Tyler Asselstine‘s debut on ESPN Friday Night Fights did not go exactly as he imagined. In a tough, war of attrition, Montreal fight judges gave the fight to one of their own by awarding Baha Laham (W11, KO4, D1) a majority decision. Majority decisions are rare in boxing but they do happen from time to time. One judge ruled the fight a draw while the other two judges gave the fight to Laham by one point. Laham fought his heart out but in reality he did little more than just survive in the fight. Asselstine (W12, KO, L1) outworked Laham by a wide margin and landed the much cleaner blows and even the hometown Montreal audience in attendance was genuinely stunned when the judges somehow awarded the fight to Laham.
Laham certainly did not do nearly enough work in the fight to be given the victory. He didn’t even land very many clean shots during the ten round affair. ESPN’s broadcast team led by Teddy Atlas had Asselstine comfortably ahead in the 10 round bout. In Atlas’s view, Asselstine won a clear and decisive unanimous decision over his smaller and less busy foe from La Belle Province. In fact, the fan poll that was conducted online by ESPN also had Asselstine the winner by a unanimous decision. For the record, the Fight Network also had Asselstine the winner by a unanimous decision.
So what precisely happened in this fight? Well, for starters, Asselstine did not bring his height or reach advantage to bear on the proceedings from the outset. That was a clear tactical error on his part. He could have made this fight a lot easier for himself by using his superior jab and vast technical skill set. Then again, that is simply not who he is. Asselstine loves to go to war on the inside in all of his fights. There is nothing wrong with that approach. He just needs to find a way to soften his foe up first before he walks in slugging with both hands blazing away.
From the first round on, Asselstine, who stands 5’9″ tall, chose to give away his four inch advantage in height over the 5’5″ Baha Laham by fighting him at close range in a protracted war of attrition. Rather than keep Laham on the outside of the ring and feed him a steady barrage of powerful jabs and straight right hands, Asselstine decided to throw caution to the wind by attempting round after round to out muscle Laham on the inside. This tactic actually worked for Asselstine early in the fight as he painted a steady tattoo on Laham’s face and body with a blistering two-fisted attack. As the fight went into the later rounds, Laham started to fight a frustrating clutch and grab type of style, which ended up exhausting and angering Asselstine.
Montreal referee Michael Griffin constantly had his hands full breaking up the two fighters as they usually refused to break on their own accord. Griffin often told both fighters to work out of it on their own and it was evident early on that neither man was going to be the first one to break the clinch. Even in such enervating circumstances for both the viewers and the fighters, Asselstine still managed to score more punches in every round of the fight. He also landed more power punches often snapping the smaller Laham’s head back with brutal but powerful uppercuts.
Boxing judges are supposed to be objective in their scoring but there seemed to be no evidence of that in this fight. Given the fact that Asselstine scored more punches over the course of the bout and more power punches should have been more than enough to sway the fight in his favor. It seems now, sadly enough, that wildly inaccurate or biased judging is not the mutually exclusive property of the state of Texas or the state of Germany. Montreal has now developed an international reputation for hiring judges that can always be counted on to support their local fighters, regardless of whatever happens in the ring during the fight.
Essentially this means that if you are coming to Montreal to fight a local fighter, you had better knock him out if you hope to leave Montreal with a victory in your pocket. In their first encounter in Quebec City, Bernard Hopkins clearly outfought Jean Pascal and yet had to settle for an incomprehensible draw in the sight-challenged eyes of the judges. Now, even with the judges doing a less than stellar job, Asselstine still could have made it a bit easier on himself by bringing his vastly superior boxing skills to bear on the outcome of the fight. He is a warrior at heart and that is why he loves to fight on the inside. Sometimes a fighter can train to do other things in the gym but nce he gets in the ring and gets his bell rung, he often reverts back to the style that is most familiar to him. This was what usually happened to Arturo Gatti. Gatti started out in the pro ranks as a technical boxer but whenever he got hit a good shot, all bets were off and he waded in looking to score a savage knockout.
Unfortunately for Asselstine, Laham found a way to survive his attacks by maddeningly clinching nonstop throughout the fight. Once again, fighting on the outside and then coming in behind a long jab or even a double jab and then coming over the jab with a punishing right cross and then adding a left hook to finish off the combination, would no doubt have made Laham weary of paying the price to come inside.
By allowing Laham to keep coming inside to clinch did Asselstine no good in the long run. The taller Ontarian did catch Laham with some teeth rattling uppercuts but threw a lot more than he landed. If Asselstine had used his jab effectively in every round, it would have swelled Laham’s eyes, thereby adversely affecting his vision. This would have had a profound effect on the outcome of the fight. Also, with his long arms, Asselstine needs to give himself more room to punch. He needs to gets his arms extended to get maximum leverage on all of his shots. By choosing to fight a phone booth war he is actually minimizing his own power. If Asselstine had just taken a couple of steps back and then fired away, it is doubtful Laham would have lasted past the 6th round.
There will no doubt be a rematch of this fight in several months time, most likely taking place in Mississauga next time at the Hershey Centre. If Asselstine can learn from his technical mistakes and fight Laham from the perimeter, and give himself proper punching room, then he can score a dramatic and decisive win next time over his provincial rival in his effort to prove that their first fight was nothing more than a hometown decision.