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In Praise of Referees

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In-Praise-of-Referees

Being a third man in the ring is a difficult and oftentimes thankless job, but like airline pilots and doctors, referees must strive to avoid off days. Too much depends on their being consistently fit and ready and at the top of their game. Nonetheless, they are the object of criticism more often than not.

In this connection, one thing that is becoming pretty obvious points to the same referees being used over and over again from what would appear to be limited and localized pools. This can be both good and bad—good because we are getting skilled and experienced people; bad because new ones are not being groomed. This is especially true in Las Vegas, New York City, and California. Plum assignments go to too few and this has resulted in visible disgruntlement among other referees, particularly on the West Coast.

During the past few years Michael Griffin, an excellent Canadian referee has received many assignments (including world title matches) in the state of New York. In fact, he handled the Joshua-Ruiz fight at Madison Square Garden in June 2019. This raises the question: were there no local referees capable of handling these well-paying jobs?

“It is sad that we have so many state commissions that are the appointees of governors and don’t hold the necessary credentials to be put in charge of a very difficult sport to manage” — the late Elmo Adolph

As for the caliber of refereeing, the controversies of the past have abated during the last couple of years. 2019 was especially free of poor or obtrusive officiating by third men who insisted on becoming too much a part of the show.

Of course, there’s no such thing as a perfect referee. The late and esteemed Elmo Adolph and the beloved Wayne Kelly came pretty close. Ring 10 in New York (which helps boxers in need) now has an annual award named in honor of Wayne. This year’s winner was New York’s Steve Willis. Experienced and consistent New York area referee Ron Lipton previously won Ring 10’s Jose Torres Renaissance Man award.

“Wayne was a take-charge, no-nonsense referee. He let the fighters fight, and he was always in the gym working sparring sessions to stay sharp.”- Randy Gordon, former head of the New York State Athletic Commission.

It is nice and rewarding that I was responsible for the development of many officials along the way and that many refer to me as their mentor. – Elmo Adolph

In 2011, longtime Italian boxing judge and globetrotting referee Massimo Barrovecchio (pictured) worked the Klitschko-Adamek fight in Poland and did an extraordinary job. For the first time, global fans saw him on TV move about the ring with light-footed grace and remain virtually invisible until he appeared at just the right time to end the beat down the Pole was receiving.

Panama’s Hector Afu, who worked the Saul Álvarez vs. Kermit Cintron fight in Mexico, is another who does extremely fine work marked by his “take-charge” propensity. He recently won the “WBC Referee of the Year Award” for the second time, having previously won it ten years ago. He last worked the Usyk-Witherspoon bout in Chicago.

In the big “Clash on the Dunes” in Saudi Arabia on Dec. 7, 2019, fans were treated to another great referee in Puerto Rico’s Luis Pabon who refereed the main event between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz. (The sometimes unfairly criticized Pabon was invisible and was just about perfect in the 2014 fight in Macau between Vasyl Lomachenko and Thai Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo.)

On February 21, 2015, a prime Gennady Golovkin was mauling and mugging former British middleweight champion Martin Murray. Finally, at 2:10 of round 11, Pabon did what Murray’s corner should have done when he jumped in and stopped the Brit from taking further punishment. The solid stoppage came after a game Murray caught a GGG crunching right cross to the face and then dangerously dropped his hands. He was done. Murray, like many brave fighters, is one who just won’t give up. That’s why fighters depend on referees and corners to step in when necessary. Murray’s corner failed miserably in this regard. Pabon did not. Boxing needs more referees like Luis Pabon.

JackReiss

Jack Reiss

Jack Reiss’s decision to let Tyson Fury continue after he seemingly had been knocked cold by Deontay Wilder in 2018 was as good as good can possibly get. Reiss asked Tyson if he was “OK,” made him raise his hands and walk towards him, and then let him fight. Fury then came back with a fury, showing that he was more than ready to continue.

The Brooklyn-born Reiss lives and works as a realtor in Oxnard, California, and refs almost exclusively in California, but that might be changing due to his growing reputation for being one of the very best referees in the U.S. In fact, he recently worked the “Tank” Davis vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa fight in Atlanta and his stoppage was textbook perfect.

