By Armando Garcia
When to stop or not stop a bout are the most difficult and critical decisions a referee has to make in the ring. If done too fast, the event is damaged completely. If done too slow, the boxer could become seriously injured or die.
Only good judgment and ring experience can help a referee make these decisions correctly.
This installment of “The Professional Boxing Referee” is on ring mechanics for knockdowns and guidelines on handling the downed boxer.
The general rules of boxing as well as all organized rules dictate that a boxer is deemed downed if when struck by a legal blow(s) any part other than the soles of his feet touch the canvas. He may also be considered down if he is hanging helplessly on the ropes as a result of a legal blow(s); or, if when struck by a legal blow(s) only the ropes prevented him from being knocked down.
On some occasions, one sees boxers badly hurt from taking repeated punches on the ropes or being struck hard with punches and bouncing off the ropes and knockdowns are not called. Referees tend to call only clear and obvious knockdowns. However, in cases when a boxer is struck hard and is held up by the ropes, and his reaction is poor, a knockdown call may be appropriate. In these rare cases, the knockdown rule is not being consistently or aptly applied.
Referees should read the knockdown rule carefully as it may apply to these select situations and as you are watching boxing on television look for them. This may help you in determining these unconventional ‘down’ cases when you are in the ring. Granted, it takes great judgment, knowledge and guts to make these calls, but not making these calls at the appropriate times in the appropriate cases, however rare they are, is detrimental to a boxer’s health.
These difficult decisions that may determine the winner of a round are akin to those of a judge awarding a 10-8 round without a knockdown. Although seemingly unconventional or incorrect to old time aficionados, the fact is, there is a difference between a routine 10-9 round and a round in which a boxer is stunned badly, maybe even held up by the ropes, without going down; and a referee does not declare a knockdown. If you were a boxer, which round would you prefer being on the winning end of? The routine 10-9 or the latter? Another question, who won the round more clearly? The answers are obvious.
This philosophy in no way promotes a standing eight count in professional boxing. I strongly believe that there is no place for a standing eight count in professional boxing. A standing eight count is a completely different situation to those we are discussing.
Referees are to pay particularly close attention to a boxer who is on the ropes taking punches. Generally, there is no standing eight count, but as previously stated. ‘…if he is hanging helplessly on the ropes’… or if …’only the ropes hold him up after receiving a blow(s)’…, it is a legitimate knockdown.
This is a very tough call to make. Holyfield-Cooper and more recently Casamayor-Santana are a couple of instances where these calls were made properly. In both cases, this referee action allowed the bout to properly develop. Not making that call would have caused either a premature stoppage or a vicious beating on the ropes because neither of the affected boxers was going to go down easy. Simply put, they suffered hard blows and were held up by the ropes. If the ropes would not have been there, they would have surely gone down. Popular or not, that is the rule regardless of what anyone says.
Be alert and aware that the aforementioned guidelines set the rule for a knockdown. They are there for safety and to assist in determining a winner.
If a referee decides to rule a knockdown when the boxer is either hanging on the ropes or was struck and only the ropes held him up, he must be absolutely sure that the rule applies to the situation exactly.
If you initiate a count, complete the count unless the boxer needs immediate medical attention. Give the boxer a chance to recuperate and give yourself a chance to fully evaluate him. Again, that is unless it is obvious that the boxer needs immediate medical attention.
The referee should pay close attention to all knockdowns. Some situations require closer attention.
1. The boxer goes down hard and hits the back of his head on the canvas. Striking the canvas in this manner greatly increases the risk of injury.
2. The boxer goes down face first. This clear unnatural reaction to being struck demonstrates a complete loss of muscle control. When a boxer goes down like this, most likely the bout is over.
