Free Shots

By Ted Sares on August 21, 2012
Free Shots
Max Baer floored Primo Carnera 10 times and asked Arthur Donovan to stop the slaughter

The first time I saw it happen was while reviewing films shortly after Ingemar Johansson’s demolition of crafty Eddie Machen in 1958…

How many free shots are too many—1, 13, 23? How about 37? Back in the day, referees were more lenient insofar as stoppages were concerned. However, the internet and YouTube now allows modern fans to watch boxers arguably take—as fellow writer Mike Casey puts it—“unnecessarily protracted” punishment. This can be witnessed as Tony Zale finished off a groggy Rocky Graziano in their third fight in 1948. The Man of Steel ended matters with a cringe-worthy downstairs-upstairs combo as referee Paul Cavalier looked on in a manner befitting his name.


Max Baer floored Primo Carnera 10 times and in the process asked referee Arthur Donovan to stop the slaughter. Donovan was having none of it. The Italian giant finally told referee Donovan enough was enough. As Max walked back to his corner in victory, he gave Arthur a look of total disgust. This one was before my time but it warrants mention as another example of when a fighter is allowed multiple opportunities to hit a defenseless opponent.


“The heavyweight who fought a draw with Folley was outclassed. He was beaten to a pulp.”—Dan Daniel (The Ring)

“...watching that slaughter requires a strong stomach. Oddly enough, it shakes the viewer more than Johansson’s seven-knockdown hammering of Patterson.”—Mike Casey

The first time I saw it happen was while reviewing films shortly after Ingemar Johansson’s demolition of crafty Eddie Machen in 1958. Machen was knocked down three times by Thor’s Hammer and was almost decapitated by the Big Swede. It all happened in the chilling first round. Referee Andrew Smyth, who worked many high profile fights during his career, gave Ingo way too many free shots in this one and then had the hubris to count over the unconscious Machen while he (Smyth) inexplicitly looked out at the crowd. This was as bizarre as it was scary.


On March 24, 1962, Kid Paret fought well in the beginning and dropped the heavily favorite Emil Griffith in the sixth round, but eventually Emil was able to dictate the action and was in control going into the 12th. Then it happened. Griffith, never known for having a hard punch or being vicious towards his opponents, drove Paret back onto the ropes with a sharp right. Before a live crowd of 8,000 at Madison Square Garden and a national television audience, Griffith unloaded on the cornered “Kid” and drilled perhaps as many as eighteen vicious (and ultimately deadly) punches to the head (some say it was 23). Griffith punched and punched—the blows landing with tremendous force, one after another. With no assistance from a seemingly transfixed referee, he was beaten into unconsciousness and rag dolled. It all occurred in a matter of seconds; though I do recall screaming at referee Ruby Goldstein via the television set to stop the fight. It would not be the first or last time I would so engage a television set.


“Dicky could have killed him on the ropes and let him off.”—Poster named dunski

Dicky Eklund met tough Allen Clarke in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The referee was one Honey Carvery. After a back and forth battle during the first eight rounds, Eklund maneuvered his Canadian foe into a corner and launched an overhand right. Dickie then drilled a devastating gut shot that caused the stunned Clarke’s hands to come down. The well-schooled “Pride of Lowell” immediately shot a left hook upstairs and Clarke was out on his feet. But it didn’t end there as referee Carvery failed to smother Dicky’s unrestrained attack of eight or nine rights and lefts launched at full speed. Dicky had free shots at Clark’s unprotected head before Alan sank to the canvas unconscious. The crowd was aghast and horrified. And Eklund was visibly upset at Carvery. As for Clarke, he was lucky to have survived.


