Does the Referee Pool Need New Blood?

By Ted Sares on December 11, 2011
Does the Referee Pool Need New Blood?
Joe Cooper seemed intent on making himself both seen and heard in DC (Stacey Verbeek)

Perhaps referees like Italian Massimo Barrovecchio and Panamanian Hector Afu can be part of a seminar for new and/or aspiring amateur referees…

“I was shocked. There was no warning.”—Amir Khan on the 12th round point deduction in his bout with Lamont Peterson.

“I want him (Russell Mora) to be banned.”—Joseph Agbeko

“Arthur Mercante let me try to work it out. I’m a world champion, or, now, a former world champion. I would have never quit. I did not want the fight to be stopped.”—Yuri Foreman

“The fight was 30 seconds too long for Bute…He totally collapsed, and basically, the referee cost Andrade the title.”—Steve Farhood (by the late George Kimball Special to

The controversy might have started with Marlon Wright’s questionable actions in the first Bute-Andrade fight. Arthur Mercante’s showboating during the Cotto-Foreman affair kept things going downhill. Then Russell Mora did a slow stoppage in the Donaire- Montiel fight and Steve Smoger followed suit as a somewhat reluctant Denis Lebedev rendered Roy Jones unconscious in Moscow. Russell Mora proved that good referees can have several bad nights when he failed to penalize Abner Mares for repeated low blows in the fight against Joseph Agbeko, and when he called a premature stoppage of Richard Gutierrez by Yudel Jhonson. Wayne Hedgpeth made what appeared to be a premature stoppage of Alfonso Gomez in his duke with Saul “Canelo” Álvarez. Even usually rock solid Tony Weeks was a bit overly intrusive in the entertaining Vargas-Lopez war.

Then, to add to the downward slide, “Fair But Firm” Joe Cortez appeared to be anything but as he seemed to become a contributing party to the confusion of what happened between Mayweather and Ortiz. Always reliable Rocky Burke had a terrible off night as Holly Holm suffered one of the most brutal beatings in recent years (though Holm’s corner might have been more culpable in this affair). And just this past Saturday, intrusive Joe Cooper seemed intent on making himself both seen and heard in the thrilling Khan-Peterson fight. And the beat goes on.

Now it’s easy to criticize referees as a group but manifestly that’s not my intent. Far from it as being a third man is a tough job and I count many of my closest friends as referees. It’s just that lately something seems fundamentally amiss. Like airline pilots, referees must strive to avoid off days. Too much depends on it. They must be consistently at the top of their game. Maybe they need to be compensated more; maybe they are not receiving enough refresher training; maybe as a group they are getting too long in the tooth; and maybe there needs to be more accountability enforced by the state commissions. One thing is painfully obvious, however: the same referees seem to be used over and over again.

Perhaps referees like Italian Massimo Barrovecchio who worked the Klitschko-Adamek fight in Poland and the invisible and light footed Panamanian Hector Afu who did Saul Álvarez vs. Kermit Cintron in Mexico can be part of a seminar for new and/or aspiring amateur referees. Perhaps, boxing can begin the process of overhauling the present referee pool and developing some new talent.

What do you think?

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Amir Khan says split decision defeat to Lamont Peterson was 'disgusting'

Joe Cortez speaks on Mayweather/Ortiz fight

Joseph Agbeko: "If Russell Mora Apologizes I Will Accept His Apology"

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  1. Don from Prov 01:35pm, 12/15/2011

    Thresher: I liked the show, right up until Jimmy was shot.  Obviously, he was written with the idea in mind that he was going to
    implode, but I think doing so was an error.

    I, anyway, found him interesting.
    Nucky?  Not so much.

  2. the thresher 10:47am, 12/15/2011


    Boardwalk Empire is ok—just ok, but I watch it.. It’s like a restaurant that is trying to do too much. Something for everyone. And that’s very difficult to pull off. The stuff about returning veterans from WW 1 is pure horseshit as is the depiction of Al Capone. Art imitating life.

    Now a little polio to add to the dramtic mix plus we have the FBI maniac on the loose.

    Plus we have the masked man getting some poon. Yeah right! Enough!!

    Too many stories going in too many directions for my taste.

  3. Don from Prov 08:35am, 12/15/2011

    I am looking forward to “Luck.”
    If HBO did as much with boxing as it does with series… .

  4. "Old Yank" Schneider 03:27pm, 12/14/2011

    Don—I don’t think the writers will dust Nucky. He is the reason the Empire existed. He is central to the story and to history. The real folks who floated in and out of his life make for series entertainment for a decade if necessary. If they ever get into his outrageous flamboyance with money and show girls it will add another layer. And the real Nucky was huge in swinging what was called the negro vote back then. even after coming out of prison he was known to campaign for his friends in the north end of AC to win over the black vote. I genuinely appreciate how the series has brought this out. Peace.

