Sunday, October 15, 2017

Opinions and Observations: The Junior Middleweights

Once upon a time in the not too distant past, Jermell Charlo was one of the flavors of the month. A young kid with a good amateur pedigree but not much of a fan base, Charlo was given slot after slot on Showtime, often against less-than-worthy competitors. It was as if he was being foisted upon us by power broker Al Haymon and Showtime boxing; there was little demand from the boxing community for his services.  

Through his development fights, Charlo had proven to be a competent boxer but not exactly a sizzling talent. He had a fantastic jab, good footwork and was generally well coached. However, he seemed to be missing an "X-Factor." Sure, he had some skills, but why should we care? And why was he always on TV?

Courtesy of Tom Casino/Showtime Boxing
Flash forward to Saturday night, where a top amateur prospect, one with even more hype than Charlo had, was getting his first title shot on a Showtime undercard. Erickson Lubin, just 22, had been considered one of the best American amateur boxing products before turning pro. In his brief time in the professional ranks, he had amassed a record of 18-0 with 13 knockouts. Despite not having faced legitimate tests as a pro, his team and handlers determined that it was his time to get the glory. The only issue: he had to go through Jermell Charlo first. 

Within moments after the start of the fight, Lubin twitched on the canvas, unable to move his upper body after a pinpoint uppercut from close range. And just like that, a young prospect turned to dust.  

During his post-fight interview, Charlo, accompanied by his brother, Jermall (a former junior middleweight titlist who now campaigns at middleweight), was downright surly. Aggrieved by what he perceived as the wheels of the boxing business trying to roll over him, Charlo was unable to provide a note of grace. His anger seethed to the forefront. Unlike many current champions, Charlo had had a long gestation process in his ascension up the ranks. Before he received his first title shot, Charlo had faced notable fighters such as Denis Douglin, Demetrius Hopkins, Gabriel Rosado and Vanes Martirosyan. These were credible B-level boxers who had helped Charlo refine his craft and improve in the ring. When Charlo finally fought for his first title in 2016, he felt like he had earned his opportunity. 

Lubin's resume included none of the types of fighters that Charlo had faced on his way up. He was on an expedited journey to the top, competition be damned. However, there are very few fighters in the sport who can prosper while taking shortcuts at the highest level of boxing. Yes, there are extraordinary talents that can make it to the top without traditional development, but they are a rare breed. Errol Spence made such a leap this year when he defeated Kell Brook in England. But at least he had faced a recent titleholder in Chris Algieri prior to his shot. He also had international Olympic experience and unlike Lubin was already 27 years old, far farther along in his maturity and development. 

Gervonta Davis was another fighter who had made a similar leap this year by winning a title over Jose Pedraza, but already those early signs of promise have started to look like misplaced optimism. Davis missed weight last fight, giving up his title belt on the scales. He also got hit a ton in that fight against a guy who was brought in to get KO'ed spectacularly. Davis, like Lubin, is 22 and already faces an early precipice in his career. Are these examples of too much too soon?

There is no science in developing fighters. No one gets it right 100% of the time. Even the best make mistakes. However, giving a hot prospect paltry opposition does no one any good. The fighter gets shortchanged. His trainer doesn't get enough of an opportunity to iron out issues in the gym. His handlers don't know exactly what they have in front of them. 

And although it's true that anyone can get knocked cold by a shot, the specific events of Saturday night's fight suggest that the knockout wasn't some type of fluke accident or serendipitous punch, but rather it was an instance of one fighter prepared for the moment, and the other one not.

Charlo fired off a basic double jab. At that point, Lubin ducked his head down and to the right to avoid the shots, losing eye contact with his opponent. Charlo came back with a right uppercut that Lubin never saw. And that was that. Again, this all manifested from a basic set up that one sees at the gym every day. The fight had not gotten ragged and the knockout couldn't be attributed to fighter fatigue or the attrition that so often happens in boxing. That moment was a fighter making a glaring mistake from an ordinary boxing move. Lubin wasn't able to defend himself from a simple double jab. He gave Charlo a free shot. 

Lubin and his team could have observed these problems against an easier opponent, rectified them in the gym and prepared better for the next level. Development bouts exist to minimize the defensive issues that Saturday's fight so easily exposed. Yes, it's nice to create shiny records on the way up, but the real point of development fights is to get better, to hone and to perfect one's craft. 

I don't really understand the inner workings of Haymon Boxing. Some fighters get pushed early for a title (Broner, Jacobs, Davis, Lubin), while others have more traditional development tracks (Thurman, Danny Garcia, the Charlos). What's clear to me is that there is no consistent plan by the organization for development. Although every fighter possesses unique attributes, there should at least be some sort of standard building block process, which can be augmented or changed if needed. Taking young talent and throwing them at a dartboard might lead to some bullseyes, but more often that approach will miss the mark. Fighters have enough to worry about in the ring without being shortchanged in their development. They need to be put in the best position to get the most out of their talent and abilities; Lubin was not. 