Talented James “The Heat” Kinchen (33-0-2 coming in) exploited equally talented Alex “The Bronx Bomber” Ramos’ suspect chin in 1984 at Caesars Tahoe in Stateline, Nevada. This important middleweight clash was televised on NBC. In what had become an extremely close fight, Kinchen nailed Ramos in the ninth round with a right cross to the head which sent the “Bomber” back into the ropes seemingly unconscious. The punch did not appear to carry much zip, but it hit Ramos on the temple. With Alex tied up on the ropes, referee Joey Curtis was not fast enough and Kinchen was able to take another shot at his defenseless opponent, one that could only render terrible damage. The second right had true malice behind it and it knocked out an already knocked-out boxer—if that’s possible.

This frightful scenario was repeated in 2001 when Ray Mercer met the limited Jeff Pegues who was 18-7 at the time. This bout was held in Elgin, Illinois, reflecting Ray’s decline as a major attraction. In this one, Ray hammered Jeff into the ropes with a powerful right. Jeff leaned helpless and out on his feet as he was tangled in the ropes. Mercer then wound up and threw a right haymaker that connected flush on the poor Mike Tyson sparring partner sending him out of the ring. It all happened too fast for referee Genaro Rodriguez to stop it. “That shot he (Mercer) threw against Pegues, thank God his head didn’t wind up in the third row…It was vicious, but that is what our sport is,” said Promoter Dan Goossen.

In between the above two bouts, Mercer perpetrated a merciless stoppage over Tommy Morrison in 1991 at Atlantic City. At stake was the WBO heavyweight title. Mercer caught a gassing and lunging Duke early in the fifth and launched over 15 heavy shots—including some dangerous head snappers—before referee Tony Perez (who curiously also worked the Cooney-Norton massacre) could halt the slaughter.

In 1997, referee Arthur Mercante Jr. let Diosbelys Hurtado take 11 straight fully- leveraged lefts from Pernell Whitaker while the young Cuban was caught in the ropes. Luckily, Whitaker was not a big puncher. As Jim Lampley said, “I think Arthur would like to have that one back.” Lampley pointed out four punches where the fight could have been stopped earlier.

Mercante also was involved in 1990 when the late Michael Dokes was hit by a left hook by Razor Ruddock in their bout at the Garden and was completely unconscious yet propped up by the ropes. Razor got in at least one lethal free shot with his famous smash left hook. Mercante proceeded to count Dokes out, but the doctors thankfully rushed into the ring before Junior could finish. Dokes remained unconscious for several minutes. Though Dokes then won nine in a row against just fair opposition, he never was the same.


Shopworn Roy Jones Jr. was the recipient of a free shot when Russian Denis Lebedev did the once unimaginable in Moscow while referee Steve Smoger looked on. Even Lebedev knew it was unnecessary.

Garcia vs. Benton (1990)

“The fight was televised live nationally on USA Cable, and La Mancha employees said their switchboard was deluged with telephone calls in protest of Yanez’s handling of the fight.”—From Times Wire Services dated November 7, 1990.

“Referee Roger Yanez, apparently on a lunch break, didn’t intervene and it looked like Benton had been killed. He slumped face first into the canvas and that prompted Yanez to react. He began counting. The fight was over and Garcia had a devastating knockout that got a lot of play because of the horrible officiating and the overall brutality of it.”—Geno McGahee (Ringside Report)

Highly touted Mexican-American Alex “The San Fernando Hammer” García was an amateur star in the super heavyweight division. He won the National Championships in 1986 and lost to Teofilo Stevenson in the final at the 1986 World Amateur Boxing Championships

Garcia started fast in the pro ranks and was 32-1 (his only loss coming to spoiler Dee Collier on cuts) when he was iced by limited Mike Dixon in a shocking upset. The free swinging Garcia would avenge this loss a year late, but the Dixon loss had put his career in a cul de sac. After three wins against limited opposition he retired, but after a six-year layoff made an ill-advised comeback against Wallace McDaniel and was KO’d in three. His final mark in the pros was a respectable 40-6. As Geno McGahee of Ringside Report nicely put it, “The ‘San Fernando Hammer’ will be remembered for his spectacular knockouts and rise to the top of the division but also his quick plummet. He was a comet, burning bright for a period of time but then burning out.”