Back to the Dunes

In another fight on the Saudi Arabia card — actually the one that stole the show — big Dillian Whyte met an even bigger Mariusz Wach in a grueling 10-round match.

The referee in this one was invisible and, with all due respect to Bo Derek, delivered a “Perfect Ten.” His technique and ring demeanor allowed him to control without being obtrusive while concurrently allowing him to make timely calls that protected the safety of the boxers. He was none other than the aforementioned Massimo Barrovecchio displaying his consistently fine work whether it be in Rome, Ukraine, Germany, Moscow, Dubai, the UK, Norway, Denmark, Monaco, Ireland, or even in front of Saudi Princes.

Perhaps referees like Barrovecchio, Pabon and Afu can be part of an international seminar. Maybe a webinar could be held out of New York City for new and/or aspiring amateur referees and Jack Reiss (and possibly Mark Nelson out of Minnesota) could be the two moderators. At any rate, state boxing commissions should consider analyzing their present referee pools to determine what, if anything, could be improved,

Corporations use a “Best in Class” approach. Boxing should do the same.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Ebanie Bridges Poised to Defend Her Title and Boost Her Brand in SanFran This Weekend

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Ebanie Bridges opposes late sub Miyo Yoshida on the undercard of Saturday’s Matchroom card in San Francisco featuring the WBC lightweight title fight between Regis Prograis and Devin Haney. It’s doubtful that Bridges vs. Yoshida will steal the show (Prograis vs Haney is a compelling match-up), but it’s a stone-cold lock that Bridges vs. Yoshida will steal the weigh-in. It goes at 1 pm Friday at the Chase Center and is open to the public.

This is all Bridges’ doing. She can fight more than a little, as Damon Runyon would have phrased it, but is best known for turning up at weigh-ins in lingerie so sexy that Matchroom honcho Eddie Hearn averts his eyes to keep from blushing. Others can’t keep their eyes off the 37-year-old, well-endowed Australian and on Friday the paparazzi will crash the scene to capture images that will be all over the internet within hours.

This doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. Former opponent Shannon Courtenay, who saddled Bridges (9-1, 4 KOs) with her only defeat, chastised her for selling their fight for the wrong reasons and disrespecting the sport. Her most recent opponent, Shannon O’Connell, called her a skank and other terms of derision unfit for a family newspaper.

Bridges stopped her in the eighth round in what is her most gratifying win to date. “She made it personal,” says Ebanie. “It felt good to make her eat her words.”

Bridges, who set a withering pace, was making the first defense of the IBF bantamweight title she won with a comprehensive 10-round decision over Argentina’s long-reigning Maria Cecilia Roman. Shannon O’Connell, a fellow Aussie, entered that bout on an 8-fight winning streak that included hard-earned decisions over Australian standouts Taylah Robertson and Cherneka Johnson.

So, although Bridges vs O’Connell was contested in Leeds, England, it was something of the culmination of an Australian round-robin tournament, and it would be Ebanie Bridges that emerged as the Queen Bee.

Bridges has a platform on Only Fans. Known for its “adult” content, the web site is also a place where B-list celebrities go to monetize their fan base by promising a closer look into their personal lives. For attractive female celebs, that usually means displaying more skin that can be found in generic publicity photos, but well short of hard-core. Current Only Fans performers include recording artist Cardi B, actress Denise Richards, the former spouse of Charlie Sheen, actress Drea de Matteo, best known for portraying Adriana on “The Sopranos,” former “Baywatch” sex symbol Carmen Electra, boxer Mikaela Mayer, and former Miss USA Shanna Moakler who shares a daughter with Oscar de la Hoya.

Women that profit from cheesecake, to use an old word for racy photos, aren’t known for having the brightest bulbs between their ears but Bridges, despite embracing her nickname, the Blonde Bomber, doesn’t fit the stereotype. She’s no bimbo.

Ms. Bridges has two college degrees, an undergraduate degree in math and a master’s in secondary education. In her spare time, she finds solace in playing the piano and in drawing, a skill that she inherited from her father, a painter and commercial artist.

