Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Jack Reiss on Wilder-Fury

Although he has been a referee for over 20 years, and a damn good one at that, Jack Reiss finally had his signature moment in boxing as the third man in the ring for the Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury fight. In the final round of a dramatic and tense affair, Wilder sent Fury crashing down to the canvas with a pulverizing right hand/left hook combination. Because of the ferocity of the combination and the way that Fury fell, most watching assumed that the fight was over. Many (perhaps most) referees would have stopped the fight at that very moment, without even issuing a ten-count. Yet there Jack was, standing over Fury, patiently administering the count, giving Fury the chance to continue.

In an unforgettable scene, Fury somehow rose to his feet. Reiss looked at the fighter and gave him a series of commands. This was another juncture where many referees could have and perhaps would have stopped the fight. But Reiss, with a background in dealing with trauma from his decades of work with the Los Angeles Fire Department, determined that Fury was able to continue. And in an almost unfathomable series of events, Fury would go on to get the best of the Wilder throughout the rest of the round.

At the end of the fight Fury raised his arms believing that he had won. Although Wilder scored two knockdowns in the match, leading to two 10-8 rounds, most ringside observers thought that Fury had done enough to win. Unfortunately for Fury, a poor 115-111 scorecard for Wilder led to the fight being declared a draw. And while that judge (Alejandro Rochin) has been criticized for his performance, the official result has not lessened the quality of the fight, Fury’s resilience or Reiss’s performance.

I spoke with Reiss a few days ago and what follows are his own words, as he recounts the unforgettable 12th round from his perspective, his preparations leading up to the fight, and the detailed and specific warnings that he gave to each fighter in the dressing room. Here’s Jack:

The following has been edited and condensed:

Reiss giving the count for Fury in the 12th round.
Photo Courtesy of Esther Lin/Showtime

THIS FIGHT WAS SO BIG and I did my research. I addressed many issues 10, 15 days out. I wrote the commission and I told my boss: There are some issues we need to address on the front end to save us from controversy. Number one: The inspector who is checking the ropes that day has to make it tight enough that 500 pounds of hard charging guys can fall against it and not go over – that the ropes will support them.

Number two: They both had a history of wearing their trunks well above their wastes, almost up to their nipples. I sent pictures of everything and I sent them the rules from the book, from the California Athletic Commission and the ABC [The Association of Boxing Commissions]. I sent pictures that were unacceptable and pictures that were acceptable.

The last thing I addressed was their beards. I said we don’t want any stupid controversies from a beard. I’m not asking them to shave it off, but they have to be neat and trim. And when we asked Tyson Fury, he shaved his whole beard off. When we asked Wilder, he trimmed it down to nothing. Their trunks weren’t an issue. The ropes weren’t an issue. And their beards weren’t an issue.

IN THE DRESSING ROOM I specifically addressed a few issues. It was give-and-take with each fighter and very respectful. I told each guy what my expectations were for the fight. I said “Look Tyson, I’m not picking on you but I’ve watched your fights before. And there are three things I don’t want you to do in that ring.” Number one, when you switch to lefty, you paw with that right jab. You end up throwing a backhand. You don’t throw a jab. You got to straighten it out and the front of your fist has to hit him. You cannot hit him with the back of your hand.

Number two, when you fought Cunningham, you pushed him and as he was falling off balance you covered the distance and took advantage of him being off balance. You spread his chin up with your forearm and then you hit him. You hit him and knocked him out. I will not allow that. You can’t do that.

Number three, with Klitschko, you hit him 25 times with rabbit punches behind the head. It is not acceptable. You’re not going to do it. I wound up going over a number of things and again, it was very respectful. He actually apologized, like I caught a kid with his hand in the cookie jar. He said that’s not going to happen. He wanted it to be clean. 

And I told Deontay things too. I said Deontay, you can’t leave your arm out and use it as a spear. You can’t steer his head, turn his face to the right and drop a right hand on it. You can’t do it. That arm has to be used as a punch or not. I went over a bunch of things with them and they didn’t do any of it. And this was all done before the fight.

I DON’T WANT TO TAKE all the credit for it, but I got to explain something...I made it very clear to both of them what I expected of them and what they could expect of me. I implored them. I told them that this is the top of the food chain in heavyweight boxing. You guys are well respected. Let’s not make it messy. Let’s not make it unfair with fouls.