3. When the boxer’s neck strikes the bottom or middle ropes as he is falling back and then it bounces up.
4. The boxer goes down and then, during your count, he goes down again without receiving another blow.
PROCEDURES FOR A KNOCKDOWN
Referees are different and not all knockdowns are the same. With this in mind, here are some basic mechanics referees should follow in the event of a knockdown:
1. Motion the boxer who scored the knockdown to the furthest neutral corner.
2. Pick up the count from the knockdown judge.
3. Position yourself so that you can focus on the downed boxer, the other boxer, and the knockdown judge and timekeeper.
4. Count aloud and succinctly while gesticulating with your hands the numbers of the count.
5. While counting, concentrate on the downed boxer and look for signs of weakness such as position of the eyes, glassy stare, dilation of pupils, lack of steady equilibrium, bad cuts or bleeding, etc.
6. Do not over concentrate on the boxer in the neutral corner unless he exits the corner and forces you to stop the count.
7. Use both hands when counting six through ten.
8. Position your hands so that the downed boxer can see them. Do not fan, wave, etc. your hands.
9. Do not demonstrate excessive emotion. In other words, do not over dramatize the knockdown.
10. At the count of 8 or 9, render your critical decision. That is, stop the bout or allow it to continue.
At the moment that you are evaluating the boxer, be at about arm’s length to him. Don’t get closer. Avoid touching the boxer. Take a position where you can give both yourself and as many present a chance to see the condition of the boxer.
If the referee decides to stop the bout, signal this decision by waving with one or both hands above your head. Then demonstrate respect and compassion to the boxer by removing his mouthpiece and escorting him to his corner if possible. If a boxer protests your stoppage, take a step back from him. Do not argue with him or offer any condolences or apologies.
If you elect to allow the bout to continue, clean the boxer’s gloves and order the boxers to box.
Another tough call is when a boxer suffers a knockdown and goes down again without receiving another blow.
In the Tzsyu-Judah bout, Judah went down without receiving another blow and the bout was subsequently stopped. The correctness or not of the stoppage is not a focus here. It is mentioned as a reference point. It is the mechanics and the considerations for a referee in this situation we will discuss.
There are several things to consider in this situation.
In all knockdown situations, if a boxer goes down there is a mandatory eight count. That means that even if the boxer rises to his feet the referee must continue the count up to at least eight. Again, that is unless the boxer needs immediate attention.
If after a knockdown and during the count, the fighter goes down again without receiving another blow, the referee should continue the count (unless the fighter is obviously hurt and needs immediate medical attention).
Safety is paramount, but unless the fighter is in an obviously dangerous situation, the referee should continue his count if the fighter goes down a second time without receiving another blow. This is at the sole discretion and good judgment of the referee.
The sport demands a definitive conclusion to every bout. Considering this when making critical decisions is vital. Let the ‘experts’ call it any way they want later.
EVALUATING THE DOWNED BOXER
Although there is no descript way to teach someone to do this, there are tell tale signs that can help a Referee make his critical decision. Some are:
Change of skin color
Open mouth with poor heavy breathing
Unbalanced stance or gait
Lack of muscle control
Nausea or vomiting
Claims of strong head or earache
Bad cuts, lacerations or swellings
When it comes to the latter, generally, there is no set rule as to when the bout should be stopped due to cuts, lacerations or swellings. Of course, any heavy bleeding or swelling that interferes severely with the boxer’s eyesight most likely should prompt a bout stoppage.
The columns on this site in the “Sopranos of Ring Safety” section discuss relevant issues to our topics and are a must read for all boxing people, especially referees.
All of these situations outlined above are potentially dangerous to the health and career of the boxer. Good judgment and a consultation with the Ringside Physician are the Referee’s best tools in these situations.
It is your call to stop the bout. Be both alert and patient. Examine the boxer during the count and be ready to make a decision. Don’t dwell on the ‘one you’d like to take back’. That one is over. Concentrate!
