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
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

No comments:

Post a Comment