On another note, it's no accident that Charlo has started to ascend in the sport after going to a different trainer. Jermell has gained confidence in the ring. He no longer believes that he's the brother who can't punch. With Derrick James, who also trains Spence, Jermell is sitting down on his shots a lot better than he did while under Ronnie Shields (who still trains Jermall). Jermell is also more comfortable in the pocket now, confident that his chin and punch can protect him. These are noted advancements. 

Over the last year, the Charlo brothers have turned into belligerent heels, which is fine by me. At its core, boxing is built on combat. Not everyone needs to be or should be loved. Villains are necessary for the sport to prosper. Juxtapose the Charlos lashing out at the world against the queasy image from Saturday's broadcast that featured rival titlists Keith Thurman and Errol Spence sitting next to each other watching the fights like two business colleagues. They could have been sharing a late cup of tea. Yes, there should be sportsmanship and civility in boxing but the Charlos (perhaps rightly) feel that they have been marginalized in the sport, and perhaps by some in their management. They have grievances and instead of letting their anger manifest in unproductive manners outside the ring, they have channeled their resentments and used them to help make them even better fighters, a valuable lesson for fighters. If their collective anger continues to lead to devastating knockouts, that's wonderful for them – and the sport.  

It's been a rapid transition for the Charlos. After years of toiling on undercards, they are now must-watch TV. Although some may object to their belligerence during interviews, they can be ignored no longer.  They now matter.

***

I made a list of good vs. bad attributes that Jarrett Hurd exhibited in his fight against Austin Trout on Saturday. 

Good Hurd:

Stamina, self-confidence, athleticism, right hand 

Bad Hurd:

Footwork, limited arsenal, walking in without throwing punches, inconsistent jab, defense, glove positioning, punch technique with his left hand, finishing instincts 

To be kind to Hurd, I could've kept going on the "bad" list but I think that my point should suffice. He did so many things wrong against Trout, yet he scored the best win of his career, and did so emphatically. He essentially beat Trout with just a short right hand. Make no mistake: it's a pulverizing punch, but that's all he had. 

Courtesy of Stephanie Trapp
Trout seemed to dig his own grave in the sixth round. Boxing beautifully early in the fight, Trout got greedy in the sixth, standing in the pocket trading with Hurd for far too long. I nudged my girlfriend and shouted out to no one in particular, "What's he doing? He can't stay in there!" Barely could I finish that sentence before Hurd connected with a powerful right hand that sent Trout staggering back to the ropes. In the final moments of the round, Hurd connected with another powerful right that I thought had really hurt Trout. To me, Trout was never the same in the fight. 

In the eighth round, Trout looked like he was ready to go. With wobbly legs and a sharp reduction in his offensive output, Trout was still in the ring only on account of his intestinal fortitude – and Hurd's inability to finish. Hurd didn't have the resources to put punches together that could lead to a knockout. He neglected the body. Throwing in combination was an afterthought. He just marched in and waited for another opportunity to land a right hand. Trout was able to survive the eighth and even made it through the tenth before the fight was stopped in the corner. He had taken a serious beating. 

Hurd's performance reminded me of the recent efforts of lightweight champion Robert Easter. On two occasions Easter had an opponent ready to be stopped and yet he lacked the strategic and technical abilities to finish them. It almost costed him a win against Richard Commey. A 114-113 card gave him a split decision victory. 

Hurd has come back from behind to notch knockouts in his last two fights. However, not all fighters will wither from his right hand. At this point, he's getting by on physicality, athleticism and a right cross. However, that won't be enough for the other top guys at 154. At 27, Hurd is in his physical prime. There won't be much additional physical development left ahead. What he needs is a crash course in boxing fundamentals and technique. I'm sure that his current trainer, Ernesto Rodriguez, is a swell chap but it's time for Hurd to go to finishing school.

With another trainer Hurd might need to take a step back in order to go two steps forward; however, it's warranted. I hope that his team or his handlers realize that they are in a pivotal inflection point in his career. Should they continue on their current path, he will get soundly beaten by the Charlos and Laras of the world. But if he can spend a good six-to-twelve months with one of the sport's better teachers (someone like John David Jackson comes to mind), then he would put himself in position to make the most out of his boxing career. Hurd's rise in boxing has been rapid, as it has been unexpected, but a plateau is coming unless he perfects his craft. Switching trainers isn't going to be a comfortable decision for Hurd – there are loyalties and histories involved – but it's the right step for where he is in his career. 

***

Erislandy Lara soundly dominated an overmatched Terrell Gausha on Saturday in a fight that was nominally the headliner but in actuality served as the walkout bout for the evening. Lara did his thing: reducing an opponent's output, sharpshooting with left hands and draining sustained action from the fight. To be fair to Lara, he didn't run like he has in some of his past bouts. He mostly stayed in the pocket and tried to win every round. 

