Saturday, June 28, 2008

Randy Neumann is Brutally Honest

Referee Randy Neumann counts away as Arturo Gatti tries to find his way up.

If you call Randy Neumann on the telephone and are greeted by his answering machine you get the sense right away that he's a man who is all business. The message is brief and to the point and the voice on the other end has a stern tone to it.

Neumann, of course, was the third man in the ring for one of the most brutal and bizarre fights in recent memory. He thought he had seen it all in boxing and until he stepped through the ropes and into the German ring in September 2006 to referee the middleweight title fight between IBF belt-holder Arthur Abraham and challenger Edison Miranda - he probably had.

"It was one of the most brutal fights I’ve been involved with," said the 59-year old Neumann Wednesday afternoon from his office in Paramus, New Jersey.

"Here in America we have too many lawyers that wouldn’t have allowed a fight like that to continue. I wanted to stop it and you heard on the tape when Abraham said he didn't want to continue. But I was under the spell of the doctors in that fight."

And for Randy Neumann, who doesn't seem like a man prone to exaggeration, to say that Abraham versus Miranda was the most brutal and bizarre fight that he has ever been involved with is really saying something.

You see, Neumann has been involved with boxing in one shape, form or fashion for over 40 years.

Along his journey in this game they call boxing he has been the New Jersey State Heavyweight Champion and he was once a top-10 ranked heavyweight contender in the 1970's. He's squared off against the likes of Chuck Wepner, Jerry Quarry and Jimmy Young. He's also quick to point out that he's been the third man in the ring for 40 world title fights controlling the action between guys that have names like Mike Tyson, Ray Mercer and Arturo Gatti.

And after the fights he sometimes likes to kick back with a drink at one of boxing's most favorite haunts, The Irish Pub in Atlantic City. And Neumann doesn't hang out there with just anybody mind you. He does so with a man he counts as a good friend - boxing's literary legend - Budd Schulberg.

So as Arthur Abraham and Edison Miranda get ready to do it again on Saturday night in Hollywood, Florida most hope there is not a repeat of the wild events that transpired the first time the pair tangled in the squared circle.

IBF middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham suffered a broken jaw in the fourth round of his first fight with Edison Miranda, but he managed to win a decision.

Abraham certainly hopes things go differently because from the fourth round on he fought with a jaw that was broken in two places. He would eventually win the fight by unanimous decision but he endured a steady diet of low blows and what appeared for all intents and purposes to be a dangerous and intentional head butt.

In an attempt to get a handle on the unpredictable and incorrigible Miranda on that night, Neumann deducted five points from the man who swings wildly, fights nastily and speaks harshly. Miranda seemed to be pulling every dirty trick from his tickle trunk and it was Neumann's job to try and stop him.

Reports in the media criticized Neumann and said that he unduly penalized Miranda for his various infractions. In the days and weeks immediately following the fight, Neumann was raked over the coals by the international boxing press and vilified by Miranda's promoter Leon Margules.

This past Monday night the fight was televised by Showtime for the first time in the United States thus giving American viewers the opportunity to see the events with their own eyes. It was also a chance to finally see whether Neumann was justified in the harsh penalties he imposed on Miranda and whether Abraham should have been allowed to continue on with a broken jaw.

"Look, people who want to criticize me for point deductions for the low blows weren’t in the ring when Jerry Quarry hit me with what some writers at the time called 'the most egregious low blow in boxing history' says Neumann, who is referring to his loss against Quarry at Madison Square Garden in 1973. It was a fight that was stopped on a cut after the seventh round.

"My fight with Quarry was stopped on a cut. The doctor who stitched me up that night said to me, 'You're in shape aren’t you?' I said Yeah, I’m not too bad. He said to me, 'I can tell, because you didn’t vomit when he hit you with that low blow.'

"Here’s the thing, if you hit a guy straight on the cup, the cup works pretty well. But when somebody lowers their shoulder and drives the punch up under the cup it just cracks your nuts.

Neumann likes to remind you that he was once a fighter and a pretty good one at that. So he knows full well the damage that illegal shots can inflict.

"I was a boxer and it’s funny the people that criticize me are usually not fighters," he explains. "They are non-fighters that have opinions."

"I can tell when a punch is low or not," Neumann continues. "I warned Miranda and then he goes right back out and does it two or three more times...he hits Abraham right in the balls. A referee has a very important job because decisions have to be made in nanoseconds and it’s not easy. The referee can be the difference between life and death and sometimes there are million dollar deals on the line."

