Who Judges the Judges and Referees? – CSAC Takes Charge

A recent high profile fight card saw middleweight champion Gennady “GGG” Golovkin retain his world titles and super flyweight world champion Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez lose his title.

Both results at Madison Square Garden in New York City exploded with controversy due to the decisions rendered by three judges and the overall supervision by the referee.

Serious doubt from fans about the decisions resulted in public outcry and claims of “robbery” and “fix” from disgruntled fans.

It’s a common occurrence in boxing and MMA. One state in the U.S. does not want doubts about the quality and integrity of its officials.

The California State Athletic Commission took an aggressive step into the 21st century by implementing computerized software in its evaluations of both referees and judges. It’s the first state or commission to use it for boxing and MMA.

Andy Foster, Executive Officer for CSAC, said in the past 20 years various administrations had used different analytical methods to evaluate judges and referees, but each time a change in commission members or directors took place the information was lost or difficult to understand.

“This is gives us a better evaluation tool and it’s easy to find,” said Foster who became director in 2013. “You can’t lose it like paperwork in some file.”

Foster said the abundance of boxing and MMA cards in California and the need for more ring officials also demanded a better evaluation process.


California is the only athletic commission using a software program for boxing and MMA and it came about after other sports began using the computerized process developed by a California software company.

“We actually made the product for assessing athletes in any sport,” said Gregg Jacobs, CEO and founder of SportsBoard, a 6-year-old company based in Sausalito, Calif. “And then the NBA approached us about using it for assessing officials, then the Pac-12 Conference started using it for assessing football officials, and then the California State commission heard about it.”

Jacobs hopes SportsBoard will become the standard evaluation tool for all state athletic commissions.

So far California is the only athletic commission using the program for boxing and MMA.

The Nevada State Athletic Commission, another busy athletic commission, uses informal evaluations to grade each referee and judge.

“Every referee and judge meets with supervisors and they look over the fights they worked on,” said Kenny Bayless, one of the top referees in the world. “It’s real informal.”

The state of Nevada and especially Las Vegas is host to numerous mega fight events in both boxing and MMA. It was home to the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao extravaganza and to UFC’s Conor McGregor versus Nate Diaz fight. Controversy always seems to erupt whenever a close decision occurs in a mega fight.

Recently, when Andre Ward defeated Sergey Kovalev late last year at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, more cries of corruption and biased judging reared up again for months. Ward and Kovalev will meet in a rematch next month.

Third Person

Referees can also be a center of controversy. As the third person in a boxing ring or fight circle, the referee has the power to end a fight at any time.

One glaring example of poor refereeing occurred in March 2005 when Mexico’s now famous Mariana “Barbie” Juarez traveled to Shenyang, China to defend her super flyweight world title against North Korea’s Myung OK Ryu.

Both women fought hard and furiously for 10 competitive rounds. When Juarez connected with a right during an exchange of punches the referee broke them apart though neither was in a clinch. Juarez looked at the referee who shook his head and suddenly raised the hand of the North Korean fighter to the shock of the Mexican fighter.

Ryu would win several fights in China or North Korea by decision against some of the best fighters of that era that included Alicia Ashley and Ana Maria Torres. Word spread that it was impossible to win a fight in those countries. It was only recently that elite foreign fighters returned to China and North Korea to compete.

Prizefight Officiating

Judges and referees are essential to the sport of prizefighting. Whether it’s boxing or MMA the need to decide a winner can mean success or failure in the sport for its participants. It can also mean the difference between providing an income to support a family or the need to find a supplemental income to survive.

A large amount of pressure is put on officials that judge or referee a prize fight. But every country has its own officials including the United States of America. Furthermore, each state in the U.S. has its own commission or some type of organization to oversee judges, referees and professional fights. Add the different major sanctioning organizations such as the World Boxing Council (WBC), World Boxing Association (WBA), International Boxing Federation (IBF) and World Boxing Organization (WBO) who have their own selected judges and referees and you can understand the chaos that ensues.

The U.S. has become the center of boxing if you factor in money and events. When Floyd Mayweather met Manny Pacquiao in 2015 that set the bar for the most money made for one bout. Mayweather reportedly made $300 million and Pacquiao $100 million for a single fight. MMA saw its high mark when Conor McGregor defeated Nate Diaz in a rematch. McGregor reportedly made $3 million and Diaz $2 million in their bout in 2016. McGregor has since passed his high mark with a $5 million payday in his last bout.

If you break down the U.S. in terms of the individual states, California leads the nation in the number of pro fight cards that take place each year. Other states that see plenty of action are Texas, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Michigan and Florida. Each state has a commission that oversees boxing cards and assigns officials. Except when it comes to world title matches.

Prizefighting is entertainment pure and simple. All sports are a form of entertainment but unlike other forms of entertainment a winner is decided by judges and referees in boxing and MMA. Unless, of course, a knockout occurs that renders decisions moot.

The repercussions of the judges and referees decisions can be the difference between making $2 million or $20,000. When WBC super lightweight champion Danny “Swift” Garcia, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was awarded a decision win in Puerto Rico over Mauricio “El Maestro” Herrera, a fighter of Mexican descent, many felt it was one of the worst decisions in recent history. The financial impact of that fight saw Garcia eventually participate for at least five contests at more than $1 million dollar paydays in each. Meanwhile, California’s Herrera never reached $1 million in any of his future bouts. Not even close.

Computerized Supervision

Several boxing commissions or athletic commissions that oversee boxing and MMA have training courses for their referees and judges. Even sanctioning organizations like the WBC and WBO have programs to instruct their officials on their particular jobs.

California has implemented a new program of supervising and grading their officials with the software program called SportsBoard. It gives the busy California State Athletic Commission the ability to analyze their referees and judges. It also gives them a means to store information and have easy access.

Marc Relyea, lead inspector for CSAC, said they look at tape of selected televised fights while using the software program to analyze individual performances of referees and judges. They began using this process during an Andre Ward fight in Oakland.

“It makes it a lot easier to track what’s going in the ring,” said Relyea.

CSAC had analyzed performances in the past, but with each change of commissions and executive officers the paperwork would get lost. Since 2000, there have been four changes in executive officers. Basically, the wheel had to be re-invented each time leadership changed.

“This program has simplified the process,” said Foster who was selected as Executive Officer in 2012. “It allows us to look back and track how they are doing and what kind of progress is taking place.”

Boxing and MMA have entered the 21st century.

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