  5. "Old Yank" Schneider 03:20pm, 12/14/2011

    Don—Great to find another Boardwalk Empire fan around. I totally agree that Nucky was miscast (the real Nucky Johnson was a huge man in both influence and size—6-something and likely tipping in over 250). I like Buscemi but you are 100% correct; the part is bigger than he is. Having Nucky with a brother as a sheriff is an interesting twist on history. The real Nucky was the son of a sheriff and Nucky eventually took over his father’s post (at the age of 25 or 26 I think), and was elected the youngest sheriff in NJ history. Since the real Nucky lived out the end days of his life living with his brother and his “show girl” second wife, it will be interesting to see if they keep Nucky’s brother around for the long haul. You are on for the “friendly wager”—bragging rights at stake. Peace and Happy Holidays. PS—Check out the new series “Luck”—it’s going to be huge!

  6. Don From Prov 06:24am, 12/14/2011

    And “no” for “know”—

    And “portray” for “have”—

    Good lord!

  7. Don From Prov 06:18am, 12/14/2011

    Sorry, misspelling—Mr. Ecksel.

  8. Don From Prov 06:09am, 12/14/2011

    Although I do appreciate the lessons in history and the structural dictates of a television series, I was already aware—per “major” participants—of who were the “real” players and who invented on “Boardwalk.”  And while I don’t doubt that the writers may alter the sunset of Nucky who in real life just faded back from the fray after a prison stint, it would of course be a little ridiculous to have someone such a Meyer Lanksy, a man who went on to play such an immense role in organized crime, “killed” in the series.  However, my thought was that due to any number of factors—the realities of the real Nucky, a miscasting (IMO) of the excellent actor Steve Buscemi—the character of Nucky cannot, as Gandolfini did in “The Sopranos” carry the weight of a series (and in reality Gandolfini didn’t have to carry the weight as the creators surrounded him with a strong cast of characters suited for side-stories that he could just act as the “center” around which so much happened).  On “Boardwalk” the side characters might be interesting, but one already knows the fates of the gangsters, and no one or two other characters are, again—IMO—strong enough to offset the loss of Dormady, the most interesting and complex character (including the blandly sociopathic Nucky) on the show.  In other words: The producers made, or built in, a mistake.  I say the series will suffer now.  And I’d make you a double “friendly wager” on both that and the fact that other than cuts or injury Ward will NOT batter Froch into a TKO (though I think Froch’s chin may be a little overrated).  Unfortunately, our wager could not be “friendly”: I would not make any wager with you as I’ve seen that you are not an honorable man when it comes to such.

    P.S. One of the few pleasures of ESB was that these side conversations could take place.  One of the great disappointments was how you killed so many just by nature of being you.  Anyway, my point is that I’m sure that Mr. Ecksel will let us know if he doesn’t want deviation from boxing.

  9. the thresher 06:28pm, 12/13/2011

    Oh. Ok

  10. "Old Yank" Schneider 03:17pm, 12/13/2011

    The Thresher—You missed it. A duplicate post of Don’s was up for a while until the site admin removed the dupe.

  11. the thresher 02:46pm, 12/13/2011

    “Don From Prov07:24am, 12/13/2011
    Am I repeating myself?” Not sure what this has to do with the subject…: rolling eyes

  12. "Old Yank" Schneider 09:24am, 12/13/2011

    Don—I’ll bet that all the fictional characters in Boardwalk Empire that are used to move the story line forward are all disposable. The historically-based characters will hang around. “Nucky” Thompson is based on “Nucky” Johnson. James Darmody (a fictional character) was little more than a story-line devise to get us down the road. Since the real “Nucky” lost his first wife prior to prohibition. Therefore, the character playing his wife in Boardwalk Empire is a fiction and device for moving the story-line forward (a la Edmund Morris). Since she is not historically accurate, I presume she is disposable as well. Peace.

  13. Don From Prov 07:24am, 12/13/2011

    Am I repeating myself?

  14. Don From Prov 07:22am, 12/13/2011

    Great great greatly great—

    I don’t know, as the guy said: Just boxing.
    Who is that man anyway?

    Some bad ref voodoo going on but what is the fix?  Teacher has a bad day = unhappy students.  Ref or doctor has a bad day, might = someone being dead.  How can one call for standards in boxing?  But we must.  Speaking of dead, Nucky shot Jimmy!  I’m done with that.

    God bless quirky and excellent eateries.

  15. mikecasey 12:33pm, 12/12/2011

    Agreed, Yank. Ron has just emailed me and was hoping to get a gig on the Dec 3 card at MSG. But he’s super fit as ever and will be back in the mix soon. I told him he has a lot of rooters here and he appreciates it.

