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List of Articles by Carlos Costa


Donaire-Mathebula referee Pat Russell among the most controversial boxing officials of 2011; Donaire-Mathebula Fight Analysis

By Carlos Costa
06 Jul 2012

Referee Pat Russell.
Pat Russell, the third man in the coming Donaire-Mathebula clash, is the same referee who just eight months ago was at the center of an intense storm of controversy due to Russell's bizarre blunder in the first Hopkins-Dawson fight late last year. In that fight, Pat Russel acted a la Joe Cortez with extremely poor judgement that became one of the most incompetent performances by a boxing referee in recent memory.

Pat Russell's decision in the Hopkins-Dawson fight was so horribly wrong that Russell was subsequently overruled by the Boad of Governors of the World Boxing Council (WBC) as well as by the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC). That probably explains why the veteran Russell hasn't worked as third man in any major fight... till now.

Let's recall the incidents in the Hopkins-Dawson fight which led to Russell's weird ruling and booos from all over the world:

After a rather boring first stanza in which Hopkins was alert throwing defensive jabs and Dawson was not being able to land any meaningful hand, the popular 46-year-old "Executioner" threw a right blow aimed at the head of Dawson, but missed it and got draped himself across the back of "Bad" Dawson.

Dawson, being bad, shrugged Hopkins off, lifting him up his feet just like in the UFC and shaved the old man onto the canvas by the ropes.

Amigos, Hopkins landed ugly on his left elbow. The legendary champ grimaced in pain while fans at the Staples Center and me watching on TV, as well as the whole boxing world dropped our jaws on what was going on, as the much awaited combat was just beginning to warm up, but now the Executioner was on the floor and could not continue fighting, even though Dawson never landed landed a single punch, that was so nuts.

This was a classic moments in which a good referee just like Bruce McTavish, would have been much appreciated.

But what did Pat Russell do? He declared a technical KO win for Dawson, making him the new light heavyweight champion of the world.

How about that for a goof. It was so bad judgement and clearly against the rules of boxing, that not even Joe Cortez himself could have done any worse.

Medical tests performed by at the California Hospital Medical Center diagnosed that Bernard had suffered a "separated acromioclavicular" (AC joint), which connects the collar bone and shoulder blade on Hopkins, painfully affecting his ability to move his right arm.

Influx of heated opinions and outrage poured in from all corners prompting the always-on-guard WBC to act expeditiously. The WBC overruled Pat Russell. The following statement was released:

"The head office of the WBC sent videos, medical reports and the corresponding WBC rules to the Board of Governors, which unanimously declared a technical draw on the Hopkins-Dawson fight. Therefore, Bernard Hopkins is still the WBC light heavyweight champion of the world," wrote WBC president Jose Sulaiman.

In addition, the California State Athletic Commission held a hearing on Patt Russell's decision and canceled his decision, declaring the title fight a non contest.

Amigos, incompetent officiating decisions like the one from Pat Russell and many more are frustrating fans away from boxing. Let's hope that Russell will do a good job in the Donaire-Mathebula fight.

Another example was of a nuts decision was the one that that deprived Juan Manuel Marquez of a legitimate victory over Manny Pacquiao as well as the triumph of Pacquao over Bradley.

This author attended the Pacquiao-Marquez III fight in Las Vegas and that was indeed one of the worst decisions of 2011. The Abner Mares-King Kong Agbeko continuous low-blowing was another strange of officiating in boxing.

How about Joe Cortez looking somewhere else instead of the boxers, basically permitting Mayweather's sucker punch on Victor "Quitting" Ortiz (formerly "Vicious" but not anymore).

Way too many blunders by referees and Pat Russell has been in one of the worsts.

That's why scrutinizing the work of Pat Russell during his last major fight is a matter that concerns us all and it's always the right thing to examine carefully.

But checking Russell's record as a judge, finding out that Pat Russell has acted as a judge in a fight of Rigondeaux and also as judge in a Josesito Lopez fight is silly. Who cares about his job as a judge? No need.

Because nowadays anybody can be a judge. After watching a round, whatever the numbers you come up with would be perfectly OK for boxing organizations. The organizations would back you up if you score in all rounds 10-9 or 9-10, "no hay problema amigo!" whatever your score is, it's your opinion, everyone is entitled to his opinion and your boxing organizations would accept, so no need to worry.

That's why in today's boxing anybody can be a judge. Seminars for judges: a waste of time.

Some of the instructors who are supposedly the more experienced judges are some of the worst ones in scoring fights. A good fighter could lose his world title and the organization would do nothing.

Surely, judging a world title fight must be a nice hobby that gives peace of mind and lots of fun.

In all other jobs, if you do wrong or you make a very bad mistake, the boss will call you to his office. If the boss is really mad, you could even be fired.

But boxing judges can do bad scoring and nothing happens. Fans could lose their voices and patience. But the organizations? Nothing will do. Need to mention examples?

