115-112 for Siaca. Jutras had an even round in his scorecard–something that is frowned upon in world championship fights because it shows indecisiveness. There were two rounds which Jutras scored for Siaca and the other two judges for Mitchell.

A former fighter who never got close to the top, Jutras worked his first world title fight in 1980. The first sign of his incompetence surfaced when he stuck out like a sore thumb in scoring a draw in Wilfredo Gomez’ win by majority decision over Rocky Lockridge in a WBA junior lightweight title fight in Puerto Rico in 1985.

Jutras was introduced to boxing as an amateur fighter when he was only 13. He has worked over 55 world title fights and keeps in shape swimming 26 laps and doing 150 pushups a day.

Jutras is the chairman of the WBA officials committee and is a rabid defender of the governing body’s ratings practices. Last year, he vigorously defended the WBA’s integrity during a hearing in New York prompted by Sen. John McCain after its sanction fee was withheld in California for allegedly rigging ratings.

There is no retirement age for boxing judges even as some like Jutras are in their 70s and apparently losing their eyesight. Ruben Castillo, who fought in four world title fights, said, "They have to get rid of these (old) guys. Either they can’t see or they’re just too old.

What are they doing out there? I think the punches are too fast for them to see."

Stewart, 62, was a late substitute for Clark Sammartino of Rhode Island. It was rumored that Stewart was promoter Murad Muhammad’s personal choice to join the panel. Both Stewart and Muhammad are from New Jersey. So Stewart scoring the fight for Pacquiao by five points was no surprise.

Clements was issued a license as a boxing judge by the Nevada State Athletic Commission four years ago. He was a judge in two crucial Erik Morales fights–against Paulie Ayala two years ago and Jesus Chavez last February. Clements scored an eye-popping 118-108 for Morales in the Chavez fight while judge John Keane saw it 117-109 and David Van de Wiele, 115-112. Was Clements’ lopsided scorecard an indication that he’s in Arum’s pocket? Morales and Marquez are both promoted by Arum.

Clements scored 10-7 for Pacquiao despite flooring Marquez thrice in the first round. Jutras and Stewart saw it 10-6. If Clements scored it as he was supposed to, his scorecard would’ve been 113-112 for Pacquiao and the Filipino would’ve won by a split decision.

Unified championship rules were used in the fight, meaning the three knockdown rule was not in effect. That meant a judge could score lower than 10-7 in a round where a fighter is floored at least thrice. Under World Boxing Council (WBC) rules which enforce the three knockdown rule (automatically stopping the fight on a technical knockout), a score can be no lower than 10-7 because there is a limit to the knockdowns in a round. Obviously, Clements got his lines crossed in applying the scoring rules. The question is whether the confusion was deliberate or not.

Clements has admitted his mistake in a Las Vegas Review Journal interview the other day. "I just screwed up," he said. "I feel badly because I dropped the ball, plainly and simply. You can make a lot of arguments that it was a very close fight but that’s immaterial. The fact is I dropped the ball." The fumble left Marquez with the WBA and IBF titles–derailing Pacquiao’s plan to challenge Morales for the World Boxing Council superfeatherweight crown in July.

Did Arum influence Clements’ "fumble" to protect Morales from Pacquiao?

Whatever the motives, the referee and the judges did a sub-par job in the Pacquiao-Marquez fight. What is disconcerting is Marquez benefited from the bungling. He’s still the WBA and IBF champion because of the split draw. And Pacquiao remains the uncrowned world featherweight titlist.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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