Jeremias Ponce earned a shot at the IBF super lightweight title as he battered Lewis Ritson to defeat in the tenth round in Newcastle, in a fight that will be remembered not only for Ponce’s non-stop onslaught but for some hugely controversial refereeing by Steve Gray.
Boxers have suffered in the past from brave corners, but the last thing they would expect is a brave referee. But when Ritson’s trainer and father, Dave, threw in the towel in the tenth round to rescue his battered son, Gray threw it out, only for Ritson to be knocked down twice before he finally waved it off.
Under the rules it is down to the referee’s discretion whether or not to accept a corner’s retirement. A similar incident happen in the Michael Katsidis-Graham Earl interim WBO lightweight title fight in 2007 when Mickey Vann threw out of the ring the towel that had been thrown in by Earl’s corner. In that case, Earl responded by knocking Katsidis down. That happened in the second round and Earl was finally pulled out after the fifth.
But Ritson was taking a beating and must have been a long way behind. At the start of the round, Dave Ritson had already told his son that he only had one more round to turn it round and when he was floored within seconds of that round starting, he decided to end it. Ritson protested to his father when he saw the towel, but by taking the action he did, Gray allowed a beaten fighter to take unnecessary punches. British boxing has had to defend itself too often in the recent past about the actions of its officials, this was another case. Ultimately, the referee is there to protect the health of the boxer.
The fight was a final eliminator for the IBF super-lightweight title, held by Josh Taylor. The unbeaten Ponce, from Argentina, is a relentless puncher and would give anyone a hard night. This was his third win in an away corner in Europe, having previously won in Italy and Germany.
It was the final fight of Matchroom’s association with Sky Sports after 27 years and it was a cracker.
Ponce had a big first round, as he caught Ritson with a good left hook to the body and then backed off and tucked up, allowing Ponce to unload heavily on him. The Argentinian kept the pressure on in the second round, too, but there were signs at the end of the round that Ritson was weathering the storm.
However, early in the third round, Ponce landed three huge uppercuts, which Ritson did well to ride and then come back with a body attack. By the fourth the action was simply going one way than the other, with both landing big bombs.
The action was being fought at incredibly close quarters, the pair leaning in each other and leaning back to find room for shots in the fifth, but when Ponce gained space, he forced Ritson backwards. When Ponce landed, he also followed up with three or four punches, forcing Ritson into a shell.
Ritson worked hard to try and turn things around In the seventh round, but there was no let up from the 24-year-old and Ritson couldn’t keep him off and every time he landed a good combination, Ponce fired back with better.
The eighth was a bad round for Ritson. He tried to hold his own, but was under constant fire and, just before the bell sounded, he was turning away under an onslaught in the corner.
After another bad round in the ninth, Ritson’s father and trainer, Dave, said he was giving him one more round. But it never got that far. Within 20 seconds, a body shot dropped Ritson to his knees. He beat the count and tried to battle back but Ritson Sr. threw in the towel, only for referee Gray to ignore it, or possibly not see it.
As Ponce carried on hitting Ritson, Gray stumbled over the towel and threw it out of the ring, just as Ponce battered Ritson to the floor again.
He beat the count again and, unbelievably, Gray allowed it to continue, only to then wave it off after Ritson was knocked down for the third time. The official time was 1:24 of the tenth round. Ritson had left the ring by the time Ponce’s hand was raised.
“I hit him with a really good body shot in the first round that was called low, it was something we did identify,” Ponce said. “I knew I could keep it up for 12 rounds. I was feeling slightly tired, but then I thought of my family and that spurred me on to continue.”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.