Boxing added to its reputation as the sporting world's theater of the unexpected on Saturday night, when the Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson light heavyweight faceoff at the Staples Center in L.A. ended in controversial circumstances in the second round.
The middle-aged Philadelphia boxer threw, missing with a right. Dawson ducked down, Hopkins fell into Dawson and had his right forearm pressing on the younger man's neck. Dawson didn't care for that, and bumped Hopkins off him, on his back and left side, onto the canvas. Hopkins grimaced dramatically, sending the message that he wasn't OK. Referee Pat Russell halted the action and attended to Hopkins, who told Russell his left shoulder was hurting him. Russell asked him if he could continue, and Hopkins said he could -- but with only one good arm. Russell stopped the contest, ostensibly because Hopkins (52-6-2) would not be able to adequately defend himself, and stated that no foul had been committed by either man.
Therefore, Russell employed the following rule from the list of unified rules of boxing: If a boxer sustains an injury from a fair blow and the injury is severe enough to terminate the bout, the injured boxer shall lose by TKO.
The injured boxer, in this case, was Hopkins; thus Russell declared Dawson (31-1) the winner via TKO.
Fans in the Staples Center made it clear they didn't like the strange, abrupt ending, chanting "Bull----, bull----." Three days later, fight fans are still divided as to what went down, who was at fault and whether the result should stand, and with many still scratching their heads as to what "fair blow" ended things for Hopkins.
ESPN.com reached California State Athletic Commission executive officer George Dodd by phone to find out whether anything had been clarified two days after the controversial climax.
"Things stand where they were [on Saturday night]. The ref made a decision, as a TKO," Dodd said. He said he was under the impression that Hopkins' promotional company, Golden Boy, would lodge a protest.
Presumably, Hopkins' people would argue that their man was fouled intentionally and that Dawson should be disqualified, or at least argue that the fight ended because of an unintentional foul, and thus the correct result should be a no-decision. Until an official protest is filed with the commission, Dodd said, Russell's verdict will stand.
Dodd was asked if he thought Russell made the right call on fight night.
"My opinion is not the one that counts; that's what he called," he said. "We're privileged to see the video replay a thousand times, he's not. He sees it in a fraction of a second."
ESPN.com asked for contact information in order to ask Russell how he came to his decision, but Dodd said no, that the commission's policy in situations such as this, when an appeal may well be forthcoming, is to shield the referee from media interrogation.
"We don't allow officials to make comments while appeals processes are potentially occurring. This is to protect the ref, and is done so the appeal or protest can be carried out properly," Dodd said. "There's nothing to gain for a referee. ... There's no reason to open him to scrutiny."
Dodd may well have been flashing back to the night of Aug. 13 at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas, when referee Russell Mora got the third degree from Showtime reporter Jim Gray, who asked the ref how he missed so many obvious low blows thrown by Abner Mares against Joseph Agbeko during their bantamweight title fight. Mora didn't acquit himself well in the exchange, as he was unable to defend himself against video shown to him that clearly showed Mares felling Agbeko with a groin shot, which Mora deemed a legal knockdown blow.
Dodd was asked if he would like to see boxing adopt some rules for instant replay to aid officials when things get murky.
"I will support instant replay if it's done right," Dodd said, adding that he would need the frequency and terms of instant replay use to be clearly spelled out.