Boxing took a pounding on Friday night. The too-much-hyped championship contest between Floyd Mayweather and Victor Ortiz went down in pugilistic infamy at the end of the fourth round.
With only seconds remaining in that stanza, Ortiz had "Money" Mayweather on the ropes and intentionally head-butted him. Referee Joe Cortez deducted a point. The embarrassed Ortiz literally kissed and hugged Mayweather to express his regret. Though Ortiz claims he did not hear him, Cortez instructed the boxers to resume the action and once again "Vicious Victor" went to touch gloves. Mayweather leaned forward as if to do the same and then turned over a left hook. In that instant, a shocked Ortiz made the mistake of turning his head to the ref in protest and just as he did, Mayweather hammered him with a booming right to the chin, turning the black lights on the young fighter and ending the contest.
Most of the crowd at the MGM booed in protest at the advantage that Mayweather had taken. Debates raged all over Las Vegas and I suppose throughout the nation. No one, including Ortiz, questioned the legality of Mayweather's stealthy move. The new champion defended himself saying that he had been fouled and that fighters are endlessly told "protect yourself at all times."
Mayweather's defenders rightly contend that Ortiz was fighting dirty. There were millions upon millions at stake. And they pressed, What would have happened if Floyd got a cut from the headbutt and the bout had to be stopped? Furthermore, Floyd's actions were perfectly legal and Ortiz should have known better. And that is a fact, since Mayweather did something similar to Sugar "Shane" Mosely when he went to touch gloves once too often.
Many in both camps are quick to add that Joe Cortez could have done a much better job of handling the incident. He seemed to be somewhere else as the fighters came together -- but again, Mayweather supporters insist that Floyd "did what he had to do." In other words, as long as you win within the rules nothing could be wrong. Right?
In every sport there are formal as well as informal rules. In football it is, for example, perfectly legal to viciously block an opponent who is miles away from the action of a play. Those who know the gridiron game call that a "cheap shot." There are informal rules in boxing as well. Touching gloves is way that one fighter apologizes to another for hitting low or on the break. Now and then an enraged boxer will refuse to accept the apology. Sometimes a boxer will touch gloves and later reciprocate with a foul in kind, and that can be within the informal rules. However, I have seldom seen a boxer pretend to accept the glove of regret, and then strike his opponent.
It would have been one thing if Mayweather simply lost his temper and punched as the ref tried to separate them, but his last two blows certainly appeared calculated and for that reason I believe it was a sin against the craft that Mayweather has clearly perfected.
There were great divisions between boxing writers after the fight. One told me, "In boxing it is kill or die." But that may be so in a street fight, but boxing is a sport, with a long history and well articulated rules.
I train boxers and I would have been profoundly disappointed if one of my fighters pulled such a stunt. Sportsmanship is as much a part of the bruising arts as it is in other sports. As I argued in the Wall Street Journal article "Why Boxing is Worth Fighting For," (Sept.17) boxing should build character as well as muscle, and though it worked, Mayweather's final salvo was anything but a lesson in character building.
True, most of the young people whom I work with are amateurs. They are not fighting for 70 million dollars. But despite what "Money" and millions of others seem to think, there really are more important things than money in life.