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Spence-Ugas referee Laurence Cole: I’ve had the opportunity to make all the mistakes

The Texas referee spoke with a Dallas sports radio station about his work on Spence-Ugas last weekend

Laurence Cole raises Errol Spence Jr’s arm in victory
Laurence Cole raises Errol Spence Jr’s arm in victory
Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions
John Hansen joined Bad Left Hook as a staff writer in 2021 and co-hosts the "Prophets of Goom" podcast.

Calling Texas referee Laurence Cole a controversial figure in the sport of boxing should not be a controversial statement.

While Cole has his supporters, with Vasiliy Lomachenko’s urologist and Antonio Margarito’s ophthalmologist presumably chief among them, he also has more than a few critics. Back in 2018, the Boxing Writers Association of America named him to a Watch List “with the intention of calling attention to what [the BWAA] believe are egregious errors in scoring by judges and conduct by referees that falls short of acceptable standards for refereeing.”

By that measure, his performance during last Saturday’s fight between Errol Spence Jr and Yordenis Ugas was a relatively smooth night at work. After all, what’s a questionable handling of a lost mouthpiece or a strangely timed stoppage for a doctor’s evaluation when you’ve previously been suspended and fined for trying to cover your microphone to tell a fighter he could quit and still win.

Earlier today, Cole called in from a vacation on the coast of Amalfi and spoke to KTCK 96.7 FM/1310 AM The Ticket, a Dallas sports talk radio station for which Cole referees an annual “Fight Night” featuring amateurs fighting three one-minute rounds, about his work on Spence-Ugas.

On Errol Spence:

“I wish that non-boxing fans would know how absolutely talented Errol Spence is. [...] He is so talented. He’s the Sugar Ray Leonard of our generation. And people need to know that.”

On the sixth round and Spence’s lost mouthpiece:

“We wait until there’s a lull in the action. Because if we stop the action because a mouthpiece comes out— Safety is priority one. In turn, though, we have to give the opportunity for the whole transaction to play out. If we don’t, then a fighter could spit his mouthpiece out, have a point deducted or just wait for the referee put the mouthpiece back in, and that way he can recover from being hurt.

“In my scenario, the mouthpiece came out— Obviously, it’s never happened to Errol before. He looked at me, I took a step back, he ended up getting hit a couple of times, came into the ropes. And then I let it play out. I wanted Ugas to have all the opportunities he had to continue the action and to try and finish or to dominate Errol at the time.

“And I waited, y’know, I’m estimating myself, 30, 45 seconds before I stopped it. And in that transaction after you stop it, it still will take five to ten seconds for the mouthpiece to be replaced. And it does give a fighter an opportunity to recover.”

On whether he’s heard any criticism about his handling of the mouthpiece situation in the sixth round:

“So, a lot of people have an opinion on a rule, but we work hard on trying to make a balance and a fair playground. And we work hard to try to become better every fight we work. I mean, there’s things on that fight I need to improve. I look back on, and there’s things I could have handled better. But to me, my education, my background, my experience led me to the decision I made at that point in time. Errol might not be happy with it. But, in turn, if the roles were reversed? He would have been mad if I would have stopped it and put the mouthpiece back in Ugas’s mouth.

“Look, if you’re being criticized, then maybe you’re doing something right. I don’t know.”

On how he handles and whether he reads criticism:

“You come across it. I’ve come across it. But, you consider the source. [A boxer not involved in the fight] complaining about how I managed the fight. But he can’t define the rules.

“[...] I just go back to my education, and I can handle the heat. I’ve been lucky, I’ve been around it long enough. And again, consider the source. If someone’s a passionate fan? Look, I’m happy for them, they have that right to be passionate. But, again, do I want to go— [Pause]

“Look, I put it in this perspective. I need a cavity filled. Do I want to go see a dentist that does eight of them a year? Or do I want to go see a dentist that does 350 of them a year? I mean, I eat at a lot of restaurants, but that doesn’t make me a chef.”

On his background boxing in the 80s, and transition to refereeing:

“I was way too middle class. [...] I was not tough. I did not like getting hit. So, my father, the ring official, opened the door for me, and there I went. I was very young when I started.

[Phone line cuts out briefly]

“[...] So, after all this time, I’ve had the opportunity to make all the mistakes, and I should learn by those mistakes. So, I should be at least qualified by now. Doesn’t make me good, but it makes me at least qualified.”

What do you think? Any fond memories of Laurence Cole’s referee career you care to share? Can you think of any hypothetical cavities Cole might not need to have filled? Any in particular that might already have his own head securely packed inside?

Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments below.

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