by Ted Sares
“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” — Steve Smoger.
Back on March 6, 1999 in Atlantic City, big Lance Whittaker launched an eye-popping 122 punches in the sixth round of his fight with Lou Savarese (38-2). Lou finally took a knee at which point the following occurred: Lou goes down, the count of 5 is reached and while Savarese is struggling to get up, referee Steve Smoger says “Take your time, baby.” After the count of 6 he said something else which is inaudible, and after the 8 count he seems to say “come on” and after the count of 9 he says “you’re alright”. He then asks “are you alright?” Savarese nods, and he lets the fight continue. Savarese survived the horrific sixth round beating and went on to somehow win an SD ending Whittaker’s undefeated streak at 18.
An ensuing controversy turned on whether Savarese beat the count and if he was coached by Smoger. For me, it was the first time I questioned the heretofore unassailable Smoger’s ability in the ring not because I thought he was coaching Lou but because I felt the fight should have been stopped in the sixth. The beating Lou took was savage.
The prolific Smoger then hit some hard personal times in 2002 but demonstrating incredible resiliency and tenacity, he bounced back and began to receive one plum assignment after another. During this time, he probably earned enough awards to require an addition to his home in South Jersey. Clearly, he was one of the better referees—often referred to as an invisible third man in the ring. But that was then and this is now and now he is no longer invisible.
Fast forward to 2011
“Hopkins-Murat will not be played at Steve Smoger’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony” — Adam Abramowitz
Since 2011, Steve has done some work that suggests he has seen his best days. Long in the tooth (though it’s hard to pin down his age), overweight, and with his belt virtually up to his chest, he can no longer move well, staying too far away from the action, and when he does get in close he appears too weak to break the fighters apart often using two hands to push them away. Moreover, his long-standing tolerance of allowing both fighters to hold and hit has gone stale. Thankfully, he has dispensed with his strange leg raising ritual at the end of a round reminiscent of a burlesque act. Check out the 1.22 mark on this video and also at the 2.18 point: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCVmcfsosK8 In fact, the entire video is worth watching.
As recently as July 2, 2014, Filipino Michael Farenas stopped the undefeated Mark “Too Sharp” Davis in a bout where substance and experience outdid flash. Smoger correctly stopped the beating in the 8th round and promptly kissed Davis on the cheek rubbing himself all over the lad from Baton Rouge. It was almost embarrassing to watch because it was so predictable. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-yi-CvFbuk
Davis joined an illustrious number of fighters who have been smooched or hugged (or both) by Smoger including Bernard Hopkins, Rogers Mtagwa when Gamboa waxed him and Chad Dawson who was the recipient of a long-hug after Andre Ward crunched him,
On December 7, 2013, the relentless James Kirkland pummeled Glen Tapia in the sixth round. With Tapia clearly done and against the ropes, Smoger moved to stop the fight, but he was too late to keep Glen from taking one last vicious left hook. That shot left Tapia standing but totally in another planet as the “Touchy-Feely” Smoger, as is his weird wont, planted a kiss on him. It was a scary beatdown to witness and Smoger was subjected to heavy criticism including the following from Eric Raskin in INSIDE HBO BOXING: I could just as easily call this my “Worst Blow,” since it was a dirty punch from Kirkland and the result of a poor refereeing performance by Steve Smoger. The punch never should have happened. But it did, and it made me cringe more than any other shot delivered in 2013. For sheer viciousness and violence, nothing topped that last left hand from Kirkland that left us all fearing for Tapia’s well-being.”
On October 25, 2013, Smoger continually admonished and even swore at Armenian Karo Murat shoving him in the face, and then, after the bout, Smoger hugged and kissed the winner Bernard Hopkins. Despite both men fighting dirty (particularly Murat), Smoger seemed totally biased against Murat throughout the bout often yelling at him. This one was also highly embarrassing to witness. SS’s well-documented affinity for Bernard was more than apparent but his inexplicable contempt for Murat was discomforting.
Said Jimmy Tobin in the Cruelest Sport, “Referee Steve Smoger, the patron saint of morbid bystanders, molested Murat nearly as often as Hopkins did.”
Said Scott Christ of BLH, “…Murat fought fire with fire on that count, but then referee Steve Smoger became an issue in the fight, as he began to physically manhandle Murat, including shoving him in the face at one point. This was absurd, and frankly Smoger should be reprimanded for his behavior in this fight. He was out of line and acted like anything but a professional in there. That needs to be addressed by the Jersey commission.”
Given Smoger’s inexplicable impunity, I doubt if the commission did address it.
Said Smoger-friend Adam Abramowitz on Saturday Night Boxing, “Smoger would have been perfect for Quillin-Rosado, but he was overmatched for the main event [Hopkins-Murat] and it pains me to say that.”
On March 29, 2014, Smoger was involved in a dreadful clinch fest in which Thomas Dulorme put on a clinic on how to hold without getting caught against Karim Mayfield. Steve also failed to call two low blows on Dulorme. Even the overly tolerant HBO announcers commented on this one.
