Zahir Raheem overcame disappointment in his Olympic appearance to launch a professional career that would also have no shortage of unpleasant surprises. From surviving the ominous threat of premature retirement due to chronic hand injuries early in his career to his thoroughly disruptive dispute with former promoter Top Rank, he has seen his share of dark days. However, even he was ill prepared for what awaited him when he arrived to do battle with Ricardo Juarez on Saturday July the 18th.
The events of the fight were entertaining, provocative and bizarre, as Raheem seemed to be at war with three different opponents of varying strengths. It all seemed too easy at first as three rounds elapsed and Raheem’s fleetness of hand and foot, snappy combinations and sound defensive maneuvers kept the more workmanlike Juarez bewildered and ineffective. Referee Robert Gonzalez deducted a point from Raheem in the fourth round for the relatively minor offense of holding Juarez behind the neck. Raheem subsequently spiraled out of control in dramatic fashion, touching down after a seemingly moderate left hook from Juarez. It became obvious that not only was he fighting Juarez, he would also have to fight the referee and himself.
At the end of the fourth, Raheem’s mental state was in disarray as he expressed his panic at the lack of strength he felt through shedding twenty solid pounds in training for the fight. His seconds admirably roused him to reassume his former dominance in the fifth but the resurgence was short-lived as referee Gonzalez made his presence felt once more in the sixth by administering another point deduction for Raheem. By the end of the fight, Gonzalez invasive influence had cost Raheem three points and thoroughly hampered his ability to maintain any manner of momentum during the fight, and any advantage he appeared to gain was quickly stolen away by the referee’s overbearing presence.
Holding while hitting and deliberately maintaining a clinch are fouls as described in the Texas Athletic Commission regulations and such definitions offer clarity to Gonzalez’ performance. However, closer inspection of the fight reveals that when the fighters were in close quarters, Juarez’s punching opportunities were unrestricted and Raheem did not hold him in a position and capitalize by landing an illegal blow. However, Juarez illegally held Raheem’s head and also hit him on the break with two clean body shots, two instances to which Gonzalez seemed entirely indifferent. Gonzalez’ extreme officiousness became sinister when he no longer seemed content with occasional warnings, instead he definitely began to follow Raheem around the ring, never taking his eyes away from him and simply waiting the chance to reprimand him.
Each referee carries an awesome responsibility to the fighters, themselves and to the entire sport of boxing. We demand that they perform to the maximum of their abilities and yet we rarely notice them until they fail to do so. A referee must have complete control during a fight and be decisive and diligent in commanding the combatants and enforcing the rules as is humanly possible, even if such vigilance constitutes annoyance in the eye of the boxing observer. However, Robert Gonzalez’s officiating of the Juarez-Raheem fight appeared to overstep the boundaries of acceptable behavior from an official. Some people may interpret Gonzalez’ actions as biased, I myself recognize that his job is one of great difficulty but this example and the following are ones that deserve acknowledgment.
The following is a quote from Boxingtimes.com writer Luis Escobar’s coverage of the 1999 featherweight fight between Carlos Contreras and Carlos Navarro in San Antonio, Texas, officiated by Gonzalez:
"Texas Shocker! Navarro floored the challenger in the fourth round, the result of a very low blow, however, referee Robert Gonzalez, failed to take a point away from the champion. Gonzalez was indecisive during the entire fight and his lack sound judgement had most ringside fans and reporters shaking their head in amazement."
Maxboxing’s Steve Kim had the following to say in summarizing Gonzalez’ conduct during the Mark Johnson-Rafael Marquez fight in Corpus Christi, Texas in 2001:
"But it has to said that referee Robert Gonzalez was over-officious and made himself much to noticeable for a fight of this caliber. No referee should have this much bearing on any fight. Without the point deductions, Johnson gets this decision, even though it was Marquez who was coming on strong."
Finally, Prizefightnews.com writer and photographer Carlos Kalinchuk was compelled enough to include the following in his account of Gonzalez late intervention of the Luis Villiate-Jose Luis Soto Karass in Texas in 2003:
"Upon resuming the action, the cornered Soto-Karass staggered to the opposite side of the ring only to receive another vicious Villiate assault. At the site of this, Soto-Karass's corner stood on the top rope with a towel in hand trying to get Referee Robert Gonzalez's attention. Soto-Karass again was crushed with left and right combinations that sent him on his back as referee Gonzalez finally acknowledged the corners wishes. Soto-Karass collapsed in a heap as ring Dr.'s and officials tended to him. He seemed unconscious for several moments before he got up on his own accord."
I would hope that positive examples of Robert Gonzalez’ officiating history outweigh the negative ones that have been brought forward here. I harbor no intent whatsoever to darken the reputation of an obviously trusted official licensed with the Texas Athletic Commission, but indifference to such matters will only hinder boxing further. Assuming that Texas State cherishes the reputation of its boxing establishment, I would also hope that it would address this matter clearly and more swiftly than Michigan State has resolved to take action regarding the officiating fiasco that took place during the recent Emanuel Augustus-Courtney Burton fight. To make mistakes is inherently human, but in boxing, even one mistake is one too many.
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