ďBe careful what you wish for,Ē is the way Steve Morrow describes his life over the last 25 years.
From police officer to boxing writer to boxing judge, how else can you explain it? ďYou are out of your mind,Ē Morrow says, ďIf you were to tell me 15 years ago that I would have 40 title fights under my belt and I get paid to judge fights all over the world, I would say you are out of your mind.Ē
Morrow says he understands the politics in boxing that comeswith judging fights but he tries to stay away. He keeps a clean rap sheet, in this interview and in his professional life. I tried to pick his brain as much as possible, like using a stick to stab a tree; I wanted to know how and why judges judge the way that they do. Morrow could not answer for everyone but he has a simple approach. Concentration is key. And he describes the misconception that most boxing fans have about judging fights. ďWe donít watch fights,Ē Morrow said, ďWe score fights.Ē
Read on as we try to infiltrate the mind of the manwith the responsibilityto make dreams become a reality for one fighter, and make realitybecome a nightmare for another.
RayMarkarian: How did you become a boxing judge?
Steve Morrow: Well, itís kind of a long story. I worked for a boxing magazine for eight years. I started around 1989 or 90. I have always loved the sport and I loved to write. So it was the best of both worlds. I got to go to fights, you know, walk around, interview fighters, that kind of stuff. And it was a real nice hobby. And I just slowly started to develop the idea that I could become a judge, one day. I liked the intricacies of judging. I liked the concentration that it takes. So, I started looking into it. I finally got accepted into a training seminar. They put on two of them, one in Northern California and one in Southern California. It was every four weeks. Eventually, I got my California judges license in 1998. I started doing local shows, club shows, and slowly bigger and bigger fights. I got my WBC International license in 2006, and slowly been growing from there. I have grown beyond my wildest dreams to tell the truth.
SM: Well, thatís the long answer to your short question. It just appealed to me. Maybe I liked the stress.
RM: There is a lot of stress involved, right?
SM: There is. I never wantedto bea referee.
RM: How come?
SM: Well, I refereed enough fights on the street as a cop. I was a cop for 31 years. Believe it or not, I just didnít want that scrutiny that comes with being a referee. In police work we have a saying it says. ďLife is a fish bowl.Ē Referees are just under the microscope every minute in there. Yes, there is a lot of stress as a judge. But if you are competent and you have confidence in your abilities,thenstress just comes with it. Stress is part of the job. Everybodyís got an opinion. You know, half the people donít like you off the bat. Thatís always how it is.
RM: So, you were a cop while you studiedto become a boxing judge?
SM: Yes.
RM: Tell me about that transition.
SM: When I started writing for the boxing magazine (Morrow wrote for a magazine called Professional Boxing Updates) it gave me some access. Police work is a very stressful job. Going to fights became my escape. When I was there I wasnít seen as a cop. I didnít look like a cop. Writing just became a very nice hobby and a stress reducer. I was writing until 1998. When I got licensed in California as a judge I stopped writing for the magazine. I retired police work in 2008.
RM: How does someone fail to get his license as a judge?
SM: I donít know how to answer that. Maybe they donít have the practical skills to score a fight. Itís not easy to do.
RM: Did you have to judge amateur shows when you started?
SM: No. I started at some very low-level club shows. Then you have more experienced officials mentor you along the way, walking you through the process. They throw you in a pool and you have to learn how to swim.
RM: Have you been involved in a fight where your scorecard did notreflectthe fans opinion of the outcome?
SM: Well, sure. But fans are fans. They are going to root for their favorite regardless of how fightersperform, for the most part. We have another saying as officials. We say, ďWe donít watch fights. We score fights.Ē Thereís a big difference. To answer your question: Have I been on the offside of the general fan based decision? Sure.
RM: So then how do you handle stress as a boxing judge?
SM: Well, as a judge, you put it on yourselfto beperfect every time. That is the stress I am talking about. You have to completely concentrate for three straight minutes regardless of the madness going on around you. One of the most difficult aspects of judging in my opinion is the ability to concentrate on two moving objects for three minutes straight. Itís very difficult at times. Thegeneral publicfor the most part does not consider that aspect of our job.
RM: Meaning, youare zonedin. Youare focusedon the two combatants and nothing else.
SM: Right. Itís just total concentration for three minutes. And during a title fight, we judge 12, three-minute fights. Thatís what we do. We concentrate for three minutes. Turn in our scorecard. Rest. And then there is another three-minute fight.
RM: How much does momentum play into your personal judging criteria? Letís say momentum from a previous round.
SM: Well, you know, we are judging a three-minute fight. You cannot concern yourself with what happenedpreviously. The fighters have to fight for a full three minutes and we give credit to the winner. Itís a subjective system based on someparameters. Itís also anaggregatescore. I donít know what my score is after a fight much less anyone elseís. I try very hard to stay focused on the three minutes. Does that answer your question?
RM: Yeah.
SM: You just try to stay in the moment. You try very hard to stay focused on the moment.
