I live in Europe, so I often experience a delay in seeing fights staged in the United States. I finally got to catch up and see the Cotto vs. Foreman bout, and my response to the antics of referee Arthur Mercante, Jr. can be summed up in two words: ban him. He is a failure as a referee, and given his high profile, the man is a danger to boxers worldwide. I call upon at least one of the major boxing commissions in the United States (New Jersey, Nevada, New York, California, Pennsylvania, etc.) to hold a hearing reviewing Mercante’s record and draw the obvious conclusion that Mercante’s work poses a serious risk to the health of the boxers under his supervision and take the obvious next step of declining to employ him.
A review of Mercante’s record will reveal the following blotches. First and most famous is the beating Beethavean Scottland took at the hands of George Jones in a nationally televised bout. Anyone who doubts how reckless Mercante’s actions were should watch that fight, because even the crowd was calling for the fight to be stopped. Mercante refused to step in and Scottland was knocked unconscious. He later died from his injuries.
Prior to that fight, there were three major incidents of blatant incompetence due either to neglect or recklessness on the part of Mercante. I personally remember seeing him allow Pernell Whitaker to pound Diobelys Hurtado with straight left after straight left while the Cuban lay senseless and literally entangled in the ropes, unable to even fall to the canvas let alone defend himself. Watch that one and count the beats as Hurtado gets pounded and Mercante stands there and does nothing. Two other fights where Mercante refused to intervene and protect a clearly defenseless fighter was Donovan Ruddock vs. Michael Dokes and Michael Bennett vs. Andrew Hutchinson.
Then came Cotto vs. Foreman. Did Mercante call the doctor over to talk to Foreman? No. Did Mercante heed Foreman’s corner when they tried to stop the fight and even threw the towel in? No, he reacted with anger, as if the wishes of Foreman’s Chief Second was a mere nuisance. Did Mercante even ask Foreman about the state of his knee in any meaningful way? No, he instead told a man in clear agony to “suck it up.” Tack onto that bizarre actions like ordering Emmanuel Steward to wash out Foreman’s mouthpiece when Steward was working Cotto’s corner, and you have the picture of a referee who isn’t in control of the fight, let alone himself. What would Mercante have done if Foreman sat on his stool and refused to continue – tried to drag him into the ring by his injured leg?
Instead of investigating the matter, the New York State Athletic Commission is praising Mercante and covering its ass. Other elements in the boxing community are shamefully doing the same and praising what was a scandalous performance by Arthur Mercante, Jr. Thankfully, some prominent voices are criticizing him, such as Steward, Greg Sirb, Don Turner and Thomas Hauser. Hopefully some momentum will build up and the appropriate action will be taken, before boxing fans are treated to another death or serious injury.
If I had to speculate on the causes for Mercante’s actions, who sometimes behaves with complete professionalism, it would have to do with his father. Arthur Mercante, Sr. was a boxing icon, and I think Mercante, Jr. has been trying to create a Mills Lane-like, macho referee image in an effort to get out from underneath his old man’s shadow and establish himself as the biggest referee in boxing. I also think that Mercante would not be nearly as successful as a boxing referee were it not for the legacy of his father, as his actions would have caught up with him following the Scottland bout.
However, that is just speculation. Mercante’s actions (and failures to act) are a matter of fact and public record. The man should never referee a fight again.