Does the Referee Pool Need an Infusion of New Talent?

I was shocked. There was no warning…

--Amir Khan

I want him [Russell Mora] to be banned

--Joseph Agbeko

Arthur Mercante let me try to work it out. I'm a world champion, or, now, a former world champion. I would have never quit. I did not want the fight to be stopped…

--Yuri Foreman

The fight was 30 seconds too long for Bute…He totally collapsed, and basically, the referee cost Andrade the title.

Steve Farhood (by the late George Kimball Special to

The controversy might have started with Marlon Wright’s questionable actions in the first Bute – Andrade fight. Arthur Mercante’s showboating during the Cotto-Foreman affair kept things going downhill. Then Russell Mora did a slow stoppage in the Donaire- Montiel fight and Steve Smoger followed suit as a somewhat reluctant Denis Lebedev rendered Roy Jones unconscious in Moscow. Russell Mora proved that good referees can several bad nights when he failed to penalize Abner Mares for repeated low blows in the fight against Joseph Agbeko, and when he called a premature stoppage of Richard Gutierrez by Yudel Jhonson. Wayne Hedgpeth made what appeared to be a premature stoppage of Alfonso Gomez in his duke with Saul "Canelo" Álvarez. Even usually rock solid Tony Weeks was a bit overly intrusive in the entertaining Vargas-Lopez war.

Then, to add to the downward slide, "Fair But Firm" Joe Cortez appeared to be anything but as he seemed to become a contributing party to the confusion of what happened between Mayweather and Ortiz. Always reliable Rocky Burke had a terrible off night as Holly Holm suffered one of the most brutal beatings in recent years (though Holm’s corner might have been more culpable in this affair). And just this past Saturday, intrusive Joe Cooper seemed intent on making himself both seen and heard in the thrilling Khan-Peterson fight. And the beat goes on.

Now it’s easy to criticize referees as a group but manifestly that’s not my intent. Far from it as being a third man is a tough job and I count many of my closest friends as referees. It’s just that lately something seems fundamentally amiss. Like airline pilots, referees must strive to avoid off days. Too much depends on it. They must be consistently at the top of their game. Maybe they need to be compensated more; maybe they are not receiving enough refresher training; maybe as a group they are getting too long in the tooth; and maybe there needs to be more accountability enforced by the state commissions. One thing is painfully obvious; however, the same referees seem to be used over and over again.

Perhaps referees like Italian Massimo Barrovecchio who worked the Klitschko-Adamek fight in Poland and the invisible and light footed Panamanian Hector Afu who did Saul Álvarez vs. Kermit Cintron in Mexico can be part of a seminar for new and/or aspiring amateur referees. Perhaps, boxing can begin the process of overhauling the present referee pool and developing some new talent.

What do you think?

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