In 1990, Garcia fought Bernard “Bull” Benton in Phoenix; Benton was 18-5-1 at the time. Garcia was 17-1. The referee was Roger Yanez. Though he was coming off a one-round blowout at the hands of Pierre Coetzer in South Africa, The Bull, a former WBA cruiserweight champion, was a tough cookie, He had beaten Coetzer three years earlier and also held wins over Monte Masters (29-1), Ricky Parkey (13-2), and Alfonzo Ratliff (for the WBC cruiserweight title in 1985). He lost razor thin decisions to Carlos De Leon (39-4) and Boone Pultz (10-0) and was considered anything but a pushover against the heavy-handed Garcia. Benton’s career would be relatively short, but he was competitive at the highest level;

The Fight

In the second round, Garcia used his sharp jab to keep an incoming Bull at bay. After two nice body shots, the Hammer stunned the Bull with a left hook and then a right cross and the slaughter was on. An onslaught of between 35 and 40 unanswered shots was launched. Many landed while Benton was out on his feet but pinned in a corner. Some of the shots landed with full force, some landed low; the protracted volley included left hooks, right crosses, uppercuts, hard stuff to the body and groin. Garcia threw everything but the stool at the poor Bull. Announcers Al Albert and Sean O’Grady were shouting for the fight to be stopped as Benton’s head was snapping back violently. Then, as Benton fell face down on the canvas totally unconscious, Yanez began the count before realizing he could have counted to 1,000 as the crowd unloaded on him with boos. It was terrifying to witness.

Later, the spin was that the referee was out of position to make a make a timely decision; the reality was that the referee was on Mars.

According to a November 7 report in the LA Times titled “Arizona Criticized Referee,” referee Yanez was not allowed to work anymore bouts the rest of 1990—a whole two months. Buzz Alston, commissioner of the Arizona State Boxing Commission, said the decision was made after a review of Yanez’s performance during the Garcia-Benton fight October 9 at the La Mancha Athletic Club in Phoenix. Yanez last worked in 2005.

Here is the YouTube and be forewarned, this is not for the weak stomached:

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Rocky Graziano vs Tony Zale III

Primo Carnera vs Max Baer

Ingemar Johansson vs Eddie Machen

Emile Griffith vs. Benny Paret III (part 6 of 6)

Dicky Eklund vs Allen Clarke

Ray Mercer vs Tommy Morrison


Donovan "Razor" Ruddock vs Michael Dokes / Part 4

Tuesday Night Fights Knockouts 3 part 5/6

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  1. Bob 06:03pm, 08/26/2012

    I remember the Garcia-Benton fiasco well. Most people have long forgotten it. I commend Ted Sares for keeping such alive such important, but often forgotten fights and fighters. If you recall, Garcia, a hardened ex-con, was being groomed to beat George Foreman and become the first Hispanic heavyweight champion and a superstar. Like so many others, he got derailed along the way. Benton was also a comer, but few people who remember him recall that he was a real prospect in his early days. Thanks Ted, for keeping these guys in our psyches. They are too easily forgotten.

  2. the thresher 12:46pm, 08/26/2012

    Irish, that’s another UBU—Ugly But Usefull

  3. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 08:29am, 08/25/2012

    Ted Sares-There’s free shots and then there’s “free shots”.... Dirrell’s fainting spell caused by Abraham’s afterthought punch still hangs in the air like a popcorn fart!

  4. the thresher 02:13pm, 08/24/2012

    FD, Mercer said Tommy hit him so hard, he made Mercer fart. UBS—ugly but useful information.

  5. the thresher 02:12pm, 08/24/2012

    B Red, good observation. He was getting sliced and diced. Brutal.

  6. FrankinDallas 12:50pm, 08/24/2012

    That Swedish announcer sounded like he was reading a laundry list, not watching a fight.