Courtesy of Stephanie Trapp
Gausha, somehow once an Olympian, didn't offer much of anything. Whatever success he had as an amateur hasn't translated in the professional ranks. He's not fluid in the ring, he's chinny (knocked down again on Saturday) and he doesn't possess notable power. And he's already 30. 

Essentially, Lara was Gausha's cash out fight. His handlers gave him $200k and a title shot, with little thought that he would actually win. As far as they were concerned, they had done their job. Unlike Lubin or Gervonta Davis, there was no time for additional development. Perhaps Gausha would've had an easier time with another of the titleholders at 154, but that's neither here nor there; he was never a threat at the top level. 

At 34, Lara has been on the world level since his Carlos Molina fight in 2011. By now, boxing fans have had ample time to evaluate what he brings to the table. And with that knowledge many of them voted with their feet by leaving the arena on Saturday during his fight. 

Lara might be the most representative example of the Cuban school in professional boxing: cautious, great footwork, ability to control the ring, fantastic rear hand, low punch volume and cerebral. He's not a joy to fight or watch but his talents are considerable. He has two losses and two draws in his career, all of which are debatable, but with the exception of a passionate few, it's a debate that very few are eager to have. 

Lara engenders a lot of "so what" in boxing. He's a factor. He exists. He has to be dealt with by someone. And the overwhelming majority of boxing fans probably hope that he gets dealt with sooner than later – and dealt with for good. But that person wasn't Gausha, and it won't be anyone other than a truly special fighter. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

This week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast featured our Fall Fight Preview Extravaganza. We previewed and gave our predictions for the big fights for the remainder of 2017, including the Wilder, Joshua, Jacobs, and Kovalev bouts, as well as the strong junior middleweight card on Oct. 14. We also spoke with Top Rank's Carl Moretti about Lomachenko-Rigondeaux and the Magdaleno-Juarez card.


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Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.



Monday, October 2, 2017

The SNB Interview -- Jack Reiss Part II

In Part II of my interview with Jack Reiss, the veteran California referee and judge details the current points of emphasis on fighter safety. Incorporating his experience as a firefighter in dealing with trauma, he provides insight into the dangers of rabbit punching. Reiss also reveals the craziest fight of his career and his most difficult one to referee. He also recounts his performance during the memorable and foul-filled Andre Ward-Edwin Rodriguez fight. 

To read Part I of the interview click here.

Interview conducted by Adam Abramowitz
The interview has been edited and condensed.

You’ve done a couple of memorable fights with Andre Ward (Mikkel Kessler and Edwin Rodriguez). In the Rodriguez fight, you took the unusual step of taking away two points from both fighters in the fourth round. What was your thought process at that point?

I got to give you the backstory there. Those guys hated each other. Adam, when I walked into the arena, you could cut the tension with a knife. I wasn’t five feet in the arena, folding my uniform, when I got approached by the promoter complaining about some stuff that was going on from Rodriguez’s corner. And as I went further in, people from different camps were trying to get my attention, complaining about stuff…let’s just say that there was a lot of tension between the camps.

When I went into the dressing room, both fighters and their camps were complaining about the other fighter. I knew it was going to be a very tense fight. I understand that these are highly trained athletes. They are full of adrenaline and you add stuff like this. Now they got emotion on top of it. Sometimes in a fight like this, or any championship fight when there’s a lot at stake, it’s not going to be pretty for the first few rounds. I try to let that adrenaline spike settle out of them and usually the fight will settle into what it’s going to be. I try to give little corrections and soft and silent warnings that nobody really sees or hears outside of the ring. “Knock that off,” “keep them up,” “watch your elbow,” “let him go.” Nobody can really see or hear what I’m doing except the fighters or maybe those right at ringside. I’m trying to steer them.

But in this particular fight it was so egregious that I had to take harsher steps. I had to go further than I would have like to have had in the first couple of rounds. In the fourth round, when they got into that clinch, and Andre’s head was under Edwin’s arm, I was saying “stop,” and Edwin was walking backwards and wasn’t stopping. He almost had him in a guillotine. He was lifting Andre by the throat, choking his air off. He wouldn’t stop when I was saying stop and Andre took matters into his own hands and threw that punch over the top. I jumped in there between them and stopped them. I knew that I had to do something drastic to regain control of this thing. I had to let both of them know that I’m not going to tolerate this…so I took two points from both of them and also fined them.

When you are reffing a fight with a guy like Andre Ward, Sakio Bika or Bernard Hopkins, experienced vets who know how to foul, is your preparation any different?

No, I want to know what I’m dealing with but my preparation is the same. Let me tell you that there’s a big difference between Sakio Bika and Bernard and Andre. Bernard and Andre are closer together but Sakio is in a league of his own. Sakio can’t help himself. I don’t know to explain it but he throws a punch or two and falls in. He grabs. He’s a difficult guy to ref.

