Fight fans have been phoning me about a curious event that took place in New Mexico on Saturday. It wasn't really a boxing match, but I don't know what else to call it. "Farce" might be a better word.
Several months ago, Ed (Too Tall) Jones, a skillful and rugged football player, decided to become a fighter. His first match was against Jesus (Yaqui) Meneses on Saturday.
Too Tall was awkward and in obvious need of more schooling.
It was a rather dull bout until the final round, when Meneses hit Jones with a pretty good left hand. When Jones failed to topple, Menese lunged at him and gave him a helpful shove.
Jones abruptly dropped to a sitting position. We will never know whether he would or would not have gone down without that shove.
About three seconds later, while Jones was still seated on the canvas, Meneses landed a smashing blow on Too Tall's jaw. That clout left Jones stunned.
The referee ordered Meneses to a neutral corner but did not begin a 10-second count against Jones. The TV announcers discussed this lapse with great excitement. "Talk about your long counts," one said. "This is a no count. I don't know why the referee isn't counting."
This viewer assumed that the ref wasn't counting because it is illegal to hit a man who is down. I thought Meneses was about to be penalized.
Three possibilities came to mind. The referee could disqualify Meneses and declare Jones the winner. He could take the round away from Meneses. Or, if New Mexico bouts are conducted under less enlightened rules, Jones would at least be given extra time to recover from the foul blow.
The referee did not disqualify Meneses, nor even reproach him for the foul, but he did allow Jones a few extra seconds to get his brains unscrambled -- with the help of smelling salts illegally administered by one of his cornermen. Thereafter Jones got to his feet and held on to win a split decision, but the TV announcers shed no light on any of the rule infractions. The UPI dispatch from ringside was little better. It said, "The blow while Jones was sitting was not called a foul."
A brief review of the rules of boxing is in order.
Fist-fighting dates back to ancient times, when bare-knuckle contestants fought to the death. When a man fell, the other man made sure his opponent would not rise again. Ever.
As time passed, rules were imposed to make boxing more humane.
James figg, born around 1696, popularized pugilism in England, opened a boxing academy, and can be considered one of the men who first shaped modern rules for boxing. Another great English fighter, Jack Broughton, was instrumental in amending Figg's rules to make them more civilized.
The fifth edition of Frank G. Menke's "Encyclopedia of Sports," which cost $25 when it was published four years ago by A. S. Barnes & Co., contained a section on boxing "courtesy of Nat S. Fleischer's Ring Boxing Encyclopedia."
In that section it is stated that Broughton's rules were first introduced on Aug. 10, 1743, and that one of these rules stipulated: "That no person is to hit his adversary when he is down." Even a man who had risen to one knee was considered down.
In time, Broughton's rules also came to be considered too brutal, so the "Revised London Prize Ring Rules" evolved. They governed boxing matches for more than 100 years.
Eventually, "because some tender-hearted persons decided that pugilism is barbarous," the Marquis of Queensberry drafted his more sportsmanlike rules.
That was in 1865. Under the Queensberry rules, bare fists were covered with gloves. Three-minute rounds were followed by one-minute rest periods. Wrestling, butting and gouging were barred. A man didn't have to die to lose; he could just simply fail to "come to the scratch" in 10 seconds.
One of Queensberry's rules stipulated that if a man who is down (including a man down on one knee) is struck, "he is entitled to the stakes." No question there about the rights of a man who is struck while he is sitting on his backside.
The New Mexico fight was amateurish. The officiating was amateurish. And the reporting of it was amateurish. Those who thought they had purchased tickets to a boxing match discovered that they were attending an exercise in anarchy instead.
If New Mexico's fights are not governed by the Queensberry rules, viewers and readers should have been told what rules do apply in that state. Shirley Povich, for decades on of this country's ablest boxing writers, told me after the bout that he never saw a clearer infraction of the rules in a boxing ring. "I'm sure that several million TV viewers would agree with that statement.