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Mrdjenovich/Olivo: Old Story, New Twist
By Bernie McCoy
December 10, 2007


It's an all too familiar scenario in the sport of Women's boxing, a fighter complaining about a hometown decision, questioning the capability of the ringside judges. This time it was Jelena Mrdjenovich, who had just fought to a ten round draw with Dominga Olivo for the WBC super featherweight championship, last Friday night at the Shaw Convention Center in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Mrdjenovich, quite obviously, disagreed with the decision, decrying, in a post fight screed, "I really don't understand the judges. I outboxed her, outcountered her, I had better defence. When I heard those scores I was shocked!" Putting aside, for the moment, the fighter conjuring up memories of Captain Renault in the movie, "Casablanca," fans of the sport had, too often, heard similar post-fight comments. This time, however, was different in one jaw dropping aspect: Jelena Mrdjenovich is from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Thus, Friday night may have been the first recorded instance of a hometown fighter complaining about hometown judges in her own hometown.

Was it, indeed, as Mrdjenovich claimed, the judges? Were they unfamiliar with Women's boxing? Were they new to the Edmonton venue? No, No, and No! Ken Rudd had the fight even at 95 for each boxer, Usman Ali, 96-94, Olivo, and William Warwick, 96-94 for Mrdjenovich. Further, each of these judges had officiated, in Edmonton, at one or more of Mrdjenovich's previous three bouts, unanimous decision wins over Belinda Laracuente in February, Emiko Raika in April and Kelli Cofer in September. And try as one might, it is not possible to uncover any negative comments about the capability of any of the three judges and their performance, from the Mrdjenovich camp, following those bouts. No one, it seems, in the immediate Edmonton environs was "shocked!" or even mildly chagrined with Rudd, Ali or Warwick in February, April or September.

Could those judges have simply had an "off" night on Friday? Listen to a former chairman of the Edmonton Boxing Commission who was ringside for the bout, "It was a very close fight and could have gone either way or (it could have) ended up as it did-a draw. We've drilled into our guys (ringside judges) that there are no (hometown) favorites and it's what they (the fighters) do in the ring that counts-nothing else. And the judges that didn't buy into that philosophy are not working (in Edmonton) anymore." It would appear that Ken Rudd, Usman Ali and William Warwick have not only bought into the "no hometown favorites" philosophy, espoused by the Edmonton commission, but that all three judges will be at ringside in Edmonton for the foreseeable future.

Thus, it might be argued that the only one who had an "off" night in the Shaw Center on Friday was the fighter coming out of the Mrdjenovich corner. The champion, a winner of 22 or her 24 bouts, was a prohibitive favorite over a boxer who had been fighting, professionally, less than two years, compiling, a 5-2 record and splitting her last four decisions. Jelena Mrdjenovich has beaten some of the top fighters in the featherweight division and the Olivo bout was, largely viewed, in the boxing community, as an interim title bout in front of Mrdjenovich's mandatory defense against Missy Fiorentino, to be scheduled sometime early in 2008. But, an oft heard admonition, extolled in most boxing gyms, probably has some application here: "fights are fought in the ring and records don't mean spit once that first bell rings." That was clearly the case on Friday in Edmonton.

In hindsight there were signs, there always are. Dominga Olivo had fought a tough six round bout in June against Layla McCarter, losing a close majority decision. Talking about the upcoming Mrdjenovich bout, McCarter noted that Olivio was a "gutsy fighter" who had a "quick overhand right" and "she (Olivo), at least, has a 'puncher's chance' " against Mrdjenovich. According to newspaper reports, that "quick overhand right" found a home early and often on Friday and the underdog boxer cashed in on that "puncher's chance."

And Dominga Olivo is not the only one who should not to be overlooked in the tumult and shouting that followed this bout. Ed Pearson, and the WBC, absorbed significant criticism for sanctioning this bout as a WBC title fight. On paper, the criticism had some credence. Olivo was not the first choice for the bout with either the Mrdjenovich camp or the sanctioning body. But, Pearson and the WBC approved the fight and stood behind their choice, calling it the "best available." After the ten rounds on Friday night, it was, clearly, better than that. And it's probably well to store away, for future reference, the precept that the true competitive value of any boxing bout is apparent only after the final bell, not prior the opening one.

Finally, it should be noted that as a result of the decision Jelena Mrdjenovich remains the WBC super featherweight title holder. And, as such, one hopes that she will recognize that her post fight comments served no purpose other than to reflect the frustration of a very good fighter who may have assumed she was going into a bout that she would win handily. Mrdjenovich is an intelligent young woman, a fine athlete and has, thus far, been a credit to herself and her sport. Remarks such as the ones she uttered on Friday reflect poorly on Mrdjenovich, her opponent, the sport of Women's boxing and the professionals who monitor that sport. Jelena Mrdjenovich will continue to be a headline attraction and if, as she also said on Friday, she is seriously considering venturing outside the Edmonton area for future bouts, she will find no shortage of willing and welcoming opponents in such varied venues as Las Vegas, Windsor, Ontario and New York City, a short trip down from the Catskill town of Monticello, NY, home of a fighter Mrdjenovich should now know quite well, Dominga Olivo.

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