Best Judges and Referees for 2014

All through 2014 there were fights that were criticized and analyzed by the boxing public for problems in the judging and refereeing departments, which prompted public outcry on more than one occasion.

It started with the junior middleweight clash between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Alfredo “Perro” Angulo at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The Mexican war between the two was expected to be an explosive affair, but instead was one-sided as Alvarez pummeled Angulo during the first half of the fight.

Angulo waited too long to make his move in the fight and though he did not show signs of being seriously hurt during the fight, he was beginning to absorb big head-snapping shots. The referee for that fight was referee Tony Weeks, a veteran of many marquee fights. When he saw Alvarez connect with yet another head snapper, he jumped in between the two prizefighters and stopped the fight. Angulo was infuriated.

Fans erupted in anger at the arena and some even tossed beer and other items into the ring. Many felt that Angulo was not given enough time to retaliate, and that included the fighter from Mexicali. But what many do not know or recall is that Weeks had been involved in a fight years earlier when a fighter died because of injuries sustained in the ring.

Back in Sept. 17, 2005, in the same MGM Grand Garden Arena, Weeks was the third man in the boxing ring when Jesus “Matador” Chavez battered courageous Leavander Johnson for 11 rounds in their IBF lightweight title battle. In rounds nine and 10 the fight became one-sided, but the referee allowed the fight to continue. Johnson never hit the deck and willingly motioned for Chavez to continue. Weeks let the battle resume despite shouts from the crowd and even some from the media to halt the fight. It was not until the 11th round that Weeks stopped the fight. Even then Johnson protested, but when he walked back toward the dressing rooms the boxer collapsed while talking to this reporter. Medics rushed to his side and he was sent to the nearby hospital. He died five days later.

Weeks was the referee for that Chavez-Johnson fight and this might be the reason he would stop a fight instead of allowing a one-sided beating to continue. Today he’s one of the top referees in the business.

Johnson would have turned 45 three days ago.

The robust-looking Weeks was also the center of attention when Marcos Maidana and Floyd Mayweather met on May 3, in the MGM Grand for the welterweight and junior middleweight world titles. It was a rugged affair as Maidana kept Mayweather against the ropes and pounded the champion with unorthodox overhand rights and left hooks. The referee Weeks did not break up the fighters as long as punches were being thrown. Maidana had a great first half of the 12 round fight, but Mayweather made crucial adjustments and walked away with a unanimous decision. Afterward he made criticisms of Weeks’ handling in the fight and complained that Maidana was allowed to do things that other referees would not allow, which is a lot of fighting inside.

“It didn’t bother me at all,” said Weeks when asked. “I just let the fighters fight.”

A rematch was given to Maidana but this time because of Mayweather’s complaints the selection of the referee seemed to be guided by comments he made to the media. The referee chosen for the rematch was Ken Bayless.

In the rematch Maidana was not allowed to fight inside. Throughout the fight whenever Maidana got close to Mayweather they were separated by Bayless, regardless if there was holding or not. Basically, the referee became part of the fight that night and Mayweather was given the handicap of being allowed to fight from the outside all night. Still, despite the referee interference, Maidana got some licks in.

Canelo vs. Lara

Fans pay a lot of money to see prizefights on the elite level. When Saul “Canelo” Alvarez met Erislandy Lara at the MGM Grand, it was pressure fighting versus the style of a boxer/mover. Their clash saw Lara move quickly around the boxing ring while seldom exchanging punches with the more aggressive Alvarez. It was one of the most boring fights of the year, especially at the elite level.

After 12 rounds two judges scored it for Alvarez and one judge, Jerry Roth, favored Lara. What’s interesting is that Roth usually favors the more aggressive fighter. Remember when Felix “Tito” Trinidad fought Oscar De La Hoya? Roth was one of the judges who favored Trinidad that night, though it clearly seemed De La Hoya won the first nine rounds of their encounter. But during the fight between Lara-Alvarez, he favored the Cuban who was reluctant to exchange. You never know what to expect from the judges. Roth is one of the best judges in the world but even he can’t be counted to stick to the script.

