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My Day with Instant Replay

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  • My Day with Instant Replay

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    By Ryan Sakacs

    By Special Correspondent Ryan Sakacs -- Last month’s WBA bantamweight championship rematch in Las Vegas between Joshua Franco and Andrew Moloney highlighted the pitfalls of professional boxing’s expanding use of instant replay.

    The bout ended after the second round when ringside physicians determined Franco unfit to continue due to severe swelling around his right eye. After referee Russell Mora ruled that an accidental headbutt caused the injury, the Nevada State Athletic Commission turned to its updated video replay procedure for clarity. The new policy – designed to streamline the review of debatable calls while “maintaining the flow of the fight” – instead, sparked widespread criticism across the boxing world.

    Throughout the tedious 26-minute process, the ESPN broadcast team repeatedly played clips of Moloney’s punches that seemingly caused the damage to the champion’s right eye. However, veteran referee Robert Byrd, the assigned replay official, and NSAC Executive Director Bob Bennett ultimately upheld Mora’s decision, and Franco retained his title via no-contest. The outcome was panned by fans, the media – and most emphatically – by Top Rank President Bob Arum, who vowed to “Get the **** out of Vegas.”

    As I watched the controversy unfold from confusion to conclusion, I thought of my own experience on the instant replay hot seat as Counsel to the New York State Athletic Commission and considered Bennett and Byrd lucky to have escaped the ire of a live audience.

    On April 8, 2017, UFC 210 was held in Buffalo, New York. The commission was still feeling the growing pains of regulating a new sport since state legislators approved MMA the previous year. During the official weigh-in, light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier infamously touched the towel draped in front of the scale to make the 205-pound limit for his title fight against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. Unfortunately, NYSAC staff missed the infraction, and “Towelgate” instantly erupted over social media.

    The next day, the pressure was palpable. During the second round of the co-main event between former light heavyweight champion Chris Weidman and Gegard Mousasi, referee Dan Miragliotta stopped the action when Mousasi appeared to land multiple illegal knee strikes to Weidman’s head. Ringside doctors examined Weidman and called an end to the contest. Miragliotta quickly asked the alternate referee, the legendary Big John McCarthy, to analyze footage of the questionable strikes. Although NYSAC did not have a formal instant replay protocol at the time, state regulations authorized the commission to act in “the best interest of the sport.”

    I watched the replay on a ringside monitor with UFC executive Marc Ratner. It was a complicated sequence to resolve, even with the benefit of slow motion and multiple camera angles. Slowly but surely, I felt the crowd’s patience erode. The boos grew deafening, and the rowdiest spectators turned the cage into a landfill. A few minutes later, the referees and NYSAC staff concluded that the intentional foul call should be overturned, and Mousasi awarded a TKO victory. It was the correct result, but the frustrated fans did not appreciate our efforts. Months later, NYSAC adopted an official replay policy for MMA that successfully settled future disputes.

    Because MMA is still in its adolescence in many ways, most supporters are receptive to reasonable rule reform. Boxing, on the other hand, boasts a storied history unmatched in sport (e.g., the Queensberry Rules established in 1865 are still largely intact, and the lineal heavyweight champion shares a title first claimed by John L. Sullivan in 1885). Predictably, its fans can be notoriously resistant to frivolous changes, such as the proliferation of sanctioning bodies, championship belts, and weight classes. Although the practice is a mainstay in most other major sports, the role of instant replay in boxing’s future remains uncertain.

    Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

    Ryan Sakacs is the former chief of the Prescription Drug Investigation Unit with the New York City’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor. During his 12-year career as an assistant district attorney, he founded the country’s most prolific prosecutorial unit dedicated to combating the surge in prescription drug diversion, addiction, and fatal overdoses. Sakacs has also served as counsel to the New York State Athletic Commission.

    Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel

  • #2
    Instant replay can minimize, if not eliminate some of the mystery associated with knockdowns vs. slips, accidental fouls vs. intentional fouls, if a cut was the result of a legal strike or a head butt, and finally whether or not a blow occurred before the bell rang—particularly when such issues are called in the late rounds and can turn the fight..

    The announcers have it. Why not the judges?


    • #3
      Manifestly, a boxing match should never be stopped while some judge watches a 3-minute replay of a round, but if the 60 seconds between rounds is enough time for the TV editors to give us replays of the hardest punches, ones that might have caused cuts, there is more than enough time for judges to watch those same replays? If Teddy Atlas or Joe Tessitore can do it in 30 seconds, surely a referee can as well.

      It’s time for state commissions to get smart and start taking advantage of technology, albeit carefully, to help the referees and other officials make the right calls.