The ugliness even overshadowed a solid, high-contact boxing match in the HBO main event where young junior welterweight Danny Garcia graduated from old legend Erik Morales' School of Hard Knocks with a unanimous decision win.
JAMES KIRKLAND-CARLOS MOLINA
With very few exceptions prior to the 10th round, this fight resembled a nightmare for Kirkland. Molina's style gave him fits -- all the crafty movement, all the unsual punching angles, and, yes, a hefty quantity of mauling, something referee Jon Schorle should have at minimum warned Molina for at some point. Kirkland, for his part, looked like he was out of shape (his manager Cameron Dunkin reportedly said Kirkland weighed 198 pounds last month), or dehydrated (he had trouble peeing to give the Texas commission a urine sample), or both, and to make matters worse, he was trying too hard to box with a superior boxer when brawling is Kirkland's stock and trade.
Toward the end of the 10th, though, Kirkland found his old self and hurt Molina. Try though Molina might to hold on even tighter than he had in the rounds previous, Molina couldn't get his legs back. When Kirkland trapped him against the ropes, he caught Molina with a few shots, including a left hand as Molina stumbled to score what appeared to me to be a legitimate knockdown.
But after Molina fell, the timekeeper rang the bell to signal the end of the round. Schorle began his count. At the count of five, one of Molina's cornermen stepped into the ring, and Schorle told him to get out. Schorle resumed the count. Then, after some confusion -- neither Kirkland nor Molina seemed to know what to do, and Schorle wasn't clear -- Schorle went over to talk to someone ringside and announced the disqualification for Molina's cornerman entering the ring when he shouldn't have.
At first glance, this struck me as one of those "technically legitimate but terribly disappointing" rulings. But a closer examination of the rules raised some big questions about whether Schorle and the other Texas officials did anything right.
Under ABC rules, cornermen can't enter the ring until the bell indicates the end of the round -- and the bell had rung by the time Molina's cornerman got in. But the timekeeper had rung the bell, albeit arguably prematurely, since the knockdown meant the round wasn't over (I say "arguably" because the count hadn't begun for the knockdown). Furthermore, Schorle didn't seem to know what to do. He never sent anyone to a neutral corner after the knockdown, which probably only added to the confusion. He resumed his count even after the disqualifiable infraction.
Under the circumstances, I wish Schorle had exercised some discretion about an incident caused by some nebulous areas in the rules and his poor administration of them. Furthermore, I wish someone had stopped Molina's cornerman from entering the ring at all. A WBC official reportedly said Molina's team was given clear directions beforehand not to enter the ring during a knockdown, but that's not the same as actively preventing them from doing so. Yes, there were legitimate grounds for disqualification here. But this wasn't anyone with Molina's team trying to gain some advantage, which is the reason the rule exists -- it was someone who, for a variety of reasons, some of which can be blamed on the referee himself, wasn't up to speed on what he ought to be doing.
It's too bad all this transpired, because we were on our way to an exciting finish. We all know Kirkland would've come out of his corner like a demon with ants in his pants in the 11th, and whether Molina could've survived to the final bell would've been captivating television. But we might've ended with a bad scorecard or two: Judge Gale Van Hoy somehow had Kirkland winning that fight that no one at all thought he was winning, which is the latest evidence that Van Hoy, a contender for the worst judge in boxing today, should be banned from the sport for life.
Kirkland's team said afterward that they'd gladly give Molina a rematch. I hope they mean it. But rarely does a fighter step out of a ring with a fluky victory in a fight he was losing and go right back into a second installment. And his team had been exploring, beforehand, a bout with divisional titleholder Cornelius Bundrage. Kirkland comes out of this fight with some suspicions about him confirmed -- he is going to struggle with anyone with any boxing ability whatsoever -- but is still highly viable as an action fighter who can hang with just about anyone thanks to his power. Molina comes out of this with his reputation as a crafty junkballer more firmly entrenched, and you'd like to hope he gets another nice fight out of this even if Kirkland sidesteps him.
DANNY GARCIA-ERIK MORALES
This wasn't an action fight, but that doesn't mean it was boring. These two swapped a decent amount of leather, and it was plenty interesting to watch them figure each other out.
I had it even all the way through the 10th round. Morales would pull all kinds of veteran tricks, like faking an overhand right before coming up with his left; Garcia would mainly exploit his speed advantage. All but a couple of the rounds were close, with Morales usually out-jabbing Garcia and countering Garcia over his own jab and Garcia landing his short, quick left hook and tagging Morales to the body when he wasn't missing with wide shots or straying low. Morales tired as the fight went on, but Garcia rarely pressed his youth advantage by outworking the older man.
In the 11th, finally, things changed. Morales corner was yelling at him to close the show because thanks to the WBC's idiotic modified-for-the-U.S. open scoring meant that corners got a glimpse of the official scores, Morales' corner knew he was behind. Morales had bloodied Garcia's nose in the 10th, but it looked horrendous in the 11th, two to three sizes bigger and wider, and Morales appeared to have Garcia as a whole -- not just his schoz -- in trouble. As he got aggressive, Garcia countered Morales with a left hook that sent him to his knees.
Morales couldn't get anything going in the 12th, so we, the viewing public, got a taste of the scorecards, one of which -- 118-109 for Garcia -- was especially absurd. But the right man won the unanimous decision.
Morales appears to have hit a wall in his comeback: As with his fight against Marcos Maidana, "El Terrible" proved himself good enough to be respectable against a younger foe, but not good enough to win. He won several rounds Saturday on sheer guile. You have to think the kind of training that left him flabby around the middle and two pounds overweight didn't help him when he needed his old body to respond to commands late in the fight. He said he would consider his next move, including possibly retirement, in a post-fight interview. If this is the last we see of Morales, it was not a bad finale -- out-gunned physically, Morales once more stood as a living monument to what toughness and boxing mastery can do for you.
Garcia wasn't especially impressive, some of which had to do with Morales outfoxing him and some of which had to do with a curiously high level of caution. But you have to think he'll be smarter for having gone through this fight, and Morales forced him to show some gumption fighting through that badly swollen and possibly broken nose. I'd like to see him be more aggressive in his next bout, but there's no reason he couldn't or shouldn't be in the mix for a fight against any other top junior welterweight in the world.