The crowd at Target Center could smell blood. The challenger, Rances "Kid Blast" Barthelemy, had strutted off after a fierce upper-cut toppled the reigning IBF world super featherweight champion, Argenis Mendez. The clock was almost out on the second round. Mendez pulled himself to his feet. Barthelemy attacked again, landing four savage blows to the side of the champion's head. Mendez was knocked flat on the mat, and the new champion bounced off the ropes in a victory dance.
But something was wrong. The power punches landed after the end of the round. Mendez should have been saved by the bell. The ESPN announcers heard it. Even promoter Mike Tyson (of ear-biting infamy) got in the ring and complained.
The Jan. 3 fight continued in an unlikely place: the Minnesota bureaucracy, where the same state commissioner who oversees plumbers and roofing standards ruled that Barthelemy had not, in fact, won that fight. He changed the ruling to a "no decision."
Lawyers for Mendez appealed to the state Office of Administrative Hearings, and last week Administrative Law Judge LauraSue Schlatter upheld the commissioner. Schlatter ruled that under Minnesota law, Commissioner of Labor and Industry Ken Peterson has the power to overrule referee Peter Podgorski. She did not blame either Podgorski or Barthelemy for intentional violations, but ruled "Referee Podgorski failed to stop the Match at the time the first bell rang, that the bout continued, and that the knockout blow that sent Mendez to the mat struck him after the bell rang.
The two fighters will settle this score once and for all, or maybe not, in a July 10 contest in Miami.
Peterson, a lawyer and longtime boxing fan, told me that his agency only recently began regulating boxing and mixed martial arts, since the Legislature got rid of the Combative Sports Commission in the 2012 session. As far as overturning a boxing decision, "we've never had anything like this," he said. It came down to a simple idea: "You can't win unless the rules are followed."