Examining Russell Mora: Bad Night, Bad Year, or Bad Referee?

Referee Russell Mora has had a series of questionable performances in 2011. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Though most have started moving forward with the good news that the IBF has ordered an immediate rematch between Joseph Agbeko and Abner Mares, Agbeko himself isn't quite so forgiving of what happened in Las Vegas on August 13. The fighter said in a radio interview in Ghana that he wants referee Russell Mora banned from the sport:

"I want him to be banned," the 31-year-old Ghanaian told local Joy Fm radio in a telephone interview on Thursday, adding "I don't think he deserves to be in this game because he can kill in the ring. You can't trust him with anyone's life."

Mora has been under intense criticism, but he won't be banned from the sport. Keith Kizer of the Nevada Athletic Commission has said that Mora will basically be "rehabbed," and won't be officiating major fights in the near future. Instead, he'll be working lower-level fights in the state until he is deemed ready to return to prime time. Kizer told Bad Left Hook that he feels Mora is a good referee who had a bad night in the fight, but that hasn't been enough for many, who also recalled Mora's poor decision to allow a badly hurt Fernando Montiel to continue in February against Nonito Donaire.

A referee's job is not easy. I certainly don't think anyone can do it. But let's look back at some of Mora's performances in 2011. These fights were all televised, and were all covered here at Bad Left Hook.

February 19: Nonito Donaire TKO-2 Fernando Montiel

We just discussed this, but let's go deeper. Go watch what happens in round two. Montiel is flattened by a left hook, is clearly out of sorts, and has no business continuing. After his body spasms and he stumbles trying valiantly to make it to his feet, Montiel does make it up at the count of nine. But when Mora asks him to come forward, he does not. He stares at Mora, who then grabs Montiel's gloves and shakes them, then allows the fight to continue. Montiel was not responding to Mora as he should have, but Mora let the fight continue anyway. He then immediately steps in and stops the fight after a couple more shots from Donaire, but he shouldn't have let the fight continue at all. It was a bad call.

March 25: Yudel Jhonson TKO-7 Richard Gutierrez

A very, very early stoppage from Mora, which we called "terribly early" in our post-fight recap.

The comments in our live coverage were as follows:

"boo"
"Too early on the stoppage"
"That's an atrocious stoppage."
"bullshit stoppage imho"
"way too soon"
"not a happy crowd."
"left kind of a bad flavor in my mouth"
"i think the ref saw Gutierrez’s 'old' legs and had it in his mind that he would rescue him at the first sign of trouble"

We all agreed: The fight was stopped too early. Was this something that endangered a fighter or altered a likely outcome? No, but it was still a poor job.

April 9: Robert Guerrero UD-12 Michael Katsidis

Mora wasn't great in this one, either. He missed what should have been a knockdown of Guerrero in round two (not a hard knockdown, but a knockdown), and what's more, he didn't step in to reset the action after Guerrero's glove touched the canvas. He just let Guerrero bounce back up, pause for a moment, and then start fighting again. That could have been dangerous for Guerrero, who could have gotten clubbed while he was defenseless.

In the eighth round, Katsidis had two points taken away for low blows after no warnings from Mora. Then Katsidis went very low, and was only warned. During that round, a crowd member shouted, "You suck, ref!"

In the ninth round, Guerrero had a point taken away for a low blow. HBO's Max Kellerman thought it was a "make-good" deduction, and he was probably right. Mora told Guerrero, "I told you to keep 'em up," which seemed to confuse Guerrero more than anything. We criticized Mora for his performance in this fight during our live coverage, and it was earned.

April 29: Hylon Williams Jr UD-8 Marcos Herrera

No issues. Just an easy eight-round rout for Williams and Mora didn't have to do much.

May 7: Kelly Pavlik MD-10 Alfonso Lopez

In the seventh round, Pavlik went low on Lopez and was aggressively warned by Mora. Keep in mind that Russell Mora was the referee for the Brandon Rios-Anthony Peterson fight last year, which was a fight best remembered for Peterson's incessant low blows, which eventually resulted in a DQ. Russell Mora knows what a low blow is. He's seen them. He's warned them. He's penalized them. He's disqualified fighters for too many of them. That makes the Agbeko vs Mares fight all the more bizarre and frankly suspect.

May 27: Chris Arreola vs Kendrick Releford

No real issue with this one. You could maybe argue that Mora let the fight go too long, but it wasn't anything out of the ordinary, really. He made the stoppage in the seventh round, and it was basically a mercy stoppage of an entirely one-sided fight.

August 13: Joseph Agbeko vs Abner Mares

Mora turned in one of the worst refereeing performances you will ever see by failing to call dozens of low blows, warning Mares six times, and calling an absurd knockdown in the 11th round on a blatant low blow. We've been over this enough that we don't have to go deep into it again. You know the story of this fight, and sadly the story was the referee.

So that's seven fights this year that Russell Mora has refereed. He has refereed, overall, 33 fights this year, most of which weren't televised, and I'm guessing most of which did not feature anything unusual or worth criticizing.

But of the seven fights we've done live coverage for on our site that Mora has called, four of them have resulted in warranted criticism of the referee, and another one (Pavlik vs Lopez) had a story that makes his August 13 call even worse.

That's essentially a 4-3 record as a referee in televised fights. Mora also called Provodnikov vs Herrera, where he didn't draw any criticism, but I didn't watch that fight live and on video I wasn't paying my usual attention, so let's even say 5-3. With a mark like that, and with the inconsistencies of his performances, it's worth wondering just how good of a referee we're really talking about. Was it a bad night? Has it been a bad year? Or is this just a bad referee?

Keith Kizer compared Mora to a baseball umpire who makes a bad call. But it's not one bad call. In the Agbeko fight alone, it was a series of horrible calls amounting to an overall atrocious night on the job. He also had questionable decisions in other fights, whether it was an early stoppage, letting a defenseless fighter continue, or "making good" with a bad low blow deduction against Robert Guerrero, when he probably shouldn't have so quickly taken points from Katsidis in the first place.

It does not bring me joy to criticize a referee, believe me. But there's a pattern of subpar or worse performances this year with Russell Mora, and the feeling that Mora is just not a good referee has been earned with those performances. Since Nevada isn't going to do anything harsh like fire, suspend, or even fine him, then all we've got here is the hope that he gets better.

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