In a sport where suspect scoring has become par for the course, one judge has taken ownership of his own contribution to the disturbing trend.
Veteran official Stephen Blea agrees with the commentary that his latest judging performance warrants harsh criticism. Blea was among three ringside judges who had Oscar Valdez prevailing over Brazil’s Robson Conceicao (16-1, 8KOs) this past Friday at Casino del Sol’s AVA Amphitheater in Valdez’s childhood hometown of Tucson, Arizona.
In a WBC junior lightweight title fight where many argued—from a home viewing perspective while watching on ESPN—that Conceicao deserved the nod, Blea (117-110) was joined by judges Omar Mintun (115-112) and Chris Tellez (115-112) in awarding the contest to Valdez.
“I have watched the fight and thoroughly analyzed it, the 117-110 score is not accurate and does not represent the actions in the ring,” Blea admitted in an open letter as distributed through the WBC’s social media team. “I feel I have let down my federation, the NABF, my organization, [t]he WBC and most importantly our sport and the fighters inside the ring.
The wide scorecard turned in by Blea was rightly criticized, as the Colorado-based judge never had Valdez trailing at any point in their twelve-round title fight. Most observers were in agreement that Valdez lost no fewer than four out of the first five rounds before turning things around in the second half. Blea had Valdez ahead 48-47 by that same point, in fact scoring rounds one, three and four in favor of Valdez, along with awarding all but one of the final seven rounds to the unbeaten two-division titlist.
“I would like to share my thoughts publicly on the specific conclusions I have reached important topics regarding judging in boxing:
· Close rounds – There were a few very close rounds in this fight and I made two mistakes:
1) not to score 10-10 in 2 rounds I felt there was not a clear winner;
2) scoring those to the champion giving him the benefit in the close actions.
· Crowd noise influence – It was a loud crowd in favor of Valdez, during the first rounds of the fight some actions took place in a corner in which I had limited view and couldn’t see some punches land by [Conceicao] and there was no crowd reaction, contrary to when Valdez landed. I was also dealing with photographers and camera men all crammed up due to the location of the Champion Valdez in the red corner to the left of me (I was between the photographers on the left of me and camera crew to the right who at times bumped me and blocked and even stepped on my hands while going across the ring apron towards the Champs corner). Considering these distractions, I honestly thought I would be able to do my job 100%, no excuses.
· Getting Stuck on one fighter – I awarded 3 out of the first 4 rounds to Valdez, which is a combination of the above points I have outlined.
“I have scored the bout on TV and have a 115-112 or even a 114-113 score in favor of Valdez.”
It is rare when a ring official will make public comment on their most recent assignment, even less frequent that one owns up to a poor performance. Blea’s confession comes amidst a fight week doused in controversy.
Valdez was permitted to proceed with the fight despite testing positive for Phentermine, a weight-loss supplement that is on the banned list of Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) who was contracted to conduct random drug testing. The matter was brought before the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Athletic Commission, who presided over Friday’s event and who deferred to World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code in ultimately clearing Valdez for combat.
WADA classifies the substance as banned only during “in-competition,” whereas VADA does not differentiate between in-competition and out-of-competition.
The commission’s decision came with the blessing and full support of the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC), though while remaining a hot button topic for those passionate about more stringent testing in the sport.
Officiating has long remained another sore spot within the industry, with seemingly every big fight featuring at least one scorecard that is far removed from the action that took place in the ring. Blea—who had not officiated a title fight in more than two years prior to Friday—has not only accepted his role in that aspect of the sport, but is now prepared to do his part to minimize chances of it remaining a recurring theme.
“I have decided to reach out to my NABF / WBC ring officials committee to undergo a thorough training and review program and will not accept any championship assignments until I complete this process,” Blea noted. “I am an honorable man with profound love, knowledge and respect to the sport, I am sorry for having a bad night and having brought unnecessary controversy to such a sensational fight.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox