The fallout from the controversial decision in the Paul Williams-Erislandy Lara junior middleweight bout continued Wednesday when the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board took the highly unusual action of indefinitely suspending the three judges who worked the 12-round bout.
Williams was given a heavily criticized majority decision victory Saturday night as judges Hilton Whitaker (115-114) and Don Givens (116-114) scored for him, while Al Bennett (114-114) had the HBO-televised main event at Boardwalk Hall's Adrian Phillips Ballroom a draw.
Lara, a former Cuban amateur star in his first major professional fight, however, landed his left hand at will. He appeared to win in the eyes of reporters covering the fight, all of HBO's commentators, HBO unofficial judge Harold Lederman and the pro-Williams crowd, which booed the decision. An overwhelming number of television viewers also took to Twitter and boxing message boards to voice their outrage over the decision.
CompuBox statistics were also telling: Williams was credited with landing 200 of 1,047 punches, 19 percent, while Lara was credited with landing 224 of 530 punches (42 percent). The official judges, who sit on different sides of the ring from each other, do not have access to CompuBox statistics during the fight.
In a letter obtained by ESPN.com, New Jersey commissioner Aaron M. Davis wrote to Lara promoter Dave Itskowitch of Golden Boy Promotions and Williams' promoter Dan Goossen informing them of the decision, which came after a video review of the fight with the judges.
"The New Jersey State Athletic Control Board was responsible for assigning all three judges who scored this contest and decided the outcome," Davis wrote in the letter. "At the conclusion of the contest, this agency had concerns about the final scores. Due to these concerns we decided to conduct a full review of the scoring.
"As part of this review, the NJSACB called in all three judges to our Trenton offices and conducted a full analysis of the scoring of each round."
Davis said that the review of the fight was complete and the NJSACB "has not found any evidence of bias, fraud, corruption or incapacity on the part of any of the judges. However, we remain unsatisfied with the scoring of the contest even after hearing the explanations from the judges.
"The NJSACB does not have the legal authority under these circumstances to invalidate the official result. This is due to the fact that all scoring is a matter of subjective judgment. In a similar fashion we cannot mandate a rematch. However, our opinion is that a rematch may be warranted.
"This agency has placed all three judges on indefinite suspension. Further, all three judges will be required to undergo additional training prior to their return to professional boxing judging."
Davis went further in apologizing for the lackluster judging.
"Any contestant who enters a ring or cage in our state deserves the best officiating that we can provide," Davis wrote. "While we do not mean to diminish Mr. Williams' competitive spirit and exciting style, we feel that we did not provide our best officiating on July 9. Because we have a rich history of boxing and combat sports in New Jersey, we aspire to consistently improve in our officiating and strive to learn from this situation. We have no further comment on this matter at the current time."
Williams (40-2, 27 KOs), a former two-time welterweight titlist, was returning to the ring for the first time since being brutally knocked out in the second round by middleweight champion Sergio Martinez in November.
After the fight, Lara (15-1-1, 10 KOs) and his team were upset, believing Lara had won.
"We've been saying since the fight that we thought Lara won and Lara thought he won," Itskowitch told ESPN.com. "This helps to validate what we've been saying."
Although Lara would like a rematch, Goossen has not shown any interest, mainly because of the continuing difficulty Williams has when fighting a left-hander. Both of his official losses were to southpaws. He also won a controversial majority decision against Martinez in their first fight in
addition to the hard time he had with Lara.
As for New Jersey suspending the judges, Goossen told ESPN.com, "The only thoughts I've had are what I've had from the beginning, which is what I said after the fight, that it could have gone either way. I've heard people say there was corruption in the decision, but we've got a good sport. There is no corruption here. It was a tough fight that could have gone either way.
"My difference of opinion that I argue is against those who thought Lara won by such a wide margin. Lara did an excellent job and so did Paul. As far as I'm concerned, if New Jersey felt this was appropriate, they're a good commission, and there's nothing more for me to say on it."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.