At the September 6 New York City press conference to announce the upcoming fight between welterweight champion Carlos Baldomir and Floyd Mayweather Jr., promoter Dan Goossen and casino executive Bob Halloran were still grousing about Samuel Peter’s split decision victory over James Toney in the WBC heavyweight title elimination bout that occurred four days later.
Peter, a native of Nigeria who now fights out of Las Vegas, won a split decision over Toney, a Michigan native who lives and trains in Los Angeles, where the fight was held at the Staples Center.
Judges Dick Flaherty and Alejandro Rochin scored the bout 116-111 for Peter, while Gale Van Hoy saw it 115-112 for Toney. Most of the ringside press believed that Toney won the fight, as did Showtime analyst Al Bernstein.
Many boxing insiders, almost all of whom had no stake in the outcome, had no quarrel with the decision.
Flaherty, who has officiated professional boxing matches as either a judge or referee since 1972, is very secure in his scoring of the bout and doesn’t understand what all the hoopla is about.
“The split decision didn’t surprise me at all, because I knew going in that it would be a difficult fight to judge,” said the 69-year-old Flaherty, a lifelong resident of the Boston area. “This fight was a clash of unique styles.”
Throughout his exemplary career, Flaherty has been relatively immune from controversy, even though he has officiated fights featuring such championship caliber fighters as Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Steve Collins, Junior Jones, Julian Jackson, Wayne McCullough, Daniel Zaragoza, Roy Jones Jr., Vince Phillips, Zab Judah, Joel Casamayor, Kostya Tszyu, Juan Lazcano, Oleg Maskaev, Erik Morales, Jeff Lacy, Vivian Harris, Bernard Hopkins, Jermain Taylor, Jose Luis Castillo, Tomasz Adamek, Juan Carlos Gomez and Winky Wright.
“In my opinion Toney was out-hustled by Peter,” he said. “Toney took rounds off and Peter, to his credit, outworked him. He was forcing the action and actually out-jabbing Toney, which is not easy to do.”
Flaherty concedes that it is hard for anyone to look good against Toney, but explained that Peter was much improved from the fighter that not long ago dropped Wladimir Klitschko three times but still lost a decision.
“Toney is an excellent defensive fighter who is hard to hit,” explained Flaherty. “I have refereed him in the past and I like the way he works inside. But he didn’t do much against Peter. He made it easy for Peter to outwork him.”
Immediately after the fight, the California Athletic Commission held a critiquing session for all of the officials, a routine that takes place even when there is no controversy involved.
“No one within the commission was critical of my score,” said Flaherty. “The fact is, I think my reputation speaks for itself. I always give 110 percent. My eyes and mind are totally focused on what’s going on in the ring.”
Moreover, says Flaherty, there is no room for self-doubt in the officiating profession, because the direction of a fighter’s career can be altered by any mistakes, however unintentional.
“You can’t get nervous and you can’t second guess or be influenced by others,” said Flaherty. “You have to have faith in your own abilities. Having done this for so long, I have tremendous faith in my ability to officiate fairly and objectively.”
Much of Flaherty’s confidence comes from his more than three decades in law enforcement. He worked for 22 years with Boston’s Metropolitan Police Department, where he attained the rank of lieutenant.
When that department was merged into the Massachusetts State Police, Flaherty spent 11 there years as a lieutenant. He retired in August 2002 as the day tour troop duty officer in Greater Boston.
All in all, he’s been involved in boxing for more than 50 years. He began boxing as a ten-year-old at the Quincy Police Boys Club and won 30 of 36 amateur fights. Fighting as a pro in 1957, boxrec.com lists his record as 0-1.
“I knew I was never going to be a champion, so I got into training kids,” said Flaherty. “One year, in the mid-sixties, I had five kids in the Golden Gloves and they all won.”
Early in his pro career, he had the unique experience of being involved in a bout where both fighters were disqualified. Flaherty disqualified one for kicking, but after a commission meeting the commission opted to disqualify the other fighter as well.
The fight took place in the Four Seasons Arena in Walpole, Massachusetts.
“One guy was kicking, but the other guy was instigating him,” laughed Flaherty.
Even after so many years in the business, Flaherty still has a love affair with the sweet science, as well as most of the people involved with the sport.
He will never forget the support he received from them after his wife of 34 years, Roe, passed away in December 2004, after a long and arduous battle with pancreatic cancer.
“They rallied around me and pulled me through a very difficult time,” said Flaherty, the father of one daughter, Martine, who received an undergraduate degree in media studies from the prestigious New York University and a graduate degree from the New School of Social Research.
“The boxing community saved me. If not for them, I’d still be a basket case.”
A few weeks prior to judging Toney-Peter, Flaherty worked four fights at the August 5 Madison Square Garden show in New York.
One of those bouts featured Kassim Ouma and Sechew Powell, which Flaherty scored 100-90 for Ouma. As usual, there was no controversy associated with his judging.
“I’ve done a lot of big fights and a lot of little fights,” said Flaherty, who was twice named Man of the Year by the Veteran Boxer Association’s Ring 4 in Boston.
“I referee every fight as if it was a world title fight. That’s the only way to do it. I always give my best. I can’t do any better than that.”