Teflon Referee – Better one punch too early than one punch too late. — Anonymous
“Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee” — Jingle
“My proclivity is to allow the fight to go to its natural conclusion, and to let them solve it and to let them resolve it…Sometimes, there comes a time when I have to make the call. But if I can prolong it and give them every opportunity, so be it” — Steve Smoger.
“The most amazing aspect of boxing – is the ability of a human being to get up when he’s hurt.”—Smoger
Steve Smoger is as good a referee as any fighter could ever hope to have protecting him–Ron Borges
“[Steve] Smoger is widely thought of as fair and unbiased. People in boxing know that certain referees favor the house fighter, but that’s not the case with Smoger. Fighters and trainers trust him far more than they trust most referees.”—Thomas Hauser
“Boxing is a dirty business. It always has been. Promoters, managers, state commissions and TV networks are all looking to do what is best for them, regardless of how it affects the fighters. The one place that fighters should be guaranteed a fair chance is between the ropes. Steve Smoger is the kind of ref that makes sure that they have that chance. Vive Le Smoger.”- Matthew Swain, the Queensbury Rules
As Bernard Fernandez points out, Steve Smoger alias “Double S,” alias “SS,” is just the 11th individual to be inducted into the IBHOF because of his achievements as a referee. He joins Arthur Donovan (1994), Ruby Goldstein (1994), Arthur Mercante Sr. (1995), George Siler (1995), Stanley Christodoulou (2004), Larry Hazzard (2010), Joe Cortez (2011), Mills Lane (2013), Eugene Corri (2014) and Richard Steele (2014).
Over the years, Smoger has won more awards than “Carter Has Pills.” Criticizing SS, probably the busiest referee in the world, is virtually blasphemous even though his relatively recent body of work has been marred by a documented reluctance to stop fights “too soon.” Nevertheless, many boxing journalists worship at the altar of Steve Smoger. It’s almost as if no one will dare criticize him because to do so is to risk heresy and shrill criticism from his supporters and from the less-informed sycophants. And what writer wants that? Here is an in-shape Smoger with Teddy Atlas doing some “Fight Plan” schmaltz https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3k88I68IdiM
The prolific “Double S” was once (along with Wayne Kelly) one of my personal favorites. He was often referred to as an invisible third man in the ring, but that was then and this is now and now he is no longer in shape or invisible. Au contraire, overweight, long in the tooth (he turns 66 in August), and with his belt virtually up to his chest in gnome-like fashion, Smoger is slow afoot and stays too far away from the action. When he does get in close, he appears overly tentative and too weak to break the fighters apart, frequently using both hands to push them away. Moreover, his long-standing practice of allowing both fighters to hold and hit has grown stale. Thankfully, he has dispensed with his strange leg raising ritual at the end of each round reminiscent of something out of a burlesque act.
However, his signature semi-laissez-faire style remains intact and it is as fan-friendly as ever. As Bob Arum puts it, “Smoger is a gutty guy. He has balls. He’s a ballsy referee, and I think that that’s what people want to see.” And maybe Bob is right but there needs to be some balance here.
Nobody can be “that good.”
“Fighter’s lives are at stake. When you use refereeing all for self-aggrandizement, it galls me to no end. This guy [Smoger] has to be stopped and no one has the courage sitting at ringside to put an end to this nonsense” –Larry Hazzard (From “Steve Smoger A Disgrace To Boxing – Kisses Davis During Stoppage!”) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6np_J4CUiMo
In 2010, Yuriorkis Gamboa used Rogers Mtagwa for target practice. Even though Smoger warned Mtagwa that the end was near, the Tanzanian–born fighter subsequently took a vicious beating showcasing Gamboa’s ability to land at will with his slashing left hook. It was ugly to watch and listening to the commentator say “good stoppage” at the end punctuated the ugliness. Mtagwa was never the same, losing three of his next four bouts. Judge for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w32aohgV_j8
Who can forget the way Smoger let Roy Jones Jr. take unnecessarily dangerous punishment from the bruising Denis Lebedev in Moscow in 2011? Harsh and widespread criticism followed but nothing came of it except that it established a high-profile benchmark that appeared on everyone’s radar. SS’s lame explanation that he thought Jones was faking was of no consolation to Roy, not that it mattered because Roy was already an unconscious rag doll.
On this very same Moscow card (and very much under the radar), mismatched Ugandan Hamza Wandera took over-the-top punishment from rangy Ismayl Sillah. The strange end came in the third when Sillah finally cornered Wandera with a malicious volley causing the Ugandan cruiserweight to literally run across the ring with Ismayl chasing him while SS, instead of calling an immediate stoppage, looked on. In the end, Wandera absorbed looping haymakers before Smoger finally deigned to halt the mugging.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnXETuramsw
In all fairness to Smoger, Wandera, the younger brother of former IBF champion Kassim Ouma, had a history of irregular ring behavior, even hitting one unsuspecting opponent at the opening tap.
“Hopkins-Murat will not be played at Steve Smoger’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony” — Adam Abramowitz
The Murat-Hopkins debacle and the Kirkland-Tapia slaughter have been fully vetted. Suffice it to say that Glen’s recent stoppage loss to David Lemieux reflected just how career-altering that single punch from Kirkland may have been. Eric Raskin in INSIDE HBO BOXING made this observation: “I could just as easily call this my “Worst Blow,” since it was a dirty punch from Kirkland and the result of a poor refereeing performance by Steve Smoger. The punch never should have happened. But it did, and it made me cringe more than any other shot delivered in 2013. For sheer viciousness and violence, nothing topped that last left hand from Kirkland that left us all fearing for Tapia’s well-being.”
On July 26, 2014, Anthony Caputo Smith was needlessly butchered (and likely ruined) by a series of concussive Ola Afolabi uppercuts at Madison Square Garden; Instead of stopping the massacre, Smoger began an unnecessary count and then asked a bleeding and totally beaten, albeit courageous, Caputo if he wanted to continue. Caputo deserved a more dignified finish. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfsig9KvLYo
Fast Forward-to May 21, 2016
Incredibly, for the second time in a Denis Lebedev fight in Moscow, Smoger was too late and too slow. Lebedev destroyed Victor Emilio Ramirez using him as an uppercut bag until Ramirez turned his back, but “SS” allowed Ramirez to absorb more jarring and needless punches before stopping the onslaught. It is this kind of punishment that can have terrible deferred consequences. Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXoWj1V_jZE
Smoger’s relationship with the NYSAC apparently is such that the New Jersey resident is able to secure some plum assignments and he was even appointed by former NYSAC Executive Director David Berlin to conduct a seminar for other NY Area referees, but I’ll leave that story to be told by someone else. Berlin is gone and Teddy Atlas has all but vanished, but Smoger keeps on truckin’ with plenty of varied and juicy assignments on his buffet table.
Clearly a prolific referee is bound to have some “off days,” but this is boxing and off days need to be kept to an absolute minimum.
In the end, Steve Smoger remains someone to whom criticism simply does not seem to stick. He is the Teflon Referee and while not quite like Sara Lee, he is pretty close.
Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several records. He enjoys writing about boxing.