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Steve Willis lights up critics of referees and explains why he’s against a standing eight count

Steve Willis offers his thoughts on those who unfairly criticize referees when tragedies happen.

Wil Esco is an assistant editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2014.

It’s not often that we get to hear from referees about their thoughts on how fights should be handled in terms of stoppages, counts, and evaluating fighters, but here veteran referee Steve WIllis shares his thoughts on why a standing eight count shouldn’t be brought back to boxing and why most of you (not me) should suck a wee-wee instead of criticizing their work. Check it out...

“The standing eight count was phased down in the late 80s because the powers that be saw that an unfair advantage was being given to the injured fighters when giving the standing eight count. And I saw a lot of people debate, talking today about should the standing eight count be used in today’s boxing. And I tell you no, and the reasons why is when you call ‘time’ there’s only one of two things that’s gonna happen: the fight is either over or we’re gonna continue.

“Now when you call ‘time’ in the middle [of the action] to give a standing [eight count], in the middle of an exchange, where this fighter could possibly put a conclusion to the contest, you’re taking away his opportunity to finish the fight. This is professional boxing. I don’t wanna hear, don’t send me comments about ‘well in the amateurs they give a fair evaluation.’ Suck a dick. Suck a dick.

“When you call ‘time,’ you’re taking this guy’s opportunity. If Richard Steele had called time to give Tommy Hearns a standing eight count in the middle of Round 1 of Hagler-Hearns, he would’ve been lynched in the middle of Las Vegas. You take away from the — everyone screams ‘oh, the referee shouldn’t be seen.’ Well, you’re involving yourself now in the fight. That’s the second thing, you’re now involving yourself in the fight where you shouldn’t be.

“Now if you say we need to evaluate the fighter, the time to evaluate the fighter is either at the end of the round, during the knockdown, or between rounds. Now the new standard now, on the championship level, is when the fighter after a knockdown takes an eight count, mandatory eight count, some of us have ‘em move to one side, just to check his gauge. That’s your evaluation! That’s the time you look at the fighter.

“But then what happens is, you casuals, you know-it-alls, you podcast guys, you sit there and have these week-long arguments: ‘Oh, they gave Fury a chance. Oh, they gave Wilder a chance. Oh, AJ wasn’t given a ring walk.’ First of all, English fans, ring walk?! Stop that. You gotta stop that.

“That is the time you evaluate the fighter, if he goes down. If he gets up, ‘step over here, move over here.’ And you’re still going to get complaints. You still have to make sure that you’re not taking this guy’s opportunity away to finish the fight. Okay?

“A question was asked to me about injured fighters. Like the situation that happened a couple weeks ago when the fighter died in Maryland. Somebody asked me would a standing eight could would’ve helped the fighter. The answer is no. Going into a fight, going into a contest, one of the things that the general public is never made privy to [is] no one, including the referee and the commissions, and the sanctioning bodies — you have fighters who spar as close as 10 days, 15 days, 20 days before a major fight. We as referees do not know what injuries occur during training, what is sustained, what he brought into the fight. Okay?

“And in that particular case I almost guarantee when the smoke clears you’ll find out that that young man was injured before the fight. And the science and data has proven when you have these tragedies, it’s usually a case of something that happened prior to the fight. The fight itself is like the crescendo of all the elements coming together. And if you notice what happened with this young man, he got out of the ring and then the vomiting started and collapsing, he was fading in the ring. So that tells the doctors and the people who know, he was injured when he got into the ring. He walked into that ring with some sort of preexisting injury.

“So when I hear people talking about ‘oh the referee...” shut the fuck up, please! A lot of you — and I don’t care if you get insulted — a lot of you, a lot of people need to shut the fuck up when it comes to knowing what a referee needs to do, or should be done. If you’ve never applied this, if you’ve never been in the ring, what the hell you know?

“But, as another example — I don’t know this for a fact but the rumor has it that Anthony Joshua was injured when he went into the ring with Andy Ruiz. Right? 12 days, 15 days before, you’re sparring and you got knocked out. Now you come into Madison Square Garden, world championship fight — it’s been proven concussions can carry over for months...So now you have a damaged fight going into the ring. We as referees, we don’t know that!

“But the one thing I can tell you, we do train, we all get together, the top referees in the world get together at least three times a year, four times a year if some of us can do it, and you attend medical seminars. You attend referee seminars. You never see these guys from the podcast, you never see these guys, all these so-called boxing experts. You never see these people come. They never come and sit and hear what we have to hear.

“Most of these top referees have taken advance medical study on brain injuries. Most of us know when we have an injured fighter in front of us during the fight. Now one of the standards a lot of us — I’ve talked to Harvey Dock about this, I’ve talked to Robert Byrd about this, I’ve talked to Tony Weeks about this — the new standard going into the new millennium or whatever you wanna call it, will be if a fighter’s outclassed, clearly outclassed, the days of allowing a fighter to take a 12-round sustained ass-whooping are over. And those of you who sit there and talk about and the first person you wanna bring up is ‘well Mickey Ward...’ — that fight should’ve been stopped! 90 %, almost 100% of the referees who would’ve ended up doing that Gatti-Ward fight, we all would’ve stopped that fight.

“Frank Cappucino, great referee, he’s the only one who could’ve probably pulled that off. Most of us would’ve jacked that up ‘cause you’re really rolling the dice with people’s lives at that moment. So like in conclusion here, understand ladies and gentlemen, we as the referee, you get into the 6th, 7th round, you do not know what preexisting issues this fighter has. You just don’t know. You have to use your better intellect and your knowledge...I remember when I stopped David Lemieux vs. GGG, there was one individual in particular — all you guys go to his channel and you listen to his channel — he actually said ‘let him fight until somebody get killed.’ [He] actually said that. And now right here the guy, a week ago, running his mouth saying ‘oh, the referees, there needs to be...’ lets be consistent, people, and stop trying to be experts when you’ve never done it and don’t know how.”

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