There is plenty of blame to go around for the bizarre and disappointing finish to the Mayweather-Ortiz fight. This morning I’ve been looking online for clear explanations of exactly what happened, and more importantly, exactly what the role of fight refereee Joe Cortez was in the debacle. While it is true that “protect yourself at all times” is the last and most emphatic direction given to each boxer prior to a fight — Cortez needs to be held responsible for actions which contributed significantly to the early and unsatisfying conclusion of the fight.

Here is what Cortez had to say, first of all: “Time was ‘in’ and the fighter has to have his guard up,” Cortez said. “Mayweather did nothing wrong.”

Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, agreed that the fight-ending punches were legal.

“Cortez pointed to the timekeeper,” Kizer said, “and time was ‘in.’ Floyd’s punches came a second after time was back ‘in.’ ”

Well, maybe.  A closer scrutiny of Cortez precise handling of the situation shows how much Cortez contributed to the debacle with his sloppiness and imprecision:

Here, based on a frame by frame analysis of “the end”, is what Cortez did, and didn’t do:

  • With 09 seconds left in round 4, Cortez called timeout to charge Ortiz a one point deduction for an intentional head butt of Mayweather. He turns and faces the timekeepers to make sure they’ve stopped.  While his back is turned, Ortiz approaches Mayweather, hugs him and (one might say bizarrely) pecks him on the cheek with a kiss.
  • Cortez turns around and grabs Ortiz’s glove and says “Come here, come here”, then takes him by the glove and faces one judge at ringside and says: “For a point, head butt”.
  • He then turns to the second judge, says: “One point, head butt”.
  • He then turns to the third judge.  As Cortez is about to speak, Mayweather gives Ortiz a “WTF, bro?” look, prompting Ortiz to reach out his glove a second time and say “Sorry, bro”. Mayweather touches gloves but looks away in disgust.  The Cortez says, to the third judge at ringside: “One point,  head butt.”     Mayweather continues walking the corner on TV screen left — and Cortez takes Ortiz to the opposite corner.
  • As Cortez is walking Ortiz to the right-hand neutral corner, he says to Ortiz: “What’s the matter with you, man.”   Ortiz doesn’t say anything.  Cortez: “Don’t be doing that!”  Ortiz nods. Cortez repeats: “Don’t be doing that!”.
  • Then Cortez looks over his left shoulder to the opposite neutral corner where Mayweather is standing, and now beginning to approach.  While looking toward Mayweather, Cortez taps Ortiz on the chest and says “Let’s go”.
  • Right after saying “Let’s go” with the two boxers walking toward each other, Cortez looks over his right shoulder, taking his eyes off both boxers, and locks gaze with the timekeeper at ringside. While looking at the timekeeper, he gives the familiar hand gesture which boxers understand to be “Fight” but then, confusingly, while still looking away from the fighters at the timekeeper, he holds his arms apart — giving in effect the opposite visual instruction (“stay apart”, or ‘break”) to the one he just gave previously.  So, after having gestured them together with a visual cue that says “fight”, he then holds his arms apart with a cue that says “don’t fight” — meanwhile he looks over his shoulder at the timekeeper as the two fighters approach each others.
  • As the two fighters reach each other Ortiz attempts to touch gloves for the third time and Cortez briefly looks at the fighters — then — apparently noting that they are not fighting yet — looks back yet again to the timekeeper.  As Ortiz embraces Mayweather, Cortez says to the timekeeper: “You all ready?” (it might be “You all right?”)
  • As Cortez is saying “you all ready?” to the timekeeper, Ortiz has dropped his hands to his side and Mayweather launches a quick left hook that catches Ortiz by surprise.  This hook is on the way at the same time Cortez is saying “ready?” to the timekeeper.
  • The left hook lands and snaps Ortiz’s head.
  • Cortez snaps his gaze back to the fighters, a look of shocked surprise on his face.
  • Ortiz looks to Cortez with a “did you see that?” look.  He makes no move to defend himself. His arms are at his side.  He is clearly depending on Cortez to do something.
  • With Ortiz looking at Cortez — and Cortez looking at Ortiz — Mayweather loads up a right and lands a haymaker on Ortiz that sends him to the canvas hard.
  • (Off-screen, hall of fame trainer/announcer Emmanual Steward can be heard to be saying:  “Awwww, no” — an interesting reflex comment.)
  • Cortez grabs Mayweather and shoves him away, then looks immediately to the ringside ref.
  • The ringside ref is up on his feet, starting the count. He gets to “two”– Cortez takes his cue from the ringside ref, and then turns to Ortiz, begins to pick up the count at “3”.  But he keeps looking at the ringside ref for a second, as if to make sure….the ringside ref is very emphatic — it is a knockdown.
  • Cortez finishes the count.  It’s over.
In reviewing it this closely, a few things become clear — or at least clearer than they were last night.
  • Cortez’s actions in resuming the fight were sloppy and ambiguous.  The proper sequence would have been to 1) get the boxers facing on another, but hold them apart, 2) then look to the timekeeper while still holding them apart confirm with the timekeeper that he was ready to resume, then 3) say “Box” and gesture for the boxers to box.
  • Instead, Cortez said “Let’s go” to Ortiz when Ortiz was still in his neutral corner, a command that seemed to be saying “come on back to the center of the ring”, not “Box” — then without any verbal command, he gave a weak gesture for the two fighters to box while looking away from them at the timekeeper (very strange and unusual), then as they appraoched each other, he held his arms apart as if to keep them separated while he (Cortez) got sorted with the timekeeper.  Ortiz clearly interpreted the arms-apart gesture as “we’re not fighting yet” and made to apologize again to Mayweather, who accepted the apology with his own gloves down — and all of this was going on as Cortez was shouting “You all ready?” to the timekeeper — another cue that the fight had not yet resumed — and a cue which contributed to Ortiz thinking it hadn’t started.
At the end of the day , there is just no doubt that Cortez was extremely sloppy and undisciplined in his handling of the situation.  It’s impossible to imagine Kenny Bayless or any other top drawer ref handling it in such a sloppy and confusing fashion.
Even so, had Mayweather been anyone other than Mayweather, it probably wouldn’t have mattered.  There is a code of honor in boxing that most boxers adhere to, and hitting an opponent when he is not defending himself is just not an action that any self-respecting boxer would usually do. The object is to prove ones self better than the opponent — not to shellack him when he’s not looking.  Doing so proves nothing, and most boxers are out to prove their worth.   Anyway …. a sad day for boxing which, ultimately, will be blamed largely on Joe Cortez first for his ineptness and sloppiness, then on Mayweather for his lack or respect for himself, his opponent, and the sport, and finally on Ortiz for his foolish rookie failure to pay attention to an opponent who, as Ortiz well knew, is a devious minded narcissistic lout entirely capable of anything–and thus all the more reason to “protect yourself at all times”.

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