- Michael Woods, Boxing
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Bernard Hopkins gave the fans more than their money's worth on Saturday night in Atlantic City, N.J., as his rumble with massive underdog Karo Murat featured more trading and less finesse-based tactics than we've become accustomed to from the boxer formerly known as "The Executioner."
These days, Hopkins answers to "The Alien," in reference to his freakish, not-of-this-Earth career arc, which finds him fighting at the upper-most level of the sport at almost 49 years old.
Fans at the Boardwalk Hall might have been surprised about Hopkins' spirited outing, but they likely weren't surprised by the controversy and postfight buzz stemming from some of the actions of the judges and a referee, however.
The card turned in by Kason Cheeks at the close of the Peter Quillin middleweight title defense against Gabriel Rosado had people scratching their heads. Cheeks scored the fight -- cut short when doctor Blair Bergen declared early in Round 10 that Rosado shouldn't continue because of a cut over his left eye -- for Quillin, 90-80. One and all I spoke to after the fight saw it closer than that.
The stoppage also sparked postfight discussion, with many observers thinking that perhaps Rosado deserved to get the green light to continue. After all, New Jersey was home base for Arturo Gatti, who several times was allowed to continue with just one functional eye.
Additionally, veteran referee Steve Smoger raised some eyebrows when he, among other things, shoved challenger Murat back during a break in action and generally seemed to be inclined to treat Hopkins with more regard than the challenger. I reached out to the director of the New Jersey Athletic Control Board, Aaron Davis, to get his take on these matters.
"It was, overall, a good night of boxing," he said. "Regarding the cut on Rosado, we are safety-first in New Jersey. The doctor did the right thing. He's been around forever. The cut was in a real bad place. Young fighters, they will get a chance to fight again."
Davis said he understands and respects Rosado's fervent desire to continue. But he also said that his mindset in such situations is, better safe than sorry. "Maybe we have to sometimes save fighters from themselves," he said. "Why should they mess up their whole career over one fight?"
As for Cheeks' card, Davis noted first and foremost that all three judges had Quiilin winning, so in effect all three were on the same page -- just different places on that page. "I thought there were a couple rounds Rosado may have squeaked those out, but Cheeks thought those went to Quillin," Davis said. "I'm not here to question him, but I will be talking to him this week, I will watch the fight with him and then make more of a determination after that."
Davis said Cheeks has been judging for about seven or eight years, has worked some smaller title fights and hasn't, to his recollection, been involved in any controversy. "He wouldn't be there unless he was a good judge," Davis said. "But right now, I don't think there was any wrongdoing. But I will talk to him to hash it out."
And then there was Smoger's work during the main event. At one point, the ref shoved Murat back, with some extra verve, it looked like, on a break. And when Murat tried to head-butt Hopkins after the final bell, Smoger gave him a face-smush shove and barked at him.
Davis said he got some postfight calls based on Smoger's actions. He said he didn't pick up on Smoger showing Hopkins more love during the fight, but he did notice him shoving Murat.
"I'd like a more hands-off approach, more verbal commands than hands-on," he said. "Even a guy like him has off nights. It's not the easiest sport to handle. But would I talk to him about it? Probably not. That's his way, old school."
30dBrian Campbell, ESPN staff writer