My decision: Let them fight

May 13, 2003 6:55 AM

Sometimes, I think, maybe they should just fight to the finish. At least that way, boxing can do away with its bad decisions.

One story had Frankie Carbo, the Mr. Gray from the mob who ran the game a half century ago, telling a Philadelphia scribe in the 15th Street railroad station, "See that guy, I can buy him for a cup of coffee."

The guy was the late Zack Clayton, a world-class referee but something less as a judge (he incredibly voted for Carlos Palomino against Wilfred Benitez down in Puerto Rico though Benitez must have won at least 12 of the 15 rounds, then telling me outside his locker room that the sun was in his eyes).

Whether it’s incompetence of something worse, from Eugenia Williams voting to give Evander Holyfield a draw in his first meeting with Lennox Lewis, to Jo Jo Guerra giving Marvelous Marvin Hagler only a round against Sugar Ray Leonard, something is rotten and not only in the state of Denmark, but in the state of Pennsylvania.

I bring up these two jurisdictions because a threatened walkout by one of the participants threatens to jettison the lightweight "unification" title fight between Paul Spadafora of Pittsburgh, the IBF holder, and Leonard Dorin, a Romanian living in Canada who wears the WBA belt.

The fight will be in Pittsburgh, Spadafora’s hometown. Dorin’s camp said it did not want a judge from Canada or, if one could be found, one from Romania, but it certainly didn’t want anyone from Pennsylvania. Okay, the Pennsylvania commission said, but in hiring Gary Merritt of Indiana sparked another controversy. Merritt has been almost exclusively an IBF judge, working 26 of its title bouts to one from the WBA and another from the WBO. On the surface, it would seem Dorin doesn’t have much to complain about except he does and should.

No one has to pay judges to be dishonest. They know on which side their bread is buttered, and in some locations, the bread can be smeared with foie gras. The pay may not be much, a grand or two for a title fight, but it’s also an all-expenses paid trip to spots a lot more glamorous than Pittsburgh.

Like the Orient, where bribery is a way of life. This is a fact, not a racist slant In many Asian cultures, giving "presents" is a way of doing business. In Tokyo for a Tyson fight, I noticed a gift box of two melons selling for $240. While I couldn’t figure out who to buy them for, I was told there were plenty of businessmen bringing more than prune danish when making visits.

Judges who go to Korea or Japan are showered with gifts - radios, tape recorders, cameras, women (boys if they really want) - from the promoters. You don’t have to tell the judges to favor the hometown hero. Nor do you have to tell them who to vote for in Pittsburgh or Las Vegas, if they want more of those lucrative trips abroad.

Jose Sulaiman is the mother of all bad judges. Driving by the Alamodome in San Antonio, the WBC president had the gall to say, "There’s the place where they did that awful thing to Julio."

His pet, Cesar Chavez, who because of Sulaiman’s judges was able to walk away with a highly undeserved draw against Pernell Whitaker), was in Vegas a long time ago for a fight at Caesars Palace. He told the casino and promoter Don King that all his luggage was stolen, and it was the hotel’s fault. He had all this expensive photography equipment, having just returned from the Orient.

The next day King sent his then right-hand man, Larry Holmes’s trainer Richie Giachetti, to the luxury Caesars shops to help Sulaiman replenish his "stolen" wardrobe.

"Jose, you don’t wear silken underwear," protested the cost-conscious Giachetti. "I do now."

I digress. But if the Dorin camp is worried about Gary Merritt, the IBF judge, maybe the Spadafora corner should be concerned about Ove Ovessen of Denmark. My friend Ove is a WBA regular - he used to follow Pipino Cuevas around to judge the popular welterweight champion’s fights.

You still see this happen: Let’s say fighter A is from the States, fighter B is from Mexico. Then one judge will be from the States, a second from Mexico and the third from somewhere like Outer Slobovia, the so-called "neutral." Of course, all judges are "supposed" to be neutral, but there have been times when if you don’t vote for your landsman, it could be dangerous to return home. Larry O’Connell found that out after he saw the same Lewis-Holyfield fight as a draw.

In those cases, of course all three judges should be from "neutral" jurisdictions (either by location or sanctioning body). It still won’t help when a judge gets the sun in his eyes or, in Eugenia Williams’s case, her view was allegedy blocked by ringside photographers.

It used to be Las Vegas judges were the most ridiculed in the game. I must have been out of the room when they became the most respected. In Vegas, for every Duane Ford (for my money, he’s replaced Jerry Roth as the best in the game), there’s a Dalby Shirley.

Obviously, working at night affects eyesight.