In her drawings, she is partial to British soccer coaches and athletes, in particular boxers. Some of her photos are embedded in her smart phone. These, I can attest, are very good. There was no mistaking her drawing of Sugar Ray Robinson. It ranked right up there with Stanley Weston whose illustrations adorned the covers of 57 issues of The Ring magazine.

Bridges is her own best publicist. It’s an attribute she shares with UFC superstar Conor McGregor.

It comes as no surprise to learn that they are well-acquainted. Bridges and McGregor sat together at the first fight between Katie Taylor and Chantelle Cameron. She is a spokesperson for the latest product that McGregor is pushing, Forged Irish Stout, a brand of beer that debuted at the Black Forge Inn, the Dublin pub that McGregor owns.

“I love Conor,” she says, “he’s lovely,” a rather odd adjective to apply to a man who once attacked a bus with a metal barricade at a UFC media event in Brooklyn, injuring three people.

“He’s great for my brand,” says Bridges of McGregor, “and I’m great for his brand.”

Like it or not, this is the new world order. This reporter is old enough to remember when colleges and universities had football teams. Now they have football franchises, which isn’t quite the same. A franchise requires a well-oiled marketing department to enhance the value of the brand.

Bridges got her first crack at a world title (the WBA version held by Shannon Courtenay) after only five pro fights against opponents who were collectively 12-25-5. Her opponent on Saturday, Miyo Yoshida, sports a 16-4 record and is coming off a loss.

This is fodder for critics of female boxing but, make no mistake, Bridges would be a tough out for any female bantamweight in the world and she has paid her dues. She had 30 amateur fights after previously training in karate, kickboxing, and Muay Thai. (In fairness to Matchroom’s matchmaker, he salvaged Saturday’s date for her, securing Yoshida after three previous opponents fell out.)

Looking ahead to 2024, Bridges envisions fighting England’s Nina Hughes, the WBA belt-holder, and then Denmark’s Dina Thorslund who owns the other two meaningful pieces of the bantamweight title. A match with Thorslund (currently 20-0, 8 KOs) with all four belts on the line would be a blockbuster and, by then, should it transpire, the Blonde Bombshell would undoubtedly be one of the most well-known boxers in the world.

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A Paean to the Great Sportswriter Jimmy Cannon Who Passed Away 50 Years Ago This Week

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“Of all his assignments,” said the renowned sportswriter Dave Anderson, “[Jimmy] Cannon appeared to enjoy boxing the most.”

Cannon would have sheepishly concurred. He dated his infatuation with boxing to 1919 when he stood outside a saloon listening to a man with a megaphone relay bulletins from the Dempsey-Willard fight in faraway Toledo. His father followed boxing as did all the Irishmen in his neighborhood. For him, an interest in the sport of boxing, he once wrote, was like a family heirloom. But it became a love-hate relationship. It was Jimmy Cannon, after all, who coined the phrase “boxing is the red light district of sports.”

This week marks the 50th anniversary of Jimmy Cannon’s death. He passed away at age 63 on Dec. 5, 1973, in his room at the residential hotel in mid-Manhattan where he made his home. In the realm of American sportswriters, there has never been a voice quite like him. He was “the hardest-boiled of the hard-drinking, hard-boiled school of sports writing,” wrote Darrell Simmons of the Atlanta Journal. One finds a glint of this in his summary of Sonny Liston’s first-round demolition of Albert Westphal in 1961: “Sonny Liston hit Albert Westphal like he was a cop.”

In his best columns, Jimmy Cannon was less a sportswriter than an urban poet. Here’s what he wrote about Archie Moore in 1955 after Moore trounced Bobo Olson to set up a match with Rocky Marciano: “Someone should write a song about Archie Moore who in the Polo Grounds knocked out Bobo Olson in three rounds…It should be a song that comes out of the backrooms of sloughed saloons on night-drowned streets in morning-worried parts of bad towns. The guy who writes this one must be a piano player who can be dignified when he picks a quarter out of the marsh of a sawdust floor.”

Prior to fighting in Madison Square Garden the previous year – his first appearance in that iconic boxing arena – Moore had roamed the globe in search of fights in a career that began in the Great Depression. Cannon was partial to boxers like Archie Moore, great ring artisans who toiled in obscurity, fighting for small purses –“moving-around money” in Cannon’s words —  until the establishment could no longer ignore them.

