February 19, 2013 by Melissa Ray
Last month, the issue of when a referee should stop a fight was highlighted after an incident at a boxing event in Jakarta, Indonesia, in which 17-year-old Indonesian boxer Tubagus Sakti collapsed and suffered convulsions moments after his eighth round TKO defeat to opponent Ical Tobida.
After the event, it was suggested that the referee was at fault for failing to stop the fight at an earlier point during the contest. Ical had been able to land more than one clean shot after Tubagus had stopped defending himself before the referee finally intervened and ended the match.
However, it is impossible to pinpoint the damaging blow(s) to the young boxer—cerebral haemorrhage can develop minutes, hours or days after head trauma—and we will probably never know if quicker intervention by the referee could have made any difference to the young man’s life.
Although I do not personally think the referee should be held accountable for this tragic event, the incident emphasizes that the referee’s position is one of responsibility. He or she must use judgement to determine if—or at which point—a fight should be stopped to protect a contestant. While a premature stoppage could make for frustrated boxers and spectators, too late a stoppage can have implications on the health and safety of one of the competitors.
I have noticed that in Muay Thai promotions in Thailand, referees tend to be less likely to stop fights than referees in Western countries, and will often let the action flow despite a boxer being cut and drenched in blood, or having suffered one or two knockdowns.
I wonder if the gamblers might have had an influence on this trend. The power of the gamblers in modern Muay Thai is a subject well-discussed (see Muaythai Journal Episode 6 for some of Rob Cox’s opinions on the issue). At the major stadiums, the gamblers typically form the largest—and most vocal—section of the crowd, and it has been suggested that Muay Thai could not survive as a spectator sport without their presence at events. Is it possible their influence stretches as far as the refereeing aspects of the sport? After all, an overly cautious referee with a tendency to interrupt contests prematurely could end up facing a backlash from disgruntled gamblers, who enjoy placing bets throughout a bout as the action develops.
Of course, the positive aspect of Thai referees’ willingness to allow fights to proceed is being able to experience some thrilling bouts, particularly those in which the boxer who initially appears to be losing shows heart and makes a comeback.
Last Sunday, I was lucky to have been in the crowd at Channel 7 Boxing Stadium for one of the most spectacular comebacks in a fight I have ever witnessed. The match was the second bout of the afternoon, between Kritsana Erawan (red) and Petpataem Bermpudin (blue).
After a typically cautious first round, Petpataem scored a knockdown in round 2 after landing a solid right hook to the head of Kritsana. Kritsana was given an 8 count by the referee and Petpataem was celebratory. Following the count, he pummelled more punches into Kritsana, knocking him down a second time.
Kritsana was then handed a second count by the referee. When the action resumed, Petpataem punched hell-for-leather—his fists swinging relentlessly. For several seconds the attacks were one-way traffic. Kritsana was covering up but being rocked from side to side as shots flew in from left and right directions. At this point the gambling odds were quoted as 40-1 in Petpataem’s favour, and it is possible that another referee might have stopped the contest at this stage to “save” Kritsana from further punishment.
However, the referee in the ring gave Kritsana the opportunity to fight back by refraining from ending the match. And fight back he did—willed on by the crowd as his every effort was cheered uproariously. As his head slowly cleared and Petpataem began to tire, he began throwing the odd kick, knee and some vicious-looking elbows. Finally one of those elbows hit the target and Petpataem went down before being counted out.
The bout was one of those fights I feel privileged to have been in the live audience for. While watching fights in the standing area at Channel 7 Boxing Stadium might not be the most comfortable of viewing experiences, the atmosphere there—especially when fights such as this one unfold—is truly electrifying.
Thankfully, the referee that day showed good judgement regarding the timing of a fight stoppage and we were granted the opportunity to watch this fantastic bout. Watch and enjoy.