The Best Referees in Boxing

Ralph LongoAnalyst IIIOctober 15, 2011

The Best Referees in Boxing

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    The primary job of a referee in boxing is to have control over the fighters and justly enforce the rules to ensure a fair contest.

    In the past couple of months, We have seen some pretty awful jobs by referees.

    Joe Cortez totally lost control of the Floyd Mayweather vs. Victor Ortiz fight about a month ago in one of the more controversial knockouts we've seen in recent years.

    Russell Mora's performance in the Agbeko-Mares bantamweight title fight was an even worse display of officiating. Mora allowed Joseph Agbeko to repeatedly land low blows and refused to dock points from Abner Mares, directly influencing the score of the fight and giving Mares a victory he probably didn't deserve.

    So, here are the three boxing referees that I believe are the best in the sport. 

3. Steve Smoger

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    When Steve Smoger is assigned to be the ref in a boxing match, it almost always seems like the fight will turn out to be a classic.

    Smoger's method of officiating may be criticized by some, but he always gives fighters the benefit of the doubt and gives them every possible chance to come back. 

    For instance, take the recent throwback-style battle between Pawel Wolak and Delvin Rodriguez. Wolak's eye was grotesquely swollen, despite the fact that he was giving as good as he was getting that night.

    A less-experienced or different referee probably would've stopped the fight and awarded the TKO victory to Rodriguez, but Smoger saw that it was a back and forth brawl, and in this specific set of circumstances, he adapted his refereeing and allowed Wolak to continue.

    The fight turned out to be one of the best of 2011 and ended in a draw, and the two fighters will score solid paydays in a couple of months when they fight on HBO on the undercard of Cotto-Margarito.

    Had a lesser official been in the ring for their first fight, this would've likely never happened. 

    In probably the best example I can think of, lets examine the 2007 middleweight title fight between Kelly Pavlik and Jermain Taylor.

    In the second round, Taylor floored Pavlik with a series of hard shots. Pavlik was all over the place and the fight could've easily been halted, but Smoger allowed Pavlik to stay in the fight because he realized Taylor would punch himself out once Pavlik survived his initial onslaught.

    Pavlik went on to score a memorable seventh round knockout in one of the best fight's I've seen live in quite a while. 

    Steve Smoger is consistently one of the best refs out there and has been for a while now. Unfortunately, he is a court judge in New Jersey so he rarely strays outside of the state to referee fights. Therefore, we won't get to see him officiate in any of the big fights in Las Vegas any time soon. 

2. Tony Weeks

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    Tony Weeks is consistently one of the top officials in the sport. I really like his style because he lets the fighters fight.

    He is never too quick to break fighters on the inside (see Joe Cortez) and lets guys throw if they have a hand free.

    Overall, I've never heard any controversy surrounding Tony Weeks, as he is always putting in solid performances and continues to be given top assignments. 

    Perhaps Weeks' greatest performance as a referee came in 2005 in the Lightweight Title contest between Jose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales. In one of the best fights of all time, Corrales got off the floor twice in the 10th round to score the improbable knockout against Castillo.

    During the fight, Weeks allowed them to bang on the inside, allowing them both to employ their fighting styles without hinderance. 

    In the 10th round of that fight, some officials would've stopped the fight after Corrales was knocked down the first time. Almost all officials would've ended the bout after Corrales hit the deck again, but under the circumstances of that particular fight, Weeks was justified in allowing the fight to continue.

    And the stoppage was perfectly called by Weeks, as Castillo was truly out on his feet and was barely conscious on the ropes, just at the point where he would begin to take unnecessary punishment.

    Tony Weeks continues to get a lot of the top assignments on the west coast, and it is easy to see why. Few refs display the sort of professionalism and expertise that Weeks routinely puts forth on a fight-to-fight basis.  

1. Kenny Bayless

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    I think that there is absolutely no doubt as to who the best referee in the sport of boxing is. His name is Kenny Bayless.

    Anytime a major fight is announced, I hope that Bayless will be given the assignment. He seems to always stop a fight at the perfect time, he breaks the fighters appropriately, and he never has any controversy surrounding him. He's the consummate professional. 

    What I think really speaks to how good of a job Bayless does is how little he is mentioned during the broadcast of a fight. He seems to be almost invisible in the ring, as he gives the fighters plenty of space and isn't an overbearing presence who is way too close to the action like a lot of refs that I see.

    During a fight, you hardly notice he's there until he has to break the fighters or give some sort of warning or instructions, which I think is really the mark of a quality referee. 

    Just to show how good of an official the Nevada Athletic Commission thinks Bayless is, take a look at his resumé over the past few years.

    He's officiated De La Hoya-Mayweather, Cotto-Margarito, Pacquiao-Marquez, Pacquiao-Hatton, Pacquiao-Cotto and Mayweather-Mosley, to name a few. These are some of the biggest fights we've seen in recent years.

    If Bayless can keep his level of performance at as high a level as he has maintained recently, we should hopefully see him in many of the big fights of the next 15-20 years.   

Conclusions

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    In the introduction slide I discussed Cortez losing control of the fight in September and Russell Mora's complete inability to call a low blow this past summer.

    Neither of those circumstances would've occured if Bayless, or any of the other officials I mentioned, were in the ring on those nights.

    It may seem trivial, but I really think that having a top referee in the ring can make all the difference between a fight being great and a fight ending in terrible controversy. It isn't something we think about all that much, but it is a very important part of the sport.

    Hopefully more referees can sprout up who share the traits of the three that I've featured here.