The World Boxing council voted yesterday to limit future title fights to 12 rounds instead of 15, beginning Jan. 1.
The WBC, one of the two principal title-fight sanctioning bodies in the world, also will institute a standing eight-count for fighters in difficulty. The standing eight-count is used in amateur boxing. In professional bouts, no count is begun until a fighter touches the canvas.
The measures were voted by the organization's 21-member executive committee in response to recent public concern over the safety of the sport. South Korean lightweight Duk Koo Kim died after he was knocked out in the 14th round of a title fight with Ray Mancini last month, and two other recent title fights were publicly criticized after challengers took poundings.
The Kim fight and the Alexis Arguello-Aaron Pryor junior middleweight title bout which preceded it by a day were sanctioned by the WBC's principal rival, the World Boxing Association, which has made no rules changes.
The WBC sanctioned Larry Holmes' heavyweight title defense Nov. 26, in which Holmes pounded challenger Randy Cobb almost at will for 15 rounds.
The decision to cut back to 12-round title fights "will change boxing history because it will prevent boxers from suffering irreparable injuries," WBC spokesman Alfredo Lamazont told the Associated Press in Mexico City.
But the rules changes met with less than total enthusiasm in the boxing community.
"My reaction is one of happiness that a world organization is moving toward boxing safety by taking a first step," said Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, the Miami physician who supervises many boxing matches and is a commentator for NBC. "But this (12-round limit) is no cure-all or panacea," he said. "It will not stop boxing fatalities."
Pacheco said deaths in amateur boxing, where bouts last only three rounds, far outnumber fatalities in the pros.
And Pacheco called the standing eight-count rule inappropriate for professional boxing, where the emphasis is on punching power rather than style. He feared a standing eight-count would change the character of the pro game. "It's the wrong tool," said Pacheco.
Veteran trainer and fight observer Cus D'Amato, who handled heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, opposed both moves. He said the 12-round title fight limit "has no bearing on safety."
D'Amato said a standing eight-count would work against punchers, "the most exciting fighters," and predicted prizefighters would oppose the change. He asked, "Must we change the rules because we have a bunch of incompetent trainers who don't train their fighters right?"
And Jimmy Jacobs, manager of Wilfred Benitez, who lost the super welterweight title last week to Tommy Hearns in a 15-round decision, said historically the 13th through 15th rounds are not particularly dangerous for fighters.
"Of the last 26 ring deaths," said Jacobs, whose hobby is ring history, "only four occurred in the 13th, 14th, or 15th rounds." The 12-round title bout rule "certainly won't do any harm," said Jacobs, "but it doesn't address the real issue."
According to Pacheco and others in the fight game, the real issue is finding a way to establish uniform rules and safety standards, enforceable by some national governing body, for all boxing matches.
"That would save more lives," said Pacheco. "But at least now they are working to improve fighter safety. It's wonderful that they make any change, after 100 years of people saying, 'Ahh, shut up and let it be.' "
A spokesman for the World Boxing Association said no decision has been reached on whether to change its rules. Elias M. Cordova, director of the WBA's championships committee, said the WBA is consulting with members. But he expressed doubt the WBC's new rules would do much to improve safety in boxing.