Examining the Controversial Refereeing & Stoppage of Rios vs. Chaves:
In boxing, there are almost no absolutes. In the eyes of many, referee Vic Drakulich spoiled the welterweight showdown between Brandon Rios and Diego Chaves by overly injecting himself into the action. Let’s take a look at the facts and explore some different ideas, as we try to make sense of what took place last Saturday evening in Las Vegas at the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino.
The bout was an entertaining one, though frustrating to watch with all the inside wrangling. Chaves was certainly pushing the envelope, as he roughed up Rios on the inside, but he wasn’t the only one fouling. Rios was also unruly in clinches, landed kidney punches, and made copious use of his head.
In the 9th round following another rough clinch, Drakulich gave Chaves the hook. The Argentine had been penalized twice before and Drakulich was clearly irritated with him. You could almost see it coming in a way, though when it happened, it appeared to be ill-timed. It also seemed that Drakulich had turned a relative blind eye to Rios’ many transgressions.
What made it worse was that it was a close fight that seemed up-for-grabs entering the final two rounds. The cards had Chaves narrowly ahead, with two judges having him leading by a point entering the 9th round. Chaves was having a decent round, doing what he had been doing in keeping Rios on the outside with jabs and long-range punching. It never goes over well when a close fight is not allowed to reach its natural conclusion.
What Drakulich Did Wrong
There’s a few things that made the DQ win for Rios a difficult pill to swallow. First of all, Rios was hardly a gentleman in the ring that night, having himself been docked a point for holding in the fifth. Drakulich seemed to take minimal notice at Rios ramming his skull into the face of Chaves. It’s one thing for a referee to be a disciplinarian in the ring and enforce the rules, but it must be done in an even-handed manner and it appeared Drakulich was an authoritarian only towards Chaves.
Another thing that you see a lot of lately is when a referee only notes a foul upon the recipient reacting to it. When a referee relies on the reactions of the fighters to detect when a foul has occurred, that’s a problem for obvious reasons. In other words, it seemed that Drakulich did not rely so much on his own observations, but rather the histrionic reactions from Rios.
I’ll admit that I’ve had it in for Drakulich for a long time. About 20 years ago, Detroit slickster Lonnie Beasley was battling Julio Cesar Green on nearly even terms for 12 rounds. During a clinch in the final round, Drakulich separated the fighters. Irritated that it was hard to separate them, he shoved Beasley, who fell down. And Drakulich stopped the fight! It was the only time I saw a referee actually score a TKO win. So I’m not exactly coming into this with a clean slate as far as Drakulich was concerned.
Is Drakulich Solely to Blame?
The short answer is no. Chaves himself shoulders a lot of culpability. Even as school age kids, we were able to sense when we were about to cross a certain threshold with a teacher and some of us could straddle that line for the entire school year. Chaves had to know Drakulich was at his wit’s end by the 9th round. Two points had already been deducted. So when another clinch ensued, Chaves should have been on his best behavior and he simply wasn’t even close to that. If he was a kid in school, you couldn’t really blame the teacher for sending him to the principal’s office.
And what appeared to be mere roughhousing was something more than that. On at least two occasions, Chaves could be seen raking Rios’ face with the front of his gloves, for which there is no excuse. The last offense, while it looked benign enough at first glance, again showed Chaves giving Rios “the business” with his gloves across the face. In fact, it’s safe to say that there was probably more to it than what we all saw at first glance. Even if Rios was given a pass for his head-butting and the ref used Rios’ reactions to guide his decisions to some extent, Chaves sort of had it coming.
Should Drakulich Be Sanctioned or Not Be Given Important Fights?
The veteran referee sometimes needs to take a step back. There are times where he seems to let his emotions get involved. No one is paying money to see Vic Drakulich. There have been a handful of times where he becomes the biggest factor in the ring, with some overzealous officiating. Then again, there are hundreds of other times where he has done a good enough job. The thing with refs is that they never get acknowledged for a good job. The only time you talk about refs is when they maybe screwed up. So let’s not get carried away with our condemnation of the man. While the way it went down left something to be desired, he may not have been all that out-of-line by DQ’ing Chaves.
What Can Be Done to Improve Referee Performance?
Let’s not kid ourselves–refereeing is one of those things that is probably 100 times more difficult than it looks. We all sit on our sofas, thinking we could do a better job. Meanwhile, if any of us were referees, we’d probably screw up every other fight. We’d be bumping into the fighters, while sweating like Patrick Ewing in the 4th quarter.
A little discretion can go a long way. When I saw Drakulich was refereeing the Rios-Chaves fight, I thought “Oh great, this will be fun.” It had the earmarks of a chippy fight and I felt a cooler-headed ref would be a better fit for this match-up. So if a bleary-eyed, half-ass boxing writer can see that, why can’t the commission?
There are just times when you roll your eyes when you see a certain ref is assigned to a fight. Like when Roy Jones fought Denis Lebedev and you saw Steve Smoger was the ref. No one wanted to see Jones get hurt, so why would the powers-that-be appoint a ref known for letting fights go longer than most refs? And somewhat predictably, the fight ended with Jones left for dead on the canvas, the victim of a ref stopping a fight a few seconds too late. In the future, it would be beneficial if the commissions who assign fights to refs could see the bigger picture and pinpoint these kinds of issues before they happen.