New Jersey suspends Williams-Lara judges

Erislandy Lara will still have a loss on his record that he does not deserve, but his complaints of a robbery in his fight with Paul Williams on Saturday in Atlantic City, N.J., received an unexpected boost Wednesday when the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board took the unusual step of suspending the three judges who officiated the bout.

New Jersey has suspended the judges involved in Saturday's controversial Paul Williams (L)-Erislandy Lada bout.
(AP)

New Jersey indefinitely suspended judges Al Bennett, Hilton Whitaker and Don Givens on Wednesday for their work in the fight, which was broadcast on HBO. A big underdog, Lara lost a majority decision by scores of 116-114 (Givens), 115-114 (Whitaker) and 114-114 (Bennett) in a bout that nearly all who saw it other than the judges and those affiliated with Williams (40-2) felt Lara won convincingly.

HBO’s unofficial ringside scorer, Harold Lederman, a long-time professional judge, had it 117-111 for Lara (15-1-1). Former world champion Roy Jones Jr. was outraged by the call and likened it to the decision against him at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, that is widely regarded as one of the worst boxing judgments in history. Yahoo! Sports scored Saturday’s bout for Lara, 116-112.

After a review, New Jersey officials did not determine the decision to be corrupt and, as a result, found no basis for overturning it.

In a statement, Aaron M. Davis, commissioner of the NJSACB, said he was “unsatisfied with the scoring of the contest.”

“This agency has placed all three judges on indefinite suspension,” Davis stated. “Further, all three judges will be required to undergo additional training prior to their return to professional boxing judging.

“Any contestant who enters a ring or cage in our state deserves the best officiating that we can provide. While we do not mean to diminish Mr. Williams’ competitive spirit and exciting style, we feel that we did not provide our best officiating on July 9.”

Rather, all three of the judges are very inexperienced calling fights at the highest level. Givens never scored a fight that was an HBO or Showtime main event. The most notable fights on Whitaker’s record were Zab Judah-Lucas Matthysse from earlier this year and Glen Johnson-Clinton Woods in 2004. Bennett’s most prominent bout was the 2006 match between Bernard Hopkins and Antonio Tarver.

Williams’ promoter, Dan Goossen, did not seem particularly bothered by Smith’s decision to suspend the judges, though he has a vested interest in toeing the line. Andre Ward, whom Goossen promotes, will meet Carl Froch in the finals of Showtime’s Super 6 tournament on Oct. 29 in Atlantic City.

Goossen, who has previously stated he wanted Williams to move on and would not consider a rematch, declined to say if the suspensions would make a rematch more likely.

“My only comment, which I’ve said before and I’ll say again, is that I’ve got no problem with anyone who felt Lara won that fight,” Goossen said. “The only problem I’ve had and I’ve said it from the beginning is that I was dissatisfied with the way the on-air [HBO] announcers spoke of Paul Williams and the way they described the fight.

“I can’t define what this means or put it into any context, but I accept it because it’s New Jersey and I respect the commission there.”

Goossen said he would talk with Williams before discussing a rematch publicly. In his statement, however, Davis said he thought a rematch should be considered, though New Jersey is unable to order it.

“The NJSACB does not have the legal authority, under these circumstances, to invalidate the official result,” Davis said in his statement. “This is due to the fact that all scoring is a matter of subjective judgment. In a similar fashion, we cannot mandate a rematch. However, our opinion is that a rematch may be warranted.”

Promoter Lou DiBella, who was not involved in Saturday’s show but promotes Williams rival Sergio Martinez, was pleased that New Jersey took actions to correct the error.

DiBella said he thought Lara clearly won the fight. He said that he had been planning to write the New Jersey commission on behalf of Martinez and request that Givens, Bennett and Whitaker not work his Oct. 1 fight in Atlantic City against Darren Barker.

“This is a positive step and Commissioner Davis should be commended,” DiBella said.

If there is a rematch, it won’t be any time soon. Williams suffered a deep cut on his left eye and Lara sustained a facial fracture as the result of a clash of heads. Lara is unable to train or fly for six to eight weeks as a result of the fracture. He had to drive home to Florida from New Jersey because of the injury.

David Itskowitch, Golden Boy’s chief operating officer, said the letter only cemented the belief in Lara’s camp that he was the winner.

“Our position is that he won the fight,” Itskowitch said. “Lara’s position has been that he won the fight and his management team’s position is that he won the fight. That was the case on Saturday, it’s still the case now and I feel that the NJSACB’s letter validates that position.”

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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 Wednesday, Jul 13, 2011