    The Mercer-Morrison KO was shocking because up until that point Morrison was really punishing Mercer. But Ray was hard to
    knock down or discourage.

  7. B Red 06:18pm, 08/23/2012

    When Vitali fought Corrie Sanders they should have stop the fight earlier. I remember yelling at the TV screen, saying stop the fight!!!

  8. the thresher 10:35am, 08/23/2012

    The Norton KO was as scary as any. Way too many shots in that one.

  9. Don from Prov 08:01am, 08/23/2012

    Norton, pretty almost as rag-dolled as Paret, while Gerry Cooney unloaded.

  10. the thresher 09:51am, 08/22/2012

    Thanks for the kind words mates. I loved doing this one.

  11. pugknows 08:13am, 08/22/2012

    Great read Bull. Exemplary research in the manner in which you sequenced the fights and then built to the crescendo with the featured slaughter. Very fine composition and writing techniques in this one. It got this geezer’s attention.

  12. mikecasey 08:02am, 08/22/2012

    Yes, Tex, well said. There is a rich variety of such articles on that one can keep dipping into and re-reading. Let all those other guys do the trite stuff!

  13. Norm Marcus 08:01am, 08/22/2012

    Very good piece Ted. Referees are like umpires in baseball, except that if they miss seeing a strike, it could cost the fighter his sight, hearing, reasoning or life! A lot of folks think that reffs and umpires lack the former list of senses anyway!
    Again a great angle for a story.
    Loved you observation on Baer/Carnera too. You know Baer and Donovan never got along. Baer always claimed that Donovan deliberately got in his way during his fights to prolong or try to change the outcome in favor of his opponent.
    I give this story an A+

  14. Tex Hassler 07:47am, 08/22/2012

    One thing is for sure, a referee cannot possibly please everyone. Most fighters will not quit in a fight so that responsibility is on the referee to stop the fight. If a referee gets distracted for 3 seconds he can cause a fighter to take way too much punishment. I know fans hate to see a fight stopped too soon but I’d rather see that than to see a fighter get seriously injured or killed. In short the referee has a serious and difficult job. Great article Mr. Sares.

  15. the thresher 05:27am, 08/22/2012

    Mike, I thought your comment about the delayed reaction of the crowd when Ingo first decked Eddie was pure genius. I though I was the only person to note that, but I should have realized that nothing escapes your keen eyes (and ears).

  16. the thresher 05:25am, 08/22/2012

    Irish Frankie, I view a referee like I view an airline pilot. He or she has the passenger’s welfare at stake. If a ref lapses, the fighter’s life may well be at risk. The corner also has responsibility in this. The Duran-Moore fight was an example of where a fighter could well have been destroyed had not someone from ringside gone into the ring and did what the ref failed to do.

  17. mikecasey 04:29am, 08/22/2012

    From a purely technical point of view, Tony’s finishing combo against Rocky was quite gorgeous.

  18. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 03:41am, 08/22/2012

    Which reminds me, Smoger’s belt is higher up on his gut than Curly, Moe, or Shemp’s ever were!

  19. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 03:33am, 08/22/2012

    Ted Sares-In my view a boxing referee’s responsibility is a tad heavier than a tennis line judge’s, as your well crafted article clearly shows. In this blood sport the officials should be of the highest caliber, yet true to form for boxing, the referee and judges at some fights often turn out to be the “Four Stooges”.

  20. mikecasey 12:32am, 08/22/2012

    Ah, Ted, so this is the little gem you were hinting at the other day! Great angle for a story and very well written. Yes, that Machen slaughter was something. I spent years seeking out the film of it here in the UK. When it finally showed up, it was like seeing a boxing version of the shower scene in Psycho. And let’s not forget how good Eddie was. He was regarded as something of a wonder in his early days.
    As you know, champ, he came back from the Johansson defeat to give Liston a very competitive 12-rounder in Seattle a couple of years later.

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