Why was the Dakota Linger vs Josue Vargas fight not stopped sooner?

Boxing is beautiful and pure. Two fighters, using only the front of their fists against only the front of the opponent’s head and torso. No special equipment to hide behind, no amount of money can give you an edge. Strength and size matter less than training and heart. It is beautiful.

Every once in a while, though, we are confronted, face to face, with the ugly underbelly of the sport. And when we see it, so many difficult questions are asked that it is difficult to square the two sides of this lovely, horrible sport.

In the second round of their clash in New York’s Madison Square Garden, welterweight contender Dakota Linger pulled off a shocking stoppage of Josue Vargas. This is newsworthy on its own, with the journeyman-like Linger being brought in principally to give the highly touted Vargas a solid workout in front of an enthusiastic Puerto Rican crowd.

But the real standout story is the reaction of referee Ron Lipton in allowing the fight to go on much, much longer than it should have.

After disallowing a first knockdown, Lipton permitted the action to continue, in which Josue Vargas was clearly staggered, dazed and offering no resistance. Eventually, he was knocked down through the ropes and even after he stumbled to his feet, with glazed eyes and barely responsive, Lipton signalled for the fight to resume. It wasn’t until multiple New York State Commission inspectors and ringside doctors climbed onto the ring apron to order the fight stopped that Lipton finally stepped in and did what he should have done sooner.

With the action finally stopped at 2:06 in round two, Vargas was transported to Bellevue Hospital for observation.

This worrying development comes only days after South African boxer Simiso Buthelezi died after suffering a bleed on his brain during his fight with Siphesihle Mntungwa in Durban.

In the 10th round of the fight, and comfortably ahead on all of the judges cards, Buthelezi appeared disoriented and began throwing punches at thin air, seemingly fighting and invisible opponent. The referee stopped the fight and the 24-year old was transported to hospital and placed into an induced coma. The boxing world was rocked on Wednesday when it was announced that he had passed away from his injuries.

Tragically, it is now being reported that his opponent, Siphesihle Mntungwa, is so devastated by the torrent of abuse that he has faced over Buthelezi’s death, that he is on the brink of suicide. He claims that even his neighbors have turned on him following the unfortunate incident.

Boxing is pure, and beautiful, and yes, violent. But it shouldn’t be a matter of life and death. The protection of the fighter must be the first and foremost consideration in the the referee’s mind. All else takes a back seat. Ron Lipton is an experienced referee and should have known better than to let this fight continue in this way.

But the referee is not alone in this matter. Every member of Josue Vargas’ corner should be stripped of all licensing. They had no regard for the safety of their man, looking only for the win, and not for his wellbeing. With the referee not stopping the fight, Vargas’ corner should have thrown all of their towels in the referee’s face to stop it.

The New York commission will need to ask some probing questions of themselves in this instance. It is only a matter of luck that a tragedy didn’t unfold in Madison Square Garden.

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