First of all Deontay Wilder is a clean fighter. Four fights, I’ve never had a problem with him. Tyson said to me, “Jack, if I knock him out it’s not going to be because he’s on the ground and I hit him. I don’t want people saying I won this fight unfairly. I want this to go down on the record as fair.” 

And they fought extremely clean. Tyson only hit him behind the head once. Deontay only hit him low once. It was great. They fought clean. They did everything I asked them to do. If I said stop, they stopped.

IT WAS A CLOSE FIGHT. They were both very wary of each other, worried about overcommitting. Deontay was trying to jump in and knock him out at times, but they both respected each other’s power. Neither one of them took an exorbitant amount of damage.

In the ninth round leading up to the first knockdown, Tyson was trying to get out of the way and he was dipping at the waist. And he put his body in a place where he got hit with shots – not too clean – but he got knocked off balance. Arguably, the last one might have hit him a little bit south of the ear, but it was his fault; he put himself in that position. It wasn’t like Deontay was targeting the back of his head. So I got to call it a knockdown. It was not a devastating blow at all. It was more of an off-balance thing.

I SAID TO MYSELF GOING into the 12th round “No harm no foul.” I’m not taking any points unless it’s flagrant. It’s too good of a fight. And we’re going to let this fight go. This is great. 

I don’t want to be right. I want to do what’s right. I want to do what’s best for boxing. I’ve always been taught to count a champion out. And I always want to do what’s best. I did a baseline on the fighters and I’m watching the progressive damage and fatigue throughout the fight. They both went into the 12th round with a lot of energy. Neither one of them had taken a lot of damage throughout the fight. The first knockdown in the ninth round was more of a balance type thing for Tyson.

So when he went down in the 12th…first of all, his face was away from me. So when he went down and his head hit the ground, I got Deontay moving away. I picked up the count and I said to myself, “Let me see what I got.” So I went down on one knee, scooted in to get right over his face, figuring in my mind I was counting him out because of the way he went down. But when I got over his face, I noticed he was grimacing. So I knew there was somebody in there if you know what I mean. He wasn’t out cold. He was grimacing. And as soon as I counted “five,” he popped up like when you startle a drunk. His eyes came open very far and wide. He looked at me. He made a weird sound and then he rolled over and got up.

Then I had to assess if he was able to intelligently defend himself because that was a hard knockdown. And he was immediately telling me that he was OK. I said do you want to continue and he said “Yes, yes.” He put his arms over my shoulder but I didn’t want anyone to perceive that he was leaning on me. So I knocked his arms off and I said walk to the left and come back to me. And he showed me and everybody else that he was in full control of his body. And he was ready to go, so I let him go.

IT WAS NOT HARD FOR me at all to let Tyson continue because I had the history of the fight and I saw the way he got up. He followed every one of my commands. He was asking me to continue.

In the dressing room I told him that if you get knocked down, I want you to answer my questions and shake your head up and down. Show me you can continue. And hid did. So I felt comfortable.

On a side note, because of the power of Wilder and because they are heavyweights, I let Tyson go, but I stayed close to see what he was going to do. If he was going to stand there and fight back right away, it would have made me nervous. He tried to hold a little bit. He threw some punches and then walked away. He got back his total wherewithal and then he started fighting.

If he would have gotten in trouble, I would have been able to pull him out because I stayed close. But he didn’t so I backed the hell off and he hurt Wilder.

I TEACH FOR THE ABC, the Association of Boxing Commissions. I go around the world teaching. And I get people who disagree with me and they’re pretty vocal about it – you know, referees. The other night I practiced what I preached. I believe that I’m not there to do the easy thing. I’m there to do the right thing.

I’ve been fortunate enough to get some really good fights but this fight being that it was two heavyweights, 6’9” and 6’7”, pay per view, unscripted. It was a way for me to prove to myself that I belong. I know that sounds stupid after all these years. But it was just personally satisfying to me to get out there, do my best, practice what I preach and back up what I’ve always preached. It was really gratifying.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
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1 comment:

  1. I have attended Jack's classes and he is just that. A class act.