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14 NOVEMBER 2018


Refereeing Amateur vs. Professional Fights

By Kenny Bayless

At times, boxing fans must get confused watching referees use different methods to maintain control of the fight and insure boxer safety. For example, why does one referee use mostly voice commands and another physically separate the boxers? Why does one fighter get a standing-8-count and another doesn’t. Most of these variations stem from the differences between the rules governing amateur versus professional fights.

For starters, let's discuss the subject of control. In an amateur fight, the referee is limited to voice commands and hand signals. Only three words can be used during the action: "stop," "break," and "box."

The "stop" command is used when the referee is warning the fighter about a foul that he or she has committed. When the referee is ready for the action to resume, the command "box" is used. "Break" is used to separate the fighters from a clenched position. After the "break" command is given, the fighters are to stop fighting and take a clear step back before continuing to fight.

All other communication with amateur boxers is through hand signals. There are signals for "keep your punches up," "keep your head up," etc. All cautions, warnings and point deductions are given by use of these hand signals.

Professional referees have several other options. First they can verbalize anything that needs to be said directly to the boxer. Often they use hand signals as well, which helps spectators know is being said to the fighters. Next, they can physically separate boxers, as needed, when the "break" command is used.

In amateur boxing, referees can use the standing-8-count at their discretion. In Nevada and most other states, under the Unified Rules, there is no standing-8-count in professional boxing. In amateur bouts, a 3-knockdown rule (in one round) is in effect. Under the Unified Rules for professional boxing, there is no 3-knockdown rule.

There are a few differences between professional and amateur bouts that most fans would never see. In the amateurs, the referee alone polices the ring, making sure there is no excess slack in the floor of the ring or the ropes, and that there is nothing on the ring apron or stairs. The referee checks between rounds to make sure there is no excess water left by the corner personnel that could cause the fighters to slip. The amateur referee must also silence excessive or loud coaching from trainers. At professional events, referees are aided in these duties by other employees of the Boxing Commission, called "Inspectors."

Another subtle difference in the two programs is with pre-fight instructions. With professionals, referees visit each fighter's dressing room to review the rules of the bout. In the amateurs, boxers are instructed regarding the rules by their trainers only.

Finally, at the end of every amateur contest, the referee directs both fighters to the fight doctor for an examination. In the pros, the fight doctor decides which fighters to examine based on the intensity and outcome of the fight.

Fight fans will get a much broader view of the sport of boxing by enjoying both amateur and professional bouts. For information on local amateur events, contact the Golden Gloves Gym at 649-3535.


Growing up in Berkeley, California, I often found myself sitting by the radio listening to the fights. Muhammad Ali was my favorite boxer. As television coverage of boxing grew, I spent a lot of time watching the fights.

When I attended my first live fight in Las Vegas I was hooked. I didn't miss a single local bout for years. With such an intense interest, it made sense for me to get more involved in the sport. My first thought was judging. I would often keep an "unofficial" score card to compare scores with the professional judges after the fight. One day, a judge said to me, "You're in pretty good shape; you should try refereeing." My first response was, “No way; you can’t get me in there." But after thinking about it further, I thought, "Why not try?" For the next several years I studied the third man in the ring.

I began my involvement with the Golden Gloves Amateur Program, first as a judge and then as a referee, in 1979. I remained active in this program for fifteen years, refereeing over 300 amateur fights. I started at the local level and worked my way up through to the state and national Golden Gloves finals. I received four outstanding amateur referee awards as well as other achievements throughout the program.

In 1991, I was appointed as a professional referee by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. It has always been my desire to be an excellent official. I have worked hard to better my skills, watching hundreds of hours of boxing tapes, and spending hundreds more in the gym, working out with fighters and officiating practice bouts. All this training in my early years is what developed my confidence to become one of the best referees in my profession.

On a personal level, I moved to Las Vegas to teach school after graduating from California State University at Hayward in 1972. After 28 years of teaching physical education at William Orr Middle School, I recently transferred to the Juvenile Detention School. Through the years, I have coached all sports, including my specialty, track and field. My twin brother and I participated on an All American 4x400-meter relay team during college.

I met my wife, Lynora, at a boxing match in 1979 and I guess you could say, it was "love at first fight." We both consider our greatest accomplishment our three sons, James, 21; Kenny Jr. (Ryan), 18; and Alex, 16.

My advice to anyone interested in getting more involved in the sport of boxing: "Be willing to pay your dues. Participate in the amateurs and be involved for the love of the sport. You never know where that might lead."


Mr. Kenny Bayless has been a resident of Las Vegas, Nevada since 1972 after graduating from California State University at Hayward. He had been a Physical Education teacher for over 28 years when he recently transferred to the Juvenile Detention School. He began as a Professional Boxing Referee with the Nevada State Athletic Commission in 1991. Although he is a boxing official for the Nevada State Athletic Commission, all of the views, opinions, and/or recommendations contained herein are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. All readers are strongly cautioned that the information contained herein is not intended to, and never should, substitute for the necessity of seeking the advice of a qualified medical, legal, or financial professional whenever a boxer or his/her representatives have specific questions regarding the best course of action that a boxer should take. Furthermore, since it is possible that general information herein may pertain only to a law, regulation, rule or acceptable standard of practice for a particular jurisdiction, a boxer or his/her representatives must always inquire with the appropriate licensing jurisdiction to determine the applicable laws, regulations, rules, and acceptable 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 express 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 authors, editors nor anyone else affiliated with this website may be held liable for damages of any kind whatsoever allegedly caused or resulting from any such claimed reliance.

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