Boxing referees are a bit like football deep snappers, in that they’re rarely noticed for anything but their mistakes.
It’s not crystal clear that New Mexico native Russell Mora made a mistake during Saturday’s World Boxing Association super flyweight title fight between champion Joshua Franco and challenger Andrew Moloney.
But, without question, most of the boxing world believes he did. And, for the second time in his 23-year career, Mora is caught in a maelstrom of malice.
During the first round of Saturday’s fight in Las Vegas, Nevada, Franco’s right eye began to swell shut. Mora, without hesitation, ruled the injury the result of an unintentional clash of heads.
The fight was stopped after the second round, two rounds short of the required distance for the official scorecards to come into play.
Under the circumstances, the proper outcome was for the fight to be ruled no contest. Had the damage to Franco’s eye been determined to have come from a punch/punches, Moloney would have been declared the winner by TKO.
But, wait – recently, the Nevada State Athletic Commission adopted a video replay system for just such occurrences. And for an excruciating 26 minutes, 30 seconds, the NSAC viewed video of the first round over and over, looking for the clash of heads that Mora said he’d seen.
The ESPN broadcast team of Joe Tessitore and former world champions Andre Ward and Timothy Bradley Jr. were adamant that there was no clash of heads and that the damage to Franco was the result of punches from Moloney, in particular one left jab that landed flush on that right eye.
No matter. Ultimately, the NSAC backed Mora. Tessitore, Ward, Bradley and most of the boxing world felt Moloney, who’d lost the title to Franco by unanimous decision in June, had been robbed of a victory.
Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum, who promoted Saturday’s show and to whom Moloney is under contract, had some angry words for Mora.
Arum, though, reserved most of his fury for the Nevada commission.
“They should have said, ‘No, there was no head clash,'” Arum said. “But instead they waited until the end of the fight and they kept with it to protect the referee, who didn’t know what the hell he was doing.”
It was reported that Arum, 88, and NSAC executive director Bob Bennett almost came to blows.
For Mora, this was something of a flashback to 2011.
That August, Mora failed to judge repeated blows delivered by Abner Mares in a fight against Joseph Agbeko as landing below the belt. The fouls were deemed obvious enough that Mora was relegated to working prelim bouts for several months afterward.
Soon enough, however, Mora regained the status he’d lost and once again became one of Las Vegas’ busiest referees. The past two years alone, he has refereed 11 world title bouts – including the recent, much ballyhooed Teofimo Lopez-Vasyl Lomachenko fight.
Mora, a former New Mexico Golden Gloves boxer, began his career as a pro referee in 1997. Working mostly in his home state of New Mexico, he was the third man in the ring in fights involving Johnny Tapia, Danny Romero Jr., Austin Trout, Holly Holm and many other New Mexico boxers.
He worked his first world title fight in 2007 and moved to Las Vegas around that time.
Since then, he’s worked bouts involving Canelo Alvarez, Gennadiy Golovkin, Manny Pacquiao, Gervonta Davis, Mikaela Mayer, Jermall Charlo and his twin brother Jermell, Albuquerque native and current world champion Angelo Leo, and many other of the sport’s biggest names.
In May, Mora was the subject of a Ring Magazine article harking back to the Mares-Agbeko fight in 2011.
“I still don’t think I’m completely over it yet,” Mora said.
It’s different this time, though, in that the blame – if justified – is shared. Mora made an instant judgment that there’d been a clash of heads. The Nevada commission could have overruled him. It did not.
Cased closed? Not in the eyes of Arum, Moloney, the ESPN TV crew and many others.
Still, it’s likely that Mora, should he so desire – he has a day job as an electrical inspector for Clark County – will soon be back in the ring working the big fights.
He knows how to climb off the canvas.
J-W TRIFECTA: As previously reported, Albuquerque-based MMA fighters Aaron Pico and Don’Tale Mayes won their fights last weekend. Both fighters train at Jackson-Wink.
Another J-W fighter, lightweight Manny Muro, defeated Devin Powell by unanimous decision on the Bellator card on which Pico fought.
Muro improved his record to 12-6 with his victory over Powell (10-5).