By Elliot Worsell
CORNER stoppages are unique and fascinating because they represent the one time a prolonged period of contemplation – by boxing’s standards anyway – has led to a crucial and final decision. The decision, of course, is to end a fight, which, in a boxing ring, is a decision at any other stage normally associated with a sudden moment of drama or a sudden call on the part of either the referee or corner man. It is, whether decided by a referee’s intervention or a corner man’s white towel, something that ordinarily happens in an instant; something often fuelled by emotion and intuition and a sense, based on experience, of what is to come. Never, no matter if it’s right or wrong, will the stoppage be something the person deciding it will have thought long and hard about. Boxing, after all, is not that kind of sport. A fight is not that kind of dance.
Which is why to see a fight stopped between rounds, with a boxer sitting on their stool, perhaps jolts so much and why it causes so much dissatisfaction and debate among boxing fans. Quite aside from the anticlimactic element, which is natural, there is also a distrust which stems entirely from the fact the boxer and/or his trainer has had a minute period in which to come to this decision, meaning it is a calculated one and one, therefore, that could be overturned, or not made at all, if they were that way inclined.
It is for this reason too, however, that a corner stoppage is probably the most accurate and reasonable stoppage in all of boxing. Not so much influenced by a rush of adrenaline, or the noise of the crowd, which tends to impact calls made during rounds, this is instead a decision made in a period of relative calm and quiet, with the previous round providing its context and maybe even its impetus. It is, in other words, a considered action rather than a spontaneous or snap one. It is, moreover, a decision invariably made by a trainer who, looking into the eyes of his fighter, and knowing them better than anyone, will have been thinking about it long before initiating the call.
As for whether this call is right or wrong in the eyes of fans, that’s irrelevant. It’s irrelevant not only in that moment but in more general terms as well. Rarely will a fan ever be satisfied by the image of a fight stopped between rounds, yet that is not to say stopping fights between rounds is wrong. In fact, sometimes it is the very best way for them to end, both for the losing fighter and the winning one.
Vasiliy Lomachenko, between November 2016 and December 2017, managed to secure four corner stoppages in a row and if you know anything about Lomachenko’s style you will surely know why. Demoralising more so than debilitating, his ability to figure out opponents and befuddle them to the point of mental fatigue meant that corner stoppages were always a clearly signposted exit for many of the opponents he faced. Often these opponents were not beaten up – that is, the way fans would like to see a fighter beaten up – but were instead simply lost, all out of ideas, and therefore saw no sense in extending the pain of trying to complete a puzzle with missing pieces.
More recently we have seen Puerto Rico’s Subriel Matias develop a similar predilection for forcing opponents to surrender on their stool. This he has now managed to do five times in a row, in fact, thus beating Lomachenko’s run, and on Saturday (November 25), in what was the fifth, the 31-year-old super-welterweight made the unbeaten Shohjahon Ergashev sit it out after six rounds.
That was something Demetrius Andrade also decided to do on the same bill in Las Vegas. His super-middleweight fight against David Benavidez started out competitively, with Andrade even having moments of success, but soon became something else in round four, the round in which he was dropped, and round six, a round in which signs of tiredness and disillusion were apparent. It was then Andrade elected to save himself for another day, which not one of his corner team argued. They were thinking the same, perhaps, and would have maybe got there first had Andrade, the one still in control, not seemed so intent on going home.
The boxer’s choice to make, at least for as long as they remain able to make it, there is in the end probably no better person to call a fight than the person who is experiencing the punches being thrown and feeling all the shifts in momentum. More so than a coach, or a referee, the boxer involved knows exactly how much it hurts, how much they have left, and for how much longer they can last. If, therefore, they decide enough is enough, there can be no more conclusive and complete way of stopping a fight.
Even then, it is not a decision taken lightly, whether by a boxer or coach. They will know more than anyone that because it is a considered decision, it will be open to interpretation and primed to be later scrutinised and, in some cases, criticised. Andrade, for instance, has in recent days been described as both “brave” for the performance he put up for six rounds against Benavidez and also a “quitter” for checking out after those six rounds were completed.
Where you, as a fan, stand in this particular argument will largely depend on your perspective and what you believe a prizefighter, having agreed to take a fight for which they will be handsomely compensated, should represent on fight night. If, like some, you believe, by virtue of them selling themselves as pay-per-view attractions, they are part of the entertainment business, you will understandably feel let down if watching them perform is not deemed sufficiently entertaining. If, on the other hand, you believe that in a sport as fraught with risk and danger as boxing a fighter must maintain a certain agency and control, a corner stoppage, no matter the fallout, will always feel refreshingly and unusually final – if not entirely satisfying.