It wouldn’t be boxing if there wasn’t chatter following the fights Saturday night, talk lasting into the first part of the week.
This sport isn’t just capable of offering drama and controversy as an element of its bouts, it’s actually a built-in certainty. That’s how it feels, sometimes, anyway.
So it was and is this week, as fans, media, and armchair Zapruders have discussed how the Joshua Franco vs Andrew Moloney rematch on Saturday night ended.
If you weren’t watching on the support bout to the Terence Crawford-Kell Brook welterweight title fight, then this is what you missed.
Franco had fought Moloney, then holding a secondary WBA 115-pound title, before; they clashed on June 23, and Franco won a UD-12.
The 29-year-old Moloney (21-1, 14 KO) of Australia had a different game plan this time around, as he looked to be quite active with the jab. Indeed, he came to center ring, and snapped a peppy jab to start off the bout. And almost right away, ref Russell Mora made clear he wanted both to be sure they were aware of their distance and spacing. “Watch your heads,” he told them just 20 seconds into the opening round. He repeated the demand about 20 seconds after that, too.
To my eyes, Moloney, promoted by Top Rank, was working a smart plan. His movement was constant but subtle, he was mixing his punches really well, and he acted like a most confident ring general.
With about 50 seconds to go in round one, you can hear Mora say, “You got an eye with the head, accidental head butt,” as he spies some swelling apparent on the right eye of the 25-year-old Franco (17-1-2, 8 KO). Analyst Andre Ward picked up on the swelling, alerting viewers right after that he saw swelling on the right eye of Franco, who is promoted by Golden Boy Promotions.
“It was from a headbutt, Dre,” said fellow analyst Tim Bradley. “Accidental headbutt, on the eye,” repeated Mora, right after Bradley had his take.
The first round ended, and Mora went to the commission boss Bob Bennett. The referee leaned over the top rope and reiterated that the right eye of Franco was impacted by an accidental butt.
“Eye is shut, accidental headbutt, accidental headbutt. ... Franco, his eye is shutting, yes, butt,” the ref said. “Right eye, yes.” Next to Bennett was veteran ref Robert Byrd, in charge of the replay review for this event.
Mora went to the Moloney corner to tell him to watch his head, and then did the same for the Franco corner. The eye was still open enough for Franco to continue, in the eyes of the watchers in his corner.
“Watch your head, watch your head,” Mora implored the fighters before they started trading in the second.
“Tess, that eye is closed,’ Bradley piped up about 30 seconds into round two, speaking to blow by blow man Joe Tessitore. They kept firing at each other, with Moloney sticking to his game plan. He pumped that jab, sharp and accurate. His movement, too, was so on point, his feet gave him the angle to place his punches with precision on the titleholder. At about the 1:50 mark, Mora asked for a break. He called time, and in a “better safe than sorry” mode,” aimed to look out for the wellbeing of the fighter, escorting Franco to the doctor.
“Looking at the eye from the accidental headbutt,” he announced. The doc, Raimundo Leon, looked close, and there was still space between lids, so he let Franco continue. And that’s when the ESPN crew began to look close for the contact that caused the swelling. Their production served up a landing jab, and a landing hook, but not a snippet holding a butt.
“Tess,” said Bradley as the round wound down, “there wasn’t a clash of heads.”
“I didn’t see one, Timmy,” Tessitore answered, at the 1:23 mark in round two.
Tessitore, with less than 50 seconds to go, told viewers that the commission is free to review action at any point, if they so choose.
Two rounds unfolded, and Tessitore said, as Franco strode to his corner, “A little early drama with the champ.”
Dr. Leon looked at the swelling, and we thought we’d get the start of the third. But Mora called time, and Leon, in the ring still, did a peripheral vision test on Franco. He didn’t like what he saw, after Franco admitted his sight was very compromised, and so he told Mora that fact.
