"As far as referees are concerned, I think they need to focus and pay more attention during seminars. While in the ring, they need to execute and utilize more common sense, judgment and movement. As far as improvements that can be made vis-à-vis the sport of boxing in general, we need to utilize modern technology for the better of the sport. The whole focus of a recent New York State Athletic Commission Referee seminar that we had the first week of March was to discuss the implementation of instant replay for cuts versus butts, knockdowns versus slips, and low blows versus clean blows. Earl Brown who is a fine referee is the Chairman, Arthur Mercante Jr, Benjy Esteves and myself are all on the committee.
"After the seminar, Earl called me the next day and said that he thinks he has a way to implement this in a world title fight by giving each corner two challenges. They must make that challenge in the first 10 seconds of the round ending. If the referee rules it a punch and they say it was a butt, within ten seconds they call time out and one corner man says “I challenge." There would be a Deputy Commissioner with a headset and a monitor who is already assigned who would sit down next to the time keeper and his job would be to handle challenges and have 20 to 30 seconds to review the television replay footage. The goal would be to accomplish this without interrupting the flow of the fight," said veteran referee Steve Smoger when asked about what changes he thought could be made to improve the overall officiating in the sport of boxing. Check out what else he had to say about the current state of boxing as well as his career as a referee.
DL: Steve, where did you grow up and how did you get involved in boxing?
SS: I was born in Norfolk, Virginia. My dad took a second hitch in the Navy and I was born in Norfolk where he was stationed at the time. We then moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey where my parents were in the hotel and restaurant business. It was a wonderful place to grow up with the beach a half a block away and the boardwalk. The summer months were spent on the beach and we had our little league baseball. I am a lifelong resident of the Jersey Shore. Fighters were always the heroes in my home. I’m an only child and I had a very strong relationship with my parents. My dad would allow me to stay up on Friday nights to watch what was then called the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports.
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I ran track at Atlantic City High School. At 5’6 135 pounds I was too small for football and too short for basketball, so I ran track. I was told early on that the key element to boxing on any level is conditioning so I got into the amateur program at the YMCA in Atlantic City and I boxed on the amateur level and really enjoyed the sport. I didn’t enjoy wrestling because they squeezed my head too much (laughs). I was able to maneuver in the ring ---it was recreational. I also boxed amateur at Penn State University. I went on to George Washington Law School and stayed in shape by going to a local gym. Through staying in shape I met certain people in the amateur boxing program where I trained from 1974 to 1982. I became affiliated with the Atlantic City Athletic League where I met Frankie Polo who was the local head of the amateur boxing program. I met him and told him I was very interested in participating in the sport of boxing.
DL: You are also a Municipal Court Judge in Atlantic City as well as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserves, is that correct?
SS: That’s correct. I am retired from both. As my career progressed the kids and locals called me a “triple threat” because I was a licensed boxing referee, a Municipal Court Judge in Atlantic County, New Jersey, and also a Lieutenant Colonel Staff Judge Advocate for the New Jersey Air National Guard. When I graduated law school it was the tail end of Vietnam and I was permitted to seek equivalent service and I was lucky enough to get into the National Guard. Mills Lane and I spent some time together in the late 80’s and early 90’s and we would often say that we were in the “club of two”. We were the only two sworn judicial officers (Mills in the Superior Court and me in the Municipal Court) while also being dually licensed boxing referees. There has never been any other person in any country to hold those licenses simultaneously. We would appear at different conventions at the WBA and IBF predominantly and I always looked up to him. We were the club of two.
DL: Did you ever judge fights or were you always a referee?
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SS: I was...
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