Interview of woozy Juan Manuel Lopez shouldn’t have been allowed, and Showtime is to blame

Boxing has always been plagued by corruption, even if there is less of it than many think exists. Bad decisions are almost always just that: bad decisions. But because of the sport’s murky history and former connection to the mob, any time a decision in a fight is even marginally questionable, someone somewhere attributes it to corruption.

Usually, those who make these unfounded claims are just fans reacting emotionally and rashly.

On Saturday, though, the outcry went to another level after Juan Manuel Lopez was stopped by Orlando “Siri” Salido in the 10th round of their World Boxing Organization featherweight title bout in San Juan, Puerto Rico. During a post-fight interview in the ring with Showtime’s Jim Gray, Lopez accused referee Roberto Ramirez Sr. of having a gambling problem.

Juan Manuel Lopez gets up after getting knocked down in the 10th round.
(AP photo)

The minute the words rolled off Lopez’s tongue, Gray should have halted the interview. Lopez likely sustained a concussion in the brutal battle, which ended with him taking three massive shots to the head. He somehow managed to get to his feet, but Ramirez wisely stopped the bout and, quite literally, may have saved Lopez’s life.

Television networks pay hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars to broadcast bouts and they believe they deserve to interview the fighters afterward. It’s understandable.

That said, interviewing a boxer after a fight is much different than interviewing the player who hit the game-winning shot in a basketball game or the pitcher who got the big strikeout to save the baseball game.

Boxers are being punched in the head for 12 rounds and, often, even the winner isn’t clear-headed when a bout ends. It should be obvious to television producers that a fighter knocked out as violently as Lopez was probably in need of medical assistance and shouldn’t be doing an interview.

At the very least, fighters in these situations deserve to be examined by a doctor before someone shoves a microphone and a camera in their face.

It was an emotional defeat for Lopez, who lost by knockout to Salido for the second fight in a row. Salido had won the title from the then-unbeaten Lopez on April 16, 2011, knocking him out in one of the biggest upsets of the year.

He proved it was no fluke Saturday, beating Lopez convincingly again despite fighting on Lopez’s home turf. Ramirez did a wonderful job in stopping the fight following the 10th-round knockdown. When he gave Lopez the count, Ramirez allowed the fighter time to clear his head and indicate he was able to continue. Lopez, though, was wobbly and clearly in no condition to continue.

[ Related: Salido stops Lopez to keep WBO featherweight title ]

It would have been professional malpractice had Ramirez allowed the bout to resume.

Gray simply should have cut from the interview when Lopez started making the accusations about Ramirez. He’s interviewed boxers in the ring for years – he made his reputation in large part because of a tough interview with Mike Tyson in 1997 after Tyson had bitten off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear in a fight – and he should know the impact combat can have on one.

The commission erred in not quickly escorting Lopez to the locker room and examining him in private before releasing him. It should never have allowed Showtime to grab him for a television interview.

Juan Manuel Lopez (R) trades blows with Orlando Salido during their WBO featherweight title fight.
(AP photo)

Lopez issued a public apology on Sunday. Clearly, what he said was out of bounds, and he should have, and likely would have, faced disciplinary action for his words had he said them when clear-headed.

At the time he was interviewed, though, the effect of the blows he had taken was obviously impacting his thinking.

Hopefully, Ramirez accepts Lopez’s apology and understands the context in which the accusations were made, though so far, he has not done so.

The sad part about the situation is that Lopez’s words have dominated the post-fight discussion and not the outstanding fight the two men put on.

For that, Showtime has to accept the blame.

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Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Mar 12, 2012