The central sporting dilemma of our age played out again this weekend: How much brutality is too much?
On Saturday night, referee Pat Russell stood in the middle of the ring after he had stopped the best boxing match in recent memory. His decision didn't win him much popularity in fight nation. The light welterweights Mike Alvarado and Brandon Rios had been beating each other senseless, and everyone watching seemed to want it to continue, indefinitely if possible. "I will take 'em into deep water, but I won't drown 'em," Russell said.
As in most sports, it's not traditional for a boxing referee to be interviewed after a bout, but Russell wanted to explain himself to the television audience and the sellout crowd at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. He had stopped the fight in the seventh round after Rios had thrown a straight right and then delivered a series of unanswered combinations to Alvarado's head. Russell had seen enough, stepped in, and Rios was given the TKO win.
While much has been made in recent years of protecting the brains of football and hockey players, boxing referees have the most demanding responsibilities to prevent long-term brain damage. And Russell is an experienced ref. The crowd booed him. A group of people behind me, who were supporting "Mile High" Mike Alvarado, seemed particularly upset at Russell, a grey-haired Vietnam vet. They quietly cursed after Russell said, "I don't think there is a fan out there, and a referee that I know, that wants to see a fighter get permanently hurt."