We all know the Soto-Lorenzo situation from last night, and if you don't, scroll down to that fight's section in this post for further details.
What is the real current status of Mr. Fair But Firm? Cortez is in his 60s now. Is time simply getting the better of him? He's no younger, really, than the retired Richard Steele, and is only a few years younger than the retired Mills Lane.
It is true that we mostly remember referees for things that have gone wrong. Jay Nady's most memorable moments, for instance, are screwing up a knockdown call in the Barrera-Marquez fight, and having Zab Judah huck a chair at him. Randy Neumann's name is most generally associated with poor refereeing jobs, such as Abraham-Miranda I.
Mayweather-Hatton saw Cortez crucified by many in the boxing community for being too intrusive. It wasn't just the Hatton team; many felt Joe was "making himself a star" in the big fight, involving himself too much.
And now the Soto-Lorenzo disaster, which it seems no one on earth is willing to defend. The WBC has refused to recognize the decision and give Lorenzo the interim title belt that was on the line. Respected veteran boxing scribe Graham Houston laid down this bit of venom:
I don’t know where to begin. I feel about as outraged as Emanuel Steward looked when, almost trembling with emotion, he told Jim Lampley in the HBO summing-up of the travesty: “That was bad!"
I don’t think that the word “bad” is strong enough. This must rank as one of the worst pieces of refereeing in boxing history ... A referee’s actions are not always popular and can be open to dispute. This, though, was a total mishandling of the situation.
Mr. Houston is a level-headed, straightforward boxing journalist. Anyone familiar with his work would probably tell you the same. And he is rather livid. He also recalls, of course, Cortez's OTHER big controversy, the Holyfield-Ruiz rematch, when Cortez infamously took a point away from Holyfield on a beltline shot.
I even think you have to consider how Joe refereed the Hopkins-Calzaghe fight in April. Cortez had no problem letting that fight get a little rough on the inside, times where he may have broken Hatton and Mayweather up. I still have no major issue with Cortez's handling of the Hatton fight; I don't think it had any effect on the outcome of that fight. And he DID do a fine job not believing every Hopkins acting job in April, either.
But at what point does Nevada have to really look at Cortez's abilities these days? At what point does Cortez need to look at them himself, and be honest?
If he's watched the tape -- and no doubt he has -- he has to realize he made a mistake, doesn't he? Yeah, Soto hit Lorenzo when he was down. It happens a lot. It really, really, really does. You simply cannot expect it to never happen, and you can't throw disqualifications around like candy at a Halloween parade.
Particularly in this instance, as Lorenzo was beaten senseless by Soto and the fight needed to be stopped anyway. Was the doctor going to tell Cortez to let it continue if they'd taken a look at Lorenzo? He had a broken nose, blood was pouring out of a cut over his eye, and his legs were shot. Soto creamed him.
How can he justify having stopped the fight for five minutes to confer with the NSAC at ringside, while Lorenzo writhed around in an obvious plea for a favor, lacking the care of the ringside physician, which he actually needed?
How can the NSAC representative that Jim Lampley talked to have really believed in what went down? Lampley made the guy look and sound like a complete idiot in their short interview -- and I think that only happened because the guy didn't sound convinced that the decision was just, but knew it was his job to defend it.
If you were in charge of a major event, would you hire Joe Cortez to referee it right now? That's something that has to be asked. If you'd say no, then why is he refereeing these fights? Shouldn't he not be? There are qualified referees available.
And I would answer "no," to be honest. If I had a choice of any referee to be the third man in the ring for any given bout, I'd take Kenny Bayless, hands down, every time. Frankly, as it stands right now, Cortez wouldn't enter my mind. I wouldn't want him in there.
Maybe it is time for Joe to tip his cap and move on. I'm not saying he was a horrible referee or some great disgrace to the sport. Just that even referees lose it in the squared circle.