The Third Man

Daniel Hughes takes a timely look at the third man in the ring…

“Protect yourself at all times”: the final instruction given by boxing referees the world over before fighters commence battle. Most balanced outsiders will accept that being a boxing official is not always easy. It’s not; it is a tough call.

The one punch knock-out. Wave it off; no count required. The four, six, eight, ten or even twelve round one-sided schoolings’ we’ve all witnessed. The corner get negative reviews, for we all hate a brave trainer when it’s obvious the cards will only provide one outcome. We talk about “could have”, “should have” and the referee called it a day.

Referee Richard Steele’s decision to stop the first Mike Tyson vs Donovan Ruddock bout in 1991 led to near-riot and immediate rematch.

The corner at times should be realistic; let’s fight another day. The judges cards produce records we disagree about at times, the boxer outgunned and having a bad night at the office needs to be saved from themselves. The fighter with no quit in them is generic around all levels of boxers; you and I love that DNA in a fighters heart. Ambition enters the ring while reality and ability exits it.

What about when a fighter’s heart needs to be taken out of the equation? That “one punch too many” can often be impossible to call, for the comeback behind the eight-ball wins are epic. I would be the last boxing fan to deny that. The prolonged punishments without a Rocky ending are never good to see. It’s a fine balancing act.

The premature stoppage gets the polar opposite. It’s no walk in the park being a fight referee. The offside goal in football hurts no-one more than the fans when you break it down. Sure, it hurts: cheating, diving and gaining an unfair edge. Then they all swap shirts at the end. It plays itself out.

Boxing referees have not been helped at times – certainly domestically. I have never been a fan of scoring a fight when you are the third man in the ring, when your primary role is to concentrate on fighter welfare. The nature of boxing means what you see changes in a second in a ring. There are no substitutions here.

Referee Terry O’Connor was defended by the British Boxing Board of Control despite missing a head clash which seemed to cause the cut which led to the end of Liam Smith vs Liam Williams.

You do need to to be judged yourself more closely as a referee should you come up short. Rank, poor officiating should be accountable. It hasn’t happened enough over the years. Why not? Combat sports are life changing, both good and bad. The handling of a controversial fight should be reviewed. The obvious fouling from fighter’s blatant headbutts missed, low-blows disregarded. The mandate provided to score a fight is given seemingly without the requirement to explain yourself.

I guess the question is: who judges the judge? Who helps them perform better and who also decides to put a consoling arm around the third man’s shoulder, reviews the poor scorecards and says: “you have had enough son”? So have we.