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“Randy’s” Ringside On Ringside Report: Lame Duck President Donald J. Trump Is About to Be Out & Bad Officials Need to Be Out of Boxing Too!


By Randy “The Commish” Gordon

It’s the end of another year. Actually, it’s more than that. It’s the end of the worst year we’ve ever lived through. But, there’s good news: Change is coming.

We know change is coming to Washington. That’s a welcomed certainty. With that change will also come a steady reduction of COVID-19 cases and deaths. It’s about time.

It’s also about time state athletic/boxing commissions look into taking complete control over the poor officiating we have been seeing more and more of.

Once upon a (long) time (ago), I accepted the fact that officiating a boxing match was an inexact and highly-flawed science. That was in my pre-Ring Magazine days. Then, I moved from being the Editor-in-Chief of Ring Magazine to being the Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission. Training new officials was up to me. Licensing new officials was up to me. Choosing officials for every fight in New York State was up to me.

Veterans tried playing politics with me. When title fights came around in New York State and I didn’t assign them to the fight, they’d call everybody from their local councilman to state senators.

They’d also call the head of the alphabet soup organization which was sanctioning the fight and of which they were a member. The head of that organization would then call me personally. Those were interesting phone calls.

The phone call would usually start off on the friendliest of notes:

“How are you, Mr. Chairman?”

“It is so nice to be speaking with you, Commissioner.”

I even got some like this:

“How is my favorite Commissioner?” and “You have made my day by answering my phone call.”

Ugh! When the calls began like that, all I could think was, “What in the world do they want?”

I quickly came to learn that, when I had a title fight on the board in my office, a call from the head of a sanctioning body meant only one thing: They wanted me to put in officials of their choosing.

Those sanctioning body heads quickly learned I would not accept out-of-state officials for a fight within the borders of New York State. When they did attempt to have me accept one, they were shot down—100% of the time!

The sanctioning body honchos then moved to suggesting out-of-state officials to New York State officials, who were also dues-paying members of the sanctioning body. Those members basically wore the insignia of the sanctioning body tattooed on their forehead and above their heart.

I chose the officials I wanted to choose. I had my A-list of officials, both in New York and around the country. I knew who would be working the fight. I knew who wouldn’t. No amount of politics was going to tell me or sell me who would be the referee or judges. Again, that’s because I knew who my officials were and how they approached every bout.

Just because a New York State referee or judge was a dues-paying, card-carrying, convention-going member of a certain sanctioning body didn’t mean he was on my A-list.

On one occasion, after the head of a sanctioning body first pleaded, then argued with me about the insertion of a certain referee, the argument turned into a threat.

“Commissioner, if you don’t use (Name of Official), I will be forced to pull the sanction on the fight. Please don’t make me do that.”

I told him he is never to call me again with a threat. I told him I would have a field day in the media with his threat. Then, I told him, “Don’t pull the sanction—Pull This!”

He didn’t pull anything. The title fight went on, with all four officials being chosen by me. The sanctioning body honcho never threatened me again.

The fact is, each state commission is responsible for the assignment of officials. They are not responsible for their training, however, as many state commissions barely have the budget for much more than a Commissioner or Executive Director, a secretary and an office.

There are also many commissions which are politically-driven. A few Midwestern states, whose Republican governors, following the lead of our lame duck President, Donald J. Trump (who made jokes about the pandemic), didn’t enforce lockdowns or even masks. They allowed combat events—and post-fight parties—to go on, despite the pandemic. The Athletic Commissioner in each of those states is appointed by their Governor, and none have the courage to say, “There will be no crowds allowed at any combat event. And so, the events go on with maskless crowds with no social distancing. And so does the pandemic.

Because of their lack of concern and knowledge of the sport, and because of the lack of a budget, few of those states have seminars for officials.

The fact is, officials need to have frequent seminars, much in the manner that doctors, lawyers, airline pilots, accountants, computer technicians and other professionals are constantly updating and refreshing their knowledge and skillset.

Although lots of officials do receive updated training and refresher courses, most do not. You can see it in their performances when they judge, and you can easily see it when they ref. Can one weekend go by without there being a controversial decision or a controversial call by a referee. There’s only one answer, and it’s not “Yes!”

I have said this countless times, and I will say it again: Judges hold the livelihood of the fighters in their hands. The referee holds the life of the fighter in his/hers hands!

A screwup on the cards—handing the fight to the fighter who actually lost—is bad. It’s terrible. But it’s not disastrous. That’s because there are two other judges watching and scoring the same fight. Hopefully, one of the two of them are able to choose the correct winner. Split decisions are acceptable.

