[In Wake of the Recent Controversy Surrounding Deontay Wilder’s Post-Fight In-Ring Remarks to Tyson Fury Following Their Epic Third Bout, a Look Back at This Article on Post-Fight Verbal Gaffes and Their Potential Legal/Regulatory Implications, Originally Posted by Paul S. Haberman on 8 Count News.com in March/April of 2012]

Professional boxing has been rife with controversy this past month or so, between the suspect ending of the middleweight bout between James Kirkland and Carlos Molina, Manny Pacquiao facing tax-related charges in the Philippines, and Dereck (Del Boy) Chisora’s ban in Britain following his behavior both before and after his spirited effort against Vitali Klitschko. The one controversy from this past month that does not seem to die, however, stems from the comments made by Juan Manuel (Juanma) Lopez following his tenth round TKO loss to WBO Featherweight Champion Orlando (Siri) Salido back on March 10, 2012. Once the latest Puerto Rican darling in the Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto mold, Lopez has been demonized by both the World Boxing Organization and Puerto Rico Boxing Commission for barking that referee Roberto Ramirez, Sr. stopped the bout when he did because he was somehow involved with gambling. The comment seemed like little more than nonsensical sour grapes from a dazed boxer, but now Lopez is facing the prospect of a lawsuit and has been slapped with a one-year suspension, a $10,000 fine, and 100 hours of community service in his native Puerto Rico as a result of his remark. What is it about calling a referee a gambler that has caused such a firestorm? One word: Defamation. But was Juanma’s comment truly defamatory and should such statements have subjected him to the fury of the Puerto Rico Athletic Commission? A quick look follows.

Did Lopez Defame Referee Roberto Ramirez, Sr.?

At its most basic, defamation is comprised of a defamatory statement specifically referring to the individual in question that is published and may cause damage to that individual. A typical defamatory statement reflects negatively on a certain character trait of an individual, such as their morality or truthfulness. The statement must be revealed either intentionally or negligently to at least one other person other than the speaker himself. With spoken defamation, or slander, damages need not be proven if, among other things, it pertains to a person’s business or professional or if the statement infers the commission of a crime of moral turpitude. In those instances, damages are presumed. Lack of intent to defame is generally not available as a defense.

Given the above elements, it would appear that Lopez did, in fact, defame Ramirez. In his post-fight interview, Lopez made a presumably false statement that negatively reflected on Ramirez’s fairness and objectivity (two character traits) either intentionally or negligently, depending how one views his level of consciousness at that time. The damage that Ramirez suffered from the statement need not be proven if he sued, as it pertained both to his business, refereeing, and inferred that Ramirez engaged in fixing a fight, a crime of dishonesty or moral turpitude.

The next question, although not a defense to defamation, is whether anyone truly believed that Ramirez was involved with gambling based upon Lopez’s post-fight drivel and, even if they did, has Lopez now done his part to diffuse any such notions? Lopez, upon review of his bout with Salido, apologized to Ramirez on March 20, 2010 and acknowledged that he was “really hurt” when Ramirez stopped the fight. Ramirez, however, considered the apology insufficient and indicated that he may seek to sue Lopez in a public statement on March 22, 2010. Five days later, on March 27, 2010, Lopez again apologized to Ramirez when speaking with the official examiner of the Puerto Rico Boxing Commission and expressly stated that he had no evidence that Ramirez was involved in gambling activity. Thus, while Ramirez may very well go ahead with a defamation lawsuit at some point, it seems likely it would now be he who has little more than sour grapes about the whole incident. Indeed, there is probably not a single boxing promoter or regulator on the planet who thinks that Ramirez stopped Lopez’s rematch with Salido due to his involvement with gambling after Lopez’s apologies and acknowledgment (if they ever did). One would thus expect that he will not have any real lasting or significant damage to his career as a referee as a result of Lopez’s statement. Few prospective defamation plaintiffs have received multiple public apologies and a retraction before even filing a lawsuit.

Should the Puerto Rico Athletic Commission Have Dropped the Hammer on Lopez?

More importantly for Lopez’s career than any eventual defamation suit is whether he should have been given as heavy a punishment as above-summarized one that he just received at the time that this article was being written. While Lopez’s comment was seemingly defamatory in nature, he not only said it right after being deemed the loser by TKO after a vicious fight, but has now also apologized for his actions on at least two separate occasions and acknowledged the baselessness of his statement. Even if he hadn’t apologized, Lopez’s statement is not a serious affront to professional boxing on the level of Mike Tyson severing Evander Holyfield’s ear with his teeth, James Butler coldcocking Richard (The Alien) Grant with an ungloved fist, or loading Antonio Margarito’s gloves with a Plaster of Paris-like substance in advance of his bout with Shane Mosley. Rather, Lopez’s remark seems more along the lines of “Vicious” Victor Ortiz’s bizarre remarks in the ring after being hammered by Marcos Maidana only with a target of the ill-advised statements other than himself. Yes, knockout victims say some pretty stupid things sometimes when there is a microphone shoved in their face immediately after a match. But what will a lengthy suspension, a $10,000 fine, and 100 hours of community service teach Lopez for the next time he is immediately interviewed after being leveled in an all-action brawl? Probably little more than that he should retreat to the locker room before he says anything he may regret in a state of semi-consciousness.

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Please do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Paul S. Haberman LLC with questions on any legal, regulatory, or contractual issues that you may encounter in the combat sports world.