“My proclivity is to allow the fight to go to its natural conclusion, and to let them solve it and to let them resolve it…Sometimes, there comes a time when I have to make the call. But if I can prolong it and give them every opportunity, so be it,” Referee Steve Smoger.
“Smoger is a gutty guy. He has balls. He’s a balsy referee, and I think that that’s what people want to see,” Top Rank CEO Bob Arum.
It’s fair to say that referee Steve Smoger almost never stops fights on his own.
Smoger’s track record is one of allowing bouts to be contested to their violent conclusion, meaning that the fighters’ fists or their corners usually stop bouts that do not last through to the decision.
Smoger will be back in the ring for Saturday night’s HBO-televised co-main event at the Theatre of Madison Square Garden, which features rising former junior middleweight challenger Gabriel Rosado (21-5, 13 knockouts), of Philadelphia, pursuing his eighth straight victory and his sixth knockout during that run against Kazakhstan-born WBA middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin (24-0, 21 KOS), who is after his 12th consecutive stoppge win.
Smoger declined to discuss Golovkin-Rosado in advance of the fight, but the prevailing thoughts about his presence as the third man in the ring appear to be one of the following:
A) Either Golovkin’s power will deliver a tremendous beating upon the rugged Rosado, or B) Rosado — who has received some mentoring from the cagey Bernard Hopkins — will be given leeway for some improvisational creativity.
Below are some of the more notable fights that Smoger has worked, followed by a brief Q&A with perhaps boxing’s most recognized official.
Calling Saturday night’s fight from ringside as part of the HBO staff will be RING WBA and WBC super middleweight champion Andre Ward (26-0, 14 KOs), who floored RING and WBC light heavyweight champ Chad Dawson once each in the third, fourth and final rounds before Dawson indicated to Smoger that he had had enough in September.
Two weeks after Ward-Dawson, Smoger was back in action as unbeaten super middleweight contender Edwin “La Bomba” Rodriguez faced previously unbeatten Jason Escalera. Smoger stepped in to protect a bloody and battered Escalera for an eighth-round stoppage when Rodriguez was still pummeling him along the ropes.
In October of last year, Smoger deducted five points for low blows from but did not disqualify journeyman middleweight Tony Jeter (15-3-1, 10 KOs), of Columbia, Md., who rose from a second round knockdown to upset former “Contender” series competitor Jimmy Lange (38-5-2, 25 KOs), of Great Falls, Va., for a 10-round, split-decision loss before Lange’s disgruntled hometown fans at The Patriot Center on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
In April of 2012: Brooklyn native Paulie Malignaggi completely dominated the physically bigger, taller, harder-punching and previously unbeaten Vyacheslav Senchenko for the WBA’s welterweight belt in front of Senchenko’s hometown fans at Donbass Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine, and scored a ninth-round technical knockout when Smoger stepped in to stop it.
In July of 2011, although the area around the right eye of junior middleweight Pawel Wolak became swollen to the size of a softball during his 10-round, majority draw with Delvin Rodriguez at New York City’s Roseland Ballroom in July, Smoger — apparently recognizing Wolak’s bravery — allowed the fight to continue to its conclusion.
In December of 2011, Smoger officiated junior middleweight Miguel Cotto’s stoppage of Antonio Margarito in the 10th round for a successful defense of his WBC belt at Madison Square Garden. Cotto-Margarito ended somewhat controversially, with ringside doctors advising Smoger, against his desires, to wave an end to the bout as a result of Margarito’s swollen and badly closed right eye.
Many were skittish about the eye even before the fight began, as an encounter with Manny Pacquiao some 13 months earlier had fractured Margarito’s right orbital bone to the point that the area required three surgeries to repair. As a result of the injury against Pacquiao, Margarito was not cleared by the New York State Athletic Commission to fight Cotto until Nov. 23.
Margarito, nevertheless, argued that the fight was stopped prematurely, claiming that he was coming on and was on his way toward repeating his initial conquest of Cotto.
Hopkins had landed a tremendous right to the head that sent Trinidad reeling backward and to the canvas, after which Trinidad struggled up at the count of 9 before Trinidad’s father and trainer, Don Felix, climbed into the ring and stopped the fight.
In January of 2002, Smoger allowed Shane Mosley to rise from two knockdowns and being slammed to the cavans on a third occasion all in the first round of a ferocious beating absored during his unanimous decision loss to Vernon Forrest that dethroned Mosley as WBC welterweight titleholder.
Taylor was slumped in the corner on his butt and declared “out cold” on the ropes by Smoger after having been nailed by several, hard left hooks from Pavlik, who trailed on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage.
In May of 2011, Smoger fell under some criticism for his delayed reaction to stop the fight between cruiserweights Denis Lebedev and Roy Jones Jr., who lay unconcious on the canvas for several seconds after the end.
Jones already was badly hurt and doubled over in a corner of the ring with his hands down near his waist when Smoger — standing back from the action — allowed Lebev to uncork a vicious left hook that caused Jones to pitch forward, face-first.
RingTV.com: Can you recall the verbal exchange with Dawson which led you to stop that fight?