RM: So what makes you good at what you do? Youíve obviously moved up from being a sportswriter for fun, to judging world championship fights all over the world. What makes you a good judge?
SM: Perhaps itís my commitment.
SM: When Ihad an opportunityto move up to the international arena I told myself that the only way I could do this is if I push myself to become as good as I can. I started to lean on mentors in my life, my boxing life. Duane Ford,for example. He is one of the primer judges in my boxing, in my opinion. He has had over 200 world title fights and has helped me immensely. I just hung around knowledgeable people like him (Ford), and asked the right questions.
RM: How does a fighter win a round? What do you look for?
SM: Well, I subscribe to the old TommyKaczmarek School of using the mental computer. You know, when that bell rings and I am watching the action develop, itís about effective aggressiveness. Clean punching. I am looking for who is inflicting damage. We call it ring generalship. I am looking for who is dictating pace. So, I am looking for many things in that mental computer, and it works pretty well. Thatís not to say that itís perfect. When the bell rings, whoeverís got the score, thatís the score that they get. Do you follow me?
RM: Yeah.
SM: Itís like if you and I are fighting and we bothstart offwith 10 points, and you are taking it to me, you are moving me backwards. Youíre pretty much jabbing and connecting with clean shots, disrupting my game plan,if you will. Then itís goingto be(the roundwill be scored) 10-9 for you. You can knock me down. Thatís another point. Or if I work back up to a 10-10, absent a knockdown. I am just keeping a running score in my head. Thatís what helps me. And when the bell rings, where I am, thatís what the score is. I know itís a complex system. But it works for me.
RM: Can one punch win a round?
SM: Probably not. Itís the totality of the circumstances. Iam involvedin teaching officials now. We talk about that concept. And there is a from old quote from John Wooden that says, ďNever confuse activity with achievement.Ē
RM: I like it.
SM: Just because someone lands a solid punch doesnít mean heís winning. Itís effective aggression, not just aggression. If I am knocking you around for two and a half minutes and you just tag me a couple of times, you probably arenít going to win the round.
RM: Many of the fans and media in boxing say star fighters get gift decisions. Letís sayfor example, the fight in 1997 between De la Hoya vs. Pernell Whitaker. A lot of people thought Whitaker won that fight. Some people thought Juan Manuel Marquez won more than one of his fights withPacquiao. What is your opinion on star fighters getting ďgiftĒ decisions?
SM: Well, thatís politics. All I can tell you is that I am not going to do it, personally. I only have control over myself. Thatís how I prefer to look at it. I donít know what anybody else might choose to do. I know that iskind of acop outto your question. But, everybodyís got opinions. Everybodyís got one. All I can do is controlmy own opinion. And that is what I choose to do.
RM: OK. Fair point. Then what does the word ďrobberyĒ in boxing, mean to you?
SM: Well, the public tends to want to root for their favorite fighter. And their favorite fightercan beapersonal friend, somebody they grew up with, or they like their style of fighting, whatever. Regardless of the round by round scoring of the fight, if a (fan friendly) fighter does not get the decision, fans think hewas robbed. Have there been some extreme cases (bad decisions)? Sure. Do they involve me? No. I am aware of the bad press that comes along with tough decisions but it is not my places to buy into it. You know, again, if it ever involves me, then I can speak to it. I just try to stay away from criticizing other officials.
RM: OK. This is in no way an accusation. I am just trying to learn about your mindset. Do you feel extra pressure because of the fans and media? Do judges in general feel their opinions lack credibility because of scrutiny from fans and media?
SM: I donít know how to answer that. I mean; there are three judges in a fight. And itís a subjective system. How one judge sees the fight from his chair mightbe differentthan how the other two see it. You would hope that the scoresare aligned. But, occasionally, somebody sees it a different way. Sometimes itís a far different way.
RM: Right.
SM: You know, I might sit back later with my colleagues and wonder why that person saw what they saw. But they are the ones that have to explain it. I try real hard not to worry about anyone elseís scores. I know that probably doesnít answer what you are looking forÖ. I guess, I just try not to buy into the hype that comes along with working in this business.
RM: So, are you a boxing fan.
SM: Yes.
RM: How do youeliminatethat ďfan mentalityĒ when you score a fight?
SM: Well, it goes back to what I stated earlier, we donít watch fights, we score fights. You have to train yourself to that. Sitting in front of the ring apron from an elevated chair is a lotdifferent thansitting in the second row. Itís amazing. Itís rare that we get to go to fights where we donít have that judge mentality. I canít sit back and enjoy the fight as a fan. I watch a lot of fights on TV. But I also find myself scoring the fights on TV.
RM: I would imagine you do.
SM: Yeah. Itís not easy.
RM: What type of research do you do before a fight?
SM: I just virtually donít do any research. I donít want to know whoís favored. I try not to read the pressprior toa fight. I just try to make an effort to stay as focused and neutral as I can. My wife calls it my game faceÖ
RM: Ha. Thatís funny.