Best referees

Tony Weeks may not be Floyd Mayweather’s favorite referee but year after year he works a fight like a master conductor. The only people that complain about Weeks are the photographers who find it difficult to get photos when the wide-bodied Weeks is working a fight. His strength is that he allows the fighters to fight. He doesn’t interfere unless absolutely necessary. Some referees just overdo it and interfere too much. Not Weeks.

Pat Russell rarely makes a mistake inside the boxing ring. The white-haired Russell moves nimbly in and out of the ring and has the timing of an elite boxer. He’s one of the best referees in the last 15 years and if he’s working a fight then it’s in good hands. Russell has worked some of the most important fights in history but you can’t recall seeing him because he stays out of the way. He’s like a ghost inside the boxing ring. Russell makes sure the rules are followed and that a fighter can walk out of the ring.

Steve Smoger works the East Coast and has been the preeminent referee for a very long time. Nobody can compare to Smoger in that side of the country. He knows when to break up boxers, he knows when to let boxers know when they’re dropping low blows and when to stop a fight. It seems easy enough but not all referees know these important aspects. Some stop the fight in mid-action to warn about low blows or head butts. Smoger waits for the perfect time.

Other top notch referees for the year

Jack Reiss, Michael Griffin, Benjy Esteves Jr., Jon Schorle, Raul Caiz Jr., Ray Corona, Tom Taylor, Ken Bayless, Yuji Fukuchi, John McCarthy, Lou Moret, Mike Ortega, and Frank Garza.

Judges

This year has been an eye-opener for judges in the spotlight. On the same card we saw two bouts come to public scrutiny when Jose Benavidez was judged the winner over Mauricio Herrera. In the other bout Tim Bradley and Diego Chaves were scored a draw. One of the judges on the Herrera-Benavidez bout was Max DeLuca, one of the best judges in the world. Very few people felt Benavidez won the fight and felt all three judges were off their rocker. It’s a problem both boxing and MMA share.

Scoring a fight is not very easy and the method of scoring needs to be changed.

Max DeLuca has been one of the most respected and consistent judges in boxing for the last 10 years. Many consider DeLuca the very best judge of boxing today. But nobody is perfect. He had Benavidez the winner by a large margin. But the depth of his work speaks for itself. He is the best judge in the world. You want him judging a fight, especially for big stakes.

Jerry Roth has reigned as one of the top judges for the last 20 years. While other judges come and go he puts his experience to work on some of the top prize fights every year. The Nevada-based judge is widely respected by everyone in the boxing business.

Other top judges

Pat Russell, Marty Denkin, Glenn Feldman, Lisa Giampa, Pinit Prayadsab, Jack Reiss, Sergio Caiz, Levi Martinez, Patricia Morse Jarman, Oren Shellenberger, Julie Lederman, John McCarthy and Raul Caiz.

Honorable mention

Ray Corona, Adelaide Byrd, Alejandro Rochin, Fritz Werner, Robert Byrd and Tony Crebs.

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COMMENTS

-The Commish :

About Steve Smoger, the writer pprnted: "He knows when to break up boxers, he knows when to let boxers know when they’re dropping low blows and when to stop a fight. It seems easy enough but not all referees know these important aspects. Some stop the fight in mid-action to warn about low blows or head butts. Smoger waits for the perfect time." "Smoger waits for the perfect time," read the line. Really? Like when Roy Jones Jr. was in a corner, bent over and out on his feet against Denis Lebedev? Though he could have--and should have--stopped the fight there, Smoger allowed Lebedev to land one more solid head shot which dropped Jones on his face. KTFO'd. I guess that was the perfect time. Or when, in trying to stop the James Kirkland-Glen Tapia fight in the sixth round, Smoger tried to push an attacking Kirkland off of a floundering Tapia. When he found he couldn't budge Kirkland, Smoger mistakenly turned to Tapia, whose back was to the ropes, and draped himself over the fighter to signal an end. However, it wasn't the end. Not for Kirkland, it wasn't. He fired a left over Smoger's left shoulder as the ref had Tapia pinned against the ropes. It crashed sickeningly against Tapia's face. He then went limp, and Smoger held him upright. Perfect timing, I guess. Professional? How professional is it when Smoger hugs a fighter, such as he hugged Bernard Hopkins, after B-Hop had beaten Karo Murat? Obviously, Steve Smoger is not one of my favorite referees. But then, I am not one of his favorite journalists. His screw-ups are not voluminous. He does not blow a call every time out. But when he does, his mistakes are huge. They're glaring. I am not concerned about where I fall in on his popularity chart. I just call 'em as I see 'em. Here's Smoger's "stoppage" of the Lebedev-Jones fight. Lebedev even looks pleadingly with Smoger to stop it, but SS does nothing. Perfect time?

