Wrench thrown into Ward-Abraham bout
The Super Six World Boxing Classic semifinal bout between super middleweight titlist Andre Ward and Arthur Abraham is in jeopardy because Abraham's camp is upset with the selection of officials for the bout.
Ward, of Oakland, Calif., and Germany's Abraham are due to meet May 14 (Showtime) at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. However, Sauerland Event promoter Wilfried Sauerland, Abraham's promoter, said Tuesday that Abraham would pull out of the fight if the California State Athletic Commission refuses to appoint neutral officials to the bout.
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Sauerland claims there was a pre-existing agreement that the fight would be handled by neutral officials.
"Contrary to what has been previously agreed on, the California commission all of a sudden insists on installing a Californian judge as well as a Californian referee," Sauerland said. "That is totally unacceptable. This turnaround comes as a huge and unpleasant surprise.
"Two months ago, everybody involved agreed that this tremendous fight would be served by neutral officials. We agreed to have one judge from California, one from Europe and one from neither Europe nor the U.S. The referee is supposed to be neither American nor European either. Unless this issue is sorted, King Arthur will not leave the country. We have put his flights on hold."
Abraham, who is training on a German island in the Baltic sea, was due to leave for Los Angeles this weekend.
Sauerland, who also promotes former titleholder Mikkel Kessler, took issue with the performance of a California referee in Kessler's lopsided technical decision loss to Ward in the opening round of the tournament, prompting his insistence on a neutral set of officials if Abraham were to also face Ward in California.
"King Arthur is more than happy to challenge Ward in his backyard, but we demand neutral officials as agreed on," Sauerland said. "We have learned our lesson from the Kessler-Ward fight. Back then the California commission insisted on having a Californian referee. His performance was, to put it mildly, a joke.
"This is not some beach bar brawl but the semifinal of the Super Six World Boxing Classic, a sensational tournament that has captured global attention. It's a shame that the clash is jeopardized just because a local commission refuses to honor existing agreements and basic rules of fair play."
Dan Goossen, Ward's promoter, denied there had been such an agreement, but said every effort was made to have neutral officials.
"Their accusation that California insisted on a California referee [for Ward-Abraham] is 100 percent inaccurate and, as far as I know, we have agreed to have one California official of the four officials, which is unusual to do. I don't know how much more neutral the commission can be."
Goossen said one judge would be from California while the two other judges and referee would not be from Ward's home state.
Whether the issue would force the fight to be called off, Goossen said, was going to be up to Sauerland and Abraham.
"I felt the California commission bent over backward to accommodate the parties," Goossen said. "It is out of my hands. It's going to be up to them."
Ward (23-0, 13 KOs) enters the semifinals as the top seed, easily winning his two tournament bouts against Kessler and Allan Green. He also easily defeated Sakio Bika in a non-tournament bout after Andre Dirrell pulled out of their scheduled Group Stage 3 bout.
Abraham (32-2, 26 KOs) has struggled in the tournament. After knocking out Jermain Taylor in the 12th round of their opening bout, Abraham was outclassed in his next two fights. Dirrell knocked Abraham down and was winning widely on all three scorecards before Abraham was disqualified in the 11th round for hitting Dirrell (and knocking him cold) after he had slipped to the canvas. In Group Stage 3, Abraham lost a near-shutout decision against Carl Froch in a fight for a vacant 168-pound belt in November.
Abraham won a tuneup fight in February, scoring a second-round stoppage against Stjepan Bozic.
Froch defends his belt against former light heavyweight champ Glen Johnson in the other semifinal on June 4 in Atlantic City, N.J.
Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter.