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California’s Top Referee Jack Reiss Stood Tall in 2018

Arne K. Lang

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Jack Reiss

More than five weeks have elapsed since Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury engaged in a memorable heavyweight title fight at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and fight fans are still buzzing about it. And henceforth, whenever the bout is re-visited, the name of referee Jack Reiss will figure prominently in the storyline.

The crowning moment of the fight came 40 seconds into the final round when Wilder smashed Fury to the canvas with a right-left combination. Fury was on his way down when Wilder delivered the apparent coup-de-gras and when he hit the canvas it appeared that he was out cold. For five seconds he lay prone. He didn’t even twitch.

Many referees would have waived the fight off immediately. Not Reiss. Hovering over Fury on both knees so that he could peer directly into the eyes of the stricken fighter, Reiss began the “10 count.” By some miracle, Fury beat the count, ostensibly by one-tenth of a second. Reiss then checked and double-checked and triple-checked to see if Fury was fit to continue, instructing him to walk toward him and then away from him and then turn back toward him.

Not everyone agreed with Reiss’s decision, but the view from here is that Fury vindicated him. Before the round was over, the Gypsy King was back to his old showboating self. He even tagged Wilder with a few crisp punches in the final minute. The judges ruled the fight a draw but Fury was the winner in the court of public opinion.

Fury vindicated Reiss and Reiss vindicated Andy Foster, the head honcho of the California State Athletic Commission. More about that in a minute.

Jack Reiss was born in 1956 in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn. His father, a Romanian immigrant, died when Jack was eight years old, leaving his mother, who never remarried, to raise Jack and his two older siblings alone. In his teen years, Jack participated in all sports that didn’t require expensive equipment and developed an interest in martial arts.

In 1979, while rehabbing a broken foot caused in a kickboxing match, Reiss visited L.A. and never left. He joined the fire department, retiring after 31 years with the rank of captain. He and his wife Josephine have been married for 34 years and have two sons. In his civilian life, he is a real estate agent with an office in Oxnard. His twitter page has a feminine side; it’s hardly what one would expect from a man who has been around so much blood. It is chock full of household organizing and home maintenance tips.

Reiss, who is also a judge (as are all of California’s referees) estimates that he has worked more than 2000 fights since his first assignment in 1998. BoxRec credits him with far fewer, but shows him refereeing fights in 11 foreign countries including multiple visits to Germany, Singapore, Australia, Thailand, Panama, the Philippines, and Japan.

That Reiss has received so many plum assignments has left several of his colleagues disgruntled.

In April of this year, Wayne Hedgpeth and the two Raul Caiz’s, father and son, jointly filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the California State Athletic Commission seeking damages of $100 million. Their ire was directed at the aforementioned Foster, a former amateur boxer and former amateur and professional MMA fighter who was picked to head the CSAC in 2012, assuming his post on Nov. 7 of that year after having previously served in the same capacity in Georgia.

In a letter filed by their attorney on April 27, 2018, the plaintiffs said “Of the 47 licensed officials in California, 33 are minorities (70.21 percent). Yet, the majority of championship fights for the period indicated above have been assigned to Caucasian officials…The system is not based on merit but on the sole discretion of an Executive Officer, Andy Foster.”

The plaintiffs noted that championship fights pay more and often lead to opportunities in other jurisdictions. So this alleged discriminatory practice impacted not only their earnings but their “earning capacity.” It was further alleged that there had been instances where a world sanctioning body picked a minority official only to be overruled by Foster who had the final say. Jack Reiss was identified as the primary beneficiary when these unspecified incidents occurred.

We’re not qualified to comment on the merits of the lawsuit. We have heard nothing more about it since muckraking journalist Zach Arnold harnessed California’s Public Records Act to obtain a copy of the attorney’s letter which he published on-line in July. It’s reasonable to assume, however, that Andy Foster felt some pressure to pick someone other than Jack Reiss to referee the Wilder-Fury match but ultimately went with his gut. Reiss had earned his trust.

This past summer, the Boxing Writers Association of America took the unprecedented step of reprimanding a referee. The object of their scorn was controversial Texas arbiter Laurence Cole who was assigned to work the Prograis-Velasco fight at New Orleans on July 14 and compelled the thoroughly beaten Velasco to take unnecessary punishment. Jack Reiss’s work in 2018 stood at the opposite end of the spectrum, a credit to his craft. If this web site were in the habit of naming a Referee of the Year, Reiss would have undoubtedly won in a landslide.

By the way, if there are any aspiring referees out there, Reiss has a bit of advice. “Above all,” he says, “it’s important to know what it feels like to take a punch.” Have fun with that.

Photos credit: Esther Lin / SHOWTIME

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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