The guy who's being held has to try to punch. Then the referee has to take points away. He doesn't have a choice.
Nady was involved in another fight whose outcome might have been different had he taken a different approach to holding. The August 2006 rematch between Oleg Maskaev and Rahman was going Rahman's way early. He was landing the stiffer, more damaging blows and every time Maskaev attempted to hold in order to shut down Rahman's offense and get into the later rounds, where he expected Rahman would tire, Nady warned him. Midway through the bout, Nady changed course and allowed Maskaev to clinch with impunity. Maskaev made it to the late rounds and stopped Rahman in the 12th.
A fighter's willingness to frequently hold is directly related to his comfort level in the ring and can vary fight by fight, according to the competition. World junior welterweight champion Ricky Hatton established himself as one of the most exciting fighters in the business when he was still on the way up. A fearless, straight-ahead puncher against second-tier opposition as a contender, Hatton has, in more recent fights against better competition, become a miniature Ruiz. Against Kostya Tszyu, Luis Collazo and Juan Urango, Hatton mauled and wrestled as much or more than he punched. So far, it hasn't hurt his popularity or his record.
Hatton is in good company. No less an icon than Muhammad Ali, especially as he aged, got away with holding more than most. In his biggest fights, against George Foreman, Ken Norton, and especially Joe Frazier, Ali held repeatedly, typically whenever the opponent got close enough to negate Ali's advantage in hand and foot speed.
"Ali, as great as he was, got away with a lot of holding - grabbing and holding behind the neck," said Steele. "It was because he was the favorite. Everyone loved him. No one wanted to take points away from Muhammad Ali. We should have stopped that, but we didn't. He was Ali."
It's not all bad news for the fans, or for the fighters getting held. There is a way to force the referee to penalize excessive holding: keep punching.
"I hate to take a point away from a guy for holding when the other guy is doing nothing to stop him from holding," said Steele. "I remember when I refereed the Leonard-Hagler fight and I kept telling Leonard, â€˜Stop holding, stop holding.' I'd break them; Leonard would throw a 10-punch flurry and then hold again.
"I didn't penalize him because Hagler wasn't doing anything to stop him! If the guy who's being held tries to punch, tries to break out of the clinch, does whatever he can to show that he wants to punch, then he forces me to take action. He forces me to take points from the other guy. The guy who's being held has to try to punch. Then the referee has to take points away. He doesn't have a choice."
Let that be a lesson: when a fight is a bore because one of the fighters is holding, it's not entirely his fault; his opponent is letting him get away with it on some level, has made with him what trainer and broadcaster Teddy Atlas would call a silent agreement to allow himself to be held. The most exciting and frequently the most effective fighters are those who resist the temptation to take the little breaks that frequent clinches provide. And those are the fighters we most like to watch.