There have been other forehead furrowing instances. For example, the way “Double-S” handled the stoppage in the second Cotto-Margarito affair suggested to some that he was looking to the doctors for a noncontroversial way out when he had the authority to stop the fight on his own (though admittedly many were skittish about the condition of Margo’s eye even before the fight began). Conversely, he allowed Pawel Wolak to continue against Delvin Rodriquez (during their first bruising fight) even though Wolak’s eye looked worse than Margarito’s. “It’s ugly but I can stand it. Let them roll,” said Smoger about Wolak’s eye swollen to the size of a small grapefruit.
And the way Smoger let Roy Jones Jr. take unnecessarily dangerous punishment from Denis Lebedev in Moscow in 2011 drew extremely harsh and widespread criticism, as did the manner in which he permitted Kelly Pavlik to pummel Edison Miranda after Miranda was clearly finished in their 2008 fight. “I didn’t stop the [Jones] fight because there were only a matter of seconds remaining…and it seemed that Roy was pretending, trying to trick his opponent…He did this repeatedly in the fight. So I thought Jones was doing the same thing here, trying to deceive Lebedev in the final seconds of the fight in order to lure Denis in to land a big punch [which Jones managed to do in the previous round],“said Steve. His lame explanation was of no consolation to Jones who lay face down and unconscious.
On this same Moscow card (and unknown to most), Ugandan Hamza Wandera took way too much punishment from Ismayl Sillakh. At one point Wandera even turned his back and ran from Ismayl and that, according to the rules, should have prompted an immediate stoppage but it didn’t. In the end, Wandera took crunching haymakers before Smoger finally deigned to step in.
Smoger though much faster afoot also was in his signature delay mode when Shane Mosley, looking out on his feet after the second knockdown in the second round and going to the wrong corner, took a brutal whipping from the late Vernon Forrest in January 2002
Sure, given the incredibly large number of fights Smoger works (they apparently provide his essential income), it’s no wonder he has had some bad ones, but given the nature of the risks involved, the “bad ones” must be kept to an absolute minimum.
There are many who worship at the altar of referee Smoger (including the influential and knowledgeable Teddy Atlas, other commentators, and most boxing writers). It’s almost as if no one will dare criticize him because to do so is to risk heresy and shrill criticism from his supporters and from the less-informed sycophants. And what writer wants that?
But it’s time someone stepped up, took the blinders off, and called this for what it appears to be: to wit, A twilight campaign for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. I wish Steve well in his pursuit, but that’s between SS and the Hall. What’s more important to me is the manner in which the officials (New York in particular) and other commissions insult our intelligence by allowing Smoger plum assignments when other competent referees are available and by allowing him to conduct seminars for other referees is such exotic locales as Panama, St. Martin, Toronto, Delaware (near his South Jersey home), and now New York in September notwithstanding he no longer is a premier referee. These gigs must be tortuous for those referees who know the score and have to sit through them wondering how Smoger seems to be allowed to act with impunity.
I am also bothered by a referee who talks about the fights he works and the fighters as well. Its one thing to discuss officiating, but quite another to discuss the combatants and Smoger is one of the few who does this along with granting any number of interviews. Here is a prime example: http://ringtv.craveonline.com/news/176893-smoger Smoger does this with no heed for unpleasant consequences and why not since he is treated like virtual royalty.
Enter Larry Hazzard
“This is Smoger’s campaign for the Hall of Fame”—Larry Hazzard
“Fighter’s lives are at stake. When you use refereeing all for self-aggrandizement, it galls me to no end. This guy [Smoger] has to be stopped and no one has the courage sitting at ringside to put an end to this nonsense” –Larry Hazzard (From “Steve Smoger A Disgrace To Boxing – Kisses Davis During Stoppage!”)
Former referee and Hall of Fame inductee Larry Hazard finally spoke out as he ripped Smoger totally apart on a live radio show recently and said what a lot of people have been thinking but have been reticent to say—and he did it in no uncertain terms as he referred to Smoger as an “ass kisser” and “glad hander.” Here is the link. The Hazzard segment starts at the 34 minute and 12 second mark. Another criticism is launched at the 21 minute and 39 second mark. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6np_J4CUiMo
Hazzard, no stranger to controversy, has been around and knows what he s talking about. In 1985, he was appointed commissioner of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board and served until November 2007. During his tenure he was a fervent advocate for boxer safety and health and implemented a state-of-the art licensing card.
In the end, referees like Smoger are applauded for permitting a fight to last probably longer than it should, while referees who stop a fight a moment too soon are subjected to scorn and accused of robbing a fighter. The fact is SS is a fan-friendly third man. It is what it is.
A New Jersey and Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, Steve Smoger is also this year’s Ring 10 Arthur Mercante Award winner as the referee who exemplifies honesty and integrity in the sport of boxing and who attempts to do the best of their ability to keep the sport safe and at the same time entertaining.
He can build on this solid platform as he works his way towards the IBHOF, but he doesn’t need to tarnish that journey by engaging in what a growing number are calling show business.
Ted Sares is a private investor who enjoys writing about boxing. He also is a member of the Ring 4 International Boxing Hall of Fame and a member of Ring 10. A member of both the RAW and the Elite Powerlifting Federations, Ted is one of the oldest active competitors in the world and holds several state records.