IT was one of the worst stoppages ever seen in a boxing ring.
Eight rounds had passed between Rolando Romero and Ismael Barroso in their vacant world super-lightweight title fight inside The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
Each man had survived one knockdown. The 40-year-old Barroso was moving at a pace of someone much older but still proving to be effective with single meaty shots. Romero had finally found his timing and looked like taking over.
Then in round nine the two fighters shared an exchange of shots where nothing of note landed. Referee Tony Weeks had somehow seen something else and waved the fight off with 19 seconds left.
The fight began with nothing to be enthused about. No-one enjoys scoring a round 10-10 but the first couldn’t have been anything else.
In the second Barroso showed his hand looking to walk Romero down, trap him and throw the thumping punches we have witnessed in his 18-year career. His opponent was now on high alert, his eyes displaying the look of a man worried about any attack coming his way.
Romero snapped out of it in the third putting together a quartet of shots that proved he could win this fight with speed and combinations. The threat of Barroso never went away, however. A straight left from the veteran sent Romero to the floor but he survived with little time left in the round.
Barroso couldn’t capitalise on his late success when the fourth session started. Romero was warier than ever, but a landing lead left hook and right hand settled him. It was a better round for the 27-year-old from Vegas and one he needed.
The pattern of Barroso’s pressure and Romero on the back foot continued throughout. Each punch from the South American, whether it succeeded or not, had plenty behind it.
Romero was beginning to time his opponent in the fifth and sixth, but he was soon on his bike when Barroso landed another hefty left near the end of the fight’s halfway stage.
Round seven saw Romero looking to throw and get out of harm’s way. Barroso was hitting the body and even with very few jabs or combinations he was still dangerous.
Romero showed confidence during the eighth taking more risks. The American targeted Barroso’s mid-section. Barroso though was not exerting himself knowing he could change the fight in an instant. The lack of action wasn’t ignored by the crowd who began booing. As the round drew to a close Romero completed more laps of the ring.
Then came the ninth round. One hundred and one seconds that should not be forgotten but for all the wrong reasons.
The two fighters didn’t unleash hell on one another, but Romero chose to sit down on his punches much more. He backed this up with his best punch of the fight, a jolting left to the head of Barroso. A right hand came afterwards but that’s all it was, a hand. The glove of Romero had pushed Barroso to the ground. Referee Weeks ruled it a knockdown. Barroso stood back up and did not look like a man nearing the end of his efforts.
Weeks doubled down and made himself the person to remember when he intervened during a mild scuffle between the fighters. Nothing landed, no-one was cut, no-one was in danger of being beat yet the man in the middle chose to save Barroso from further nothingness. And with 19 seconds left that was it. Fight over.
After eight completed rounds the scorecards read: 75-76, 74-77, 73-78 all in favour of Barroso.
Barroso’s corner was visibly and rightly outraged. A world title fight had just been ended for a reason that only Weeks knows. The records now show Rolando Romero 15-1 (13) as a new world champion with a phantom stoppage win. Ismael Barroso moves to 24-4-2 (22) but that fourth defeat has left yet another stain on a sport covered in them.
“We both wanted to keep going,” said Romero in the post-fight interview with Jim Gray. His youthful voice did its best to talk over the chorus of boos from the paying fans.
The crowd’s disdain went up a notch when they viewed the replay of the knockdown in the ninth.
“That ain’t no push,” said the new champion who watched along with them.
Romero added that he next wanted Ryan Garcia in a pay-per-view fight.
“I think it was an injustice to stop this fight,” said Barroso during his own in-ring interview.
“He [Tony Weeks] just stopped the fight, he didn’t tell me anything. We don’t understand.”
Nor did anyone who had just watched.
Viewers of the Showtime broadcast were then informed by lead commentator Mauro Ranallo that Weeks had refused to talk to Jim Gray as did representatives from the Nevada State Athletic Commission.