May 3, 2001 – Interview by Clive Bernath: Richard Steele (pictured) is without question the world’s most experienced referee. Having taken charge of more than 140 world title contests, he has experienced the great fights more closely than anyone over the last 30 years.
There were many great encounters spanning that golden era. But one sticks out more than most - the night Steele took charge of the “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler vs Tommy ‘The Hitman’ Hearns showdown in 1985.
Hagler destroyed Hearns in three brutal rounds in a bout generally accepted as the greatest short fight in boxing history.
Steele, now retired and harbouring ambitions in the promotional side of the sport, shared his experiences of that great night with SecondsOut. He remembers that he was both surprised and delighted to get the job.
"At that time, to do a fight of that magnitude, for me was unheard of,” said Steele. “There are no words that can express my excitement at being announced as the fight referee because I knew it had the ingredients to be one of the greatest fights of all time.”
Steele was right and just the thought of the fight still excites him. ”It lived up to all the expectations and, for me to even see it now, gives me a rush because the excitement is still there,” he said.
Surprisingly, highly-charged and exciting fights like Hagler-Hearns very rarely require much work from the referee. But, when Hagler was badly cut in the second round, it looked as if the fight would be stopped and Steele would forever be labelled as the man responsible for ending, potentially the greatest fight of all time.
But, with the help of a medical opinion and the venomous power in Hagler’s fists, Steele did not need to make that fateful decision.
“It makes no difference about what was going on at all,” said Steele. “When blood is running into a guy’s eyes and he can't see, I have to get a medical opinion. And that’s all it was.
“I didn't want to take so much on myself so I got a medical opinion. It's important to get that opinion because a referee can get caught up in the drama of the occasion and maybe overlook something.
“(Hagler) told me, and a lot of people don't know this, but Hagler told me, 'I'm not going to allow you to stop the fight on a cut', so I said, ‘Well go ahead and fight’. And that’s when he went out in the third and knocked (Hearns) out.”
Of all the world and non-title fights Steele has officiated, it comes as no surprise when he says the third round was the most ferocious and exciting round he has ever refereed.
"If you stop to realise what really happened. I never seen it before and I've never seen it since,” said Steele. “They call him ‘The Hitman’. They call him that because he has a right hand that can knock down a wall of a building.
“He hit Hagler in the head and split his head with his right hand. I never seen that before. And you know what, Hagler didn't move at all. It didn't hurt Hagler at all. He just shook his head and kept on coming.
“These two were truly great fighters. I just wished that these younger guys would look at some of these great fights and try and model themselves on these great fighters,” concluded Steele.