“Doctor agreed that he (Franco) cannot continue, due to the accidental headbutt, we’re starting the third round, four rounds have not been completed,” Mora told Bennett. “That is a no decision, that is correct.”
Tessitore didn’t concur, telling viewers that the people in the ESPN truck didn’t see a head clash cause the damage. Maybe a shoulder in the vicinity, but not a headbutt. The video footage they saw, by their interpretation, indicated that punches caused the damage and thus, Moloney should be deemed the winner. Or, maybe it’s better to say, in the truck they didn’t see exactly what caused the swelling. They didn’t see a clash, an obvious instance of impact which would send a clear signal of what Mora said he saw.
San Antonio’s Franco and his crew had to know that if it was determined that a punch caused the closure, that would mean Moloney would be deemed the winner via TKO. But if an accidental butt forced the eye to be compromised, then because four rounds hadn’t elapsed, the contest would be deemed a “no decision.”
Months ago, Nevada decided that they’d go the route of sports leagues that utilize instant replay. The ref can now say, at any time — not just after the end of a bout — that he wants replay footage to be checked out, to fact-check if a foul has occurred or what have you.
The use of replay still surprises people. The July 2 fight between Jose Pedraza and Mikkel LesPierre is an example. After round five, round six was about to start. But referee Kenny Bayless called time, and he left the ring to go to check a replay from round five. Was it a knockdown or did Pedraza go down off a tangle? It was a trip, not a knockdown as Bayless had originally called, the officials determined. It struck Andre Ward as bizarro, he admitted he hadn’t seen that before. On Sept. 12, UFC fans got confused during a fight between Mike Rodriguez and Ed Herman in Nevada. A Rodriguez knee stopped Herman, but the ref thought maybe it was a low blow. The ref could have looked at replay, but chose not to. He instead stuck with his gut, allowed Herman to continue, and Herman scored a comeback win in the last minute of the final round. Replay properly used would have shown that the ref was wrong.
Just seven days later, more controversy in the cage. At UFC Vegas 11, Jessica-Rose Clark met Sarah Alpar and the ref, once again Chris Tognoni, stepped in it. Clark kneed an almost-downed Alpar, and Tognoni interceded, thinking it was an illegal blow. He could have looked at the replay, but didn’t. Instead, a dazed Alpar was allowed to fight on, and she ate copious punishment after the nasty knee.
But back to Franco-Moloney. A minute passed after we saw the doc make clear that he thought Franco’s eye was too shut to allow him to continue. Two minutes, and no light. The commission is supposed to switch on a yellow light, to alert all that an official replay is in effect. Inside the ring, the fighters and their seconds spoke.
No, the damage was not caused by a butt, Team Moloney insisted. Bradley got more heated, deeming the Mora call disappointing.
Then Tessitore said the replay session was on. He didn’t say whether he saw the yellow light go on, though. But viewers did see Bennett on the phone, watching replays, and Byrd watching his monitor. Was it an official review, or an unofficial review?
Usually, by now, emcee Mark Shunock would tell the crowd and viewers the specifics of the ending. He didn’t. On Monday, a story dropped on The Athletic by Lance Pugmire, and Bennett made clear that he thinks Shunock should have announced the decision. But Shunock spoke to Pugmire, as did Top Rank publicist Evan Korn, and both indicated that they were under the impression that a review was taking place. That’s why Shunock didn’t announce the no decision, it seems. And Bennett said that it wasn’t an official review being undertaken, and that Mora’s original call — that an accidental head clash caused the eye damage — was being adhered to.
Tessitore started to provide a count-up clock. Over 20 minutes passed from the end of the fight, Tess said. The blow-by-blow man grilled Bradley and Ward, wanting to know what their expert eyes were telling them. Ward said it shouldn’t be that complicated, just need to watch round one. Bradley took a harder stance, he said in his mind there was zero doubt that a shotgun left jab by Moloney caused the swelling.
