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;
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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wcuwbw71pw