Enzo Maccarinelli was denied the opportunity to resurrect his ailing career against Commonwealth light-heavyweight champion Ovill McKenzie by a dreadfully premature stoppage from referee Ian John-Lewis at Liverpool Olympia last night. The crossroads contest between the two big-punchers was warming up nicely. That was until the controversial Gillingham official suddenly dived in with 45 seconds remaining of round two after Maccarinelli had been backed up against the ropes and caught with a three-punch combination.
Prior to John-Lewis’s intervention, Maccarinelli had caught McKenzie with a good left hook to the chin which stunned the Derby slugger into action. A left hook followed by two right hands were partially blocked by Maccarinelli, but when another hook snapped the Welshman’s head back the referee immediately separated the fighters.
There was a pause as John-Lewis took a moment to consider his position as the realisation began to dawn on Maccarinelli that potentially his 13-year career could be over. The Welshman waved his arms and talked to the official in a last-ditch plea to convince him that he was fine. Despite Enzo’s eyes appearing clear and his legs seemingly together, to everyone’s astonishment John-Lewis waved things off.
”I’m absolutely devastated, absolutely devastated. He caught me with a good right but I blocked the next two shots. I was fine,” said Maccarinelli to John Rawling afterwards in a mixture of shock and total exasperation. To his credit McKenzie, who felt aggrieved at being stopped by Preston official Phil Edwards in his first encounter with Tony Bellew, understood Maccarinelli’s frustration and vowed to give him a rematch “any time”.
In the meantime, the British Boxing Board of Control need to think long and hard about John-Lewis’s continued status as a ‘star’ referee. The ex-pro has earned a reputation in the trade for veering on the side of caution following a string of early interventions but is well regarded in boxing circles having officiated in several British and world title fights. Nevertheless, John-Lewis’s reputation as a judge took a dent after he was severely reprimanded by the BBBoC last year following his inexplicable scoring in favour of Joe Ainscough against Wayne Reed in a Prizefighter tournament. Some boxing fans considered this wrap to be long overdue following some unfathomable scorecards from John-Lewis over the years.
Having had time to consider my stance and review the replays, it seems apparent that John-Lewis was prompted to intervene immediately after Maccarinelli’s head was snapped back by a left hook from McKenzie. But as soon as he separated the fighters it was clear that the Gillingham referee doubted his decision. Contrary to the opinion of others, I can almost reason with John-Lewis for jumping in – he believed Enzo was hurt. What I can’t condone is that having took a moment to consider his position and see that Maccarinelli was fine to continue, he still decided to call the fight off.
The fight had been evenly poised until the stoppage. McKenzie (12st 6) boxed frantically from the off as he looked for an early KO against the often fragile Maccarinelli who was low on confidence. The Welshman (12st 5lbs) was appearing in his first fight back after serving a six month ban after testing positive for the banned substance methylhexaneamine following his controversial British cruiserweight title winning effort against Shane McPhilbin in April, which ironically was also officiated by John-Lewis. Enzo maintained a high guard and managed to parry most of McKenzie’s sledgehammer rights and came back well with left hooks to the body.
We’ll never know just how big a crisis Maccarinelli was about to face as McKenzie made a breakthrough in the second round. And, if he is completely honest upon reflection, neither did John-Lewis. Instead the paying punters, fans, trainers, press and, most importantly, the boxers, are left to ponder on what might have been. Naturally, a fighter’s safety is paramount, and as an ex-professional John-Lewis knows the dangers of stepping through the ropes. But John-Lewis’s decision owed more to a distinct lack of judgement than being merely cautious.
In an interview with Dave Allen from RingNews24 last year, John-Lewis was asked his opinion on the flak that referees often receive for making premature stoppages. He replied: “It is the hardest part of being a referee, to make the decision when to stop a fight. I tend to use common sense when I think the fight has become uncompetitive, and I will step in and stop it.”
One can only deduce that the former WBO cruiserweight champion's reputation for being fragile after suffering a string of sickening knockouts went before him last night. That alone cannot justify John-Lewis’s decision who ultimately failed to practice what he preaches.
Undercard review to follow.