April 30, 2013
MY NIGHT IN THE RING WITH DANNY GARCIA AND ZAB JUDAH
By Steve Smoger as told to Doveed Linder
Referee Steve Smoger discusses his experience as the third man in the ring for last Saturday’s fight between world junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia and former two-division champion Zab Judah, a fight that Garcia won via unanimous decision.
Going into the bout between Danny Garcia and Zab Judah, I was aware that there were some issues between the two camps. From what I had been told, this fight was very personal and that the two camps nearly came to blows on a few occasions. As a referee, you have to be aware of the history of the two fighters going into a major bout like this, both with any pre-fight tension that may have occurred, and with the way they have conducted themselves in the ring in previous fights. But at the same time, you have to allow the fighters to have a clean slate, without penalizing them for something that may have occurred at the press conference. I had previously worked with both Danny and Zab on two separate occasions, notably Danny’s 2009 fight against Enrique Colin in Philadelphia [on Bernard Hopkins-Enrique Ornelas undercard] and Zab’s fight with Jan Piet Bergman in 2000 for the IBF junior welterweight title. I had also been following their careers as a fan and was very impressed with Danny’s knockout of Amir Khan and Zab’s recent stoppage of Vernon Paris. So, I had done my homework and I was aware of the tendencies of both fighters.
When I went into the dressing rooms of the fighters to give the pre-fight instructions, I knew I had to set the tone and let them know that I expected a clean fight. In a situation like this, I generally don’t like to act like a hard-nosed authority figure. In my experience, you can get the most out of a fighter by showing him mutual respect. Before the fight, I went into Danny’s dressing room with Melvina Lathan, the Chairwoman of the New York State Athletic Commission, along with Carlos Chavez, the supervisor from the WBA, and Chuck Williams, the supervisor from the WBC. I have been in Danny’s company on prior occasions and I had never seen him this intense. He didn’t say two words the whole time I was in there. His hands were being wrapped and we had minimal eye contact. I went over the rules and he had no comment. I shook hands with his father Angel and that was it. By the way, Angel and I have an excellent rapport. As colorful as he can be at the press conferences, in every instance I have worked with him, he has never been anything but professional, courteous, and cooperative. We then went into Zab’s dressing room, which was strategically placed at the opposite end of the hallway. The idea was to make sure that there were no confrontations between the two camps before the fight. Zab’s dressing room had a much lighter atmosphere. Zab brought up that I had worked his fight with Bergman at the Mohegan Sun. I said, “You have a good memory, Zab.” We went over the rules. I asked him if he had any questions and he said, “I’m ready to go. I’m gonna knock him out.” At that, I left the dressing room and waited in the official’s dressing room until it was time to get in the ring.
With all of the pre-fight concerns, there were no problems during the fight whatsoever. The two fighters showed nothing but consummate professionalism. On several occasions, when either fighter landed a clean punch, they smiled at each other, which I viewed as a sign of mutual respect. Danny came on very strong in the early rounds. He was the aggressor and he appeared to be the stronger of the two. He hurt Zab on a few occasions and it seemed that his youth and enthusiasm would prevail. Although Zab was wobbled, at no point did he appear to be in any danger. His body language suggested to me that he still had his bearings. He was always very reactive and very responsive.
And in the later rounds, he started coming on! He offset Garcia’s youth and determination with his experience and craftsmanship. For a while there he looked like the same Zab Judah who fought Cory Spinks and Floyd Mayweather. However, it was too little too late and Danny went on to win the decision. Needless to say, this was an encouraging night for both fighters. Danny proved once again that he is a true champion and Zab showed that he is still a legitimate force. Both fighters showed a lot of heart and it was the type of fight that made me proud to be the third man in the ring. When you have two fighters who give it their all and leave nothing to chance, both guys come out as winners. This is why we watch boxing – because of fights like Garcia-Judah.