Jimmy Cannon was born in Lower Manhattan. He left high school after one year to become a copy boy for the New York Daily News. In 1936, at age 26, the News sent him to cover the biggest news story of the day, the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping trial. While there he met Damon Runyon who would become a lifelong friend. At Runyon’s suggestion, he applied for a job as a sportswriter at the New York American, a Hearst paper, and was hired.

During World War II, he was a war correspondent in Europe embedded in Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army. When he returned from the war, he joined the New York Post and then, in 1959, the Journal-American which made him America’s highest-paid sportswriter at a purported salary of $1000 a week. His articles were syndicated and appeared in dozens of papers.

Cannon was very close to Joe Louis. He was the only reporter that Louis allowed in his hotel room on the morning of the Brown Bomber’s rematch with Max Schmeling. Louis, he wrote, “was a credit to his race, the human race.” It was his most-frequently-quoted line.

In an early story, Cannon named Sam Langford the best pound-for-pound fighter of all time. Later he joined with his colleagues on Press Row in naming Sugar Ray Robinson the greatest of the greats. As for the fellow who anointed himself “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali, Cannon profoundly disliked him. He persisted in calling him Cassius Clay long after Ali had adopted his Muslim name.

It troubled Cannon that Ali was afforded an opportunity to fight for the title after only 19 pro fights. Ali’s poetry, he thought, was infantile. He abhorred Ali’s political views. And, truth be told, he didn’t like Ali because certain segments of society adored him. Cannon didn’t like non-conformists – hippies and anti-war protesters and such. When queried about his boyhood in Greenwich Village, he was quick to note that he lived there “when it was a decent neighborhood, before it became freaky.”

Cannon’s animus toward Ali spilled over into his opinion of Ali’s foil, the bombastic sportscaster Howard Cosell. “If Howard Cosell were a sport,” he wrote,” it would be roller derby.”

Cannon frequently filled his column with a series of one-liners published under the heading “Nobody Asked Me, But…” His wonderfully acerbic put-down of Cosell appeared in one of these columns. But one can’t read these columns today without cringing at some of his ruminations. He once wrote, “Any man is in trouble if he falls in love with a woman he can’t knock down with one punch.” If a newspaperman wrote those words today, he would be out of a job so fast it would make his head spin.

Similarly, his famous line about Joe Louis being a credit to the human race no longer resonates in the way that it once did. There is in its benevolence an air of racial prejudice.

Jimmy Cannon was a lifelong bachelor but in his younger days before he quit drinking cold turkey in 1948, he was quite the ladies man, often seen promenading showgirls around town. Like his pal Damon Runyon, he was a night owl. As the years passed, however, he became somewhat reclusive. The world passed him by when rock n’ roll came in, pushing aside the Tin Pan Alley crooners and torch singers that had kept him company at his favorite late-night haunts.

Cannon’s end days were tough. He suffered a stroke in 1971 as he was packing to go to the Kentucky Derby and spent most of his waking hours in his last two-plus years in a wheelchair. Fortunately, he could afford to hire a full-time attendant. In 2002, he was posthumously elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category.

Jimmy Cannon once said that he resented it when someone told him that his stuff was too good to be in a newspaper. It was demeaning to newspapers and he never wanted to be anything but a newspaperman. He didn’t always bring his “A” game and some of his stuff wouldn’t hold up well, but the man could write like blazes and the sportswriting profession lost a giant when he drew his last breath.

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Arne K. Lang is a recognized authority on the history of prizefighting and the history of American sports gambling. His latest book, titled Clash of the Little Giants: George Dixon, Terry McGovern, and the Culture of Boxing in America, 1890-1910, was released by McFarland in September, 2022.

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Ryan “KingRy” Garcia Returns With a Bang; KOs Oscar Duarte

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It was a different Ryan “KingRy” Garcia the world saw in defeating Mexico’s rugged Oscar Duarte, but it was that same deadly left hook counter that got the job done by knockout on Saturday.

Only the quick survive.