In fact, organizations normally do not overrule their officials, unless there is a blunder so nuts and so clear like the one of Pat Russell in the Hopkins fight that the organization did something.

Therefore, it seems that the only job requirement for a boxing judge or referee is to kiss-ass to the organization supervisor to get more fights.

Judges in boxing has the easiest job in he world: can watch a fight for free in the best seat of the house, plus free transportation, room and meals and payment for the "work well done." If the judge correctly gives the round or not, that's not important at all.

Again, the example is in front of us, is this: Pat Russell made a horrible wrong decision that both the California State Athletic Commission, as well as the WBC had to hold hearings and meetings, then overrule his bad decision, change the result and fix the situation. No punishment no warning no nothing. Just wait a bit till fans forget and then, the very same referee Russell is beautifully rewarded with the top appointment of handling an international unification fight between two world champions, being one of the fighters a hot commodity in today's boxing as it is Nonito Donaire. See my point, my brother?

One more time: checking how referee Pat Russell has been scoring as a judge is useless and dumb. What's the use of it if it's none other that wasting the time. It must be from the Jim Carrey movie "Dumd and Dumber." Can not think of anything more silly. What is needed to explored is how Pat Russell performs his work as referee!

Even more clear, if Pat Russell likes the sport of cricket or loves to kiss-up to a ruthless dictators... nobody cares. Because his job in Nonito's fight as referee we all care. If hiring a plumber would it be necessary to look at his record as a musician?

Boxing fans demand Russell to do a good work as the referee in the upcoming Donaire fight. Pat Russell must do his job correctly, impeccable and perfect so as to erase the bad impressions fans got from his last major fight.


All the above precautions and worries had to be mentioned as Nonito might have a tough fight against South African world champion Jeffrey Mathebula. This author has seen Mathebula in a 12-round fighting action in Panama.

Mathebula fought against my friend and fellow countryman Celestino "Pelenchin" Caballero (at that time the IBF/WBA super bantamweight unified world champ).

Amigos, with my hand on my heart I tell you this: I thought that Mathebula won that fight against Caballero. That was my opinion after the fight. Years later I still think so. Mathebula was good and effective that night at the Roberto Duran Arena.

Donaire and Mathebula during last Wednesday's media workout in Hollywood, CA.

The author (2nd from left) poses with Donaire, Sr (L) and Donaire Jr after Donaire's fight with Mthalane at the Mandalay Bay on Nov. 1, 2008.

Also, the South African was as tall as Celestino (5'11") and with a long reach. "Mongoose" could put up combinations well, had abundant stamina and reserves of oxygen for the later rounds, good boxing, strength, and being from Africa, he did not appear bothered to fight in Panama, a Latin American country so far from Johannesburg, and his confidence throughout was evident.

My friend Celestino Caballero was brilliant and fast during the first five rounds of the intense combat, then slowed down notably. But Mathebula did not. He kept pressing the action in the middle of the ring and the ropes and I think he should have won the fight.


In addition to that fight in Panama, this author has attended the fight of Nonito Donaire against South African Moruti Mthalane at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. It was a fight in which Nonito was not the main event. The big star of the Top Rank show was Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Nonetheless I attended card with my dear friends and colleagues director Dong Secuya and Dr. Ed de la Vega.

I remember that Nonito had much difficulty handling the short South African Moruti Mthalane. From my perspective, Nonito began well, but after round 4 he began to lose the grasp on the fight. The Filipino Flash was quickly getting tired, breathing heavily from his mouth as Mthalane was putting his foot on the gas pedal by scoring some damaging blows and slowly beginning to take control of the battle.

All the sudden surprise, an accidental headbutt (which Joe Cortez ruled as a punch) opened a cut on Mthalane's eye. Wow! so quickly and so eager was Joe Cortez to stop the fight, even the cut was not that bad, just like the Kompayak Porpramook's cut in his fight against Jonathan Taconing. It was a Top Rank promotion after all.

At the time of the stoppage after the fifth round, one of the judges, Michael Pernick of Florida, had Donaire winning by just one point 48-47. There were still 7 more rounds to go...

My opinion, The Filipino Flash was fortunate to get home with that win, as fans at the Mandalay Bay booed the outcome of the fight.

Actually, its hard to know if they were booing the outcome of the fight or boooing referee Joe Cortez.

Anyways, after the fight, I went to congratulate Nonito and his father (that was their last fight together, unfortunately). Nonito's handsome face bruised from those 5 rounds with Mthalane - more bruised than in any of his 29 fights, to such a degree that even though it was late night and Donaire had put on sunglasses so as to hide the black and blue courtesy of the fists of the South African Mthalane.

Incidentally, Mthalane and Mathebula are countrymen, are from the same stable of fighters and are good friends. For sure Mthalane must have given some good advises to his buddy.

