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Loving a sport that doesn’t love you back, and why boxing simply won’t get better about controversies

The Romero vs Barroso controversy is another in a long line of boxing’s “black eyes,” and the sport won’t get better because those who can change it don’t want to do so.

Rolando Romero v Ismael Barroso Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images

It’ll be 88 degrees in northern Seattle today. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not particularly hot, even for May. Before moving here this past January, spurred by the sense that I was stagnating into nothingness, I’d spent the vast majority of my life in Texas, where a high like that wouldn’t be out of place in February.

It is, however, hot for Seattle, obliterating the all-time May 15th record by seven degrees and the average by more than 20. The homes here aren’t built for this; most of them don’t even have air conditioning. The heat retention that turns aside Jack London-worthy winters transforms them into sludgy slow-cookers, sapping your will to do anything more physically or mentally demanding than getting out of bed.

That’s not what gets me, what stokes the lethargy that sends me to bed every evening feeling like I’m letting my life slip through my fingers. What gets me is that it’s not going to get better. That it can get better, but that would require very powerful people to work against their own interests, and nobody gets to that sort of position by making concessions for the greater good. It’ll get hotter and hotter, year after year, and all we can do is watch while those with the ability to make a difference either pretend it’s not happening or implore us to see the benefits of the world falling apart.

I am genuinely upset about Ismael Barroso vs Rolando Romero. It ate me up when I watched it happen, spiked my heart rate to the point where I couldn’t go to bed, had me plugging “Rolly” and “Tony Weeks” and “NSAC” into Twitter and scrolling for minutes at a time just for the consolation prize of knowing that everyone else saw it, too.

I don’t have any particular attachment to Barroso. I thought it was neat when he bludgeoned Kevin Mitchell in 2015 and I thought it was neat when Anthony Crolla turned his guts into a breakfast scramble immediately afterwards. For the past seven years, my first response to hearing his name was “oh right, that guy. He’s still fighting?” I wanted him to beat Romero not because of any overpowering fondness for him or distaste for Romero, but because Romero losing his gift-wrapped title shot to the dude from the Russian Sleep Experiment was an objectively hilarious prospect.

It became clear very that the stars had aligned not for Romero, the golden calf whose rise should have ended at the hands of Jackson Marinez years ago, but for Barroso. Like Yves Ulysse Jr before him, Romero just couldn’t deal with Barroso’s steady barrage of left hands, dropping round after round after round until, finally, Tony Weeks had to step in and bail him out.

It’s Weeks’ body language that does it, I think. A lot of refs, after stopping a fight standing, will hold or pat the loser’s shoulder to say “hey, you’re safe now. It’s fine if you’re mad at me, but it’s my job to protect you. Weeks just rapid-fire slaps at Barroso’s shoulder the way you’d pat your couch cushion to coax your cat to sit next to you, face blank. Perfunctory, going through the motions because that’s what refs are “supposed” to do in this situation, not even bothering to fake the concern for Barroso’s health that would prompt such an extraordinary breach of procedure.

And then Weeks is gone. He’s just engineered either a fix or something so catastrophically incompetent as to be indistinguishable from one and he’s out the door like nothing happened.

This was Barroso’s chance. The three years of WBA Purgatory he’d sat through somehow worked out in his favor; rather than facing euthanasia against a prime Josh Taylor for the “super” belt or taking on rough style matchups like Mario Barrios, Gervonta Davis, or Alberto Puello for the “world” belt, he got to fight Romero. Opportunity met preparation. He was doing it.

Barroso would have been a fixture on every boxing channel’s “WEAKEST CHAMPIONS” compilation. He would almost certainly have lost in his first defense. But that title was his. It probably meant the world to him. It was taken from him and he can’t get it back. Ohara Davies has the contractual right to fight Romero within 120 days. If Puello comes through the arbitration process intact, odds are he’s next. Even if they do scrape together a rematch with Romero, Rolly will be better and Barroso will be older.

NSAC is not going to fix this. Odds are they aren’t even going to investigate it; years of running interference for Adalaide Byrd made it clear that they care more about protecting the “in” crowd than making even a token effort to fix a deeply broken sport. The appeal process works in the same way crosswalk buttons do, like those little toy steering wheels you give your toddler on long drives. The only thing that can ever budge this kind of organization is a threat to their bottom line, which we as individuals can’t influence. As long as promoters keep holding shows in Nevada, NSAC has no incentive to change course.

When I got my officiating license, I had dreams of rising through the ranks of Texas’ Athletic Commission. Maybe I could be the guy that gave a shit, that kept goons like Russell Mora from turning boxing into more of a sideshow than it already is.

I got busier. UFC crammed half-baked cards into every Saturday on the schedule and suddenly I didn’t have time to go to local events. I haven’t reached out to the Washington commission about starting over after the move.

This sport sucks the life out of you. It’s not just the robberies or the way promoters toss perfect matchups in the garbage because they can only extract a zillion dollars out of them instead of a gorillion or the fact that we only get to see our favorite fighters compete for an hour a year or the fact that just keeping up with it requires spreadsheets and enough disposable income to rent a house. It’s that the only people who can make it better don’t want to.

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