On June 26, 2012, the headlining event in the Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas was a world middleweight championship fight between two fighters with a combined record of 73-1-1. Even with these sparkling records, two men had entered the ring that many people feel did not belong, and one of them was not a boxer.
In boxing there is supposed to be some logical process. Boxers are supposed to take an increasing level of competition, and if they win, they are supposed to gain more exposure and aim for tougher fights. Boxers that consistently face top competition and win are supposed to get the best time slots on premium cable and draw the most fans, but when this logical process does not happen, boxing fans take notice and cry out at the perceived injustices. Boxing aficionados will frequently hear that certain fighters did not earn their exposure or TV time through their talents in the ring. Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. is one of these fighters. Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. is the son of Julio Cesar Chavez, Sr., still admired around the world for his International Boxing Hall of Fame career. With a record padded with undeserving fighters, critics claimed that JCC Jr. only had fans because of the Chavez name. Much to the dismay of boxing fans, at times it appeared that HBO would settle for lesser opponents so they could get him on their network.
Likewise, referees are supposed to work their way up through the system. If referees do well in the lesser fights, they get a chance at the championship fights. If they do well at those fights, they will continue to get the high-visibility matches. Once again, the system seemed to fail. Laurence Cole is a referee that has been heavily criticized (and rightly so) for his poor performances in multiple high profile fights. The son of Texas boxing commissioner Dickie Cole, Laurence continued to be chosen to referee the biggest fights in the state even after his performances could be correctly described as poor and inconsistent. One particular lowlight was Cole advising Juan Manuel Marquez to stop due to a cut caused by a clash of heads and telling Marquez that he was ahead on the scorecards and would win.
Both men, lambasted for not “earning” their places in the spotlight, had previously been in the ring together seven months ago. Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. was set to fight Peter Manfredo, Jr. JCC Jr. was coming off a good win against Sebastian Zbik and a series of underwhelming fights with Billy Lyell, John Duddy, and Troy Rowland. Laurence Cole’s last high profile fight had occurred one year prior to this fight, when he was the referee for the Manny Pacquiao vs. Antonio Margarito fight. In the fight, Laurence Cole was appropriately criticized for allowing Pacquiao to batter Margarito’s face to a point beyond repair, and lead to his eventual retirement after being battered for another fight with Miguel Cotto.
Chavez Jr. stopped Manfredo Jr. in the seventh round. Chavez Jr. was rightly criticized for fighting an opponent who had little chance of challenging him. Laurence Cole was criticized for what some had considered an early stoppage, although most observers stated the call was 50/50 and it was far from a truly poor decision. Regardless, both men left the ring with harsh words directed at them.
Chavez Jr. and Cole met again in the ring last weekend. JCC Jr. recently won a deserved victory over veteran Marco Antonio Rubio. In Laurence Cole’s last high profile fight, he refereed the Danny Garcia vs. Erik Morales fight, where there were no particular complaints about his performance. Both carried the momentum from their positive performances into the ring. This time, Chavez Jr. was scheduled to fight Andy Lee, an experienced middleweight with potential that had yet to record a signature win but considered a legitimate challenge. Laurence Cole was once again appointed to a high profile fight in the state of Texas.
Chavez Jr. started out the night tentative as Andy Lee’s activity and movement gave Chavez Jr. issues. For the first two rounds, it looked like Lee might expose Chavez Jr. as a fraud, afraid of any fighter with legitimate one punch power. After the slow start, it became evident that Chavez Jr.’s size, will, and determination were too much for Lee. By round five it seemed like a certainty that the stronger Chavez Jr. would stop Andy Lee at some point before the scheduled twelve rounds. Even while landing clean shots to the chin, Lee’s power was not enough to deter Chavez Jr. and Lee was stopped in the seventh round. After an accumulation of punches and a devastating right hand, which caused Lee’s entire body to drop but somehow not hit the canvas, Laurence Cole stopped the fight. There was no argument from Andy Lee or his corner.
You will notice the summary of the fight, outside of the stoppage, has no mention of Laurence Cole. If the referee is not a story, chances are the referee had a good performance. On this night, Cole properly handled a sloppy Lee head-butt and there were few complaints about the stoppage. On most nights, a referee will gladly accept not being a part of the story.
Both men will likely never be mentioned without a reference to their fathers. There is no doubt that both of them were thrown to the wolves early, attracting more attention that they were ready for at the particular stages of their careers. The number of fans and media attention that Chavez Jr. had was not equal to the work that he had done in the ring. Likewise, Laurence Cole was appointed to more high profile fights than he was ready to work at that time in his career. However, they have shown improvements in their work under pressure as they continue to be thrust into the spotlight. Both Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. and Laurence Cole still have more work to do, but on this night, both men walked out of the ring with solid performances and took one step out of their fathers’ shadows. With continued improving performances, those calls that Chavez Jr. and Cole do not belong in the spotlight will continue to fade.