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HomestoryFury vs Wilder 2: Why stoppage was ILLEGAL

Fury vs Wilder 2: Why stoppage was ILLEGAL



On  February 22, 2020, Tyson Fury was crowned boxing’s lineal heavyweight champion after Mark Breland, one of Deontay Wilder’s cornermen, threw a towel into the ring that prompted Referee Kenny Bayless to immediately stop the fight.

“I just wish my corner would have let me go out on my shield. I’m a warrior,” Wilder, feeling sighted, said afterward.

There’s a big misconception in professional boxing that a corner has the power to stop a fight at any time by simply throwing a towel in the ring.

‘Throwing in the towel,’ of course, is one of the more popular idioms in the English language and an acknowledgment of early defeat.

Example: Far behind in the polls, the candidate decided to throw in the towel prior to the election.

In boxing, ‘throwing in the towel’ is a century-old ritual… and a major misconception. It’s only legal in the movies and was made in vogue thanks to Rocky IV (1984) and Creed 2 (2018) where someone’s decision to throw in or not throw in the towel had major implications.

Unfortunately, as we saw in Wilder vs Fury 2, a cornerman in a real fight will sometimes chuck a towel in the ring as a sign of surrender, prompting an immediate – and illegal – stoppage.

Keyword: Illegal.

The Proper Protocol: Referee Bayless should have thrown the towel back outside the ring to let the fighting continue because only he can make the decision to stop a fight. According to the rules of boxing, neither cornermen nor ringside physicians have the power to stop a fight. They can simply advise the referee, who has full discretion, to call a halt to the action.

And if a cornerman wants to advise the referee to cease the action on his fighter’s behalf, the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports clearly outlines the appropriate steps.

throwing the towel

From the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports:

[A fighter’s chief second] Shall signal the referee to stop the fight by mounting the ring apron rather than throwing towels, sponges, or anything else into the ring. Only the Referee can stop the contest, and he/she may consult with the ringside physician on the physical condition of either boxer at any time.

The rule specifically states in no uncertain terms throwing a towel into the ring is prohibited and that only the referee can stop a fight based on:

a) his discretion or

b) the advice of a ringside physician or chief second after they’ve followed the correct protocol (which didn’t happen in Wilder vs Fury 2).

(Find line item d. under Chief Second and Corner Duties)

And in the official PDF of the ASSOCIATION OF BOXING COMMISSIONS UNIFIED RULES OF BOXING, Amended August 3, 2016, it states:

The referee is the sole arbiter of a bout and is the only individual authorized to stop a contest. This rule shall not preclude a video or other review of a decision under the procedures of the applicable regulatory authority if a protest is filed claiming a clear rule violation.

That’s in direct contrast to what Referee Bayless said afterward:

“I had concerns for Deontay and I asked him if he wanted to continue, and he wanted to continue because Deontay is a warrior,” Bayless told Sunday morning after the fight. “But I looked in on him after the sixth, because I had concerns about him. He was taking too much punishment. If the corner didn’t stop it, I was very close to stopping it myself.”

Fact: While Bayless had concerns for Wilder’s safety, he admitted he hadn’t yet concluded to stop the fight. He was close, but not quite there yet. Again, he should have tossed the towel out of the ring and made the call himself or on the advice of Wilder’s corner after they followed legal protocol.

Why is it wrong for the referee to attempt to act on a corner’s behalf when a towel is tossed in the ring?

Answer: Fear of corruption. If too many people are empowered to stop a bout, it would enhance the possibility of corruption.

Imagine if a fan sitting in the front row area had tossed a wet white towel in the ring because he’d bet $10,000 on Fury winning in 7.  Referee Bayless would have still stopped the fight, thinking it came from Wilder’s corner.

That’s why it’s important for a chief second to mount himself along the ring apron (as the rule implies). The referee needs to “see” who is asking for the fight to be stopped and then subsequently decide what to do.

In Fury vs Wilder 2, not only did the referee not see who threw the towel, the thrower wasn’t even Wilder’s chief second (Jay Deas).

Examples of Proper Protocol 

1. Cotto vs Foreman, 2010 (Video attached)
Yuri Foreman’s trainer threw a towel into the ring in Round 8 after his fighter had slipped and injured his right knee. Referee Arthur Mercante Jr, one of the best in the business, alertly threw the towel back and made sure the bout commenced after Yuri insisted he wanted to continue.

“I saw the towel come into the ring and I threw it back. I didn’t know where it came from,” said Mercantee afterward.

“I didn’t know who threw it in. The two fighters were in the middle of a heated exchange.”

… “I could have disqualified the corner but I don’t like doing that.”

Keywords: “I didn’t know where it came from. I didn’t know who threw it in.”

After the towel was thrown into the ring, everyone thinks the fight has stopped and chaos ensues. Referee Mercantee, after tossing the towel out of the ring, threw about 20 people out as well and the action resumed a few moments later.

(Forward to 3:55 in the attached video)

2. Louis vs Schmeling 2, 1938
Max Schmeling, having already tasted the canvas three times, appeared to be in dire straits against fight legend Joe Louis in their rematch. When Schmeling was decked for the third time in the ring, Max’s cornerman, Max Machon, threw a towel in the ring…. And the referee threw it back out.

After the action wasn’t taken following the towel toss, Machon was forced to enter the ring himself at the count of eight, at which point Donovan declared the fight over due to the condition of the felled fighter.

Again, the referee didn’t know where the towel had come from. It could have come from anyone.

The fight was stopped only when the referee noticed the felled fighter’s condition and his chief second was simultaneously entering the ring. 

At 1:47 in this Louis vs Schmeling video, someone throws in a towel, and the referee, instead of immediately stopping the fight, is seen throwing back out.

On Saturday night, not only did Referee Bayless, one of the best in boxing, make an errant call, he did so without knowing where the towel came from because Breland wasn’t positioned along the ring apron as instructed by the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports.

And, again, Breland wasn’t Wilder’s chief second either.

What can a corner do?
If you’re a trainer and decide to throw in the towel to save your hurt fighter, don’t be surprised if the referee ignores you or throws it back.

As a trainer, you know your fighter better than anyone and may notice abnormalities a referee cannot spot. If you want to ask the referee to end a bout immediately and during ring action, stand on the ring apron to get his attention or enter the ring yourself a la Peter McNeeley’s corner in their fighter’s bout with Mike Tyson in 1995. This will almost always result in an immediate TKO stoppage or disqualification.

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