However, when two judges score a fight for the wrong person, it is unacceptable. This is especially true when one fighter wins the bout overwhelmingly, and one or two of the judges score it egregiously out of line. At that point, it’s time for that judge or those judges to try another line of work.

To their credit, the Nevada State Athletic Commission sat down judge C.J. Ross after her second outrageous score in 15 months.

In the first of her controversial calls, she scored the June 9, 2012, Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley fight 115-113 for Bradley. A second judge, Jerry Roth, considered one of the best judges ever, scored it 115-113 for Pacquiao—the way most observers saw it. But when veteran judge Duane Ford scored it the same way as Ross, it took some of the heat off of her. Although the boxing world was against both her and Ford, the both of them continued to work. In fact, Ms. Ross was back in her judge’s seat the following month, working a fight for the vacant IBF Middleweight Title. Ford worked for another year, several in title fights, before hanging up his scorecard and pencil after working a card on June 8, 2013—one day shy of one year since his controversial scoring of Bradley-Pacquiao.

As for Ms. Ross, the next 15 months were busy for her, as well. She was assigned to at least 20 shows during that time, including several title bouts.

Her judging career came to a crashing end on September14, 2013, when she was assigned—along with Dave Moretti and Craig Metcalfe—to judge the Floyd Mayweather, JR.-Canelo Alvarez fight for the unified Super Welterweight Title fight from the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Although she had worked numerous title bouts in her 21-year career, the Mayweather, JR.-Alvarez fight was the highest-profile assignment she had ever been given.

Nevada’s Executive Director—Keith Kizer—was warned by many top-level authorities about giving Ms. Ross the assignment. He thanked them all for their concern, but let Ms. Ross take a seat as one of the three judges.

In a 12-round bout which went to a decision, Mayweather, JR. did everything but stop Alvarez. On the cards of Metcalfe and Moretti, Mayweather, JR. won by scores of 117-111 and 116-112, respectively. My card, watching from a ringside media seat, was identical to Metcalfe’s card. In my mind, and in the minds of all the media I spoke to at ringside, Alvarez did not win more than three rounds. Even Moretti’s 116-112 score for Alvarez was generous to the then-22-year-old Alvarez.

C.J. Ross had the fight 114-114—a draw! Afterwards, even Alvarez, when asked about Ross’ card, said, “Mayweather, JR. won. He taught me a lot. I don’t know what fight she was watching.”

Horrified of her non-sensical card, and of her questionable decision 15-months earlier, C.J. Ross resigned from her position as a boxing judge. A year later, and under tremendous flack for putting Ross in the fight, Kizer resigned as Executive Director.

It’s up to the commissions to keep records of every round of every fight scored by every official licensed by them. Unfortunately, most commissions do not keep such records, other than to know when the last time a judge or referee worked. That’s why there are far too many questionable decisions and horrific stoppages.

Should judges be “punished” for turning in a scorecard which doesn’t remotely resemble the fight they just watched? I believe they should. Not in close, competitive, two-sided fights should they be punished. As we well know, close fights happen quite often. But, in one-sided fights like Mayweather, JR.-Alvarez, a draw verdict is not acceptable. In the case of C.J. Ross, punishment was not necessary, because, as mentioned, she resigned.

In the case of officials who do not resign or are not dismissed, the commission should deal with them this way: Make them score every fight on a practice basis on 10 local shows from a “Punishment Seat” at ringside—without pay. Every member of the commission will come to know that seat, perhaps a different color that the surrounding seats, is being occupied by a judge who is being disciplined by the commission. Any judge who feels the punishment is too harsh has an option: Resign!

One state already uses this type of punishment, and finds it very effective in keeping their judges sharp. If the day ever comes where I find myself back in charge of the NYSAC—or any other commission—my first order of business will be the institution of the seat no judge ever wants to sit in: “The Ross Seat,” named after C.J. Ross.

Whenever a judge scored a fight horrifically wrong during my years as Chairman of the NYSAC, I used to have that judge come into my office in the days following the fight, so we could review it while it was still fresh in the judge’s mind. The excuses I heard as to why the judge scored a one-sided fight the wrong way ranged from unbelievable to comical to heartbreaking:

“I was in a fender-bender on the way to the fights,” was one excuse.

“My grandmother passed away last week, and I couldn’t get my mind off of her passing—and still can’t!” was another.

“It was stressful getting to the arena in this storm,” was yet another.
“I woke up with a migraine and still had it the night of the fights,” came one creative excuse.

Then came this excuse. After sitting through an eight-round shutout—make than a boxing no-hitter—two of the judges scored it 80-72 for the rightful winner. The third judge scored it 80-72 for the loser. What was his excuse?
“I have dyslexia,” was his eye-opening alibi. The judge gave every round of the fight to a boxer named Hernandez, when, in fact, his opponent, whose last name was Fernandez, actually won every round!

