May 29, 2001 – Boxing’s most famous referee Richard Steele has been the third man in more than 140 world title fights during a 30 year career. The Las Vegas, Nevada-based Steele started his career in a small Bakersfield hall in 1972 and ended it with the bitter, high profile grudge match between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Diego Corrales in January. SecondOut.com’s Clive Bernath spoke to Steele about his first ever world title fight and why he will never referee again.
Richard Steele, a father of four, is content in his position as the Director of Boxing at the Sugar Ray Leonard Nevada Partners Gym in Las Vegas, following his recent retirement. He is now coaching fighters and hoping to produce the champions of the future. But while the aforementioned Steele is focused on the future, he remains happy to reminisce about the past.
Steele’s first world title assignment came in 1976, just four years after he refereed his first fight. It was the WBC bantamweight title clash between Carlos Zarate and Paul Ferreri, and Steele remembers being very impressed with the little Mexican. “Zarate was a great fighter,” said Steele.
“He was a great puncher, boxer. He was a great Mexican fighter. It was a great thrill for me because you had all these referees I’d been watching for many years. All these great referees, and I get picked over them to do it. And I said to myself, ...man I couldn’t believe it.
“And I knew they couldn’t believe it, ether. We had a guy at the time called Joey Olmos at the time who was the boxing director for California, and he picked me. He said it’s time,” smiled Steele.
And does he remember feeling scared going into his first ever world title fight. “There was no doubt in my mind that I could do the job,” recalled Steele. “I was just scared. I was scared because I wanted to do a good job. But as soon as the bell rang and I got into the fight I was okay.”
So why did boxing’s No.1 middleman decide to call it day, without any warning? “I had been refereeing for 30 years I wanted to finish on top,” said Steele. “And when the Mayweather-Corrales fight was happening I said to myself, ‘Boy, this is great fight’. Then I said this is a great fight to go out on. I’d always felt that within the last six months (before the Mayweather/Corrales fight), I was thinking about when I would retire. I didn’t know how or I didn’t know where I was gonna quit.
“But I knew one thing, I wanted to quit on top. I’ve always said to myself, why does this guy want to make a comeback. I mean all these fighters that make comebacks. I’ve always said that they should quit while they’re on top while their name is still marketable,” he added.
Steele is also decidedly adamant that he has now retired and will not be back, under any circumstances. “No, no, no, I will never referee a fight again,” said Steele, positively. “I’m a trainer now and I’m training young fighters and I’m very happy with that. Hopefully I will get a chance to start promoting. I want to promote both amateur and professional fights.”