Whereas Bernard knows exactly what he’s doing.  Bernard is a master. If I’m on the left, he’s holding on the right. If I’m on the right, he’s holding with his left. Some of the funniest things that ever happened to me were in the Joe Smith fight with Bernard. Bernard and him clashed heads in the second round. Joe Smith grabs his head and says he got butted. And Bernard says to me, “Jack, that was a left hook.” [laughs] This is in the middle of the whole thing and he’s telling me it was a left hook. Then, another time he was against the ropes and one of Joe’s blows was a little below the beltline and I said Joe, keep them up, just silently. And then Bernard looked at me and started grabbing his groin. He was fine until I said that! So he’s always looking for an angle. He’s always looking for something. He’s a master at it.  Two different things. With Sakio, it’s not purposeful.

You’ve reffed fights all over the world. What’s been your favorite place that you’ve traveled to?

I’ve got more than one. I had a wonderful time in Singapore doing “The Contender.” I spent about a month there. People were nice. Really clean place. The food was delicious. Germany is another great place. Really clean. The fans get into the fights. I’ve had a lot of great experiences in many different places. I can’t just pick one over the other.

What’s the craziest experience you’ve ever had reffing a fight?

This goes back to the Hernandez-Leyva fight in Mexico we were talking about earlier [in Part I of the interview]. Both guys were clashing heads and punching each other. They were both a bloody mess. Once the fight was over, fans started pelting us. They were peeing in plastic cups, twisting the top and throwing them at us. They were throwing bottles at us. They were throwing whatever. I was standing in the corner of the ring waiting for the ring announcer to announce the end of the fight and a full diaper of shit flew right by my face. I got angry. I turned to the crowd to give a look to whoever did it. You know, a fuck you look. And I got hit square in the head with a Gatorade bottle.

So Pat Russell was judging and he said, Jack, let’s get out of here and we bailed out. There were federales around us, protecting us. And the federales had to escort us to a bus waiting with dark windows. It was just crazy. There is actually lots of stuff like that that happens in boxing.

What’s the most difficult fight that you’ve reffed?

I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it. But let me tell you, Sakio Bika-Anthony Dirrell sucked [their second fight].  It was so brutally painful for the audience and for me to watch. I kept saying to myself, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” Do you know that expression? I said if I get too involved and warn these guys, they aren’t going to change. Then I’m going to be the focus. Instead, I kept it moving as fast as I could. It was brutal, Adam. It was one punch and hold. Two punches and hold. It was just like a dance the whole night. It seemed like 40 rounds instead of 12.

What’s your process like for evaluating your performance?

I have a couple different checks and balances. I’m more critical of myself than anyone else could ever be. It’s interesting that you asked that question. If a baseball player hits 3 out of 7, he’s the greatest in the world. He’s on the All-Star Team. If I’m not perfect, even 9.5 out of 10, I still focus on whatever I did wrong. I get aggravated at myself and I try to find out why I did what I did, or didn’t do what I should’ve done.

But my checks-and-balance system is that I try to get every single fight that I do, especially the ones that are on TV, and I evaluate everything that I did. How I looked that night. Sometime I look heavier than others. I look at my uniform. How was I moving? Were my voice commands right? Were they too loud or not loud enough? Was I breaking them too quickly? I really scrutinize myself.

As a checks-and-balances system, I have a group of trusted officials who I respect. Right now that’s Pat Russell, Tom Taylor, Mike Bell, Big John McCarthy. We’ve had a tremendous influence on each other. We’re close friends. We’re brutally honest with each other in a good way. We dissect what happened. We don’t say you sucked or anything like that. We’ll say this is what happened. In the heat of battle, I did this. What could we have done different or better? So if the same situation comes up in the future, now I got more tools in my tool chest. 

Between these guys, and I got referees from all over the world who call me, text me, email me, it ends up being about situations. Now I don’t attack guys and they don’t attack me but we talk about situations and alternatives for the future. And that’s how I regularly try to improve myself.

I wanted to ask you about the various conventions and conferences that you attend as a referee. Right now, what are some specific aspects of fighter safety and referee performance that they are emphasizing?

Right now, the biggest issue where it comes to officiating is rabbit punching, especially after Prichard Colon and that incident. Right now, the referee, that commission, everyone is being sued. Additionally, what happened with Magomed Abdusalamov. So that’s the most prominent thing right now that people are looking for.

I’ll break it up into two parts. Rabbit punches are extremely dangerous. I’ve known they’ve been extremely dangerous because I’m a fireman and I have that trauma experience. Let me tell you what happens. A guy gets hit with enough rabbit punches, the nerves at the base of the skull – if they get swollen, if they swell up from getting damaged or punched – they control the diaphragm and the breathing. If you get hit enough, it swells up and you can stop breathing. The diaphragm stops working. Now, instead of a single injury, you have a major medical emergency. Additionally, possibly a brain bleed. You know the brain is bleeding inside the skull cavity and pushing the brain to one side or the other, pinching everything off. So it’s a dual effect.

