Rules of the Game: Jack Reiss on Refereeing Spence vs. Porter

By Caryn A. Tate on October 8, 2019
Rules of the Game: Jack Reiss on Refereeing Spence vs. Porter
“That being said…I’m like an orchestra leader in there.” (Frank Micelotta/Fox Sports)

“I can’t give you a Gatti-Ward or a Hagler-Hearns type fight if I’m constantly interrupting them. I’ve got to let the fight flow…”

On Saturday, September 28, two great welterweight champions met to unify their titles: IBF world champion Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr. (26-0, 21 KOs) faced WBC world champ “Showtime” Shawn Porter (30-3-1, 17 KOs). The bout took place in Staples Center in Los Angeles in front of 16,702 screaming fans, all of whom were on their feet for the last couple of rounds of thrilling action and high-level skills.

Highly experienced referee Jack Reiss officiated the bout. He took the time to speak with in this exclusive interview about what it was like to ref this Fight of the Year contender.

“It was wonderful,” Reiss said. “It was one of these fights that a referee wants to be involved with, that he dreams about his whole career.

“My goal in this was just to allow their styles to give the fans a great fight and do my job. And I wanted to let the fight flow. I knew it was gonna be tough. I had a righty against a lefty, so I’d take a half or full step back so I could see their feet in case there was a punch and their feet got tangled up on the punch.”

Prior to the fight, I witnessed the pre-fight instructions in Spence and Porter’s dressing rooms when Reiss went through all of the details with each fighter and his team about what to expect from him during the bout. He also went through what he expected from them, should someone get knocked down or get tangled up in a vulnerable position on the inside, or things of that nature.

“You were in the locker room with me when Derrick James (Spence’s head coach) was complaining about Shawn Porter [fouling],” Reiss said. “I told him in no uncertain terms that head butts, low blows, holding—whatever comes up, I’ll address it and deal with it, but I’m gonna let these guys fight their fight. I defended Porter to allow him to fight his style of fight, and Spence to fight his style of fight. I’m not gonna over-officiate.”

Reiss elaborated on his perspective of the fouls that did take place during the course of the bout.

“I react to fouls that create damage or create a disadvantage. In the ring—just as in life—you have infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. Certainly that night there were no felonies. There were infractions and misdemeanors. I dealt with those infractions and misdemeanors with the proper amount of enthusiasm that they deserved. I warned them softly, I warned them medium, and I actually stopped the fight maybe five times to warn them, between the head butts, low blows, holding.

“During the fight, instead of stopping the action, sometimes I’d just move my hand up and down to tell Spence to keep his punches up, to tell Porter to keep his punches up. I was constantly talking to them, that anyone ringside could hear. Porter and Spence on multiple occasions acknowledged me when I was saying, ‘Let him go. Fight out of it. Keep your punches up.’ Anyone could tell that I verbally got them out of those clinches and kept that fight going on multiple occasions. We had two ugly rounds. The third and the sixth. There were multiple occasions when Spence went low, and there were some occasions when Porter went low.

“I did what I was supposed to do. If there had been any felonies, man, I would’ve handled it like a felony.”

Reiss discussed how and when he issued warnings to the corners during the fight.

“I spoke to both [corners]. Every round of every fight, I go by the corners. I do a fly-by. I don’t say nothing—I just look at the fighter’s condition and I hear what’s being said. But at least two times during this fight, I stopped in the corner and I warned Porter about something once, and I warned Spence about stuff. Definitely in the third round, and definitely in the sixth round, I warned them. By the sixth round, I was more vocal to them, saying that, ‘I’ve reached my level of tolerance on the fouls, you’ve got to stop,’ sort of thing.

“After the sixth round, there were no low blows—it was beautiful. It was just a rough final six rounds, but there were no [fouls].

“During a fight like that, with lots of adrenaline, usually it takes me about four rounds to get the fighters settled. This took me six. That’s a testament to both guys. They came to win.”

Kenny Porter, Shawn Porter’s father and head coach, has stated in the aftermath of the fight that he wasn’t happy with Reiss’ officiating due to the number of low blows Spence landed on Porter.

“I respect and like Kenny Porter tremendously,” Reiss said. “He is a very passionate man about his son, and I respect that as well. I would be the same way. I understand where he’s coming from, I’ve got no problem with him, and we’ve never had an ill word. If we agree to disagree on this, that’s fine. And Barry Hunter I also have the utmost respect for. He’s always cool, calm, and collected in the corner. I respect him and I like him a lot.

“That being said…I’m like an orchestra leader in there. I’m conducting an orchestra. Jumping back to the fight, I can’t give you a Gatti-Ward or a Hagler-Hearns type fight if I’m constantly interrupting them. I’ve got to let the fight flow, so I handled the infractions and misdemeanors with the assertion that I needed to. Anybody who’s a detractor: you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a fight of the year, which people are saying it is, with me interrupting constantly.

“Porter’s trunks were extremely high. If you look at the pictures, his lat muscles (latissimus dorsi)—were below the top of his trunks. There’s usually a 4-inch gap between your lats and your trunks. It was extremely difficult to see where the waist line was, number one, and number two, many of those punches landed on the belt line. Number three, I’ve always preached and I’ve always taught when I’m refereeing: no harm, no foul. Shawn Porter never reacted to any of those blows except one, and that was when he pulled Spence’s head down. He still only hit him on the hip.”

In the 11th round, Spence dropped Porter with a thunderous left hook. Reiss talked about his perception of the knockdown.

“That punch that Spence threw was a beautiful left hook that sent Porter’s head spinning. [When teaching referee classes] I explain to the referees the difference between straight punches, hooks, and uppercuts and what happens physiologically in your brain. A hook and an uppercut is always worse than a straight punch.

“Porter was going down, and he wanted to win so badly and was in such great condition that he just barely touched his left hand [to the canvas] and got back up. And, you know, it’s a knockdown—if a punch lands and anything but the soles of your feet touch the ground, it’s a knockdown.

“When I got to him, he wasn’t in good condition for the first four or five seconds. And then because of his conditioning, he snapped out of it and by eight, he was yelling at Spence, ‘Come on, bring it!’

“That is conditioning! That conditioning coach that Kenny and Barry brought in—unbelievable. That Shawn Porter fighting anyone is gonna be difficult to beat.

“History will take care of itself. No one is complaining that Frank Cappuccino let the rough stuff happen with Gatti-Ward. No one is complaining that Richard Steele let the rough stuff happen in Hagler-Hearns. Which there was, in both fights. All they remember is a great fight. And that’s what I’m hoping people take away from this.”

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  1. Ted Sares 11:24am, 10/08/2019

    ‘Great and hero are 2 of the most over used words in the English language” Spot on Harvey

  2. Harvey 06:46am, 10/08/2019

    Jack is consistently the best ref in boxing
    Thanks for the article however I object to using the word “great” to describe these fighters. Great and hero are 2 of the most over used words in the English language. Let’s reserve them for those that truly deserve them. And no phony Floyd was not great either

  3. They Call Me Fredo 06:30am, 10/08/2019

    Conditioning is so underrated in contact sports, especially in boxing. Why do you think Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers won a couple of Super Bowls and three NFL championships? Conditioning sure played a role. Look at guys like Marciano and even Ali before he lost his license to fight. Ali was always in top condition in the early days of his career. Conditioning is damn near as important as skill in boxing and other contact sports.