Thursday, December 3, 2009

How "Rush Hour" Can Appeal the Decision in the Guzman Fight

On November 28, 2009, two Canadian boxing judges with limited experience in world title fights became the boxing world’s buzz kill from the high it was experiencing following the Pacquiao-Cotto welterweight title fight, a boxing match that reinvigorated the mainstream media’s interest in professional boxing.  After 12 largely one-sided rounds at the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec City, Quebec, it was almost universally believed that the coronation of a serious contender for lightweight supremacy and the crowning of a new IBF lightweight champion, South Africa’s Ali (Rush Hour) Funeka, 30-2-3 (25 KOs), would be made official upon Michael Buffer’s announcement of the decision in Funeka’s fight with Joan Guzman, now 29-0-1 (17 KOs).  Instead, judges Alan Davis and Benoit Roussel took it upon themselves to add another entrant to the discussion for worst decision in boxing history by scoring the bout a draw, while a third judge, Joseph Pasquale, rightfully scored it as a victory for Funeka.  The result: a majority draw.  The live crowd, the HBO team, and Funeka’s promoter were aghast, as was most any one who watched the fight.

In the days following the Funeka-Guzman fight, calls were made for an investigation into the judging and comparisons were drawn between Funeka’s plight and the infamously heinous decisions in Lennox Lewis vs. Evander Holyfield 1 and Pernell Whitaker vs. Julio Cesar Chavez.  Other than an investigation, however, the question is begged as to what is the most immediate remedy that Funeka can seek? The answer is an appeal to the International Boxing Federation, whose vacant title Funeka and Guzman fought for, pursuant to its Rules Governing Championship Contests (hereinafter the “IBF Championship Rules”).

The Official Grounds for the Appeal

IBF Championship Rule 12(A)(3) provides that a boxer may file an appeal of the decision of a championship contest in the event of “[m]isconduct on the part of the judges or referee which is alleged to have had a material effect on the outcome of the fight[.]”  It should be noted that the judging of Funeka-Guzman was not the only thing that could have or did have a “material effect” on the fight.  Guzman also sustained a bad cut over his right eye in the fourth round, which was ruled by the referee as being caused by a punch.  However, replays appeared to indicate the cut came from an accidental clash of heads.  Had the fight been stopped due to that particular call, it would have been Guzman who suffered a travesty that night in Quebec in the form of an erroneous TKO loss.

The Necessary Elements of the Appeal

Within the written appeal, a boxer “shall list with specificity the alleged discrepancy/ ground for Appeal and/or infraction of a rule of the IBF/USBA and explain the effect of said infraction or claimed discrepancy on the [boxer].”   IBF Championship Rule 12(C).  In order to “list with specificity” the alleged grounds for appeal in Funeka-Guzman, one would have to go through a round-by-round analysis of why Funeka should have been given rounds that he was not given on either Davis’ or Roussel’s scorecard, explain why said rounds were incorrectly scored, and explain either how the scoring as a whole had an effect on Funeka, or how each wrongly scored round had an effect on Funeka.   While not an easy task, the one drafting such an appeal can point to a video of the fight itself as evidence, as well as the scoring of the third judge, and perhaps the scoring of HBO and the press to aid in making an initial showing that a given round was likely erroneously scored.

Time is of the Essence

Under Rule 12(B) of the IBF Championship Rules, “[a]ll Appeals shall be in writing…and shall be sent to the President of the IBF/USBA within ten (10) days from the date of the subject fight or any alleged infraction of the rules.”  Funeka thus has until December 8, 2009 to file a written appeal to the IBF. 

A Venture Before Any Gain

In order to get a hearing before the IBF Appeals Committee, a written request must be submitted “and accompanied by a certified check payable to the IBF/USBA in the amount of $10,000.00 to cover the expense of such a hearing.”  IBF Championship Rule 12(D).  After receipt of the $10,000 by the IBF President, “the President shall notify the complainant of the time, place, and date set for the hearing.   The President shall further provide all interested parties with a copy of the written appeal and inform them of the time, place and date of the hearing.  All interested parties may be heard at the hearing.”  Id. at Rule 12(E).  In other words, if Team Guzman believes that the majority draw was a correct and/or reasonable outcome, it is entitled to send attorneys and others to speak on that position at Funeka’s hearing.

Time Frame for the Second Decision on the Outcome of the Fight

Under IBF Championship Rule 12(G), Funeka would be “notified in writing of the result of the hearing within ten (10) days of the hearing.”  If, at that time, Team Funeka is dissatisfied with the IBF’s decision, it may then a file a lawsuit within the State of New Jersey.  IBF Championship Rule 15.

For the good of professional boxing in a time when it is regaining traction in the mainstream media, here’s hoping the IBF does the right thing if presented with an appeal, and grants Funeka the lightweight championship.  Even a mandated rematch would be a travesty, given how thoroughly Funeka dominated Guzman.

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Punches After the Bell: MMAssachussetts: Massachusetts recently became the 42nd state to legalize mixed martial arts.  While there was some noise earlier this year about New York slowly coming around, it does not appear imminent at this time that New York will be state number 43…Goossen Turns off Toll Road Back to Ghost Town: In late November, it was reported that Golden Boy Promotions and Goossen-Tutor Promotions reached a financial settlement that allows Golden Boy to retain promotional rights to junior lightweight champion Robert (The Ghost) Guerrero…Morals Clause Alert in Colombia:  Lightweight contender Aristides Perez, 16-1-1 (9 KOs), three weeks away from a bout for the interim WBA lightweight title, was recently arrested for extortion in Colombia.  Perez’s manager and promoter now have some decisions to make, notably how much more money they wish to throw behind someone who could be facing several years in prison upon conviction. Hope they each have either a moral clauses that allows him to release Perez, or a tolling provision that stops the time from running on the contract until his legal situation is cleared up…Replay, By Any Way Alert: As discussed above, the referee in Funeka-Guzman ruled a serious cut sustained in the fourth round by Guzman was caused by a punch, though replays indicated that it was likely caused by an accidental head butt.  Quebec, however, does not provide for instant replay in professional boxing, so the result would have been a TKO loss for Guzman in the event that he was unable to continue due to that particular cut.

Paul Stuart Haberman, Esq. is an attorney at the New York law firm of Heidell, Pittoni, Murphy & Bach, LLP.  He is also a New York State licensed boxing manager and the Chairman of the Sports Law Committee of the New York County Lawyers Association.   He can be e-mailed at ©

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