The second part of it is what happened to Magomed Abdusalamov. He was fighting back. He was taking punishment but he was also giving it.  He truly had a puncher’s chance. So when do you pull the plug on a guy like that? There’s a series of questions that I ask myself.

When I got a fight where one fighter is beating the other guy, and I’m uncomfortable because I might need to be pulling the guy out, I ask myself five or six questions right there in the ring: Can he win the fight mathematically? If he can’t, that’s an indicator that I’m going to pull him out. Does he have a puncher’s chance? A real puncher’s chance. Everyone has a puncher’s chance but not everyone has a punch. So is it a real puncher’s chance? Next, is that guy fighting to survive or is this guy fighting to win? Because if this guy is just fighting to hang on, that’s not what he gets paid to do. Next, is there visible physical damage? Can I see something? With Magomed, he had a broken cheekbone. He was swallowing a lot of blood. If a guy breaks his nose or a cheek, I’m not worried about the damage physically, like I am with a cut, I’m worried about where’s that blood going. Not only the loss of blood. If it’s the stomach, there’s less room for air to get into those lungs. There’s lots that goes with it. And then I say to myself, what’s the best thing for me to do for boxing right now – to pull this guy out or let this fight continue? Depending on the answers, I pull him out.

So those are the two main issues: the rabbit punches and guys who are on their feet but are losing round after round, but still throwing back.

Now that you’ve been an established boxing referee for a long time, I’m sure that you are now in the position to mentor others? What’s the one piece of advice that you give young referees?

I tell them to be careful of what they wish for. Everybody thinks it’s easy. They do a couple of fights and they are politicking and going behind people’s backs trying to get title fights. But let me tell you, the air is rare the higher you go. You know what I mean? The higher the monkey goes up the pole, the more his ass is exposed. When you start going up the pole to those higher fights, you got guys like Lampley, Kellerman and Lederman watching you. Teddy Atlas, Roy Jones. You’re under scrutiny. Your mistakes are amplified twenty-fold. And if you’re not ready, you could get somebody really hurt, or your career could be ruined.

You got to really get your experience. I’ve literally worked a thousand fights off camera in all of these little shows – because California is the king of the club show – making my bones, making my mistakes in front of small crowds. Getting booed. Sitting down with a guy like Lou Filippo or Jim Jen Kin or Marty [Denkin] or Pat [Russell] and saying what happened, what did I do wrong? It’s better that happened there rather than in front of the whole world.

What’s the best fight that you’ve been a part of, either as a ref or a judge?

I tell you what I like. Refereeing GGG, Andre Ward, Vasily Lomachenko, Terence Crawford, like in his last fight, and there’s that buzz in the audience. It’s the highest amount of pressure on me, and I’m sure that any official would tell you the same thing. Your margin for error is very, very small. I’m feeling that electricity and it’s really exciting. It’s challenging and I love it.

I wanted to end with a quote of yours that I thought was quite profound. You said, “The great fighters always find a way to continue. The great officials always look at the bigger picture?” Can you explain what you mean regarding “the bigger picture?”

Everything I’m about to do I’m always asking the question, “What’s the best thing for me to do for boxing in this situation? Whether it’s stopping it or letting it go, whether it’s taking points or not, in every single fight my goal is the bigger picture… any time I don’t insert myself and bring controversy to boxing, to the commission or myself, that’s the goal. The bigger picture is it’s not about me. I’m not going to over-officiate. If somebody does something that I don’t like, I don’t take it personal. It’s not about me. This guy did it for whatever reason. I don’t over-officiate. It’s like the difference between a young cop and an old cop. A young cop wants to arrest people. An old cop wants to make everything go away and not have to arrest people.

Lastly, what keeps things exciting for you in the ring? What’s your favorite part about your job?

What keeps things exciting for me in the ring is that the challenge never goes away. You get in there and you got to be as perfect as possible. There’s a lot of pressure on me. Think about it. There are two guys in the ring that the whole world is watching and then there’s a third guy with them. So it’s a lot of pressure and I enjoy it. And I absolutely love learning. I challenge myself to find innovative ways to do things better. I love the learning aspect of it. I say Ok, everyone said you did a good job but is there anything you could do better? 

Click to read Part I of the Interview

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The SNB Interview -- Jack Reiss Part I

Jack Reiss is one of the leading referees in boxing today. In a career that has spanned over two decades, he's become a familiar presence in the center of the ring for big fights in California and in many others title bouts around the world. Originally from Brooklyn, Reiss boxed as a kid and has always held a love of the sport. 

