An Interview with Bill Clancy:
One of the Fast Rising Stars in the Ranks of Professional Boxing Referees
By Barry Lindenman
To say that Bill Clancy has paid his dues in professional boxing would be an understatement. A veteran referee of over 2,500 professional boxing matches during his 18 year career, Bill Clancy is one of the rising star referees in the world of professional boxing. If you’ve ever seen him operate in the ring, you’ll know what I mean. His take charge command and thorough knowledge of the rules make it clear to both the fighters in the ring as well as the spectators watching it, just who’s boss. The New York native and long time North Carolina resident was kind enough recently to take time from his busy schedule to share his thoughts about among other things, how he got his start, what its like to be a professional referee and who he likes to see in the ring.
BL: Could you briefly explain how you first got interested in boxing?
BC: I’ve been a fan of boxing ever since I was a little kid. My grandfather on my mother’s side used to box in the merchant marines. In fact he actually fought an exhibition fight with one of the old, former heavyweight champions. I want to say it was Max Baer or someone else like that of that era. I’m still trying to research the records about this with some boxing historians but so far I’ve not been able to confirm it exactly. So, hearing of that as a little kid sort of sparked my initial interest in boxing. As far back as I can remember though, boxing has always intrigued me. I used to watch it on TV every time there was a boxing match on. Billy Costello, the former WBC Super Lightweight champion, and I grew up together in the same town in upstate New York. I eventually ended up moving down to North Carolina during high school and messed around a little with my buddies putting on the gloves, etc. Anyway, as Billy progressed through the ranks, I would go back up to New York to watch him fight. After he won the title from Bruce Curry in 1984, Billy came down to visit in North Carolina. The next thing I know, I’m helping Billy train for some of his title defenses. Billy and I have been close friends ever since. I ultimately got an opportunity to start officiating through a guy named Tom Marino. He was putting on a card but had no officials and he knew that I was really into boxing. This was before we had a boxing commission here in North Carolina so I helped him out by refereeing and judging some of the fights. That’s what got me my first break into refereeing. My name eventually got out there whenever they needed some officials for a fight. The next thing you know, I’m getting calls left and right. It really took off from there. I joined the North American Boxing Federation in 1994 in an effort to get my name more recognized by a sanctioning body. After doing well with the NABF, I eventually got a call from the WBC about doing one of their title fights in Tennessee. I started doing a lot of work in both Tennessee and South Carolina in addition to the fights I was doing here and eventually became regarded as one of the top referees in those states. Then in 1997, the folks in Tennessee called me again about a card featuring five world title fights that Don King was putting together. I was asked to help officiate the undercard that night. That’s where Don King first got to see me work so that was another big break for me. It’s sort of just taken off from there and I’ve been very lucky so far.
BL: What was the most recent world title fight that you’ve officiated in?
BC: On the undercard of Lennox Lewis – Mike Tyson, I did the IBF Junior Featherweight World Title bout with Manny Pacquiao defending his title against Jorge Julio. I ended up having to stop that fight in the 2nd round because Pacquiao just destroyed him.
BL: Speaking of the Lewis – Tyson fight, you had originally been considered as one of the officials for that fight. What happened?
BC: My selection as the referee got leaked to the press prematurely and Wally Matthews from The New York Post called me about doing an interview. The Tennessee commission advised me to just say that I was being considered as the referee and that it wasn’t a done deal yet. He ended up writing some really nasty stuff. He made a mockery of my selection as the referee saying something to the effect that “in this fishbowl of an event (Lewis-Tyson fight), Tennessee was putting a guppy in to ref the fight.” He said I was in no way qualified. He really ripped me good. In order to avoid controversy, I pulled my name out of the running. But if the truth be known, I was actually more qualified than Eddie Cotton who ultimately was chosen to ref the fight. Cotton has had more title fights than me, that’s true. I don’t think you necessarily should be judged on how many world title fights you’ve done. I think you should look at the overall experience level. I’m in my 18th year as a ref. Cotton’s in his 17th year. He got his start refereeing in the prison system. I started on the toughman circuit. I would dare say that I’ve encountered more problems on the toughman circuit than he had in the prison system. I mean I didn’t have armed guards standing around to protect me.
BL: Do you have any role models when it comes to being a referee?
BC: I do actually. My true role model is Mills Lane. I feel very fortunate to have actually taken a couple of seminars that he taught. Mills Lane is 5’7” and 145 lbs. but he always had ultimate control in the ring, no matter how big the fighters were. It’s not how big you are as a ref. It’s about how you set the tone of the fight in the dressing room when you give the instructions well before the fight starts. You have to take control from that point on and then follow through by executing your duties in the ring. Other than Mills though, I also have the utmost respect for Joe Cortez. He is an absolute consummate professional.
BL: We all know that Mills Lane, other than being a boxing referee was also a district court judge and HBO’s official “unofficial” judge Harold Lederman is a licensed pharmacist. Other than officiating professional boxing events, how do you make a living?
BC: I work full-time for IBM. October 30th will be my 25th anniversary with the company.
BL: What’s your opinion about Don King? Do you think he’s been good or bad for boxing?
BC: I personally have nothing against Don King. I’ve done some events for him a couple of times. He’s always acted very professional to me. The government’s been trying to get him for so long now but they still haven’t nailed him with anything. That tells me something right there. How can the fighters complain either? Before they hook up with Don King, they never see the kind of money that they make with Don King. He has made well over a hundred fighters millionaires. Larry Holmes once told me, “how can I complain about Don King?” Yeah, he might have robbed me of $3 million but he made me $20 million!” Fighters make more money with Don King than they do with any other promoter. If it wasn’t for him, boxing wouldn’t be at the level that it is so I have no bones with Don King.
BL: What’s your opinion about women’s boxing? Do you think it’s just a sideshow attraction to try and sell tickets or do you think they should be given a legitimate chance to fight?
BC: I definitely think that they should be given the chance to fight. Some of them are very accomplished boxers not only from a skills perspective but in terms of the having the heart and desire as well. I have the utmost respect for women fighters.
BL: What’s the most difficult aspect of refereeing a professional boxing match?
BC: The politics that goes on outside the ring. I do get a little nervous before a fight because I want to make sure that I do a good job. I want to make sure that my movements are fluid and I try to insure that when the fight starts that I’m not the person that the people are looking at. I’m not the show. It’s the fighters. But once I get in the ring, I’m in the most relaxed atmosphere that that I could possibly be in. So the hardest thing for me is the politics. Had it not been for the politics, I would have been the referee for the Lewis – Tyson fight.
BL: Who are some of your favorite fighters to watch fight?
BC: There are so many. It’s hard to just single out a few. Of the current crop of fighters, I love to watch guys like Bernard Hopkins, Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Manny Pacquiao. I used to love to watch Sugar Ray Leonard. Marvin Hagler was probably one of my most favorite boxers of all time.
BL: Last question Bill. Mills Lane was famous for ending his pre-fight instructions by saying “let’s get it on” to the fighters. Joe Cortez says “I’m fair but I’m firm.” Do you have a signature phrase or slogan that you say to the fighters right before the bell rings?
BC: I really don’t have a “saying” but I do say at the end of final in the ring instructions, “let’s go to work”. I never really thought about it until you asked but I do say “let’s go to work.”
Barry Lindenman is a free lance writer who can be reached at: [email protected]