SM: Yeah. Two days before a fight, I get all-serious. Maybe I think too much. But itís a system. And it works for me. I donít try to get caught up in the hype.
RM: Itís funny because when talking to referees like Jack Reiss or Kenny Bayless, or Tony Weeks, their referee mentality is so muchdifferent fromyours. Referees research fighters extensively.
SM: Yeah, you bet. If I was a referee, I would want to do some research. I can certainly understand that. If I were refereeing a fight, I would want to know the history of the fighters. I would want to know how theyhave been performingin previous fights, their fighting styles. I would read up on some of the reports. Our (judges) preparation is so much different. We prepare to focus.
RM: So, are you a perfectionist?
SM: No. I am pretty tough on myself. But I am not a perfectionist. But I do like to think that I work hard at what I do and it gives me the edge that I need to stay focused.
RM: What is the greatest learning experience youíve had as a judge?
SM: Wow. Thatís a tough one. One of the moments that sticks out in my mind is the first time I went to Japan to judge a fight. There were 19,000 screaming fans. I was just overwhelmed withthe emotion ofĎHoly crap, how did I get here?í I know it doesnít totally answer your question. It was just one of those moments of, ĎWow. This is really happening.í
RM: I hear you.
SM: Yeah. Nobody gave it to me. Those are the types of conversations I have with my close friends, who are officials, we say, ĎNobody gave this to us. We worked very hard to get here.í I mean, the experience in Japan was crazy and exciting. I carry alittle bitof that with me for every fight. Being in awe keeps me sharp. When I was a cop on the street I was always alittle bitafraid
RM: Yeah. Keeps you on your toes, right.
SM: Yeah. It keeps me alert. Keeps me focused. When you start bitching about the things you used to only dream about, thatís when your ego needsto bechecked. I tryto bevery grateful for every opportunity boxing brings me. The last thing I want to get is a big ego. I donít want to become demanding. I know it might come off very deep, or whatever. But I am extremely fortunatelyto bewhere I am. Boxing is a very small circle. I just try to stay grateful.
RM: I am feeling you. Do you think there are judges that are not grateful?
SM: Well, people are people. I seepeople thatget jealous. Itís weird that professionals say that kind of stuff but I try really hard not to buy into it. I am just happyto beworking, happyto bein this business.
RM: How do judges get elected to work a fight?
SM: I am not 100% sure. It is beyond my pay grade, if you will. In the international scene there are appointments made by presidents and higher upperechelontypes of people. The cornershave an opportunityto speak up. How much weight that is given, depends on theindividual. If they opposed to an official because of what they feel might be a prior bad score, or they donít like our personalities, or whatever. They can say something.
RM: What is your opinion on CJ Ross?
SM: All I can tell you is that I have worked CJ a couple of times and never had an issue. I know she has been through some very rough experiences. They were not involving any of the fights we have done together. I wish her well. She is a niceladyand I hope things work out for her. And that is all I am going to say about that.
RM: AlrightÖ
SM: Well, the reason being is that it is not my place to criticize other officials.
RM: I am not asking you to criticize. If you were in that (her)position, how would you feel?
SM: I try not to think about that. I try not to think about being nervous. It goes back to wantingto beright all the time. As long as you are confident in your abilities the pressure doesnít matter.It is what it is. Thereís a microscope on us. Like I said, life is a fish bowl. For her (Ross,) for whatever reason, she has faced some severe scrutiny. I wouldnít want to be in thatposition. But I have never had any problems at all, with CJ.
RM: OK. I have friends, boxing fans that want to be judges. They think it is so easy. They say, ďAll you do is watch the fight and score it.Ē But it is so much different when you are out there, right?
SM: Totally different. One of the things we talk about in the (judges) seminars is that thevast majorityof the public does not know what we do and how we do it. And the how we do it part, occasionally applies towards knowledge fans and experts. Most people donít realize that we judge 12, three-minute fights. And we hand in our scorecard after every round. That is a very basic function of the judge most fans, and certainly the casual fans, donít see. Judging a fight is far more complicated than just watching a fight.
RM: Have you ever handed in a scorecard that you regret?
SM: No. There have been some difficult fights to score but I donít regret the scores.
RM: So, you are telling me that you do not feel any apprehension during the 12thround of a close fight?
SM: No. I donít. Itís a hard thing to do, as you can imagine. You canít listen to the voices in your head. You canít listen to the screaming people behind you. Dealing with that pressure is a part of my job. I must scorefairly. I must score the round based on exactly what I saw. Not, ďOh crap, here is the 12thround,Ē I canít think, ďOh man, this is close.Ē I have to take all of those thoughts out of my head.
RM: So, I guess that does make you a perfectionist.
SM: Maybe. I prefer to think of it that we (judges) all try to do our jobs to the best of our abilities. I am not a perfectionist in my personal life. If I were a perfectionist, I certainly wouldnít be playing golf.
You can follow Ray on Twitter @raymarkarian or email him at raymond.markarian@yahoo.com