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In a world where one jab, hook, or uppercut can seal the destiny of a fighter, the referees become the final safety cord for fights. However, what happens when the referee present makes a mistake? The boxing world believes that was the case for last Saturday night’s fight between Vergil Ortiz Jr. and Frederick Lawson.

Ortiz, the knockout artist, came out victorious after Tony Weeks, the referee, decided to stop the fight at 2 minutes, 33 seconds into the first round. Lawson vehemently protested the decision but to no avail. Tony later told DAZN’s Beto Duran that he saw Lawson’s eyes roll back, so he stopped the fight. However, this didn’t sit well with the masses. Nonetheless, there have been even worse calls in boxing that would put this one to shame.

Referee calls that saw major controversies


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While there are more than four instances where the referees did less than what they were expected to, these four especially stand out for how outrageous they were and the ensuing drama they created.

Julio César Chávez vs Meldrick Taylor

Starting the list with the oldest controversy in the books, the legendary Mexican fighter Julio Cesar Chavez took on Meldrick Taylor from the USA. The fight unfolded in the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas in March 1990. Up until that fight, Meldrick was undefeated, and his record would have remained the same if not for what happened next.

In a surprise to many, Taylor was ahead in the first ten rounds of the fight in all the scorecards. However, tenth through the twelfth round, he started taking heavy damage at the hands of Chavez, also undefeated at the time. Yet, Taylor did not let up, forcing Chavez to push his boundaries. As the twelfth round began, Taylor was exhausted and had already taken a lot of punishment, and suddenly tragedy struck.

Chavez dropped Taylor via right hand with a mere two seconds left in the final bell that would have given Taylor the unanimous decision win. That’s when Richard Steele made perhaps the biggest blunder of that generation and stopped the fight. Citing Taylor’s injuries, he deemed Taylor unable to continue the fight. Taylor lost the bout and Chavez went on to win the IBF light welterweight championship. Had Steele let the fight continue for two more seconds, Chavez would have collected his first career loss in 1990. 

Chris Eubank vs. Michael Watson II

The date was 21 September 1991, a year after the prior entry, when boxing changed forever. Chris Eubank entered the ring against Michael Watson for the second time with Jimmy Tibbs, Nigel Benn’s trainer, on Watson’s side. Having trained Nigel for a fight against Eubank a year earlier, Tibbs directed Watson to trade blows at a fast pace while maintaining pressure. 

That’s exactly what Watson produced during the fight in White Hart Lane, north London. Watson relentlessly pressed Eubank to the brinks, taking the lead in the ring and also in the scorecards of the judges sitting ringside. A win for Watson seemed even clearer when the 5′ 11″ boxer dropped Eubank in the eleventh round. It was the first time Eubank was knocked down in his career. 

Despite what the fight looked like until this point, things would soon take a turn for the worse. After Watson scored the Knockdown, Eubank miraculously got back up and proceeded to avoid Watson’s guard and drop him. Watson’s head hit the canvas with a thundering thud, but he managed to get back up. Both fighters went to their corners. That’s when the fight should have stopped, but referee Roy Francis did not think so. He fed the barely conscious Watson to Eubank, and the latter battered him further. 

In the aftermath of the fight, Watson suffered brain trauma, which required six operations, and saw him being stuck in a coma for 40 days. It was also the fight after which new rules were put in place to have an ambulance available during the fights, and that the fight can only be held 10 minutes away from a hospital.

Pernell Whitaker vs. Diosbelys Hurtado

It was Pernell Whitaker’s birth anniversary earlier this month, so why not one of his controversial fights? One could argue that Whitaker’s fight against Cesar Chavez saw a controversial ending, but that was more on the way the fight was scored. However, the same cannot be said about his fight against Diosbelys Hurtado

The fight unfolded at the Convention Center in Atlantic City, on 24 January 1997 for Whitaker’s WBC welterweight title. Going into the fight, Whitaker was the fan favorite, and everyone expected him to win. However, things started looking interesting after the first bell rang, as Hurtado dropped him immediately. Perhaps that was the shock Whitaker needed as he went on to dominate the next five rounds until Hurtado proved he was not someone to be overlooked. 

Also Read: “They Did a Brain Scan on Him”: Hours After Uproar, Referee Tony Weeks Reveals The Reason Behind Early Stoppage of Vergil Ortiz Jr vs Fredrik Lawson Fight

The Cuban native shocked Whitaker again in the sixth round by knocking him down. Until this point, nobody was sure who was winning the fight. However, in the eleventh round, it was Whitaker’s turn as he landed a scary overhand left on Hurtado, leaving him dazed. Whitaker then proceeded to throw a barrage of punches that saw no response from Hurtado. Even after Whitaker had landed ten clubbing shots, referee Arthur Mercante chose not to stop the fight until Hurtado fell through the ropes unconscious.

Courtney Burton vs. Emanuel Augustus I


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The worst case of wrongful stoppages happened on 6 July 2004 when Courtney Burton took on Emmanuel Augustus in Million Dollar Elm Casino, Tulsa. It was the worst case of favoritism by a referee and judges, for that matter, who gave way the win to Burton. However, what made even Teddy Atlas, who was calling the fight on ESPN 2 alongside Joe Tessitore, scream was the shameful way that referee Dan Kelley conducted himself. 

Kelly left no opportunity to penalize Augustus for each and everything he did, whether it was showboating or any other antics. However, that wasn’t the case for Burton, who got outworked and out-boxed by Augustus. What’s more, Augustus dropped Burton in the fourth round via body shot, but Kelly ruled it illegal by declaring it a low blow. 

Even worse, Kelly let Burton recover for an outrageous amount of time. On top of that, Burton was landing rabbit punches and kidney shots that went unseen by the referee. The whole affair was so outrageous that Teddy Atlas couldn’t stop himself anymore, exclaiming, “This is what’s wrong with boxing. This is what chases our great fans from this great sport.” 


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These controversial referee calls have become ingrained in the annals of boxing controversies, persisting despite the passage of time. However, boxing is marred by many such incidents. Which one do you think was the worst? Tell us in the comments below.

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