Reiss worked as a fireman for the Los Angeles Fire Department for 31 years, including 19 years as a captain. His professional experiences with evaluating trauma, along with his martial arts background and his rigorous boxing training from seasoned vets affiliated with the California State Athletic Commission, have provided him with a unique perspective on refereeing (and judging). These aspects have helped form his distinctive refereeing style, featuring clear verbal commands, alacrity in identifying cuts and fouls and a thorough evaluation of fighters after knockdowns.  

Reiss's success in the sport can in part be attributed to his meticulous preparation. He keeps a personal book of refereeing from his past fights that details specific situations in the ring. He maintains an excel spreadsheet of every fight that he's done.

When speaking with Reiss, his love of the sport and the thrill of refereeing are immediately apparent. And while he enjoys his current status in boxing, he possesses an unyielding desire for improvement. After fights, he subjects himself to a rigorous review of his performance that often involves talking with trusted peers in the industry. He loves the pressure of big fights but he also understands that every opportunity to referee is a chance to improve.    

In Part I of my interview with Reiss, he discusses his martial arts training, his early mentors as a boxing official, the most difficult challenges in reffing and judging, the concept of ring generalship, the difference between holding versus clinching, what's in his personal book of refereeing and his process for establishing a physical baseline level for a fighter.   

Interview conducted by Adam Abramowitz
The interview has been edited and condensed.

Jack, you grew up in Brooklyn and did some amateur fighting as a kid. How did you originally get into boxing?
               
My family loved boxing. My father, who died when I was eight years old, always encouraged me and my brother to box and play around. I got pictures of my father back in 1928 standing on a beach in a boxing stance. But I’m really not clear on what his level of boxing was. I do have pictures of him with heavyweight boxers and some famous boxers from back in the day. He passed away and [laughs] my mother’s stories always changed with time.

But I always loved boxing. As a young kid, I was playing ice hockey and I wanted to learn how to defend myself. I couldn’t find a boxing gym so I found a martial arts gym. I studied martial arts and kickboxing. I had smokers in both kickboxing and boxing – really to help me with hockey. But I dumped hockey at 17 and I stayed with boxing and kickboxing.  

How would you describe Jack Reiss as an amateur fighter? What were you good at?

I had discipline and a good work ethic. I trained like crazy but I really didn’t have good instruction so I was way out there on my own. I had a pretty good punch, a good right hand, but very raw.

Growing up, who were some of the fighters that you were a fan of as a kid?

No question about it, Marvin Hagler was my idol. I loved the way that guy kept coming forward. Accurate. He was always in great shape, all business and one of the toughest guys out there. He could fight righty or lefty – had power in both hands. He was just a great fighter.   

In California, you can be both a professional judge and referee and you have done both. Who were some of your mentors as you were starting out professionally?

In the beginning it was Marty Denkin. He spent a lot of quality time with me – quality and quantity. He helped me refine what I did. Pat Russell also helped me along with Dick Young, Jim Jen Kin, Larry Rozadilla, Lou Filippo. Lots of guys helped. But Marty gave me more that I can even talk about.

As a judge and a ref what were some of the aspects that you found challenging when you started out? What did you have to improve on?

Concentration – the number-one thing. You got to really block everything out. You have to learn how to concentrate for three minutes, stop, take a mental break and concentrate again for three minutes without any distractions.

Also, the challenge is that you got these pre-determined ideas in your mind of what you think boxing is and what you’re seeing. I was taught professionally to know what I’m actually seeing. It’s a huge difference. I see it on a bigger scale. I’m looking at the four criteria for judging…learning about ring generalship, learning about what an effective punch is.

If you’re coming forward and I land a punch on your chest, stopping you dead in your tracks. And you’re no longer able to impose your will on me. I might not have done any damage but it was sure an effective punch because I just took you off your game and now I’m taking control. Sometimes in a close round it comes down to that.

One of the four scoring criteria that is controversial in many eyes is the concept of ring generalship. It’s been defined in various ways by different officials. In your mind, what defines good ring generalship?

Did you see the Cotto-Kamegai fight?

Yes I did.

That was a perfect example of ring generalship. Miguel Cotto fought exactly where and when he wanted to. Do you know what the difference is between a clinch and a hold?

Yes, I think so. 

What’s the definition?

A clinch is a tie-up or a brief break in action. A hold is when the fighter refuses to let go. That’s my sense of it. One fighter won’t let the other fighter continue, even once the referee has intervened.

It’s not far off what you’re saying. But let me explain it a way that might make you understand it even betterA clinch is an offensive technique used to navigate the ring. So, Miguel Cotto showed that beautifully. Kamegai is walking him down. Cotto is moving backward and hitting him, making Kamegai pay for that real estate. Kamegai gets him against the ropes. Miguel clinched, spun off the ropes and let him go. He used the clinching to navigate the ring. Holding is stopping the action for no apparent reason.