  16. "Old Yank" Schneider 12:27pm, 12/12/2011

    The Thresher and Mike Casey—Ron Lipton will be a refreshing start to returning some talent to the third man in the ring. I once intended to give Ron the greatest compliment I thought possible: “I don’t remember seeing you in that bout!” I certainly hope he took it the right way. And of course I knew he was the third man—every great fan knows who the third man is. He was great at being there enough to do his job and NOTHING more. His return is greatly welcomed by fans!

  17. mikecasey 11:20am, 12/12/2011

    Oh well, let’s forget about it then.

  18. dollar bond 10:48am, 12/12/2011

    A bit over dramatic.  A bit over the top.  It’s only boxing for Pete’s sake.

  19. pugknows 10:15am, 12/12/2011

    That‘s great news on Lipton. He is a solid referee.

  20. mikecasey 08:58am, 12/12/2011

    Damn well said, Bull, and a very timely article. Any referee looking to promote himself above the business at hand immediately disqualifires himself in my book - and should be disciplined for his actions. I’ve never forgotten Jay Nady almost dropping into a curtsy in his eagermness to tell Mayweather what an honour it was to be reffing one of his fights. Glad Ron Lipton has got hids license back. That’s a start at least!!

  21. the thresher 06:07am, 12/12/2011

    Any referee that has a registered copyright catchphrase just isn’t for me

  22. the thresher 05:47pm, 12/11/2011

    Good stuff Tex

  23. TEX HASSLER 05:45pm, 12/11/2011

    Referees need to get some good training on boxing before being put in as referee on a major fight. Other sports have improved during the last 50 years but boxing just has gone backwards. Because of a lack of fighters and fights even referees cannot get the experience they need. YES! We need some new blood and some high training standards for referees.

  24. the thresher 04:56pm, 12/11/2011

    Great post Pug

  25. pugknowsp 04:49pm, 12/11/2011

    Does Refereeing Need New Blood? Damn right it does. Like the Commissions, the BWAA, the promoters and the IBHOF, good old boys seem to be running the show. Commissions appoint referees often based on favoritism. I think NJ and NY are famous for this. That can only lead to complacency and then incompetence. Las Vegas is a good model to follow.

  26. MIKE SCHMIDT 04:48pm, 12/11/2011

    Steve Smoger- great work on Cotto fight- great work all the wayyyy back. Go watch his work on B Hop vs Trinidad- perfection

  27. raxman 03:03pm, 12/11/2011

    i agree with all of what you said - except this last fight. i have no problem with him taking the points from Khan - pushing off is my absolute pet hate and Khan did it from the first round on and had plenty of warnings - it’s obviously a tactic he has practice at some point otherwise he would’ve stopped himself doing it. the fact he lost a point in the last round is irrelevant - whether it’s the first minute of a fight or the last the officiating has to be consistent. ask richard steele. oh and by the way i think you can add pat russell for the hopkins v dawson fiasco too

  28. David Matthew 02:48pm, 12/11/2011

    Glad this piece was done…needed to be said.  I always like to characterize a good ref as being libertarian-minded in the ring.  That is, he’s not overly involved trying to interrupt the natural flow of the action unless it’s absolutely necessary to maintain integrity w/ the rules.  Too often referees want to be a fixture in the fight and make their presence known….I think Smoger is one of the best in the game because of his patience, poise, and understanding of the variety of fighting styles diff. boxers possess….a ref should never anxiously break up the action before it has a chance to develop on the inside…and a ref should never favor one guy’s clinching/inside holding over another guy’s push-offs/elbow shield-guards…let the fight develop and let the fighters settle/determine the fight.  Laissez-Faire should be a wise ref’s motto.

  29. the thresher 01:57pm, 12/11/2011

    Yeah, that famous so-called long count in Japan. Kind was and is————-

  30. JC45 01:53pm, 12/11/2011

    Cortez is like Floyd’s home ref. I thought he favoured Mayweather in the Hatton, De La Hoya and Ortiz fights, Ted. The old rule is still there. Its basically impossible to beat the house fighter on points unless you knock him down a few times AND win every round. If the promters name is King or Sauerland that may still not be enough. I remember King and Suiaiman trying to shaft Buster Douglas in what was the most transparently obvious piece of attempted corruption in the sports long and sordid history. Cheers mate.

  31. JC45 01:49pm, 12/11/2011

    I thought Khan was pretty unlucky Ted. Close fight but no need at all for deductions. The pushing one in the last round was diabolical. The refs at the moment are the worst I’ve ever seen. First sign a ref is doing his job is that you don’t notice him. The current crop seem to want to be noticed.
    I’ve got a bad feeling that the Froch v Ward fight will be the next controversy visa vis the refereeing. Lets hope its not the case.
    Cheers mate, hope all’s well.

  32. the thresher 01:27pm, 12/11/2011

    I have learned that Ron Lipton has just gotten his liscence back from the NYSAC. That’s great news and will infuse the talent pool with much needed talent as Ron is one of the best in shape referees with a solid background in pro boxing. Welcome back Ron!!

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