Incredibly horrific stoppage! -Randy G.


-stormcentre :

Weeks, Ortega, Reiss, and Bayliss are all pretty good referees. DeLuca and Roth are reasonable judges too. Glad Cortez wasn't mentioned after what happened in Mayweather V Ortiz - don't get me wrong - I'm not hanging upside down from the chandeliers with joy over it. But, it was bordering on a shambolic officiating performance in my view; even though both, (a) Floyd Jr may be technically correct for what he did, and (b) Ortiz may have deserved what he got back in return. Still, I appreciate that everybody is not as perfect. Well . . . least not as perfect as the TSS forum posters and expert critiques. Cause we're awesome. Now. . . .let's see . . . . what's in the minibar of my hotel room. Ah, surprise, surprise, some Vodka. :) Finally, Commish . . agree with your comments on Smoger there. But, and this might just be the Vodka and Hamilton Islands talking here, I see him as more of a PPV network referee; where his stock in trade is entertainment and/or keeping it going. Usually, or more often than not, I think he gets it right don't you think? Then, I suppose you could say that about Cortez, or perhaps you wouldn't.


-stormcentre :

About Steve Smoger, the writer pprnted: "He knows when to break up boxers, he knows when to let boxers know when they’re dropping low blows and when to stop a fight. It seems easy enough but not all referees know these important aspects. Some stop the fight in mid-action to warn about low blows or head butts. Smoger waits for the perfect time." "Smoger waits for the perfect time," read the line. Really? Like when Roy Jones Jr. was in a corner, bent over and out on his feet against Denis Lebedev? Though he could have--and should have--stopped the fight there, Smoger allowed Lebedev to land one more solid head shot which dropped Jones on his face. KTFO'd. I guess that was the perfect time. Or when, in trying to stop the James Kirkland-Glen Tapia fight in the sixth round, Smoger tried to push an attacking Kirkland off of a floundering Tapia. When he found he couldn't budge Kirkland, Smoger mistakenly turned to Tapia, whose back was to the ropes, and draped himself over the fighter to signal an end. However, it wasn't the end. Not for Kirkland, it wasn't. He fired a left over Smoger's left shoulder as the ref had Tapia pinned against the ropes. It crashed sickeningly against Tapia's face. He then went limp, and Smoger held him upright. Perfect timing, I guess. Professional? How professional is it when Smoger hugs a fighter, such as he hugged Bernard Hopkins, after B-Hop had beaten Karo Murat? Obviously, Steve Smoger is not one of my favorite referees. But then, I am not one of his favorite journalists. His screw-ups are not voluminous. He does not blow a call every time out. But when he does, his mistakes are huge. They're glaring. I am not concerned about where I fall in on his popularity chart. I just call 'em as I see 'em. Here's Smoger's "stoppage" of the Lebedev-Jones fight. Lebedev even looks pleadingly with Smoger to stop it, but SS does nothing. Perfect time?
Incredibly horrific stoppage! -Randy G.
I think Smoger didn't expect Lebedev to punch because he had previously "looked" at Smoger, and also because it was obvious Jones was - even before Lebedev threw the last punch - already beaten up and not conscious. The fact that Smoger didn't officially call the fight off before Lebedev threw that last punch is not good - but I also think Lebedev's action of throwing the punch itself - after stopping the attack on Jones, seeing the situation Jones was in, and looking for to Smoger intervene - was also disgusting. I wouldn't have thrown that punch - it was clear Jones was out, could not continue, and the fight was over. If not why did Lebedev stop attacking Jones, and then noticeably look over to Smoger to intervene then? What did he think Smoger was doing as he stepped into the war-zone? Did he really think Jones was not finished, as stood, slightly swaying, and unconscious in that strange and partially hunched over position? Still, (I get it) it's not the fighter's role to protect anyone but himself and Lebedev was, if not morally, technically correct in his (potentially longstanding and seriously