In 2006, you had your first international refereeing assignment in Ensenada, Mexico. The fight was a bantamweight eliminator between former title challenger Ivan Hernandez and ex-strawweight champ Roberto Carlos Leyva. What do you remember about that fight and describe your feelings leading up to it?

That was a crazy fight. Absolutely crazy. Both guys were from Ensenada and there was a lot of bad blood between them. The fight featured a number of head butts and lots of blood. 

On that note, you know what’s interesting. I’m sure most refs and judges do this. You create more problems for yourself with your own anxiety, wanting to be the best you can be and be perfect, that you’re nervous all the way up until the time you walk into the arena. You worry about getting to the arena on time. You worry that your uniform is correct and everything looks good. You worry about getting a good meal. You worry that you’re not going to have to go to the restroom right before the fight.

Once you get into the arena, it all settles down because you leave all of those things behind you. You made it. You sit down and judge or get in that ring and ref. So there’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of performance pressure that comes into play but it’s all what you do to yourself in your own head.

As you’ve become more experienced in your boxing career, do you have a preference between judging and reffing?

Yes, at this time while my body still holds up, I love reffing. I love being in the ring. Someday, when the body isn’t as good, I’ll enjoy sitting down and challenging myself to be the best judge I can be.

Do your experiences as a judge help inform you as a referee, and vice versa? If so, how does that work?

Absolutely. As a referee, the number-one thing I’m looking for is safety. I’m looking at damaging blows and fouls. As a judge, I’m looking at who’s landing the harder and more damaging blows and scoring more points. So I take that in the ring with me as a ref and I look at not only safety, not only damage, not only taking away points, but I’m actually looking at who’s winning or losing the fight to help me see the natural flow of this bout.

I’ll give you a great example. I’ve got a 10- or 12-round fight. We’re in the sixth round. I can tell in my head from a judging aspect who won those last six rounds. I’m keeping both meters going. I’m watching for safety and fouls but I’m also watching who’s winning the rounds. So when the sixth round comes and this guy hasn’t won one round, I’m saying to myself this guy can no longer win mathematically. I start evaluating if he has a punch or other factors that are involved. And the judging part of it helps. You might want to pull that kid out of there.

One aspect of judging that fascinates me is the stamina it takes to devote full concentration when judging five or six bouts on a card. How do you stay sharp on a night where you’re going to be judging those marathon cards?

I’m very appreciative that you’ve asked that question because most people just don’t get it. The hardest part about judging a card like that is the five, six and seven hour amount of time that you have to be on and off. If you add to it prep time for your clothes, travel time to the arena – you’re there an hour-and-a-half before the fight – it’s a lot of sitting around and you get tired.

What I like to do is get up and move around between fights. I make sure that I’m hydrated because with dehydration comes fatigue and you lose your concentration. I know that happens to me personally. If I have to, if I’m really exhausted on a 12-bout card and I’ve been there for six hours already and I have to judge some fights, I’ll actually have a cup of soda or some coffee with caffeine to help me wake up so I don’t lose concentration. Towards the end of the night I might do that.

There’s one fight in particular I wanted to ask you about as a judge. You were one of the three judges for Salido-Lomachenko. In that fight, there were dozens of low blows that were allowed by the ref. How difficult is it to judge a fight during those circumstances when the fouls perhaps materially affected the action in the ring?

Whether it’s that fight or any other fight that you’re talking about, I’m dictated by what the referee calls as a foul. However, if I see a blow that hits the groin, I’m not going to call it a scoring blow, even if the referee doesn’t indicate it. He might be giving a silent warning, you know “keep it up,” or a soft warning without any hand gestures. But I can see where I’m sitting that it didn’t land in a scoring area. So I’m going to not count it and I’m only going to count what I feel are legal, scoring blows.
  
I understand that you keep a personal book of refereeing that includes all of your past experiences. What’s in Jack’s book and what are the types of things that you put into it?

That book started on day one and I have bullet points that mean something to me. Things that I remember to do at the beginning of the fight – the eight things I’m checking before the fight starts. It just says, “Check eight things before the fight.”

Always hold their gloves before the fight and you touch their gloves together instead of letting them do it, which stops them from punching each other while I’m standing there talking to them. Things like that. Also stuff on the inside like watch the heads and elbows before the hands because you’re looking for head butts.

It also is a schematic to put me in the zone. Situational. I have 10 pages of a guy getting knocked down and dropped and gets hit while he’s on the ground.  The standing fighter throws an intentional punch but misses. What’s my reaction?  I’ve got slips and head butts and mouthpieces that fall out. I go over these things mentally from the experiences I’ve had where they’ve happened in the fight.

I was in the ring with Chris Arreola and Bermane Stiverne and Stiverne knocks down Arreola. I was counting over Arreola and I turned my head around too fast. I whipped my head around to see Arreola and I realized that I was in hyperspeed. So I remind myself to slow down. Take your time. There’s a million things in there, Adam. I’ll show you the book one day if we get the opportunity.

