Larry Hazzard and the State of New Jersey

By Robert Ecksel on October 12, 2014
Larry Hazzard and the State of New Jersey
“I hold no animosity. There’s no anger. I’m back to square one. It’s been one helluva ride.”

The recently reinstated Boxing Commissioner of the State of New Jersey keeps on the sunny side. He’s as optimistic as optimism itself…

The State of New Jersey is in flux. The state of the economy, like the state of the union, is problematic, while Atlantic City, the tourism capital once envisioned as Las Vegas on the Atlantic, is fighting to survive. Casino revenue has been halved since 2006, at a loss of $2.3 billion. A third of its casinos have closed this year.

While some foresee a future spattered in doom and gloom, you wouldn’t know it talking to Larry Hazzard. The recently reinstated Boxing Commissioner of the State of New Jersey keeps on the sunny side. He’s as optimistic as optimism itself.

“I’ve been in the sport of boxing over 50 years,” Hazzard told Boxing.com. “I grew up in the sport of boxing. I grew up in the 1950s, in Newark, New Jersey. Where I grew up is typical urban America. Urban America in the ‘50s, ‘60s, even today, it really wouldn’t hurt to know how to handle yourself, especially back in those days. Everybody in the neighborhood was fighting in some way, and there were guys in the neighborhood who were trainers, who were fighting in the gym, who were boxers. So there were a lot of role models around. My interest in boxing was born through watching some of the great fighters of that era. The driving force for me to go into boxing, aside from just a matter of survival, was when I saw Sugar Ray Robinson on the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. He was the catapult. He was my favorite. He was my idol. And like millions of other young boys in those days, I wanted to be another Sugar Ray and went to the gym and started an amateur career at age 13. I fought in the Golden Gloves and I was able to have a modicum of success as an amateur. But once I realized that perhaps my dreams of being a champion were not going to be fulfilled, I still wanted to be close to the sport of boxing, so I became an amateur referee in the mid-1960s. And in the late 1970s I became a professional referee.”

It’s as a referee that Larry Hazzard first made a name for himself. After refereeing for seven years, establishing himself as the quintessential no-nonsense third man in the ring, he was appointed boxing commissioner for the State of New Jersey.

“I was the first and only commissioner of the newly structured New Jersey State Athletic Control Board when this agency was born in the mid-1980s. Prior to the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, this particular function was the purview of what was known at that time as the Office of the State Athletic Commission. The New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, at this particular point, has only had two commissioners, and Larry Hazzard has been commissioner twice. Aaron Davis came in after my first tenure. He was there from 2007 till two weeks ago.”

Atlantic City, which was synonymous with boxing for many years, has a long and storied history. From its golden age in the 1920s, when it was the go-to summer hotspot on the East Coast, to the passage of the Casino Gambling Referendum in 1976, Atlantic City has had more than its share of ups and downs.

“I got my license as a professional referee the same year that the advent of casino gambling in New Jersey,” Hazzard said. “I refereed from 1978 to 1985. I remember doing Saad Muhammad and Michael Spinks and Dwight Qawi. I remember doing Marvin Hagler and Caveman Lee. In that short span I did a lot of fights. I did Sean O’Grady-Hilmer Kenty. I was the referee when O’Grady took the title. When Michael Spinks beat Qawi, I was the referee. All those light heavyweights: Yaqui Lopez, Mike Rossman, Marvin Johnson, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, James Scott. I used to go to Rahway State Prison and do most of his fights in there. Matter of fact I did a fight between Scott and Qawi, two ex-inmates from Rahway; Scott was still a prisoner, but Qawi was an ex-inmate. And I did numerous fighters out of Philadelphia, because those fighters used to fight in Atlantic City weekly. I did ‘em all, Jeff Chandler, Meldrick Taylor, Marvis Frazier. I was well in the mix of all those great fights and great fighters during the ‘70s and early ‘80s, up until I became commissioner of New Jersey.”

Looking back, those were the glory years of modern-day boxing, the glory years of boxing in Atlantic City.