As more minutes passed in the roiling MGM Bubble, Top Rank promoter Bob Arum went to Bennett, and Byrd, and he was gesturing that he thought a punch or punches caused the damage.
“That’s what caused the swelling,” an impassioned Tessitore said, after a replay of a hard jab by Moloney, with Bradley insisting the swelling started at that moment.
Minutes kept passing, and the footage was examined by Bennett and Byrd, and no official word was conveyed to the masses.
Andre Ward, always a cautious type, said he respects Bennett and Byrd, but what he’d been shown didn’t convince him that a head clash made the eye unusable. Bradley after 22 or so minutes predicted that the commission would stick by the original call.
More deliberation occured, and ESPN tap danced. Bernardo Osuna interviewed Franco trainer Robert Garcia, and the tutor said he thought maybe the no decision would be over-turned, because so much time was being spent on review. He said the ref was in the ring, real close to the action “He’s the one who knows what he’s seeing in there,” Garcia said.
Then Shunock spoke, after about 26 minutes following the fight’s actual end.
“Ladies and gentlemen, here inside MGM Grand, at the conclusion of round number two, due to an accidental head butt, and the bout not going four rounds, this bout is declared a no decision. Franco retains his BA super flyweight world championship,” the emcee said from outside the ring.
I messaged Bennett soon after the bouts ending, asking him to share any info he might care to, for clarity sake. On Monday afternoon, Bennett sent over a response, which included some of his take on the thought processes of him and his in-ring officials and the on-site staff at the Bubble, and also some screen grabs from various points in that Franco-Moloney rematch.
“There was a possible headbutt at 2:08 in the first round; and another possible headbutt at 1:12 of the first round,” Bennett communicated. The commission goes by the “unified rules” which the association of boxing commissions adheres to, and so the referee is the sole arbiter, he continued.
Bennett also touched on the commission replay protocol. “The yellow lights indicate a review is taking place by the review official, and based on conclusive evidence the review,” he shared.
That review official can revise a decision made by the referee, yes, but, Bennett said, “During this fight there was no conclusive evidence to overturn the referee’s decision. In fact, based on the screen shots (we have), the referee was unequivocally correct.”
His POV is that he didn’t see conclusive evidence to overrule the ref’s decision, basically.
Bennett provided information on his office compiled material after the fight ended which aided in informing him, and formulating his rendering of the decision.
His personnel “stopped the video at 0:59/7:07. (The office) took a screenshot and saved a picture of the screenshot. While viewing a video on YouTube, you can advance the video 1 frame at a time by pressing the ‘.’ (period) button. Using this method, (the office) saved the video frame by frame, capturing a total of 25 frames. (The office) then went back to frames 7-14 and put a red border around them, to highlight the frames where there appears that contact was made with Moloney’s left side of his head and the right side of Franco’s face. (The office) then added all the frames to (a) (GIF-making) website and was able to make the pictures ‘animated’ so it would show the frames continuously in a gif form with a delay time of 40.”
This story has some more chapters to be written, I think. I still want to know if and when that yellow light was turned on.
And Team Moloney will move forward with an official appeal, according to Andrew’s manager, Tony Tolj.
I think the screen grabs from the fight could be trotted out and serve as sufficient support to keep Mora’s view of the path to the end of the contest as is.
As of now, Bennett is none too pleased with Arum for being so demonstrative in disputing the decision, and Arum isn’t backing off an inch. The promoter, who turns 89 on Dec. 8, railed on fight night that he’s thinking of taking his cards to another state.
Had he found serenity by Monday night? Asked for his response to Bennett’s stance about the decision not being announced “properly,” right after the doc and the ref pulled the plug, Arum replied, “Absolute nonsense.”
Boxing is correctly characterized as the “theater of the unexpected, but when it comes to this sort of kerfuffle, I’m switching on that yellow light.
After further review, I’m declaring the fight game “theater of the expected.”