One of the all-time great boxing referees chatted with TSS in Beijing, China about his willingness to support China's professional boxing, and revealed how he became a top echelon official and shared about his life beyond the ring.
Zhenyu Li: Mr. Cortez, you are a very successful boxing official, but could you please describe for us, the Chinese boxing fans, your road to success?
Cortez: Well, you know, I've been a referee for the last 31 years. And my road to success has been…I am a student of this sport. I try to leave no stones unturned. I love boxing. I am very concerned about other referees around the world. And that's why I am here in Beijing, China to help our colleagues, our officials to be better at what they are doing. For the betterment of this sport, first and foremost is safety for the fighters.
I think that we have to take this job very seriously and be concerned about how we perform in the ring. The most important thing for us to do, as a referee, is to stay good and healthy, and know the rules inside out, so that we can perform square and fair for both fighters, and for the boxing fans. They want to see a good referee in the ring take an action when necessary. Well, like I said before, safety is the first and foremost.
Zhenyu Li: As a boxing referee, what's your typical day like in America? Could you describe for us?
Cortez: My typical day like in America? Well, I have a daughter who is a paraplegic from an auto accident 11 years ago. So we need to make sure in the morning that everything is OK with the nurse at the house, who takes care of my daughter. My daughter can drive her own automobile. She is paraplegic, paralyzed from her chest down, but she is very independent. She does a lot. She goes out driving. She does a lot of things for herself.
And I like to be around with my grand children. I have two grand children – Ricky and Bryce. They keep me busy. I take them to school. I take them to the playground. I take them to play football. And no boxing (smile). But I really enjoy spending time at home, (and) with my family.
I have a foundation called the Joe Cortez Family Foundation and we are just starting right now to increase stem cell awareness. We are trying to find the cure for different types of diseases like Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, Cancer, diabetes, all kinds of diseases. So I am going to advocate stem cell research.
Zhenyu Li: Do you have any future plans as a boxing official?
Cortez: I want to keep on refereeing for at least another five to six years. And hopefully, I can start my own separate business out of the United States, where I can do my clothing line, the “Fair But Firm” line. And I hope to be paid as a spokesperson for a sports company here in China…or a sports talk show. I think I can bring a lot to the sport of boxing here in China. And hopefully, you know, these things can be positive. When I retire as a referee, I can get more involved.
Zhenyu Li: Yeah, like appearing in a TV ad?
Cortez: Yes. I do commercials. I've done a couple of movies. Rocky Balboa, I played the referee. In Spy and Play It to the Bone, I was the referee there. Commercials would be great. Advertising, I'll be able to do all of that. I could bring a contract, and I am ready to sign it (laughs).
Zhenyu Li: What would you like to say to the Chinese people?
Cortez: I want to say to Chinese people that they should stay focused on professional boxing. I think you have a great country for sports. Everybody is sports oriented. I think professional boxing is the way to go to recognize your country as a global, powerful country.
Zhenyu Li: Thank you very much.
Joe Cortez's Brief Bio
Joe Cortez, a World Boxing Hall of Fame referee, was born in 1945 in Spanish Harlem, New York. He captured the Golden Gloves championship twice as a bantamweight and has a 43-2 amateur record. After a four-year run as a professional boxer, Cortez's professional record stands at 18-1. He retired from boxing after nineteen professional fights. Shortly after the retirement, he started refereeing and officiated his first professional bout in 1976. He has now refereed over 170 world title bouts, among them were the first Oscar de la Hoya-Julio Cesar Chavez meeting, the fight that saw 45-year-old George Foreman become the oldest World Heavyweight Champion in history and the Bernard Hopkins versus Joe Calzaghe showdown.
Zhenyu Li is the columnist for People’s Daily online and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.