My thinking after attending all those fights and seeing the action with my own eyes in Panama and Vegas is this:

If Mthalane's complicated South African style could give that trouble to Donaire, then Mathebula should be a trouble as well.

Plus, a difference is that Mathebula is 20 pounds heavier than Mthalane as well as several inches taller. Meaning 20 more pounds of trouble.

Importantly, Nonito has never fought an opponent as tall as Mathebula.

Donaire has become used to facing fighters of the size of Darchinyan, Vasquez, Rafael "Torito" Concepcion, Sidorenko, Montiel, Marquez, Narvaez fighters much shorter than himself against whom he could use his thunderous jab, speed and reach and have the perfect target area for his hurtful counter left hook.

But Mathebula's head will be in a different position, a different and farther target for Nonito to score his left hook. Lets see how he will manage.

In addition, the "Moongoose" from South Africa is a fighter who knows how to use his physical advantages. Hopefully, Donaire had adequate sparring partners with the height, reach and style of Mathebula. And hope that he and Roberto Garcia will come up with the appropriate strategy/plan especially for this enemy, as Mathebula is no easy fish . He is a world champion for a reason.

Regarding age, there is only 3 years difference. Nonito will turn 30 years old this November while Mathebula sang happy birthday last week to celebrate his 33 years of life.

Who is fresher? About the same. Nonito has fought a total of 29 times as professional and is a super bantamweight champ Mathebula, who represented his country in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, has fought a total of 31 times as professional is also a super bantamweight champ.

Furthermore, Donaire had NOT looked impressive in his last fights against Wilfredo Vasquez Jr. and flyweight fighting in bantamweight Omar "El Huracán" Narvaez. Actually, one of the judges in the Donaire-Vasquez clash voted for Vasquez as Nonito's triumph was a split decision.

Narvaez was a flyweight champion who for lack of opponents had to move to super flyweight, and fought Donaire for the first time in bantamweight and Donaire could not find a way to cut his ring and knock him out. He did not even hurt or staggered the much smaller Narvaez.

The devastating power exhibited by Donaire from his thrilling victory over Fernando "Kochulito" Montiel was not there in the Vasquez and Narvaez fights. It must be resting somewhere. Hopefully we'd see it Saturday night.

But, would it be that Donaire's moving up in weight to the super bantamweights, that the awesome punch was not coming with him?

Additionally, we've got to think about that as Mathebula is a real natural big super bantamweight with acceptable power himself.

Indeed, Mathebula is tall, has long reach and is strong with plenty of stamina and good boxing. Nonito must be focused and use his amazing speed and movements, counterpunch and effectively jab both defensively and offensively.

It seems to me that the best chance for Donaire to end Mathebula is fighting in the medium distance and the damage should be done inside the first for eight rounds when Nonito is fully charged of speed and can pack a punch. Let's remember that Donaire has never knocked out an opponent outside round eight.

If he does not get this guy to sleep before the 8th stanza, the guy will escape by the distance. Do fans want the distance?

In contrast, Mathebula gets rougher after the eight round. At least that's what I saw in his performance against Celestino Caballero, who at the time was the best super bantamweight champion of the world, a fighter as good as Nonito (my opinion).

My good amigo the charming and knowledgeable Dr. Ed de la Vega pointed out yesterday that one of the judges is from South Africa; so "the doc" suggests that giving the somewhat nuts situations with judges in recent times (the docs mentions the example of the Pacquiao-Bradley veredict), then the doc suggests that Nonito might need to try to finish the fight by KO. That's an interesting perspective, doc.


When there is a tough opponent, the least needed thing is wild referee not doing his job. Fans demand a focused third man (not a Joe Cortez) who will be inside the action doing his job efficiently and quick to react for the benefit of both fighters.

Talking about quickness, Nonito and Jeffrey are both fast super bantamweights. Nonito flies so fast around the ring and requires much space. Let's hope that Russell will be fast enough not to interfere with the quick moves of the Filipino Flash.

Amigos, to be honest, I'd prefer another referee in the fight. Someone like Jack Reiss, Bruce McTavish, Rafael Ramos, Kenny Bayless or Raul Caiz Jr. Just wishful thinking. If no change of referee is possible, so be it.

Finally, here is my conclusion number one: eight months has passed since that catastrophic refereeing of Pat Russell in the Hopkins fight. Now we see Russell back in action inside Nonito Donaire's ring. Past is past, let's hope for the best. We don't want poor judgments. Lets hope that this time around Russell will do perfect work.

Conclusion number two, Nonito will have to use his speed and good boxing to score power punches from the beginning in an attempt to stop Mathebula before the eight, otherwise, the final rounds could be unexpectedly rough for the Pinoy as Mathebula is an experienced, strong and well trained world champion eager to make his mark in the sport of boxing and get back to the land of Nelson Mandela covered with glory.

Back to Carlos Costa's Articles Listing

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