damaging) actions. I think Smoger (perhaps wrongly) assumed that Lebedev, both, knew he (Smoger) was going to stop it, and that Lebedev would continue to not punch/attack Jones as and whilst Smoger had stepped in - as that is situation that happens quite a lot in boxing. There are similarities with this to Cortez' officiating in the Mayweather V Ortiz fight. That said, I get your point and that is why the referee must always signal the fight is over at the earliest point he considers that to be the case. But I am not sure Smoger really knew what was going on with Jones. I certainly don't think Smoger failed to stop the fight because he thought Jones (or Lebedev) should continue. I think Smoger expected that Lebedev would continue to halt the attack because he was there and looking at Jones - despite the fact that Smoger had not officially/verbally signaled/announced a change in the fight's course of action. I don't think Smoger really intended for Jones to take more punishment and I think Jones would have collapsed to the canvass anyway, regardless of Lebedev's last albeit extremely questionable and uncalled for shot. I think Smoger was (as I was when I first saw Jones do that) a little perplexed with Jones' posture and situation, and was not entirely sure whether Jones was buying more time, foxing or something else. The delay that perplexity caused in Smoger was unfortunately seen by Lebedev as the green light to continue attacking Jones when he was already so defenseless that it had required Lebedev to motion for Smoger in the first place; which was why Smoger thought Lebedev could be trusted and would (continue to) stop attacking. Still, I guess Smoger could have stopped the clock "before" he investigated, and even if the 3 count rule didn't apply there Smoger still could have asked the Doctor to look at Jones. My point is this, . . . yes I agree Smoger's officiating was technically sub standard. But I don't think there was anything sinister, deceptive, deliberate, or planned about Smoger's actions. I think Smoger (wrongly) expected that Lebedev had finished punching - due to the fact that not only had Lebedev himself looked over to Smoger as if to ask him to check both Jones and the situation - but also because Smoger (facilitated by Lebedev's obvious ceasefire and halt of the competition) actually was commencing doing just that and what Lebedev silently requested, when Lebedev recommenced punching a completely defenseless Jones, which forced Smoger to do what he was probably going to do anyway; stop the fight. Additionally, I also think that Smoger didn't think he needed to call the fight off until he had properly evaluated what the situation really was - but unfortunately by the time that all happened it was after Lebedev took matters into his own hands and ended things with that free shot at Jones. In the above-mentioned Mayweather V Ortiz fight, Cortez allowed ambiguity to creep into what was happening in the ring after Ortiz both fouled Mayweather and then misunderstood whether the action that both him and Floyd were contracted to provide had been called to recommence by Cortez. Subsequently Ortiz then forgot he had to protect himself at all times - even against legal and albeit cheap shots that, perhaps, could easily be explained away (by Floyd and others that supported him) in terms of Ortiz' own shameful headbutt-foul that ironically and initially brought the whole circumstance into play and confusion. Only in boxing. In the Lebedev V Jones fight it "appears" that Smoger - due to Lebedev's temporary halt of offence, and also Lebedev's body and other language - got lulled into a false sense of security/safety and as such forgot that he - as the referee - had a responsibility to protect Jones, and that responsibility was not perfectly honored - because Smoger assumed that Lebedev's temporary halt of offence combined with his (Smoger) own close approximation to Jones would be perceived by Lebedev as the equivalent of the referee stopping the action, if not the fight. And even though I can see how Smoger could have though it was all fine, dandy and safe; that's a little too much assumption on the part of the referee.


-Kid Blast :

SS 'handling of the Murat-Hopkins fight was horrific.