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Thursday, December 22, 2011
Size (of the ring) matters

By Dan Rafael

To swipe a line from HBO broadcaster Larry Merchant, boxing is the theater of the unexpected. How else to explain one of the strangest things I can recall: A fight being called off because the ring was too small.

Last Saturday night, while the eyes of the boxing world were on the final of the Super Six World Boxing Classic final between Andre Ward and Carl Froch, another notable fight in the super middleweight division was scheduled at the Froilan Lopez Baseball Field in Cozumel, Mexico: Librado Andrade against Donovan George for the right to become titlist Lucian Bute's mandatory challenger.

Only the fight never happened. There was no injury, visa problems or weight issue, or any of the other usual reasons a fight might get called off at the last minute.

Instead, when George and his team arrived at the venue, they discovered that the ring was only 15 feet by 15 feet, exceptionally small dimensions. Typically, rings are no smaller than 18x18, and George's contract called for the standard 20x20.

The smaller the ring, the less room (obviously) there is to move. Although both Andrade (30-4, 23 KOs) and George (22-1-1, 19 KOs) are good punchers, George is more of a boxer -- the fighter who would benefit from having more room to move.

Warriors Boxing promoter Leon Margules, who promotes George, made the final call to yank George from the fight and was pretty upset about it. When I spoke to him on the phone late Saturday, he was really bummed out but said he did it to protect his fighter, and I can't blame him.

Had the ring been even 18x18, Margules said, there would have been no issue and the fight would have gone on. But at 15x15, he could not in good conscience allow George to fight.

"I haven't heard one competent boxing guy tell me I did anything but the right thing," Margules said. "When my fighter gets to the venue on fight night and says, 'How am I going to fight in that ring? I thought you told me the ring would be 20 feet,' he's already mentally handicapped. He would have fought if we asked him to, but there was no way I was going to let him. This is the biggest fight of his life and he's worked very, very hard to get here. There's no way I'm going to let him risk it all in a fight when the other guy has an unfair advantage based on styles. That is why I insisted on a 20x20-foot ring in the contract. I would protect my fighter the same way if it ever happened again."

Margules said calling off the fight was the hardest decision he has ever made in his promotional career.

"The contract said [event promoter] Golden Boy will use their best efforts to get a 20x20 ring. The ring was exactly 15 feet inside," Margules said. "I've never even heard of a ring that small. So we talked about it as a team and decided to pull the fight."

Margules said that after he showed the IBF supervisor the contract that called for a 20-foot ring, the organization supported his decision.

"The IBF stood behind us," he said. "Donovan's father and fiancée thanked me for standing up for them. Raul Jaimes and Robert Diaz from Golden Boy were very understanding. Even Andrade's trainer said he would have done the same thing."

George would have fought, of course, because he is a fighter. But, as Margules pointed out, part of his job as his promoter is to look out for his fighter's best interest.

"This was the kind of thing any father would do for their kid," Margules said. "When I've got a fighter who is supposed to fight in the middle of the ring and there is no middle of the ring because it's smaller than any ring I've ever even seen -- it's not right to push him out there against a world-class guy who thrives on phone-booth warfare. That's not doing my best to protect my fighter and give him an even chance at winning every fight."

Nobody is blaming Golden Boy for the snafu. When it promotes fights in Mexico, it relies on a local partner, in this case Pepe Gomez, to handle some of the logistics. Apparently, there simply was no larger ring available on the island of Cozumel.

Everyone involved seems to be chalking it up to an honest mistake.

"I do not believe Golden Boy Promotions would do something like this intentionally, but relied on others to handle obtaining an adequate ring for a world-title elimination fight," Margules said. "The fact is, Golden Boy are very competent promoters. They told me a local promoter made the mistake. I give them the benefit of the doubt. As a company with tremendous integrity, all they need to do now is figure out how to make it right for both fighters."

Ideally, the bout will be rescheduled, although it's too bad both fighters went through training camps and didn't fight or get paid, especially so close to the holidays. George was due to earn $32,000 and Andrade $20,000. I bet all they want for Christmas is for their next fight to feature a 20x20 ring.