Fighting Words: Las Vegas Officials Mar HBO Boxing Card; Kovalev Takes Care of Business in Atlantic City

Photo Credit: Chris Farina/Top Rank

The worst possible topic of conversation, outside of politics and the weather, is complaining about officials in a sporting event. It doesn’t matter if the complaint is about unfair referees in football, foul calls in basketball or a blind ump behind home plate, nothing is less interesting than complaining about how something was officiated. The verdict can’t be changed, it is what it is, and after all, we don’t watch sports to watch the officials. 

Unfortunately, last night’s Boxing After Dark on HBO cannot be discussed without talking about officiating, judging and all that can be wrong with boxing. For such a simple sport that is supposed to be decided solely by two men and four gloves, too often a third party decides to make themselves the story. Last night’s show, a split-site tripleheader with two fights taking place in Vegas and one in Atlantic City, was marred by these outside factors and made it impossible for the card to be discussed without also talking about the officials, which is a goddamn shame. It’s painful that I even have to write about this when I’d rather just talk about boxing, but so goes this particular sport.

Fight Recap: Brandon Rios WDQ Diego Chaves

Vic Drakulich. There, I led off with the star of last night’s main event, the referee who chose to make himself the story. I can only hope that as he Googles himself this morning he’s satisfied with how front and center he is in every discussion about this fight. 

The fight itself promised a fan-friendly matchup, as Brandon Rios (32-2-1, 23 KO) and Diego Chaves (23-2-0, 19 KO) were fighters with styles that were supposed to mesh to create some fireworks and action.

Rios is an action fighter, a plodder without much nuance to his game, who puts his head down and slowly moves forward, unafraid to take a few shots to the face in order to give a few back. He claims to ‘love’ getting hit, and shows this during fights by plastering a big grin on his face every time he takes punishment.  His chin is the stuff of legend. Unfortunately, in recent fights he’s been doing more taking than giving, as coming into last night he was riding a two-fight losing streak, with decision losses to Manny Pacquiao and Mike Alvarado (and really actually had lost 3 of his last 4 fights, as he was gifted a questionable decision against the unknown Richar Abril in 2012).

Outside of the ring, Rios does not seem to be the smartest guy even for a fighter, and in recent times his speech has seemed to be slower and a bit slurred, a sign of being punch drunk. While not necessarily surprising for a guy who fights with Rios’ style, it is highly unfortunate to see in someone who is only 28 years old, and certainly makes one question how much longer Rios should really make his living as a prizefighter.

Chaves is more of an unknown in the U.S.; a destroyer and knockout artist in his native Argentina (a country fast becoming known for its hard-hitting boxing exports) who had only had one prior major network U.S. fight previously, a competitive late-round KO loss a year ago to rising star Keith Thurman. 

The two fighters got things started as expected, as they met in the middle of the ring and let their fists fly. Chaves, being the more mobile fighter, kept distance well and took the first round, while Rios, lookied to get in close and stick his face into Chaves’ shoulder as he winged punches from inches away and nicked the second on our scorecards. So the fight went, back-and-forth as Chaves tried to maintain a distance and Rios looked to press foreheads throughout. When Chaves was able to maintain space between himself and the always coming forward Rios, he would take the round, while thudded punches onto Chaves’ body to try to slow him down and keep him within his reach.

Drakulich announced himself in the third round, as he took a point off of Chaves for holding, which was an egregious point deduction. Later, in the fifth round, a point was taken off Rios for hitting on the break. In the 8th, Drakulich took yet another questionable point from Chaves for holding when the fighters got tangled with each other and the fight devolved into a mess of grappling, rabbit punches and the two fighters cursing at each other from across the ring. 

Following a completely out of control 9th round in which Chaves tackled Rios to the ground (again, Drakulich lost complete control of this one), Drakulich decided to step in and disqualify Chaves (wearing white shorts) for this:

Rios later claimed that Chaves was gouging his eye during the grappling, but this is not how you want to see a main event fight end. Chaves was up a point on two of the three official scorecards at the time of the stoppage, meaning that the fight was hanging in the balance going into the last two rounds. Sometime The Wolf had Rios up 76-75 at the time of the stoppage. 

After all is said and done, Rios comes out with a questionable win that won’t be remembered for anything but the questionable stoppage, three point deductions, and referee Vic Drakulich giving himself the top billing. Extremely unsatisfying fight, particularly one with such promise. All this fight was missing was a good referee.