“I refer to those days as the glory days—and what a blessing it was for me to be a part of it on two levels, as a referee, and then as the chief administrator. This was a real blessing. Man, it was fantastic. I was there presiding over all those great Tyson fights, including the great Mike Tyson-Michael Spinks fight. I was there presiding over great fights involving Larry Holmes, George Foreman, Evander Holyfield, Alexis Arguello… I mean it just goes on and on. It was some magnificent era of boxing. It was just out of this world. It was a dream come true.”

I wanted to shift from dreams come true to nightmares in the flesh. The global economy has changed. The nation’s economy has changed. New Jersey’s economy has changed. Atlantic City’s economy has changed. Even boxing has changed. In light of all those changes, I asked Hazzard if resurrecting Atlantic City is part of his challenge.

“Yes,” he replied, “and I welcome it. We still have Boardwalk Hall. Several casinos are still there. I just read in the newspaper that the Revel may have new life. So there’s still hope, and there’s still major promoters. You have Main Events, who is promoting the Bernard Hopkins-Sergey Kovalev fight on November 8th, and I’m hopeful that this event will show the casino entrepreneurs in Atlantic City and the rest of the stakeholders in Atlantic City what major boxing does in bringing out crowds of people. I expect that this fight is going to be sold out. It’s going to be an exciting event, an exciting weekend, and I’m hoping this particular event will be the springboard for even greater events to begin to come back to New Jersey and Atlantic City. So, hey, believe me, I welcome the challenge. I believe that Atlantic City is not dead. New Jersey is certainly alive and well and we’re a combat sport friendly state—that’s the message I want to go out, now that I’m back as commissioner.”

Hazzard’s return is as surprising as his dismissal. I asked if he’d care to elaborate.

“That was not a good time for me. Things happen, but that was so long ago, I’m only looking toward the future. We have a great governor here in the State of New Jersey, Chris Christie. He has given me another opportunity to serve the people of New Jersey and to serve the great sport of boxing, which I think he knows I love very much. So it’s been a great blessing and it just says to me—and it should say to everyone who has watched this whole transition—that God is still in the business of doing good things for people. That’s the way I see this. I don’t take anything for granted. I will now just continue to give my heart and soul to this sport and work for the people of New Jersey the way that I did for 22 years before I was unceremoniously dismissed. But I’ve moved on from that. I hold no animosity. There’s no anger. I’m back to square one. It’s been one helluva ride.”

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  1. one tone 06:39am, 10/20/2014

    I am still Believe Mike Tyson still fresh for boxing any time

  2. An Observer 05:44pm, 10/13/2014

    I hope Hazzard instructs the referee in the Hopkins-Kovalev fight not to be distracted by Hopkins’ perpetual whining about being hit low, behind the head and whatever else he can come up with. That act has really worn thin, and Hopkins can probably outbox Kovalev without all that nonsense, but it seems to be part of his repertoire now.  Just a shot in the dark, but my guess is the arena is half empty, and a quarter of the seats will be freebies. Nobody pays to see Bernard whine, hold, smile and smirk, and wear that imbecilic, childish mask into the ring.  As for Hazzard, a fine referee and a fine administrator, but somebody should tell him not to start every sentence with “I.”  That, too, wears thin.

  3. kurt 04:53pm, 10/13/2014

    Still waiting for Mr. Hazzard to explain his ruling on 1-13-1995. When he declared both fighters were unable to continue due to excessive punishment both men took.  Mequi Sosa was way ahead in the scoring when fight was stopped (by Hazzard)  from ringside in unprecedented maneuver . Charles Williams had been beat to bloody pulp. Any discussion of Hazzard should include video of this fight. Video Should have been included in this article

  4. Robert Ecksel 09:30am, 10/13/2014

    There are two no decisions.

  5. Gajjers 03:06am, 10/13/2014

    Just checked out the Fighter’s Info on Bernard Hopkins that accompanied this article. It says the W-L-D stats are:  W55+L6+D2=65. Now that doesn’t add up, does it? What gives?

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