What was the worst decision in boxing in 2013?
It wasn’t even close. Hard-bitten longtime pro “Sugar” Rey Beltran had overcome tons just to get to a title fight and appeared to be a landslide winner over gutsy defending WBO Lightweight Champion Ricky Burns in Glasgow, Scotland on September 7. Then came the reading of the cards–an unconscionable split draw that allowed Burns to keep his title.
Burns won the first two rounds perhaps, then spent much of the rest of the fight just trying to brave his way through to the end. Kudos go the strong-willed Scot for soldiering through almost ten rounds with a broken jaw that later led to the insertion of a metal plate. But valor is not a standard upon which rounds are scored. And how one judge, Carlos Ortiz, Jr, gave Burns 7 rounds is a mystery for the ages. Richard Davies wasn’t much better at 114-114 and the cumbersomely-named Andre Van Grootenbruel was the only one who had it right at 115-113 Beltran and even that card stinks.
Rather than heap praise on the valiant dethroned champion, the sentiment turned to rage in light of the inept scoring of a fight that was so obviously Beltran’s. It was hard to not feel bad for the Phoenix-based battler, who turned pro at age 17 back in 1999. He came up the hard way and finally hit pay-dirt with a win over highly-rated Hank Lundy, before scoring a thorough win over Korean slugger Ji-Hoon Kim. Just as his dream was about to be realized, he came out on the bad end of hometown decision that simply defied logic.
Burns at best won 3-4 rounds at best and that’s being nice. When watching the fight, it wasn’t a matter of who was winning, but rather if Burns would be able to keep going. To his credit, he did, all the way to the final bell. But when a triathlete has to crawl across the finish line in a moving display of courage, you don’t reward that person with the title of race winner because of their rousing display of heart. Winning is one thing and showing guts is another and sometimes they don’t come in the same package.
Word is that a February rematch will take place. That’s nice, but it should be Beltran who is the defending champion. At least he gets another shot and won’t be relegated to the scrap heap. He worked too hard to get to this spot and deserved better. The UK certainly hasn’t cornered the market on bad decisions, but this one takes the cake in 2013.
Runner-Up: Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. W 10 Brian Vera
I sat in the Las Vegas Hilton Sportsbook, a cavernous den of betting, watching this fight on a 50-foot screen. I was betting college football and my team was losing 35-0 at halftime as the Chavez, Jr.-Vera fight started. So I started watching. I had noticed how Chavez was a humongous favorite, so everyone watching naturally had the big underdog in Vera.
Several groups of rowdy bettors rejoiced in what looked to be a sure upset. Getting 7-to-1, guys were already counting their money, ready to hit the town with a pocketful of cash, as Vera continually out-hustled his under-achieving and sluggish foe. Thankfully, and the only time I was right the whole weekend, I refrained from betting Vera at tasty odds. My reason: he wasn’t going to win a decision. No way.
Since I didn’t have money on the fight, I just wanted to see the outrage when Vera got screwed, almost sure that it was going to happen. But when the cards were read, I started to think maybe they’d give it to Vera. After all, if they were going to rob Vera and give it to Chavez, it wouldn’t be by margins of 98-92 and 97-93, would it? Well, there was no shame in this one, as the judges handed a lopsided decision to the wrong guy. The sportsbook went nuts. I counted at least 300 uses of the F-word and saw several cups of ice go flying.
These guys had learned the hard way. Betting on boxing can really be painful, especially when the rightful winner of a big upset doesn’t get credit for a win. Chavez is the attraction, the guy with the name who came a hair from winning the middleweight title in his previous fight. Vera, while able to beat Chavez in the ring, couldn’t compete with his Q-rating and was therefore denied his rightful win. Strange that a Texan had to come to California to find out what being screwed is really like. Gwen Adair is a fine woman and a pioneer in the world of female judges, but her 98-92 score in favor of Chavez was indefensible. This one was just gross.
3rd Place: Rances Barthelemy W10 Arash Usmanee
It didn’t take long for the robbery bug to surface in 2013. On just the 4th of January, fans tuned into ESPN to see a nice contrast of styles, with the elegant, smooth-boxing Barthelemy facing the in-your face mauler Usmanee. The nearly six-foot 130 pounder Barthelemy was 17-0 (11 KOs) and had built his chops as a Cuban amateur. Usmanee, also unbeaten, but less-ballyhooed, got right on top of his taller foe and raked him with shots all night.
Maybe one day, the talented Barthelemy will be a champion and people will look at the record and see a unanimous win over Usmanee by double scores of 116-112 and just chalk it up as a routine win for a fighter on his way up. Let is be reflected in the record that he didn’t win this fight. The elegant boxing never surfaced. He got credit for punches that never landed, while Usmanee tattooed him for most of the night, losing maybe 3 or 4 of the 12 rounds in the title eliminator.
Let’s hope in 2014 that we can get through more than 4 days without seeing another miscarriage of justice.