For Neumann, the Abraham-Miranda fight was one where he found himself stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. On the one hand the German doctors (and there were two of them) were telling him to let the fight continue because they felt Abraham, despite a horribly busted jaw, could continue and could win. On the other hand, Miranda was fouling left, right and center so Neumann was exasperated in trying to control that problem, too.

But nearly two years after the fight, Neumann's makes no effort whatsoever to hide his disdain for Miranda who had designs on winning the fight - no matter the method. He blames the craziness that ensued on that night in Germany mostly on the broad shoulders of Miranda.

"Miranda fights like an idiot," Neumann barks.

"He intentionally butted Abraham behind the ear, which is the weakest part of the skull. Here's a guy that throws 2 or 3 low blows and I give him a warning - then he does the most egregious head butt ever - whacks the guy behind the ear with his head. I could have disqualified him and stopped the fight, but I didn’t. I don’t like to disqualify fighters, but that was certainly grounds for disqualification. Miranda was trying to bend the rules to win the fight."

So why not simply disqualify Miranda instead of taking five points from him?

"What I wanted to see was a normal ending to the fight," he answered.

Alfonso Gomez shows the pain of being in the ring with Miguel Cotto as Neumann does his job at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall in April of this year.

Unfortunately, Neumann and the rest of us didn't really get that, either. The official judges' scorecards were unanimous for Abraham at 114-109, 115-109 and 116-109. So even in a fight where Miranda was docked five points, he still wouldn't have won a decision if the points hadn't been deducted. Many, however, saw things differently because after Abraham's jaw was broken in the fourth it seemed as though Miranda won the majority of the remaining rounds.

Which brings us to the broken jaw. It was the result of a punch landed by Miranda in the fourth round and it caused a gruesome injury. The confused German doctors ended up ceasing the action for several minutes while they examined Abraham's twisted face in an attempt to make up their minds as to whether or not they were going to let the fight continue.

"It was a very interesting technicality," said a bemused Neumann. "I discussed it with Lindsay Tucker of the IBF. The injury that Abraham sustained was the result of a legitimate punch and he would lose by TKO if I had stopped the fight."

At one point it seemed as though Neumann was going to waive the fight off, but there was definitely a language issue with the German officials and some of the banter going back and forth between them and Neumann was muddled.

"I took three years of German in high school and some of what we talked about was lost in translation," Neumann quipped. "I’m no German linguist. The consensus was that if the guy keeps fighting he can win. The amazing thing - is that he won fighting for eight rounds with a broken jaw."

As the fight wore on Abraham bled profusely from his mouth and Neumann's shirt was covered with Abraham's blood when the final bell sounded. Abraham was unable to fully close his mouth and Neumann describes the look of it best: "He couldn’t move his mouth and it was like had had a golf ball in there or something."

When asked if he thought about stopping the fight in the later rounds as Miranda landed bone hammer after bone hammer on Abraham's disfigured face, Neumann answered, "No, because forgetting about the injury specifically the guy was never in trouble. You've got to remember that I’ve been a student of this sport for 41 years."

Neumann gets an earful from Warriors Boxing front man Leon Margules after the Arthur Abraham vs. Edison Miranda fight in Germany.

"I want to tell you an interesting story," says an unapolegetic Neumann, who certainly has access to a treasury trove of them.

"Leon Margules, who is Miranda’s promoter...flesh peddler. He’s a lawyer and a cagey guy. He’s in the ring after the fight. He comes up to me and he says, ‘Can I say a few words to you?’

"I said, 'No' and I walked away. But he cornered me, and he said what I did to Abraham was terrible and that he’ll never be the same."

"I said to him, I find it strange that you are so concerned for the other fighter. I said you just lost your meal ticket and what happens or happened to Abraham has little to do with your remorse.”

And with that, Abraham left the ring a winner and Neumann hopped on a flight back to his home state of New Jersey, "Where we have the mafia, McGreevey the gay governor and The Sopranos," he chuckes.

So nearly two years after having been involved in such a bizarre fight the big question is this:

How does Randy Neumann, who was the man in the middle of the chaotic twelve rounds that was Abraham vs. Miranda I see the rematch between the two playing out on Saturday night?

"Lets put it this way," says the grizzled Neumann. "If Miranda is this big, rough, tough puncher and he couldn’t knock out a guy who who had a broken jaw - then he’s in trouble. Abraham is a much better fighter."

Take it from Randy Neumann, he knows a thing or two about brutal honesty.

June 2008

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