Fight Recap: Sergey Kovalev TKO2 Blake Caparello

Let’s just get this straight right now: Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev (25-0-1, 23 KO) is a monster and hits like a mule. He has never been past eight rounds because knocks out just about everybody he’s ever fought. He has actually beaten a man to death in the ring during a 2011 match in Russia, a horrifying and sad event that has not seemed to change his aggressive style at all. He still is not a huge name on his own despite his power and HBO’s push to make a star of him, and thus has found it nearly impossible to get a big name fighter to step into a ring with him, which is why he was fighting Australia’s Blake Caparello (19-1-1, 6 KO) last night, a guy I literally have never heard of in my entire life. 

There is light at the end of the tunnel: prior to this fight, dual titleholder and 49-year old wonder of the world Bernard Hopkins (55-6-2, 32 KO) agreed on a contract to fight Kovalev, pending a Kovalev win last night. That fight, which I’m sure we’ll talk about in future posts, is phenomenal news for boxing fans. 

With no reason to get in rounds and make it last, Kovalev made quick work of the overmatched Caparello, who is also notable for being the whitest person to ever step inside of a boxing ring (I thought they had sun in Australia?). After taking the first round to find his range, and suffering a flash knockdown after taking a punch while getting his foot stepped on, Kovalev dropped Caparello early in the second round with a crushing touch to the liver.

Caparello crumpled to a knee, then got up and basically retreated in the corner and covered up, suffering two more knockdowns before referee Sparkle Lee (yes, the referee was named Sparkle) stepped in and stopped the fight. It was a workmanlike stay-busy performance from ‘Krusher’, with a name-making fight against Hopkins on the horizon.

Fight Recap: Jessie Vargas UD12 Anton Novikov

Sometime the Wolf Score: Vargas 114 – 114 Novikov

This was a close scrap between two guys with very little power, that was again marred by Las Vegas officials as a fight that could have gone either way went heavily to the house fighter Vargas, with all three judges scoring a ludicrously wide decision in his favor. I don’t have a problem with having either fighter edging this fight, but having such a wide decision makes one feel like this outcome was sadly predetermined.

Vargas (25-0, 9 KO), who somehow holds a title belt of some sort, is a fighter they keep selling to us as being good and someone who clearly has talent, almost never fails to underwhelm. He started the fight last night off well and taking the first three rounds, showing a crisp, hard jab that continually snapped his opponent’s head back while continually moving out of the way of danger and absorbing minimal punishment.

Novikov (29-1, 10 KO) then began to find his own range as his body shots began to slow Vargas down and he was able to get inside and catch Vargas. Vargas’ output dropped off a cliff from the fourth round on, as he began to get stung by punches from Novikov and stopped looking like the overall smoother fighter. It was a back and forth fight but with minimal drama, as neither guy had the power to seriously hurt the other. Both fighters seemed to know the fight was close going into the last rounds, and the last few rounds were the most engaging of the fight as both tired fighters summed up the energy to try to close strong. Sometime the Wolf scored this fight a draw, but as mentioned I could have seen this as a close decision either way.

Alas, when the wide scorecards were read, we were just left to feel bad that Novikov came halfway across the world to participate in a predetermined fight. It’s boxing, and the sport at its cynical worst is an insult to the intelligence of its fans. This insult was on display last night, loud and clear.

Other Notes and Thoughts From Last Night

  • Brandon Rios looked kind of flabby to me last night. He’s never been the most cut guy, but he was not in his best shape last night. I wouldn’t mind seeing him against Alvarado in a rubber match fight, but otherwise I strongly feel he should retire sooner rather than later.
  • Andre Ward was commentating from Vegas last night, and for being one of the best boxers in the world he really can be insufferable and insanely unlikeable, which I suppose isn’t a surprise from a man who gives himself the nickname “Son of God”.
  • Kenny Bayless, a phenomenal referee, was working the Vargas fight. If he was the one in charge of the Rios-Chaves match instead of Drakulich, who knows what we’d be talking about today?
  • Is there a more unsatisfying ending in sports than a questionable disqualification? It takes away the drama and closure of a proper finish, neither fighter ends up happy, and forever taints the fight itself. There were good moments in last night’s main event, but all anybody will ever remember is three point deductions and a DQ. 
  • Are these boxing posts too long/detailed? Should each fight recap be its own post? Let me know, either in the comments or via email. Sometime the Wolf is still young, and any reader feedback will help me shape this into hopefully something interesting.