Garcia (24-1, 20 KOs) used a variety of stances before luring knockout artist Duarte (26-1-1, 21 KOs) into his favorite punch before a sold-out crowd at Toyota Arena in Houston, Texas. That punch should be patented in gold.

It was somewhat advertised as knockout artist versus matinee idol, but those who know the sport knew that Garcia was a real puncher. But could he rebound from his loss earlier this year?

The answer was yes.

Garcia used a variety of styles beginning with a jab at a prescribed distance via his new trainer Derrick James. It allowed both Garcia and Duarte to gain footing and knock the cobwebs out of their reflexes. Garcia’s jab scored most of the early points during the first three rounds. He also snapped off some left hooks and rights.

“He was a strong fighter, took a strong punch,” said Garcia. “I hit him with some hard punches and he kept coming.”

Duarte, an ultra-pale Mexican from Durango, was cautious, knowing full well how many Garcia foes had underestimated the power behind his blows.

Slowly the muscular Mexican fighter began closing in with body shots and soon both fighters were locked in an inside battle. Garcia used a tucked-in shoulder style while Duarte pounded the body, back of the head and in the back causing the referee to warn for the illegal punches twice.

Still, Duarte had finally managed to punch Garcia with multiple shots for several rounds.

Around the sixth round Garcia was advised by his new trainer to begin jabbing and moving. It forced Duarte out of his rhythm as he was unable to punch without planting his feet. Suddenly, the momentum had reversed again and Duarte looked less dangerous.

“I had to slow his momentum down. That softened him up,” said Garcia about using that change in style to change Duarte’s pressure attack. “Shout out to Derrick James.”

Boos began cascading from the crowd but Garcia was on a roll and had definitely regained the advantage. A quick five-punch combination rocked Duarte though not all landed. The danger made the Mexican pause.

In the eighth round Duarte knew he had to take back the momentum and charged even harder. In one lickety-split second a near invisible counter left hook connected on Duarte’s temple and he stumbled like a drunken soldier on liberty in Honolulu. Garcia quickly followed up with rights and uppercuts as Duarte had a look of terror as his legs failed to maintain stability. Down he went for the count.

Duarte was counted out by referee James Green at 2:51 of the eighth round as Garcia watched from the other side of the ring.

“I started opening up my legs a little bit to open up the shot,” explained Garcia. “When I hurt somebody that hard, I just keep cracking them. I hurt him with a counter left hook.”

The weapon of champions.

Garcia’s victory returns him back to the forefront as one of boxing’s biggest gate attractions. A list of potential foes is his to dissect and choose.

“I’m just ready to continue to my ascent to be a champion at 140,” Garcia said.

It was a tranquil end after such a tumultuous last three days.

Other Bouts

Floyd Schofield (16-0, 12 KOs) blitzed Mexico’s Ricardo “Not Finito” Lopez (17-8-3) with a four knockdown blowout that left fans mesmerized and pleased with the fighter from Austin, Texas.

Schofield immediately shot out quick jabs and then a lightning four-punch combination that delivered Lopez to the canvas wondering what had happened. He got up. Then Scholfield moved in with a jab and crisp left hook and down went Lopez like a dunked basketball bouncing.

At this point it seemed the fight might stop. But it proceeded and Schofield unleashed another quick combo that sent Lopez down though he did try to punch back. It was getting monotonous. Lopez got up and then was met with another rapid fire five- or six-punch combination. Lopez was down for the fourth time and the referee stopped the devastation.

“I appreciate him risking his life,” said Schofield of his victim.

In a middleweight clash Shane Mosley Jr. (21-4, 12 KOs) out-worked Joshua Conley (17-6-1, 11 KOs) for five rounds before stopping the San Bernardino fighter at 1:51 of the sixth round. It was Mosley’s second consecutive knockout and fourth straight win.

Mosley continues to improve in every fight and again moves up the middleweight rankings.

Super middleweight prospect Darius Fulghum (9-0, 9 KOs) of Houston remained undefeated and kept his knockout string intact with a second round pounding and stoppage over Pachino Hill (8-5-1) in 56 seconds of that round.

Photo credit: Golden Boy Promotions

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