Russell Mora was one of 2011's most controversial figures
As we look back at the year in boxing and move ahead into another year in this unpredictable sport of ours, much has been said about the best that 2011 had to offer.
It was an exciting year filled with upsets, knockouts and great fights. Fighters like Andre Ward, Nonito Donaire and Brandon Rios made this year more memorable than many in recent memory.
That said, this year was also filled with some appalling behavior between the ropes. Sucker punches, bad decisions and referee corruption were as much a part of last year’s boxing landscape as the courageous wins and YouTube-replay-worthy knockouts.
Having already celebrated boxing’s best, let’s take a look at boxing’s worst of 2011 in five categories; feel free to add your own categories and picks in the comments section.
Jermaine Taylor TKO8 Jessie Nicklow, December 30th, 2011
This entry snuck in right before the end of the year, but it was awful enough to sweep every other terrible stoppage this year.
On the comeback trail after a long layoff caused by a concussion suffered at the hands of Arthur Abraham, Jermaine Taylor (29-4-1, 18 KOs) was matched easy against fringe-contender Jessie Nicklow (22-2-3, 8 KOs) and easily outboxed the overmatched journeyman.
For seven rounds, a hesitant and rusty Taylor looked to recapture old form, but a sprained right hand kept him from throwing his money punch, and Nicklow looked overmatched but hardly out of the fight.
Then suddenly it was over.
Not because Taylor landed any heavy leather or did anything to dispatch Nicklow, it seems that referee Ray Corona just decided the fight was over, so he stopped it.
Taylor was way ahead on every scorecard, but he deserved to finish the fight in less controversial fashion. Apparently, three uncontested punches are enough to end a fight in 2011.
Juan Manuel Marquez TKO1 Likar Ramos, July 16th, 2011
It’s not uncommon for fighters coming off long layoffs to take easy matchups to keep their ring rust off. However, we usually expect elite fighters to meet a certain level of opposition.
When Juan Manuel Marquez (53-6-1, 39 KOs) signed on to fight his eternal rival Manny Pacquiao, he decided to take a tune-up to keep the rust off.
We all knew that Colombian junior welterweight Likar Ramos (24-4, 18 KOs) was well out of his depth when he stepped up to face Marquez.
Apparently, so did Ramos.
As soon as the first bell rang, Marquez dictated the pace of the action, and just under two minutes into the fight, he landed a flush right hand that floored Ramos.
It was a hard punch to be sure, but certainly not hard enough to inspire the Oscar-worthy performance that would follow.
Flopping onto the canvas like a sack of bricks, Ramos laid in a prone position in what looked like a peaceful sleep. Usually, fighters who are knocked out make some unconscious attempt to raise themselves off the canvas, their arms and legs may spasm slightly, or they may raise their necks slightly off the canvas in a brave attempt to continue on.
Ramos tried none of this; he simply lay on his back, eyes closed. The only thing missing from the picture was a few crudely drawn “Z’s” floating above his head.
It was clear that Ramos, like the rest of us, realized that a club fighter had no business in the ring with a pound-for-pound rated all-time great, and he took the first exit that was made available to him, saving us all from sitting through this gross mismatch.
Paul Williams MD12 Erislandy Lara, July 9th, 2011
Oh, how things change.
Two years ago, Paul Williams (40-2, 27 KOs) was being billed as "the most feared man in boxing," and he was rated as high as No. 3 on many pound-for-pound lists.
A 6'1" welterweight with a heavyweight’s 82" reach, the volume-punching Williams was avoided by the best fighters from welterweight to middleweight because of his unnatural gifts and extraordinary courage.
The upside of being avoided, of course, is that "The Punisher’s" reputation exceeded his accomplishments, and he enjoyed a luster that was rarely tested.
Then came Sergio Martinez.
After their closely contested first fight in 2009, Williams was laid out in the second round of a middleweight bout in November of 2010 in the Knockout of the Year. Left lying on his stomach with both eyes open, Williams had never looked so vulnerable and his "feared" moniker became a distant memory.
Taking a comeback fight with a talented Cuban southpaw with an extensive amateur background was a gutsy move. It proved foolish when despite his high work rate, Williams couldn’t avoid the same straight left that Martinez knocked him out with.
Lara’s (15-1-1, 10 KO’s) high connect rate had HBO’s commentary team discussing Williams’ retirement before the end of the 11th round, as the lanky volume puncher seemed listless and rigid.
