A fine and entertaining boxing card ended in controversy at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga on Saturday, September 8th. The controversy occurred during the final match between up and coming cruiserweight Denton Daley and veteran Jason Douglas. Douglas boxed smartly through the opening rounds and was ahead on the cards of the judges going into the fourth and what turned out to be final round.
There was an ominous sign that something amiss might occur when, during the pre-fight in-ring instructions, Daley grabbed the mic and told Douglas “I’m going to kick your ass!” Daley was neither chastised nor even warned for his pre-fight indiscretion. Early in the opening round, a fired up Daley lifted Douglas up in the air with both arms as if to slam him to the canvas. Referee Rocky Zolnierczyk then warned both fighters to obey his commands and the rules.
Unfortunately, only Douglas fought within the rules of the Marquis of Queensberry, whereas Daley constantly pushed, pulled and threw Douglas around the ring like a rag doll. Daley was never officially warned for his constant and flagrant rule infractions during the bout. He should have been warned at least a half dozen times for his repeated fouling of Douglas. Daley certainly should have had points deducted throughout the match for his deliberate fouling of Douglas.
The fight at times degenerated into a wrestling match, with each fighter attempting to gain the upper hand on the other. In the 4th round, Daley hurt Douglas and dropped him to the canvas. Douglas rose from the knockdown but was out on his feet. The fight should have been stopped there. It was clear to everyone in attendance that Douglas was no longer in any shape to continue with the match. Referee Rocky Zolnierczyk, true to form, allowed a beaten and defenseless fighter to continue receiving punishment. Daley bulled Douglas into the ropes where he beat him into unconsciousness. What was Zolnierczyk waiting for? The coroner? Douglas was splayed backwards over the ropes unconscious and still receiving heavy shots from Daley.
When referee Zolnierczyk finally called the fight over, Daley refused to heed the ref’s words and pushed the ref aside as he kept punching the now-inert Douglas repeatedly for a significant amount of time. Both corners entered the ring and a mini-riot ensued but was quickly quelled by ring security. Douglas wobbled to his corner with the help of his handlers. At one point, Douglas asked his corner, “What happened? Who won?”
There is no doubt in this reporter’s mind that the Ontario Boxing Commission is in need of a major overhaul when it comes to the selection process for referees. It was readily obvious to everyone in attendance at the Hershey Centre for the Daley-Douglas fight, that the OBC needs to start weeding out those referees who are culpable of repeated gross negligence, such as Zolnierczyk, and incapable of enforcing the rules of boxing that are there primarily to protect the welfare of professional boxers.
Let’s be clear here. Ontario has some outstanding boxing referees working in the sport at the moment. Dave Dunbar and Mark Simmons are just two of the many respected referees who continue to enforce the rules of boxing in every bout they officiate. However, I fear that a young boxer in the near future will be forced to pay with his life for the ineptitude of Rocky Zolnierczyk. It is only a matter of time. Why he did not disqualify Daley for hitting Douglas after the fight was over is completely inexplicable. That sets a terrible precedent for the future of pro boxing in Ontario and the welfare of its fighters. Why is this man allowed to continue refereeing boxing matches when he has repeatedly shown that he is wholly incapable of protecting fighters that are defenseless?
There is no doubt that Daley should have been immediately disqualified for his continuing to hit Douglas after the fight was declared over. Daley’s actions crossed the boundary of sport into the area of criminal assault. Once a fight is declared over, any fighter who continues to punch his opponent is, by law, committing assault and that is exactly what Daley did at the Hershey Centre. His opponent Douglas became an unwitting victim of a crime once the fight was over. Yes, Daley later apologized for his actions and said that he was caught up in the heat of battle. So what? I believe Daley, but the fact that he is sorry for committing a crime doesn’t in and of itself absolve him of that crime. At the very least, he should be suspended indefinitely. A fighter without discipline is like a dog without a leash. A menace to all those around him.
There are rules in boxing and in society for a reason. The rules of boxing are unequivocal. You don’t punch a man after the fight is over. Especially if that man has been declared knocked out and is entirely defenseless, as Douglas was.
It might be considered wise if in the future the Ontario Boxing Commission started assigning referees that are physically capable of restraining fighters to work bouts in their jurisdiction. Mark Simmons, who stands 6-foot-4, clearly should have refereed the Daley-Douglas fight, as he is in fact bigger than those fighters and, as a former boxer of note, quite capable of restraining them. I asked some of the boxing officials present last night what method, if any is used to decide which referee works each bout? Although not one official would go on record publicly, they all provided the same answer, “Rocky Zolnierczyk refs all of the headline bouts by order of (Ken) Hayashi.”
In a sport as popular but incredibly dangerous as professional boxing, it is nothing less than mind-boggling that some referees are chosen to work fights based on an archaic system of cronyism. Why on earth would the Ontario Boxing Commission choose tiny Rocky Zolniercyzk to referee a fight where both fighters are over 6-feet-tall? He was unable to physically restrain Daley from trying to beat Douglas to death. It makes no practical sense.
The Ontario Boxing Commissioner Ken Hayashi was not present at the time the controversy occurred in the final bout of the evening. I asked around and was unable to find any commission officials with similar authority on the premises immediately following the last match. Mr. Hayashi should have been there in person to deal with the manner in which the fight ended, even if only to say a decision is pending. In boxing jurisdictions in the United States and Europe, the commissioner or a representative of the commissioner with equal authority is required to be in attendance in case something like this happens. Mr. Hayashi was nowhere to be seen when all hell broke loose after the fourth round of the Daley-Douglas bout.
After watching Daley-Douglas battle, one thing seems to be abundantly clear about the state of boxing refereeing in Ontario. This province needs to hire an independent retired referee with experience, who is not in any way beholden to anyone at the OBC, to be in charge of training and grading professional boxing referees on a regular basis. Retired referee Mills Lane would be an ideal choice for such a position. So would Hall of Fame referee Larry Hazzard. Both of these men are well respected within the sport and were outstanding referees during their day. Both men were also sticklers for the rules and never afraid to criticize another referee if it meant protecting the welfare of a fighter.
Several years back, Yuri Foreman fought Miguel Cotto for a junior-middleweight title at Yankee Stadium in New York. The referee for that bout was Arthur Mercante Jr., one of the worst referees working in boxing today, along with Dick Cole and Russell Mora. Mercante Jr. allowed the fight to continue after Foreman’s corner had thrown in the towel.
I asked Larry Hazzard what he thought of Mercante Jr.’s actions. He said, “Any referee that allows a beat fighter to get hit further should be fired immediately, kicked out of the sport forever and charged with criminal negligence!” It is hard to disagree with Hazzard’s reaction. I asked him why he would pass such a harsh sentence on Mercante Jr. His answer made perfect sense. “Would you give him another chance to get a fighter killed?” The proof is in the record books. One fighter died during a match Mercante Jr. refereed. Isn’t that enough?
It is evident to everyone in boxing in Ontario that the current system now under the auspices of Mr. Hayashi is no longer tenable and it is not clear whether there is any impetus to fix it before a tragedy occurs, which it most surely will.