Then, there was this classic:

“Right before I left for the arena, my daughter told us she was pregnant.” When I said “Congratulations” to the judge, he said, “Thanks. But she doesn’t even have a boyfriend!”

That one goes into the “Excuse Hall of Fame.”

Don’t ever let me hear you say being a Commissioner is an easy job!

Dealing with referees is even tougher. That’s because nearly all have egos larger than the state in which they live. Every one of them believes they are the best. The fact is, many are referees because of “political juice.” They were aboard the commission before the current commission took over. They knew somebody, or knew somebody who knew somebody. A Councilman. A Congressman. A Senator. The Governor. Favors were called in. Yep, that’s how politics often works. Very often! Too often!

I didn’t play that game. Thankfully, neither did my boss, who was NY Gov. Mario M. Cuomo. When he swore me in as Chairman of the NYSAC, he said, “The agency is yours. Go run it!” He meant what he said.

When I gave assignments to officials, it made those officials very happy. It made the unassigned officials unhappy, and they tried playing their political games. It got them nowhere.

Sweeping changes need to be made in officiating, not just in New York, but across the country. Judges need to improve how they view fights. They have to improve their scoring. While we all look for COVID-19 to dissipate and for boxing to return throughout the world on a fulltime basis, we also need to see a decline in the amount of head-shaking decisions which are becoming so common.

As for referees, they need at least as much training as judges. They need hands-on seminars, like the Sole Arbiter classes given by veteran California officials Jack Reiss and Pat Russell.

When boxing does return after the pandemic subsides, most officials—outside of Nevada and California, and in states such as Florida and Connecticut, which have been running shows from casinos—will have been inactive for well over a year.

Officials, especially referees, need activity to stay sharp. I can tell you that, in my home state of New York, and in the surrounding states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with no boxing shows of any kind since early last March and with gyms all but locked down, referees are going to be rustier than ever.

On another note is the playing-to-the-camera by many referees. Years ago, Hall-of-Fame referee Mills Lane flicked the tip of his nose with an index finger when introduced by the ring announcer. Then, after calling the fighters to the center of the ring to quickly go over the rules he had explained in detail to them an hour earlier in the dressing room and asking if either had any questions, he uttered the phrase “Let’s get it on!” As Lane was an innovator, as well as a respected, no nonsense world-class referee, his showmanship was actually enjoyable. However, far-too-many referees have turned their assignment as third man in the ring into a made-for-TV comedy show.

One New York referee—Steve Willis—makes theatrical faces during his time in the ring, especially after an exchange of punches or when one fighter lands a clean, hard punch.

Hall-of-Fame announcer Jim Lampley, for one, loved the performance, saying it was entertaining.

I, for another, loathe it.

When Willis—or any official—makes any kind of expression after a hard punch, he or she is telling everyone—including the three judges—“Yes, that was some punch! Make sure you remember that shot when you fill out your cards at the end of the round.” That face, that expression, just might be enough to sway a judge, or judges, as how to score the round, especially in a round which was close.

If I was Commissioner, I would demand that Willis’ theatrics cease immediately. To Willis, and other referees who love playing to the crowd, let me remind you that the crowd is there to watch the fights, not to see you perform. You don’t see NFL referees doing a dance when a player makes a diving catch in the endzone…you don’t see a MLB umpire jumping for joy when a player hits a walk-off homerun…you don’t see an NBA referee celebrating when a player hits a game-winning buzzer-beater…you don’t see an NHL referee doing pirouettes when a player scores a hat trick. In boxing, referees are there to enforce the rules and to protect the fighters from taking unnecessary punishment. They are not there to perform and make faces.

In addition, playing around during the course of action takes away a referee’s concentration, as I thought happened in the December 12, 2020 WBA Super Featherweight Title fight between Chris Colbert and Jaime Arboleda, which Willis refereed from the Mohegan Sun Casino. In that fight, Colbert stopped Arboleda in the 11th round. In stopping the bout, Willis nearly fell on top of a dazed Arboleda as he stopped the contest.

To every referee, I say “Concentrate!” It’s one of the things officials Reiss and Russell teach in their valuable seminars. They do not teach how and when to make ridiculous, unnecessary, obnoxious faces.

A new year is here. A new administration is headed to Washington, D.C. Hopefully, a pandemic will soon be gone.

We can also hope that 2021 will be a year which sees our ring officials finally getting it right.

It’s really about time.

Randy “The Commish” Gordon is the Author of the hit book, “Glove Affair”. Order your copy by clicking HERE.

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