As a boxing referee that’s traveled all around the world, I’ve often been asked which fighter in history would I have liked to have refereed most. I always give the same answer.
It would have been either Sugar Ray Robinson and/or Joe Louis simply because, in my opinion they were the two of the greatest fighters of all time, and it would have been a privilege to have shared a ring with them.
A more difficult answer to give is when I’ve been asked what fights from the past would I have liked to have handled?
I was asked this question very recently on a local radio sports programme, and the three I chose were purely because they were difficult fights to handle and/or had controversial endings.
I took into account that these contests not only happened in the US but more importantly in another age, so with the exception of one contest which was controversial simply because of stupid refereeing, I decided to referee these in my era.
So in no particular order here they are.
Ali v Liston 2
This is the one I mentioned has stupid refereeing. However, even the build up to this fight was handled with ignorance and stupidity. Commissions all around the US vetoed this match either because of Liston’s mob connections, or Ali’s link up with the Muslim faith. Even the W.B.A. withdrew recognition of Ali as champion, because he had signed contracts that granted Sonny the contest.
The match eventually happened in a town named Lewiston on May 25th 1965. With so much controversial and bad publicity surrounding this fight, it was also pure stupidity to choose an inexperienced referee like former World heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott to handle it, but in those days TV companies had this thing about using “celebrity” refs.
Within a minute of the first round Ali landed a right hook, which seemed to lack any power, and down went Sonny on his back – with Ali immediately standing over him shouting, “get up you bum, and fight.”
Then everything went out of control. Ali started doing a sort of demented dance around his fallen challenger, Walcott was weakly trying to get him to a neutral corner. Liston got up seemingly ready to commence fighting, and then unbelievably Walcott walked away from the two fighters and went over to the other side of the ring because “Ring” editor Nat Fleischer, who was sitting next to the timekeeper, was calling him to tell him Liston had been down for more than 10 seconds.
While this was going on the two boxers had started fighting again. When Walcott saw this, he stopped the action and declared Ali the winner by KO.
What I would have done is this, with Ali standing and dancing over his opponent and seemingly out of control, I would have signaled to the timekeeper to stop the count because Ali’s actions where stopping Liston from getting to his feet.
I would then have given Sonny at least 30 seconds to compose himself, by giving the champion the longest and severest “bollocking” of his career.
Pep v Saddler 4
Boy oh boy would I have loved to have been the third man in this very dirty title fight, between two super greats.
It took place back in Sept. 1951 in New York. It was more like a war than a fight. The referee was the very good and experienced Ray Miller.
Sandy was leading the series 2-1 and although their other fights to say the least were a little “rough”, this one went off the Richter scale.
Both could be accused of thumbing each other, too. Whenever he could Pep would use his head as a third glove and Sandy’s party piece was to grab his opponents head in an arm lock, and with his right hand hit him with as many uppercuts as he could.
At one point Saddler, Pep and ref Miller were incredibly all on the canvas at the same time. The fight however was a genuine thriller and ended with Pep retiring on his stool at the end of the ninth.
How would I have handled it? To tell the truth with hardly any difference than Miller did.
Ok, I would have given some very strict warnings as early as the first round, and by the second round I would start to take points off them, but I honestly don’t think it would have changed a thing.
I could have disqualified both fighters and called a no contest, but I’m pretty sure I would not have done, simply because the fight was an absolute humdinger and we are in the entertainment business, after all.
Marciano v Cockell
If I had handled this one I think I would have taken the “0” off Rocky’s record because of the foul tactics he used on the British champion.
I say “think” because who knows if a stronger ref had jumped on Marciano early – he may have changed those tactics.
As it was, the ref. that May night in 1955 never issued a warning or showed any concern about what was going on in that ring.
What was going on was that one man was being pulverized in front of his eyes with total disregard to the rules. You all know the song, “I left my heart in San Francisco”?
Well Don almost did.
In the first round Rocky belted Cockell twice in the kidneys and that would have drawn a very angry warning from me. Then in round two another kidney punch and a butt from the champion would have certainly have made me take a point off.
Marciano was still being “rough” in round 3 and then he hit Don after the bell ended the round. I would have given Marciano another stern lecture, and warned him and his corner that I was on the verge of disqualifying him.
In round four Marciano butted Cockell causing a cut on the British champs forehead.
As far as I’m concerned round five would have been the last, because Marciano landed so low it caused Don to reel backwards into the ropes badly hurt, and I’m sure that would have been the point where I would have thrown Rocky out.
It would have saved Don from being hit three times after the bell in round five, and again at the end of the round seven, he was hit while on the canvas in round 9, and in between all those fouls Marciano was still hitting low and butting.
Mind you on reflection, I’m glad I didn’t referee this one in another way, because there was a return clause in the contract and I really would not have liked to have seen our boy from Britain go through all that again.
Johansson v Patterson
The worst piece of refereeing I’ve seen on film was watching the New York third man Ruby Goldstein allowing Floyd Patterson being punched from pillow to post by Ingemar Johansson for the World heavyweight title.
The first two rounds were very quiet and then in round three, exploded a right hook from Johansson onto Patterson’s chin, sending the champion crashing to the canvass.
Floyd just about beat the full count but on rising, another big right sent him down once more. Again he beat the count but on getting up this time, he was out of the fight and not knowing where he was.
He started walking towards his own corner completely defenceless and it was at this point Goldstein should have stopped the fight, but instead he allowed the big hitting Swede to bounce another punch off Floyd’s head sending him to the floor for a third time.
In fact Patterson was to go down brutally another four times before Goldstein finally stopped this vicious massacre.
(Image source: Realcombatmedia.com)
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