LAS VEGAS — Much like unbeaten knockout artist Edgar Berlanga did about a month before him at the MGM Grand, Andrew Moloney raced to the ropes when his bout with Joshua Franco ended Saturday, climbed up and shouted to no one in particular.
Moloney was exuberant when ringside physician Raimundo Leon ruled following the second round of their fight for the WBA super flyweight title that Franco’s swollen right eye was too dangerous for him to continue. Moloney, rightfully, believed he’d won by technical knockout.
It was a brilliant performance by Moloney, who had lost his title to Franco in June and was a heavy underdog in the rematch.
But in the two completed rounds, Moloney’s jab and hooks to the body controlled the fight and he won both of them without question.
Moloney would soon be shocked to learn that he wasn’t the champion. At some point during the first round, referee Russell Mora informed Nevada Athletic Commission officials seated at ringside, including executive director Bob Bennett, that the swelling on Franco’s eye was caused by a head-butt and not a punch.
Mora’s call was critical, because there has to be clear evidence of a mistake to overturn the referee’s original call. But watching the replay of the entire first round, it is obvious there is no clash of heads that could have led to the swelling on the right side of the face.
Bennett called Yahoo Sports on Sunday and said that the 26-minute delay was the fault of the ring announcer, Mark Shunock. Bennett said he told Shunock less than two minutes later that it was a no-contest.
He said he kept watching the replay after that because there was time prior to the main event between Terence Crawford and Kell Brook.
But that explanation doesn’t pass muster, since Franco, Moloney and their teams stood in the ring for nearly a half-hour. Crawford told Yahoo Sports in his locker room that the delay caused him problems because he’d gotten warm, then sat down waiting for so long that he got tight.
It seemed that what Bennett, replay official Robert Byrd and referees Jay Nady and Mike Ortega were doing was looking for evidence to back Mora’s call.
Just before midnight on Saturday, Bennett texted a photo to Yahoo Sports which appeared to show a clash of heads between Franco and Moloney, which in his text Bennett said occurred at 1:02 of the first. But Moloney’s head was on the opposite side of Franco’s face, on the left side.
Watching the replay repeatedly, there is no evidence of a head clash. Normally, when there is a head-butt, the fighter who is butted reacts because it feels different than a punch. Franco never seemed to react.
Moloney’s team plans to protest the outcome both to the Nevada commission and to the WBA.
Nevada will almost certainly decline the protest and uphold its ruling, despite how bad it appears. But the WBA could opt to order a rematch, overturn the call and give the belt to Moloney, or do nothing.
Normally, a rematch is the right prescription, because sanctioning bodies shouldn’t be in the business of taking a title from one fighter and giving it to another.
The WBA is frequently and correctly criticized for giving out titles like they are Halloween candy, but in this case, they’d be right if they did.
A championship fight is to determine who is better on that night. In June, Franco was clearly better. Regardless of what happened, and Moloney blamed the loss on busted eardrums, Franco was the better man from the first round on.
On Saturday, though, it was reversed. Moloney was dominant and Franco wasn’t very competitive so it was obvious after just two rounds that the better man on this night was Moloney. And considering that there simply isn’t any evidence of a head-butt that could have caused the swelling on Franco’s eye, the right call was for Moloney to have won by TKO.
This is one of the rare instances where the WBA needs to take drastic action.
Equity demands that the title be given to Moloney. If it also wants to order a third fight between them, that’s fine. But Moloney should make that walk as the champion, not the challenger, and shouldn’t be penalized because the referee made a mistake and the commission tried to find a way to back him.
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