But it’s situational. It helps me get in the zone I need to be in. If I haven’t reffed in the ring in six weeks, I walk around my house going through knockdowns. I go through different things in this book – this playbook, whatever you want to call it – and I just walk through the scenarios mentally in my head.

Although you are well known for doing a lot of high-profile fights, most of a referee’s assignments are in smaller club shows. What are the differences between the smaller four- or six-round fights and the big main events?

Excellent question. There is a difference and one of them is that I have more leeway in a small club show that’s not on TV. I get to protect these fighters even more. What I mean by that is if I got a guy who’s lost three rounds and it’s a mismatch, I don’t have to let the sauce ripen on the stove. I can find a way to get this kid out of there and I’m not going to take criticism by the promoter. Nobody’s going to get angry. Everybody’s going to realize that it was a mismatch.

Whereas on TV, sometimes on paper you have what appears to be a great match but one of the guys once the action starts doesn’t have a chance. You got to give the fighter his due until he is no longer able to intelligently defend himself, or it’s gotten to a point where everyone knows that it’s a mismatch. I do everything I can to have an ending be definitive but sometimes you have to pull a guy out.

It’s a little bit easier on the club shows. It’s a great time for me personally. I do a lot of learning on those shows. In other words, I go to these small shows and say, “What do I want to do today?” Today, what I want to do is really work on my mechanics. If there’s a head butt. I’m going to go slow. I’m going to look at both fighters’ heads. Turn and look at the chief inspector. Signal mechanically that I got a butt and a cut or a butt with no cut and it helps me slow down. It helps me get those mechanics so deeply ingrained that when I’m at a big show, it comes natural. So I practice different things on those small shows.

One aspect of your style is that you are very deliberate in assessing fighters once they’ve been knocked down. How did that style evolve?

You’re right it has evolved. It’s come from a blend of my experiences, but not just my experience as a fighter or a referee, but my experience as a captain in the Los Angeles Fire Department. I was a fireman for 31 years, captain for 19 years. I was on a paramedic engine since day one on the job.  Part of the job was we would go out to view trauma – shootings, stabbings, car accidents – and we would come upon unconscious or semi-conscious patients. We had to try to establish a baseline of what’s normal for that patient to assess his level of needed care. So it evolved from understanding trauma and being able to see the mechanism of injury.

Also, I have a baseline on a fighter when I go over the pre-fight instructions in the dressing room. I talk to the guys. I get them on their feet. I watch them as they walk to the ring. I know what’s normal for them. So when they get knocked down, I remember what the baseline is. I remember their normal. I’m looking to see their gait, their eyes, their muscle control, to see how off base they are.

I give it a mathematical number. The guy has to be at least 50% for me to let the fight continue. He needs to be 50% of what he was in the dressing room or for what’s normal for him so he could intelligently defend himself. If he’s below that I’m stopping his fight.

I wanted to discuss building a baseline in a little more detail. One fight that you did, and we talked about it briefly when we met in Nebraska, was the recent Joe Smith-Sullivan Barrera bout. I was really impressed with your work there. You went over to Smith’s corner and indicated that you believed that something was wrong. Subsequently, it was revealed that he had broken his jaw. What did you see during that bout that indicated to you that something was amiss with him?

Adam, like Steve Smoger was telling you [in a previous interview with Smoger], and you could talk to Joe Cortez, Pat Russell, Marty Denkin, Luis Pabon, Bill Clancy, Benjy Esteves, Jay Nady, all of the guys in Vegas – Robert [Byrd] Kenny [Bayless], Russell Mora, Tony [Weeks] – every one of those guys will tell you, you got to do your homework.  I had done my homework for both fighters but more importantly, I refereed Joe Smith six months earlier with Bernard Hopkins. When I walked in the dressing room to give him pre-fight instructions against Barrera, he wasn’t the same guy as he was six months earlier. His eyes looked sunken. I was worried that he couldn’t make weight. He was dehydrated. Additionally, they changed it at the last minute from a 12-round to a 10-round fight, which threw up a red flag to me. Who’s changing this and why? It was his corner and his promoter that wanted to drop down. So there were a lot of indications to me that there was something going on. And then, just talking to him, just looking at him, I knew that there was something different.

Then when he got into the ring and dropped Barrera in the first round… this kid never took a backward step before and now all of the sudden he’s backing up. He’s boxing. I’d never seen that guy do it from all of the fights I’ve watched. So round after round I’m watching this guy boxing, moving backwards. Something was wrong. His punch output was down. He was throwing singular punches rather than combinations. Instead of moving forward he was moving back. It clearly wasn’t the Joe Smith I had seen on films of him and when he fought Bernard Hopkins. I knew something was wrong.

Click here for Part II of the interview

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
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