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Referee Steve Willis Deserves Credit for Golovkin/Lemieux

By Sean Crose

How many times do we fight fans overlook the importance of a referee? It’s a thankless position to have, really, that of a ref. You’re pretty much completely ignored unless you screw up. And then you’re hated. Referee Dave Barry will probably always be remembered as the guy who gave Gene Tunney a long count against Jack Dempsey – if the poor man is even remembered at all. Truth be told, referees even get a lot of hate when they do the right thing.


Many disagree, but I’m still not going to fault Richard Steele for stopping the Julio Caesar Chavez – Meldrick Taylor fight back in 1990. There may have been mere seconds left in a bout that Taylor was winning, but the man was hurt and Steele had to do what he thought he was the right thing in the blink of an eye.

I feel the same way about Howard Foster, the referee who took a whole ton of heat for stopping the first George Groves-Carl Froch fight. Could Groves have continued after being rocked by the man who calls himself the Cobra? Maybe. But Foster didn’t have the luxury to reflect on the issue. Again referees have to make split second decisions that can literally mean the difference between life and death.

Hopefully, no one will criticize Steve Willis for wisely stopping Saturday’s Gennady Golovkin – David Lemieux fight in the eighth round. It was a good fight to be sure, one which proved to be worthy of the hype and attention it received. Still, it was in essence a one sided and extremely violent beating.

Sure, Lemieux could have gone on and sure, he might – MIGHT – have landed that one great shot…but probably not. And at what cost if he did? One look at the Canadian’s face in the post fight interview and it was clear that he had taken, for lack of a more effective terminology, a first class ass kicking. For Willis to have allowed the fight to continue would have been negligent on his part.

It’s worth noting that Willis is a seasoned pro with a history of over 150 bouts on his resume. The last time the man was on as big a stage as he was on Saturday, he oversaw the Andy Lee – Pete Quillin draw last April. Indeed, he’s the same Steve Willis, who kept Gabriel Rosado from taking further damage from Lemieux himself in the 10th round of that 2014 match.

Some have taken to finding humor in the concerned look Willis had on his face throughout the fight. Truth be told, I’d rather have a ref be concerned with a fighter’s safety than I would have one interfere unnecessarily with a fight, or have one allow things like excessive holding and low blows to slip by perpetually, or – worst of all, have one allow a fighter to get severely hurt.

We fight fans are a rough bunch. Believe it. The only thing we seem to love more than good boxing is complaining about boxing. And, sure enough, there’s often a lot to complain about. That’s particularly true when it comes to the refs sometimes, too. In this case, however, the referee deserves some credit. It’s no guarantee that the third man or woman in the ring will show sound judgement.

When it happens the individual should be singled out for praise – if only for the briefest of moments.

Photo: Tom Hogan – Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions

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