Steve Smoger: Early in the round, and I don’t know if you caught it, but Andre, in close, caught Chad with several sharp uppercuts and overhands.
I saw Chad weaken perceptively. As we circled around, he took another good shot and I saw him start to reel backward. I went in, and I was ready to stop the fight. I think that he was knocked down.
But he got up, and before I had begun to issue the mandatory eight-count, he says, “Steve, I’m done.” I said, “You want me to stop it?” He said, “Yeah.” That was it. He just realized, I think, that he had reached his peak.
Later on, back in the dressing room, his corner people had told me that he was too drained and that he couldn’t carry his strength into the later rounds as he normally does. Going from 175 to 168 was too difficult for him.
RingTV.com: Were there any signs earlier that Dawson was weakening?
SS: From round four, I got the feeling that Chad wasn’t going to be able to overcome Andre’s aggressiveness and strength. So your perception is well placed.
From round four, I think that he dropped him for the second time in round four, and I don’t think that Chad ever recovered. I think that he hit Andre a maximum of three or four shots.
Good shots that Andre was able to not even show any reaction to. So, your perception is correct. I would say that after round four, it was just a matter of time.
RingTV.com: What was the rationale for stopping that Rodriguez fight?
SS: Escalara had just barely survived the first round, but that gave me enough and that was it. But he was too tough for his own good, quite frankly.
Because every time that I did want to stop it, he would show me something. But he took some hellacious shots, and he kept fighting back. So that was a progressive type of a stoppage.
But that flurry came in, I think round seven or eight, and I saw some blood [coming out of his right ear,] and that was it. I stopped it.
RingTV.com: Is that rare for you?
SS: Well, when you see me start to bring a doctor in, then you know that the thought process is there, and I want all of the medical advice that I can get.
Because my proclivity is to allow the fight to go to its natural conclusion, and to let them solve it and to let them resolve it.
That’s a better term. But sometimes, there comes a time when I have to make the call. But if I can prolong it and give them every opportunity, so be it.
In that case, the doctors cleared him. He took some hellacious shots, but on that [Connecticut] commission is one of the best neurosurgeons and neuro-doctors in the world, Dr. Anthony Alessi.
And Dr. Alessi would give him the quickie brain exam, and say, “Steve, he’s ready to continue.” But he took some heavy, heavy shots, and it was progressive.
So when I saw that [right ear] go, that was enough. The right ear. I saw blood. That tells me that out of the ear, there could be a real problem.
So discretion then becomes the better part of valor. And when I brought him back to the doctor, immediately, it was a confluence of opinion.
RingTV.com: Was that hyperbole when you called Tony Jeter the dirtiest fighter you have ever seen?
SS: No that’s fact. From the time that he walked out in the first round, what you saw out of me was an exercise in patience. You’re bringing up good issues.
First minute, first round, he head-butted him. So I immediately stopped it and I took a point. I took five points. I haven’t taken five points in 25 years in one fight.
But you might say, “Why didn’t you disqualify him?” The reason that I didn’t disqualify him is that when he was fighting clean, he was beating Lange in his own home town.
So, you know, I just never wanted to stop the kid, because when he decided to fight clean, he was beating Lange. A lot of the stuff was borderline.
But still, I’ve spoken to other referees, and I think that four out of five would have disqualified him. But I just felt that when he fought on the straight and narrow, he fought well.
SS: Low blows. What was blatant was that he opened the show with a head-butt. The first close quarter was a head-butt, so I thought, “Oh, boy.”
And then, he would try to slip stuff in. But I don’t want to say that my position was substantiated, but even — and listen to this — with five points deducted, and he had a flash knockdown, he still wins on the cards.
That means that there had to be 99-90, and that he had built up such a lead that even five points didn’t adversely affect the outcome.
RingTV.com: For you not to disqualify him before a crowd that was pro-Lange, what does that say about you?
SS: Just what we discussed before: Let it go to it’s natural conclusion. Here is a kid that comes in, hostile territory. When I’m in there, though, it’s only A and B. What I saw was, A) Tony doing a beautiful job.
RingTV.com: What do you think Tony should take away from that?
SS: If you pull it on me, the veteran status guy, then he probably pulled it before. But it was so unnecessary. And I told him, “He’s a dirty [bleeping] fighter.
[Gary Digital Williams] caught it. Digital caught it. Talk to Gary Digital, he saw it. Great guy. I love him. Give him my best. He showed class, because he didn’t get on me.
Tell Gary that I appreciated that. Gary, what you saw from me was an exercise in temperament, but Gary exercised temperament also.
RingTV.com: What’s your message to Tony Jeter?
SS: Clean it up. You don’t need to do that. He out-hustled, he was stronger, and we had worked together earlier.
I was shocked that he would treat me that way. Let him know that, because I think a lot of the kid.
Photo by Chris Farina, Top Rank Inc.
Photo by Naoki Fukuda
Photo by Chris Farina, Top Rank Inc.
Photos by Ed Mullholland, Fightwireimages.com
Photo by Naoki Fukuda
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org