The Great Guzman and the WBA’s weight of responsibility

It might be the stiff wind from the Urals which makes guest writer Andrew Mullinder such a cantankerous observer of the noble art. Mullinder is not implored to write by the science or the beauty of boxing, only the muck, the politics and the fractious infrastructure of the sport evoke his withering invective. His latest target is the WBA, for whom the dietary plans of Joan Guzman appear to have been but a distant theme from a distant land. Mullinder thinks its time governing bodies started, well, governing.

The Great Guzman and the WBA’s weight of responsibility

By Andrew Mullinder

The WBA announced on Wednesday that it would not punish Joan Guzman for failing to make weight for his WBA, IBF and WBO lightweight title fight against Nate Campbell on September 13th.

Guzman was pilloried for coming into the fight overweight. He arrived at the weigh-in more than three and a half pounds over the lightweight limit and claimed he was so drained by his effort to lose weight he could not fight. His failure was not a result of ill fortune – he apparently arrived weighing 180lb at his training camp for a fight slated to take place at 135lb – it was simply a monumental display of professional negligence.

Many felt the same way about Guzman as the narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby felt about the eponymous character: “[He] represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn.”

But this is not the first time a boxer has caused the collapse of a high-profile match by failing to make weight apparently unbeknown to anyone until the moment he stepped on the scales. How many more times must fans, sponsors, and television companies put up with this in the Lightweight division alone?

In this context, serious questions must be asked of the sanctioning authority. The WBA has, with its usual ladle of spurious magnanimity, decided not to punish Guzman. Of course not: the Dominican could still draw big sanctioning fees. Perhaps it also believes punishing his lack of professionalism would lead to questions of its own role in the whole debacle. It would be easy to argue had the situation was entirely avoidable had the WBA acted in the manner analogous to the governing body it purports to be.

To be sure, much responsibility should ultimately fall on the shoulders of Guzman and his management team for not submitting to the inevitable in a timely manner. Had they revealed the flabby truth, even relatively late in the day, the fight could have been reconfigured at a weight above that which rendered Guzman unfit to box. Campbell, did after all, agree to fight Guzman regardless of his weight.

Yet exactly the same could be said of the WBA. Arethey not, after all, self-appointed arbiters and guardians of the sport?

Why did the WBA, WBO or IBF not know that a man due to fight shortly as a lightweight had waddled into camp as a cruiserweight? Were they really three blind mice? Did the three of them combined not have the resources to carry out spot weigh checks? If they did, why did they not act on the evidence that Guzman had little chance of making weight? In short: why did all three sanctioning bodies act in such a perfunctory manner?

Of course, we know all know the answer: it is in their nature; it is the way all sanctioning bodies invariably act. They provide few services beyond handing out gaudy belts, compiling ratings that seem to be as influenced by lobbyists as US energy policy, and perform most diligently in dispensing to whom promoters should direct cheques. They seem to hold only a distant interest in actually ‘governing’; in the commonly understood meaning of the word.

Properly monitoring the weight of fighters in the run up to title fights they sanction – and making bold decisions on those outside acceptable benchmarks – would be simple and have two significant benefits. First, the health of fighters would be protected, and second, fights would not be cancelled at the eleventh hour.

Fighters should be preemptively withdrawn from fights and punished if they have too much weight to shift in the remaining time before a fight. This way, late withdrawals, when television companies and sponsors have invested in a fight and fans have traveled, can be avoided, and an alternative opponent can be found for the man who has acted professionally and does not deserved to be robbed of his fight purse. He could at least be afforded equal time to adjust to any revised limit. Furthermore, boxers would have greater incentive to stay in shape between fights, lose weight responsibly and fight in their proper division.

But this is simply another basic responsibility which sanctioning bodies shirk like a teenager unwilling to tidy his bedroom, and it becomes just another item to add to their litany of misdemeanors.

Joan Guzman, like Jay Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s novel, was in the end a victim of simple human frailty. Gatsby could not control his love for Daisy; Guzman could not suppress his appetite for food. But if sanctioning bodies had acted with even a remote conscientiousness or sense of duty, he could have been saved from himself, and boxing fans, television companies, sponsors and Nate Campbell could have been saved from Guzman.

Until this time, their role in boxing will always be akin to that which the narrator in The Great Gatsby assigned those who could have forestalled Gatsby’s demise: “They were careless people… they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

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