Commentary

You can question Stevens' chin, but not his heart

Curtis Stevens might not be the biggest thing in boxing. He might not be the best puncher or have the sturdiest chin. But against Thomas Reid, Stevens did one of the hardest things a fighter can do in boxing: he climbed off the canvas to stop his opponent.

Originally Published: March 10, 2008
By Thomas Hauser | Special to ESPN.com

Curtis StevensJim Everett/FightWireImages.comClimbing off the canvas to score a knockout -- like Stevens did on March 6 -- is no small feat in boxing.
There's an image of a fighter in trouble that has stayed in my mind for several weeks, so I thought I'd write about it.

On March 6, Curtis Stevens was in the ring against journeyman Thomas Reid in an eight-round undercard bout at the Manhattan Center in New York City.

Stevens is a 23-year-old super middleweight from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn with an 18-2 record and 13 knockouts. He was once a hot prospect. In July 2006, he suffered a premature-stoppage loss at the hands of Marcos Primera. He beat Primera in a rematch, reeled off three more victories, and seemed headed for bigger and better things.

Then he lost a unanimous decision to Andre Dirrell on a June 2007 HBO Boxing After Dark telecast. That took away his luster.

Stevens-Reid was Stevens' first fight since losing to Dirrell; a hiatus from the ring of almost nine months.

[+] EnlargeCurtis Stevens
Jim Everett/FightWireImages.comReid, left, had Stevens down and nearly out in the third round -- but Stevens wasn't done.
In Round 2, Reid staggered Stevens with a solid right hand, then whacked him again with a follow-up right. Stevens crumpled to the canvas; he struggled to rise and crumpled again. The blow knocked everything out of him but his consciousness. Most fighters don't get up when they're hit like that.

With Herculean effort, Stevens rose to his haunches. There was a vacant look in his eyes, as though he was too dazed to be dizzy. Slowly, he willed his body higher. Then he stood like a man with a 200-pound weight on his back.

The bell rang before Reid could resume his attack.

In the 60 seconds between rounds, Stevens' head cleared a bit. The referee and ring doctor let the fight continue. Stevens knocked Reid out in the eighth round.

One can question Stevens' chin. Reid is 40 years old and has lost five fights in a row. It has been four years and 13 fights since Reid knocked anyone out.

No one can question Stevens' heart. Climbing off the canvas and coming back to win like he did is the hardest thing to do in sports.

On March 6, Stevens earned full respect as a professional fighter.

Inexplicable scoring … explained

On Nov. 11, 2007, Joel Casamayor defended his lightweight title against Jose Armando Santa Cruz at Madison Square in New York City. In the eyes of most observers, Santa Cruz dominated the fight, but two of the three judges (Frank Lombardi and Ron McNair) voted 114-113 in favor of Casamayor.

On Feb. 16, Cristian Mijares defended his super flyweight belt against Jose Navarro in Las Vegas. Two of the judges scored the bout 117-111 and 115-113 in favor of Mijares. Inexplicably, the third judge (Doug Tucker) had it 120-108 for Navarro.

These aren't isolated instances.

[+] EnlargeJoel Casamayor
Ed Mulholland/FightWireImages.comBesides two of the three judges at ringside, not many people scored in favor of Casamayor, left.
Bad judging always has been a problem in boxing. Sometimes, it results from incompetence. On other occasions, corruption is the cause. Either way, it's a gross injustice to the fighter who's robbed, and it's one of the many reasons that boxing is losing fans.

Hint: When the house fighter gets a decision and the crowd is booing, something is wrong.

What sort of follow-up has there been at the state athletic commissions in Nevada and New York?

Let's start with a look at Doug Tucker (an official with a pretty good reputation who had a very bad night). Keith Kizer (executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission) declines to discuss the specifics of Tucker's 120-108 scoring. That's in line with the view that the slogan "Las Vegas; what happens here stays here" should be changed to "The NSAC: We never admit a mistake."

Be that as it may, Kizer does say, "We always have a postfight meeting. If anything strange occurs during the evening, we discuss it in the arena. With Mijares-Navarro, all three judges gave their reasons for scoring the fight the way they did. They listened to each other, and things went from there. We monitor all of our officials, including judges, on an ongoing basis to see if any problem that might have occurred is an isolated instance or part of a larger pattern. In some situations, we might assign a judge to less-important fights for a while. And we have the option of choosing to not renew a judge at the end of the year."

It should be noted that Kizer can't recall a judge not being renewed during his time with the commission.

The New York State Athletic Commission has a more elaborate response to dubious scoring. "When there's controversial scoring," chairman Ron Scott Stevens says, "I bring the judge or judges involved into the office and we review the tape together. That's what we did with Casamayor against Santa Cruz. We watch the entire fight in silence, and each of us scores it round by round. Then we discuss it. Sometimes, we come away thinking that the judges scored the fight correctly, and sometimes there's a feeling that it should have been scored differently."

"One of the things we're looking for in these sessions is to improve a judge's performance," Stevens continues. "There's always room for improvement. There are times when a little fine-tuning is all that's needed. Other times you need more. Recently, the commission made a decision to stop using two of our judges, and a third will be retrained before he judges again. But you have to remember: You can have a fight where the perception is that one guy dominated; maybe he won four out of 10 rounds big, but his opponent eked out the other six. We do at least 35 shows a year in New York with six fights or more per show. That's more than 200 fights annually, and only a handful of them result in controversial decisions. Would I like every fight to be scored correctly by each judge? Absolutely. That's the standard we're aiming for."

It should be.

Thomas Hauser is the lead writer for Secondsout.com. His most recent collection of boxing columns -- "The Greatest Sport of All" -- has been published by the University of Arkansas Press. He can be reached by e-mail at thauser@rcn.com.