They were as shocked as most of us when Williams was somehow announced as the winner. Under his softball-sized hematoma, Lara could only shake his head and vainly protest the judges’ decision.
In a year that seemed to celebrate underdogs, Lara’s stock would rise in defeat, but he deserved much better.
This award will not be given to a journeyman or a club-fighter who turned in a particularly poor performance. There’s no reason to ridicule mid-level fighters for the gifts that nature chose not to bestow upon them.
No, the worst fighter of 2011 is a gifted former undisputed middleweight champion, who squanders his gift at every turn.
Having lost his belts to current middleweight king Sergio Martinez in 2010, 2011 was supposed to be "The Ghost’s" comeback year, as he entered a new division with a clean bill of health after battling multiple staph infections and bouts with alcoholism.
He even went so far as to get the obligatory post-loss comeback tattoos. We didn’t care that they were awful green and blue smudges; Kelly was back!
Boxing fans and writers had always had a certain affection for the hard-punching pride of Youngstown, Ohio. That blue-collar appeal had been missing in this current era of boxing.
Even though he looked rusty in his ring return against undefeated Alfonso Lopez in May, Kelly’s team promised that a few more tune-ups would get our man back in fighting shape and title contention.
Then it all went wrong.
First, he abruptly pulled out of a fight with Darryl Cunningham, scoffing at a two-fight deal that would lead directly to a shot at IBF Super Middleweight titleholder Lucian Bute.
That Pavlik (37-2, 32 KOs) would pull out of a fight with the same Cunningham who couldn’t last a round with Andre Dirrell in December is confusing. That he would give up a million-dollar payday to fight an untested fighter at the top of his division is incomprehensible.
After his very public meltdown over the Cunningham fight, Pavlik and Top Rank came to an accord that would get him out of Youngstown and put him together with young trainer du jour Robert Garcia and his talented stable in Oxnard, CA.
Pavlik seemed to be getting yet another lease on life when the news broke two days before Christmas that Pavlik had been arrested for driving an ATV while intoxicated.
In 2011, no fighter squandered his talents as much as Pavlik did. Let’s hope that after his legal issues are resolved, he takes some time to overcome his other demons, and let’s hope he does it in private this year.
Where to start…
Within a period of 12 months, Russell Mora came to signify so much of what is wrong with the sport of boxing.
It’s unfair to judge a referee based on two performances when he turned in several assignments without incident. However, Mora’s bias and ineptitude in those two performances were so glaring that he might have filed an early nomination for Worst Referee of the Decade.
First in February, Mora was tasked with arbitrating the bantamweight title unification between Fernando Montiel and Nonito Donaire. What was supposed to be an even, toss-up fight became a wash when in the second round, Donaire countered a straight right from Montiel with a crashing left hook that should have ended the fight.
Under any other referee, it probably would have.
Montiel laid on his back, his arms and legs jolting in uncontrollable spasms. The punch had landed so perfectly that his body had lost all sense of coordination, but "Cochulito’s" heart wouldn’t allow him to lay down for another fighter.
A sane referee wouldn’t have allowed the fighter to endanger himself further and would have waved the fight off immediately, but Mora’s bias for Hispanic fighters would trump sanity and logic as he gave Montiel another chance to get his brains scrambled by the hard-punching Donaire.
I’m sure Mora thought he was doing Montiel a favor by letting him take an unanswered series of power punches, but listless performances, including a loss to unheralded Victor Terrazas, would show that maybe Mora let Montiel take one too many shots that night.
Mora’s other high-profile appearance would be the clearest example of his bias and incompetence. In another Bantamweight title fight, Mora would stand idly by while Abner Mares fired dozens of flush shots to the crotch of Joseph Agbeko.
The talented Ghanian never complained, but he had every right to, as his opponent was not even handed a warning over the course of 12 rounds, that would have been much more competitive with a fair arbitrator.
Mora’s conduct in the fight reached its outrageous peak when in the 11th round, Mares pivoted on his front foot and walloped Agbeko on the cup, bringing him to his knees.
Instead of deducting a point or issuing a warning, Mora began counting and penalized Agbeko with a knockdown.
Even when shown the punch in slow motion replay, Mora remained defiant, claiming it was a fair punch; this, a year after he quickly and firmly disqualified Anthony Peterson for landing a series of low blows against Brandon Rios in his first loss.
Boxing is a subjective sport, and that subjective nature creates room for personal biases and unwarranted corruption.
In 2011, no one allowed his personal biases to degrade the sport more than Russell Mora.