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What It Was Like To Referee Ward-Dawson

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WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO REFEREE WARD-DAWSON

By Steve Smoger as told to Doveed Linder

Top BB Referee Steve Smoger discusses his experiences as the third man in the ring for the Andre Ward-Chad Dawson super middleweight world championship fight, which Ward won via tenth-round technical knockout.

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STEVE SMOGER: As a referee who normally works on the east coast, I was delighted that the California Commission selected me to work the Andre Ward-Chad Dawson fight.  It was a dual title fight, as Ward’s WBC and WBA [168-pound] titles were both on the line.  Everything was handled beautifully by everyone involved.  Kathi Burns and chief inspector Che Guevara with the California Commission treated me with a lot of respect and professionalism, as did [sanctioning body supervisors] Peter Stucki with the WBC and Bob Mack with the WBA.  Being that I was being licensed as a professional referee in the state of California for the first time, I had to get a complete physical which was conducted by Dr. Smithson, the chief physician of the fight.  The weigh-in and pre-fight ceremonies took place in downtown Oakland.  Andre Ward had a strong crowd out there to support him.  It was his first fight back in Oakland since he won the Super Six, so this was something of a homecoming.  The Dawson camp was very happy to see the involvement of east coast officials like myself and Julie Lederman, who was one of the judges.  They commended the California Commission for their fairness. 

Before the fight, I went into the fighters’ dressing rooms to give instructions.  Andre Ward was all business, but he was very respectful.  I congratulated Andre and his trainer Virgil Hunter on winning the Super Six.  I had the privilege of working Andre’s last fight with Carl Froch and I told him that I was looking forward to working with him again.  The last time I worked a Chad Dawson fight was in 2005 when he defeated Carl Daniels.  [Trainer] John Scully, who reunited with Dawson somewhat recently, was in Dawson’s corner for that fight.  I actually worked a few of John Scully’s fights in New England back when he was a youngster coming up, so I was very familiar with everyone involved.

For this fight, HBO requested that both referees wear 'ref cams', meaning we were going to wear a small camera throughout the fight that was supposed to show the referee’s perspective of the action.  I tentatively agreed to wear the camera.  My only concern was that I didn’t want anything to impede my ability to move around the ring.  As it turned out, there was no need for concern, because I didn’t end up wearing it.  Before Ward-Dawson, I took a seat in the official’s dressing room to watch [the preceding bout] Antonio DeMarco- John Molina.  That fight, of course, ended in forty-four seconds.  HBO only had one 'ref cam', which was worn by referee Jack Reiss who was working DeMarco-Molina.  I thought we would have a little time between fights so I could put the camera on, but before I knew it, the chief inspector told me it was time to get in the ring. 

When I got into the ring, the whole atmosphere had a certain intensity about it.  I attribute that to the fact that we were in Andre Ward’s hometown.  When I worked the Ward-Froch fight in Atlantic City, it didn’t have the same electricity as Ward-Dawson.  The bell rang and both fighters were focused and determined.  Chad gave a good account of himself in rounds one and two.  In the third round, Andre caught him and dropped him.  It was a good clean punch.  Chad popped right up and shook his head, letting me know he was able to continue.  In round four, Andre caught him again and Chad went down.  As Andre was circling away, he tripped over Chad’s feet and he went down as well.  However, I saw his punch land, so of course, I ruled it a knockdown.  This time when Chad got up, he didn’t have the same energy and eagerness that he did in the third round.  I could see that he was dazed by the punch.

In round five, I saw a change in strategy from Chad.  When they got close, he started clinching.  I’m used to Andre working inside with one hand free, but Chad was clinching with both hands.  I stayed out of it as much as I could, but I had to break them a few times, because Chad was using the clinches to stall the action.  From rounds six through nine, Andre imposed his will and his skill and he began to wear Chad down.  There were certain energy bursts from Chad where he would open up and throw a combination, but Andre would stifle Chad’s aggressiveness with moves of his own.  The beginning of the end came in the tenth round when they were along the ropes.  Andre let go with a series of uppercuts at close quarters and I could hear the impact of the punches.  Chad went backwards, got caught, and dropped to a knee.  He got up at the count of three and I continued to give him an eight-count.  At the count of six, I asked him how he felt.  At that point, he told me he was done.  I told him I was going to stop it and he nodded in agreement.

I am a referee who does everything he can to allow a fight to come to its natural conclusion.  That being said, I can tell you with absolute certainty that Chad gave me everything he had.  This was not an instance where he quit or said “no mas”.  He did his best and when he got up from the third knockdown, he didn’t have a realistic opportunity of winning the fight.  I embraced him, walked him back to his corner, and called the doctor in.  I then went over to Andre’s corner and congratulated him.  I said, “Let me raise your hand before HBO gets you.”  He smiled and we took a walk with his hand in the air.  As Andre said before the fight, the last piece of his puzzle was to work on finishing his opponent and that was apparent.  He did a beautiful job and it’s a pleasure to watch him perfect his craft.

In my view, Chad Dawson’s next bout is crucial.  He needs to successfully defend his light heavyweight title [which was not on the line vs. Ward] and I believe he can do it.  If he gets a win, people will easily forget this fight at 168 and he will be right back where he was after the Hopkins fight.  At the weigh-in, I thought Chad looked a bit gaunt.  I don’t want to say he was drained, but he didn’t look quite as healthy as I’ve seen him in the past.  It could be that the seven-pound difference from 175 to 168 made a big difference.  However, I don’t want to take anything away from Andre Ward’s victory, because he is clearly one of the best fighters in the game.  No question.  Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are at the tail-end of their careers, but we have a lot to look forward to with fighters like Andre Ward and Chad Dawson who are now making their mark.  There are no warriors like the warriors of our sport and it was an honor for me to share the ring with them.

 

Interview on the BOXINGTALK

September 13, 2012