Not too long ago, we had a poll regarding the worst referees in the business. While no single referee received a majority of the votes, Texas's Laurence Cole was the most popular choice. Now we'll take a look at some of the best referees out there. This is mostly looking at the current crop of referees (or guys who retired recently), so feel free to also discuss who you think the all-time great referees have been in the comments.
Almost by default, this is a much tougher list to put together than the worst referees. One of a referee's main functions is to go unnoticed, and thus it's a lot tougher to remember when a referee does a great job than when they do a horrible one. Still, there are a number of guys who, through an extensive body of work, have proved to be a cut above the rest.
Kenny Bayless - For someone who's refereed many of the biggest fights of the past decade, there might not be a referee better at staying invisible than Bayless. He's a fair referee to both fighters, he makes his rules known and doesn't waiver from them, and he doesn't interject himself in a way to detract from the action. Some of his recent bouts include Mayweather-Mosley, Pacquiao-Hatton, Mayweather-De La Hoya, Pacquiao-Cotto and Margarito-Cotto.
Joe Cortez - I mentioned before that Cortez is a polarizing figure, and he's the only guy to actually show up on the poll for both best referee and worst referee. While he is indeed "fair but firm", he has a showier style than many referees on the list and he's started making more mistakes with age. Some prominent recent fights include Diaz-Ngoudjo, Huck-Afolabi, John-Juarez II, Williams-Winky and Klitschko-Thompson.
Pat Russell - California's top referee, Russell generally has good angles on the action and has a hands-off style where he tends not to interfere unless it's necessary. Recent prominent fights include Zappavigna-Angulo, Bradley-Peterson, Vazquez-Marquez III, Johnson-Tarver I and Moorer-Jirov.
Steve Smoger - While Smoger is a good technical referee, he's probably become best known for his impeccable sense of timing, as he almost never seems to stop a fight too early or too late. He also tends to insert himself in the action less than almost any other referee out there. Interestingly enough, while it seems like Smoger is all over the place up and down the east coast with fights big and small, refereeing is just a fun side job - as his main gig, he's an Atlantic City municipal judge, and he's also a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. Some recent prominent fights include Khan-Malignaggi, Powell-Latimore, Campillo-Garay and Pavlik-Taylor I.
Daniel van de Wiele - Probably the top European referee today, van de Wiele has had to make his fair share of what might otherwise be controversial calls, yet it seems that the Belgian is usually on top of things and seems to get it right. Some of his prominent fights include Lewis-Rahman I, Banks-Walker, Haye-Fragomeni and Hoffmann-Vidoz.
Tony Weeks - Weeks is one of the prominent Nevada referees, and as such, he's become well-liked due to a relative absence of mistakes compared to most of the other Nevada referees. In addition, it seems like he knows enough of quite a few languages to get by, and makes an effort to instruct the fighters in his ring in their native language. Some recent prominent fights include Hopkins-Jones II (which no referee was going to save), Mayweather-Marquez, Pacquiao-De La Hoya, Luevano-Santiago and Pavlik-Taylor II.
Honorable mentions: Telis Assimenios, Jack Reiss, Benjy Esteves Jr., Mickey Vann, Dr. Lou Moret, Wayne Kelly, Vic Draculich and Robert Byrd.
And a special shout out goes to Mills Lane. He's long been retired, and at this point he's seriously incapacitated, having suffered a number of strokes. However, I just can't in good conscious do a post about good referees without mentioning who I think was the best referee of my lifetime. There are a number of 'celebrity' referees out there who have made their names through catchy phrases and refereeing big fights. While the phrase "Let's get it on" is certainly etched in a lot of people's minds, his refereeing actually backed up his reputation. He was almost always in a great position to see the action and keep the action moving forward without being too obtrusive, and as a real life judge, making the right call was just second nature to him. Hats off, Mr. Lane. A few other old schoolers worth mentioning (which is by no means a comprehensive list) include Arthur Mercante Sr., Ruby Goldstein, Arthur Donovan, Lou Filippo, Mitch Halpern, Carlos Padilla and Brian Garry.