Cruellest of exits for a proven world champion
Whatever judging criteria was applied, Michael Conlan’s defeat is a grave injustice
Ireland’s Katie Taylor after losing her fight on Monday afternoon. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
In the stand at the Riocentro Complex, the five-division world champion Floyd Mayweather was introduced to the crowd. He then watched Michael Conlan lose a decision to Russia’s Vladimir Nikitin.
By the end of it as Conlan gestured his disapproval at the judging panel, Mayweather may have thought that he was watching his own history being repeated.
In the quarterfinals of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, the then 19-year-old Mayweather narrowly defeated 22-year-old Lorenzo Aragon of Cuba in an all-action bout to win 12-11, becoming the first US boxer to defeat a Cuban in 20 years.
But in his semi-final bout against eventual silver medalist Serafim Todorov of Bulgaria, Mayweather was controversially ‘done’. The absurd decision was highlighted by Referee Hamad Hafaz Shouman of Egypt , who mistakenly raised the American’s hand thinking he had won at the same time as the decision was being announced giving the bout to the Bulgarian.
There are controversial decisions at every Olympic Games and the last week or so Ireland have had their share. Many people watching believed Conlan had done enough to win and that the decision was poor.
It was bad and curious but not as terrible as Russian Evgeny Tishchenko’s Rio heavyweight gold medal win at the expense of Kazakhstan’s Vassiliy Levit the previous night. However, Conlan’s furious reaction has made it a controversy.
In the aftermath the governing body moved quickly to explain the reasoning of judges and suggested that people including coaches do not fully understand the nuanced differences between the old system of points scoring and the current 10-points must.
They said that they had reviewed the heavyweight final and their panel of experts sided with the judging on the night. They will do the same for the Conlan bout with Nikitin but keep the result of that review to themselves.
Those criteria include quality blows to the target area, technique and tactics, competitiveness and infringement of the rules. The thrust of what the AIBA were saying is that boxers and coaches need to educate themselves about what they are being judged on.
But the controversy arises from the belief that even according to those criteria Conlan and indeed Levit won their fights. The alleged deficit of understanding on one side also calls into question how it has come to a stage where the eyes of the judges and those of the boxers are seeing completely different things.
Heavyweight Darren O’Neil, who captained Ireland at London 2012 as a middleweight said the decision to award Russia the heavyweight title was “the worst decision I have seen since Roy Jones”.
That goes back to 1988 in Seoul. He need not have gone back in time that far. In the Men’s Bantamweight early round match in London four years ago, Japanese boxer Satoshi Shimizu floored Magomed Abdulhamidov of Azerbaijan six times in the third round.
The referee from Turkmenistan never scored a count in each of the six knockdowns and let the fight continue on, claiming they were slips.
He even fixed Abdulhamidov’s headgear, who had to be helped to his corner. The fight was scored 22-17 in favour of Abdulhamidov. In that instance the AIBA over turned the result following an appeal by Japan.
From an Irish team viewpoint Joe Ward, Katie Taylor and Conlan all won their fights and should still be here. But non-partisan eyes looking at the fights agree that they could have earned the decision but not necessarily that the decisions were incorrect.
The new rules leave room from impression and interpretation with vice president of the AIBA Tom Virgets saying that Katie is not the fighter now that she was in London.
“Not as fast. Not as good a snap to her punches. Did not show the competitiveness that I saw when she fought in London,” said the American.
But Conlan’s fury is understandable. He held back from joining his brother Jamie as a professional for four years for this moment. He is also the current bantamweight world champion, which he won under the same judging system and to depart Rio confused, angry and charging the governing body with corruption is a cruel exit for a rare talent such as his. A champion and holder of a bronze Olympic medal walking away from the sport so wretchedly disheartened feels like a grave injustice.