ANOTHER IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION
It is a 10 count, no more and no less. Recent tendencies upon reaching the count of 8 or 9 are to talk to the downed boxer and have him walk to you. These actions make the count go well over 10 seconds. This variation from referee to referee and many times, from count to count, may give a boxer an unfair advantage over his opponent. Asking the downed boxer if he would like to continue and having him take a step or two towards you is surely acceptable. However, spending a longer period is not advisable.
A well-schooled and experienced Referee is able to evaluate the boxer within the time frame that the rules dictate.
ATTENDING TO THE DOWNED BOXER
A beaten boxer should be immediately attended to. The joy of one boxer and the magnitude of an event should not overshadow the physical condition of a boxer. Don’t leave or even as much as turn your back on a beaten boxer.
Demonstrating compassion to the beaten boxer is mandatory. Never leave a beaten boxer to tend to himself. Escort him back to his corner and remove his mouthpiece whenever possible.
With this said, don’t over do it. Avoid excesses. The goal is to treat a beaten boxer with respect, not to try to steal a moment for the camera. Referees look quite ridiculous doing this.
Fans love the knockout. Referees should fear it. One solid blow or a combination of blows can leave you with a fallen boxer. Fallen for good. Then your career will forever change. If you don’t think so, ask any referee who’s had a boxer die in the ring. Boxing is serious business, period. Do your job and do it well all of the time. The consequences could be horrifying.
If a KO instance occurs, the referee will immediately summon the ringside physician to examine the boxer. He will stay with the boxer until he is under the care of the physician. At the request of the physician, he may stay and assist him or her. However, if the referee is no longer needed, he will remove himself and immediately notify the commission representative and supervisor of his decision. Allow the ringside physician and inspector to give immediate care to the downed boxer.
It is important to note that reaching the count of 10 or not is not indicative of the length of time a boxer may be suspended. Communication with the ringside physician at this critical point is vital to the safety and well being of the boxer.
Any comments boxing friends?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Armando Garcia is presently licensed as a Referee by the Florida State Boxing Commission, the Miccosukee Athletic Commission and the World Boxing Association (WBA). He is a former International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) Referee/Judge for the USA.
He has been involved in boxing for over 16 years and has refereed 21 world championship fights and judged 8 others since 1994. He regularly conducts international seminars for the WBA and has done so in the USA, Thailand, Spain, Nicaragua and Venezuela. He was recently selected as the WBA International Official of the Year.
He was born in Cuba and immigrated to the United States in 1959.
He presently serves as Facilities Director for Perry Ellis International, a leader in the apparel industry, in Miami, Florida. He is also a former veteran police Detective in the South Florida area.
DISCLAIMER, WAIVER OF RIGHTS AND INDEMNITY
The ”The Professional Boxing Referee” columns are prepared by Armando Garcia in an effort to establish a criterion for dealing with numerous referee situations and as an attempt to interpret professional boxing rules in a simple manner. In the series he will also be discussing various important issues related to professional boxing.
Although he has a vast boxing resume, the views, opinions, and/or recommendations contained in this series of columns reflect his own interpretation of referee rules and procedures and not necessarily those of the entities that license him.
Furthermore, since it is possible that general information herein may pertain only to a law, regulation, rule or MARGINAL standard of practice for a particular jurisdiction, a referee, boxer or his/her representatives must always inquire with the appropriate licensing jurisdiction to determine the applicable laws, regulations, rules, and MARGINAL standards of practice for each jurisdiction.
All readers are advised that the information herein is intended solely as a general reference source, and to the fullest extent permitted by law, the information is provided “AS IS” without any warranties of any kind, whether expressed or implied, including without limitation, warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose and non-infringement. No one may rely on the accuracy, integrity, quality or completeness of the general information herein. Accordingly, neither the author nor anyone else affiliated with any website or press entity may be held liable for damages of any kind whatsoever allegedly caused or resulting from any such claimed reliance.
If anyone has any questions about this Disclaimer, Waiver of Rights and Indemnity, or any column, he or she should contact Armando Garcia at: