Whilst we understand that styles can make or break fights a fighter really shouldn't be allowed to deliberately break a fighter. It's even worse when the referee appears to be part of the reason for a fight failing to break out though that's exactly what Ernie Sharif did.
We had, like fans around the world, been looking forward to seeing Miguel Vazquez (34-3, 13) defend his IBF Lightweight title against Denis Shafikov (33-1-1, 18). Whilst we were looking forward to the contest before hand we were left feeling disgusted and abused by the fight which had more breaks and more hugging than we'd ever expect to see in a world title fight.
The fight started predictably with Vazquez using his footwork and jab to keep Shafikov at range. If you'd seen Vazquez before you'd have seen him do that to various other opponents as he showed off what he can do at his best. Unfortunately, however, for the sake of entertainment, Shafikov managed to cut the range. Vazquez's solution for when the distance was cut was to hold...and hold...and hold. He really had no other idea on what to do when he wasn't at long range.
Holding up close can be acceptable as long as it's not a fighters sole way of coping with a fighter up close. Unfortunately Vazquez had no other gameplan up close other than to hold and the referee, who should have been doing his job and deducting points merely allowed him to get away with it then tell them to break. This tactic, whilst effective in ending any momentum that Shafikov could get going, was allowed far too often and in a number of rounds it appeared that Vazquez was holding more often than he was punching.
What made the efforts of the referee even more frustrating was that he was often warning for other things caused by the holding but yet never acting on the warnings. For example hitting behind the head whilst holding, or Vazquez pushing Shafikov down. In most of those few times where the referee did act like he card he made a point of warning both men and not just the one responsible for the holding.
Although Shafikov's pressure did seem to be having an effect in round 4 it was neutralised so effectively by the holding in the following rounds that the fight was never in doubt. If anything the fight merely become unexciting, actionless and frustrating to watch. Even the crowd, who had been excellent throughout the show, seemed to make it obvious they didn't care with one fan shouting "stop wrestling" in the otherwise silent venue.
The holding hadn't just riles us up but also Miguel Diaz, who was in the corner of Shafikov. Diaz, a very respected trainer, made his view of the referee known and on 4 separate occasions he let his view of the referee be known. Unfortunately for Diaz and his man the referee didn't seem set to deduct points for repeated holding.
By round 8 the holding had ruined any sense of a fight and many, including ourselves, were just waiting for the final bell. It was obvious that Shafikov would have needed a knockout to get a win, though he may have found that any knockout blow he landed would have been ruled illegal anyway.
The only real surprise at the end of the bout was that two of the cards ha the fight close with one judge having it 115-113 and one having it 116-112, the third judge may have gone too far the other way with a 119-109 card but there was only one winner at the final bell.
Although Vazquez retained his title he certainly didn't make any new fans and may well find himself struggling to get any sort of fights in the future. He's talented but so negative and fight destroying that we can understand fans refusing to have anything to do with him. As for Shafikov he probably won't get another title fight in the tough Lightweight division which is a shame considering he did try and make a fight even if Vazquez and referee Sharif did prevent him from doing so.
(Picture courtesy of Toprank)