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Rolly Romero Controversially Becomes World Champion

Rolly Romero Controversially Becomes World Champion featured image
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MAY 13: Rolando Romero poses after defeating Ismael Barroso for a vacant WBA super lightweight title at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on May 13, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Romero beat Barroso by TKO in the ninth round. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)

Last weekend’s boxing has seen a number of questionable decisions occur, but nothing as prominent as what happened between Rolly Romero and his opponent Ismael Barroso. The two clashed against one another on May 13th at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas with the then-vacant WBA Super Lightweight world title on the line.

The original scheduled match between Alberto Puello (21-0, 10 KO’s) and Rolly Romero (15-1, 13 KO’s) fell through when the former tested positive for the banned substance of clomiphene. After Puello was designated as the “champion in recess” which forced him to vacate his WBA title, the title was made available for the fight between Romero and Ismael Barroso (24-4-2, 22 KO’s) who replaced Puello due to his position as the #1 contender on the WBA’s Super Lightweight rankings.

Despite Romero (who was ranked as #5 on the WBA’s rankings) leaping over at least three other deserving contenders, he was still given the opportunity to fight for a world title which was perhaps the first sign of blatant corruption given he was coming off a loss in 2022 to Gervonta Davis (29-0, 27 KO’s), and had only just moved up to stake his claim at 140 pounds.

Venezuela contender Ismael Barroso, 40, was picked as a replacement because he was slated to fight on the same card and night as Romero’s. This led the two to battle it out for the now-vacant WBA title on May 13th with Rolly Romero picked as the likely winner.

However, the match that ensued saw Barroso quickly overcome his underdog status to win most the rounds, most prominently after he knocked Romero down in the third round. Despite pushing back, Romero seemed to be unable to deal with Ismael Barroso’s power which seemed to buckle the American several times.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MAY 13: Rolando Romero (L) punches Ismael Barroso during their fight for a vacant WBA super lightweight title at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on May 13, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Romero beat Barroso by TKO in the ninth round. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)

However, in the ninth round, things swiftly turned around for Rolly Romero who caught a lucky break with a knockdown which was more of a push rather than an actual punch. Despite the invalidity of the knockdown, it was counted and Romero continued his onslaught in an attempt to stop Barroso. Ismael Barroso stayed on his feet when Romero caught him with several combinations and did not look too hurt but the referee ― deeming the Venezuelan was taking too man unanswered shots, stopped the fight after apparently observing that Barroso was taking too much damage.

The fight was ruled a technical knockout victory for Rolly Romero thereafter, subsequently resulting in him winning the vacant WBA Super Lightweight title, but the event was marred by what was considered Ismael Barroso seemingly being ahead and referee Tony Weeks’ performance which saw him heavily criticized for stopping the match too early, as well as counting the knockdown that was clearly more of a shove.

To make matters worse for Romero, the scorecards had him behind Barroso who was clearly winning judging by the scores of 76-75, 77-74 and 78-73 which were revealed after the match. With the technical knockout victory in doubt because of Tony Weeks controversial early stoppage, Rolly Romero’s victory to become the WBA Super Lightweight champion has been marred by the events of the night, and highlights some of the blatant corruption that is pervasive in the sport with a set of circumstances occurring to tip things into Romero’s favor, including:

  1. Alberto Puello being conveniently caught with a banned substance for the first time of his career, which resulted in his title being vacated and Rolly Romero then getting the opportunity to become a world champion.
  2. Ismael Barroso who was 40-years old stepping in to face Rolly Romero. Though he was positioned as the #1 on WBA’s Super Lightweight ranking boards and was the only fighter in the top 10 rankings that was available and fit to face Romero, it seem.
  3. The referee clearly favoring Rolly Romero in his match with Ismael Barroso judging by the shove that was ruled a knockdown and the early stoppage.
  4. Rolly Romero being made available to fight for a world title in the first place, despite there having been 3 other contenders (aside from Barroso) being ahead of him.

The rest of the event had exciting bouts, particularly the clash between former Lightweight world champion Rances Barthelemy (30-2-1, 15 KO’s) and Omar Juarez (14-2, 5 KO’s) match-up in a non-title Welterweight contest which saw the former win by a close majority decision after a tough and thrilling fight.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MAY 13: Rances Barthelemy (L) lands a body shot on Omar Juarez during a super lightweight bout at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on May 13, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)

Perhaps the noteworthy bout after the Romero-Barroso clash was the Super Lightweight co-main event between Ukrainian contender Botirzhon/Batyr Akhmedov (9-3, 8 KO’s) and American contender Kenneth Sims Jr. (20-2-1, 7 KO’s). With both fighters being considered very talented and at the top of their game after having gone through the necessary growing pains of losing earlier in their careers, the two came to ahead in a match that was ruled as an Eliminator bout by the WBA.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MAY 13: Kenneth Sims Jr. (R) punches Batyr Akhmedov during a super lightweight bout at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on May 13, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)

Akhmedov and Sims Jr. had an extremely close match that could have gone either way if it wasn’t for Kenneth Sims seemingly edging the latter rounds. Sims Jr. won the match by unanimous decision after twelve rounds.

With Kenneth Sims Jr. emerging victorious from his match with Akhmedov, he will now gain the opportunity to face the WBA Super Lightweight champion in the near future; in this case, Rolly Romero. It should be noted that Sims Jr. won an Eliminator match which doesn’t guarantee him a mandatory spot as opposed to the Final Eliminator matces. He will, however, be considered for a title shot when the opportunity strikes, which at this point should not be much of an issue given he fought on the same card as the current WBA champion.

However, given the clear corruption that has been observed during this event, there’s every bit the chance that Kenneth Sims Jr. will face another contender for the opportunity to fight for a world title, rather than facing Rolly Romero directly afterwards.

Aside from the controversial events that tainted Rolly Romero’s win, the event seemed to have been successful due to the main featured fighters showing up in form and style, even with two of the three main fights ending by decision. However, both referee Tony Weeks’ reputation and that of many of the involved parties including the WBA, the PBC (the promoter of the event) and the Nevada State Athletic Commission are in tatters following the events which saw Ismael Barroso controversially get stopped too early against Rolly Romero.

Perhaps Romero would have won if the match had gone on to twelve rounds, but fans and spectators were robbed of any deserving conclusion following the odd turn of events by Tony Week which saw a normally solid referee once again highlight the corruption that seems to persist in the sport of boxing.