Boxing is a hard enough sport when it's just fighter against fighter. When it's fighter against fighter and the referee, it's a no-win situation.
Just ask Vivian Harris, the former junior welterweight titleholder, who was the victim of referee Gelasio Perez Huerta's shameful quick stoppage Saturday night in Mexico City.
Now, I am no Harris fan. Never really have been. But I do believe in fairness inside the ring. Harris and Argentina's Lucas Matthysse were involved in a competitive welterweight fight, even as the fight was being stopped. In the fourth round, Harris looked like he was tiring slightly and started taking a few more punches than he had earlier in the bout. But he also was landing his own shots. He was not in any danger of being knocked down and hadn't been staggered. Yet with about 20 seconds left in the round, after Matthysse landed a hard right hand that slightly rocked Harris (but was certainly nothing out of the ordinary), Huerta immediately jumped in, stopped the fight and attempted to remove Harris' mouthpiece.
Are you kidding me? It was a ludicrous stoppage. If every fight was stopped after a shot like the one Harris took, boxing wouldn't exist for long. Every fighter who has ever stepped into the ring has been hit like that. It was a good -- but typical -- punch followed by an overreaction on the part of the referee.
Harris' career has been hanging in the balance for the past few fights because of his recent poor performances. In boxing, every loss can severely impact a fighter's career, and now Harris' record lists a fourth-round TKO at the hands of Matthysse, which isn't fair.
Maybe Matthysse (26-0, 24 KOs) would have won legitimately. Maybe not. But at least Harris (29-4-1, 19 KOs) deserved the opportunity to have the fight run to a natural conclusion, not this abomination. Huerta's stoppage makes Richard Steele's famous stoppage in the Julio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor fight look like the best stoppage in boxing history.
Harris, understandably, was upset by the ending. He complained vigorously inside the ring and released a statement to make his feelings clear.
"I just wanted to let everyone know that what happened in Mexico City was by far the worst injustice that I have ever experienced," Harris said. "The fight between me and Lucas Matthysse was a close and competitive fight from the start. In the second round, I hit Matthysse with a right hand that caused severe swelling around his right eye. I'll admit that I lost the third round. In the fourth, we exchanged punches, I got hit with a right hand, I was not hurt, my legs were fine, I wasn't dizzy.
"I went to tie Matthysse up, and out of nowhere referee Gelasio Perez Huerta breaks us apart. He then tries to remove my mouthpiece. At this point, I still don't understand what he is doing, and even Matthysse was unaware of what was happening. Huerta then waves his hands, signaling the stoppage! I was in disbelief. How in the world do you just stop a fight like that? Every single person watching could clearly see that I was fine. The crowd booed loudly when they realized the fight was being stopped.
"This is boxing: Fighters hit and get hit back. And while I fully understand that the referee's job is to protect the fighters, this stoppage was a disgrace. Win, lose or draw, I would accept the outcome. But let it happen the right way [and] allow both fighters a fair shake! Matthysse himself admitted after the fight that he thought the stoppage was premature."
Harris said his team and promoter, Golden Boy -- which also handles Matthysse -- hope to get the decision overturned to a no-contest. They have almost no prayer of that happening. It was a judgment call by Huerta, no matter how terrible it was. But Harris also said, more importantly, that they hope to make an immediate rematch. That is something that should happen. Harris deserves it. So does Matthysse, so his record is not stained by this travesty of a win. So do fight fans and anyone else who cares anything at all about fairness.
"Again, I want to emphasize this was not a controversial call," Harris said. "It was straight up the wrong call. All you need to do is watch the fight and see for yourself."
Harris is 100 percent right. The full fight is on YouTube in three parts. Watch it. Just try not to throw up when you see the ending. You've been warned.