Just when you think you have seen everything in boxing, THIS happens.
SAN DIEGO, June 27, 2015 – In the end, the dramatic conclusion to the fight between Timothy Bradley Jr. and Jessie Vargas would not have altered the results.
But try telling that to confused fans and the Vargas camp, who were convinced for several minutes Vargas had won on a stoppage by referee Pat Russell with seven seconds to go to the end of the bout after Vargas buzzed Bradley hard with a right hand. Bradley wobbled badly, but he didn’t go down.
Vargas jumped up to the corner to celebrate, his team rushing into the ring. After a few moments, announcer Lupe Contreras informed the 4,311 fans at StubHub Center in Carson, California referee Russell was signaling what he thought was the end of the bout, not stopping the fight. Russell apparently thought he heard the bell.
See the fight highlights here:
Let’s do the math. Assume that Bradley does more than wobble on his feet at the end of the fight, assume he actually goes down. Russell would have given him the count, and with seven seconds or less left, the only way Bradley loses is if he can’t get up. As Bradley himself said after the fight, “Hey, I survived Provodnikov,” meaning his blistering fight with Ruslan in 2012 in which he suffered a concussion in the second round and still finished. Bradley was hurt but not so badly hurt he couldn’t have seen it to the end. Even with a 10-8 round, Bradley wins. Case closed.
Russell, a veteran referee, stepped up to explain what happened immediately after the fight, watching the replay with HBO’s Max Kellerman. “Very loud in the 12th round. I thought I heard the bell, the fight was over when the bell went off,” said Russell. As he watched the replay, Russell said, “He’s hurt, he’s still hurt and still on his feet. He’s working it a bit, he’s in it. It sounded like the bell to me, but you don’t always hear the 10-second warning… I made the call based upon what I heard. That’s all I can say. It was an honest call based on an honest reaction,” said Russell.
See the post fight interviews here.
But there will forever remain an odd asterisk on the fight, despite Bradley (32-1-1, 12 KOs) dominating the less experienced Vargas (26-1, 9 KOs) throughout the bout. Vargas took punishment well and dished out some himself. But Vargas was nowhere near active enough in the fight and it was the difference.
Still, for a few shining moments, Vargas thought he had won, and he couldn’t shake off the notion that he had somehow been robbed. “It was over, I heard something… I capitalized with three or four shots, we were still in the clinch. It was still going on, it was only the ten second mark …
“All I needed was one shot and that’s what I was looking for. Pat Russell came in and it was an honest mistake on his part, I think we all acknowledge the fact that it was a mistake, but I think those 10 seconds cost me the fight.” In the post fight news conference, trainer Erik Morales was even more insistent that Vargas was robbed and would have won.
Vargas admitted he wasn’t busy enough in the fight. “My corner was asking for that big right hand. They saw it coming. They must have. It was my mistake. I thought I was controlling with the jab. I would catch him perfectly and hurt him and buzz him. He would catch me now and then with a few jabs, but they weren’t doing anything to me.”
Bradley naturally felt differently. “He stepped in and caught me clean with an overhand right… You see my hands up.. I grabbed a hold of him right there. See that, see that? If the ref wouldn’t have let him go I would have grabbed hold of him again. I’m an experienced fighter, I know what I’m doing in there.”
“I didn’t go anywhere, baby. I was still there and I was still alive. Perfect shot, I didn’t go down. Look how strong my legs are,” said Bradley. “Even if the ref would have let it go till tomorrow, I would have still made it.”
However you see it, the fight is in the books. Rematch talk was immediate. Vargas called for it, and in the ring after the fight Bradley said, “Why not? We can do a rematch. I don’t have a problem with that. Jessie came out and fought hard, man. Hey, we can do it again, let me finish what I started.” As for Vargas, he said “We start off where we left off in that last round — throw off more punches and keep more active.”
An hour or so later, Bradley was singing a different tune. No rematch. “What for?” Bradley declared he wants to fight Gennady Golovkin at 154 pounds. Triple G was present ringside for the fight. He must be salivating in anticipation like a wolf about to snack on a tasty treat. Bradley would be one more Good Boy in the making.
Promoter Bob Arum said if Bradley doesn’t give Vargas the rematch, he’d put Vargas in against Brandon Rios. How this makes sense isn’t clear.
Fight fans don’t need a rematch. Bradley has earned the right to face Floyd Mayweather, and it would be a fight worth seeing. It’s at least better than Andre Berto or Karim Mayfield, better than Amir Khan, and better than Shawn Porter. It’s at least as good as a bout with Keith Thurman.
A personal note about about the man at the heart of the storm Saturday. Referee Pat Russell is one of boxing’s best referees, dedicated to the sport of boxing and honest as they come. Russell is a Vietnam veteran and retired law enforcement investigator. He is honest as they come. He used his fees from referee work to finance the college education of his grandchildren.
Russell told me several months ago and again last weekend at a charity event he intended to retire at the end of 2015. Rumors began circulating Saturday the Bradley/Vargas fight would be Russell’s final fight as a referee. It would be a shame and not fitting for him to leave on this note. Full disclosure: Pat Russell and I worked together and I have known him 20 years; it may cause me to be biased but it also provides me insight. His error didn’t change the outcome of the fight.
Two Mexican featherweights opened the show and will forever be the answer to a trivia question: put Jeopardy style, who were the boxers in HBO’s 1,000th broadcast fight? Former Mexican Olympian Oscar Valdez remained undefeated (17-0, 14 KOs), scoring a unanimous decision against Mexican southpaw Ruben Tamayo (23-6-4, 15 KOs).
Tamayo did not make it easy for Valdez. He put Valdez down on his rump at the end of the first round, and found ways to dig to the body of Valdez several times. But Valdez has the superior hand speed and mixed up his shots. Once he started putting together combinations of punches in the second half of the fight, he started to show his pedigree, landing triple the number of punches as Tamayo. The judges scored it 98-90, 98-90, and 99-90.
Valdez falls in the prospect category and that did not change tonight. He needs some more time in the ring before considering a bout with the bigger names in the division like Vasyl Lomachenko.It shows how deep the lightweight division is today; at one point, Valdez would be higher up the food chain. Not anymore.
HBO opened the broadcast with a highlight reel from its 1,000 fight legacy. It was an exciting look back and well worth seeing if you missed it. Fight fans can only hope the next 1,000 fights bring us as many thrills, and an unusual ending now and then.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +
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