By Larry Hazzard, Sr.
The sport of boxing has often been described as brutal and beyond regulating. Some critics have even called for its abolishment. Although much of the criticism has been the result of unpopular judges’ decisions, referees have also had their share of mis-steps, which have drawn the wrath of critics. No one can argue the importance of judges in determining the outcome of a boxing match, but the referee is the most visible of all officials and everything he does is constantly under scrutiny.
The referee has a very crucial role in facilitating a boxing match. His role as a major arbitrator is clearly defined and allows very little room for error. Often, the entire future of a boxer’s career and, sometimes, his life hinges on the single action or inaction of the referee.
The process for selecting a referee should begin with identifying a referee, whose actions are guided by protecting the basic principles of the boxer’s health, safety and welfare. The referee’s individual perception of the sport, as well as his total comprehension of his duties are most important in this regard.
It is most important for the referee to be able to justify his actions by being able to interpret relative rules and regulations associated with such actions. However, mere knowledge of rules and regulations, alone, is not adequate to enhance a referee’s effectiveness. Also, he must always demonstrate the courage to act quickly and correctly in critical situations, irrespective of anticipated criticisms.
A referee, who has a firm grasp of ring mechanics, has less difficulty regulating a contest, than one who does not. Ring mechanics include a variety of skills such as giving instructions to boxers, breaking clinches, issuing warnings, deducting points, counting over a fighter who has been knocked to the canvas, and stopping a contest.
Weight and height can be a factor to consider when selecting a referee, depending upon the selector’s knowledge of a particular referee’s abilities, based on past performances in commanding, directing and controlling contests involving boxers in the heavier weight classes. If a referee lacks the strength to physically break the boxers apart, or does not have the ability to exert the proper amount of voice command, combined with ring presence, then he may not be suited to adequately referee these heavier weight class bouts.
Conversely, in bouts involving lighter weight classes, the referee’s weight and height can also be a factor to consider. The referee must be able to moderate his strength when separating these lighter weight class bouts.
In major championship bouts, great consideration should be given to selecting a referee who does not have a previous history of controversial actions in the ring. Of course, in fairness to the referee, these situations should be examined very closely by the selector to ensure that the controversial recorded situations are factual in their basis, rather than opinionated in nature.
If members of either camp voice concerns over a particular referee, it should be duly noted for the record, and the selector should notify the referee of the concern. If, however, members of either camp voice a strong objection to the referee, and the objections can be substantiated with reasonable facts, then the selector should reconsider his selection of that particular referee.
These concerns are important for consideration of all bouts. Realistically, however, an extra measure of consideration should be given to major world class championship and other televised non-title bouts.
Larry Hazzard, Sr. was a three-time Golden Glove Champion in the early 1960's. He began as a professional referee in 1978 and went on to referee numerous world champion boxing events. He was a public school principal and the Chief Boxing Referee in New Jersey, when he was appointed Commissioner to the New Jersey Athletic Control Board in 1985.He is the author of the Unified Championship Rules of Conduct for professional Boxing, used for championship events conducted in the United States.