Boxing Hall of Fame referee Arthur Mercante passed away

An Exclusive Interview

By Saratogamist

The unification bout between Junior Welterweight champions Konstantin Tszyu and Zabdiel Judah was supposed to be a fight fan’s dream. It was supposed to crown the first undisputed champion in that division in thirty years. It was supposed to settle a lot of scores, to prove if youth and speed could rule over experience and power.

Well, the fight didn’t live up to the hype or the expectation. It was a disappointment to most, a heart wrenching loss for Judah who will more than likely pay for his post-fight behavior almost as dearly as he did for his pre-fight bravado. Kostya Tszyu’s victory is now mired in controversy as a result of what some consider a premature or incorrect stoppage by referee Jay Nady.

It an effort to better understand the referee’s actions, we polled several arbiters and trainers, boxing people whom we felt were in a position to shed light on the matter. We have unveiled the interviews like much needed vitamins, one a day, and we sincerely hope that by the time you finish reading this last installment, you will have a better understanding of what went right and what went wrong on that fateful night.

Arthur Mercante Sr. is a man that needs no introduction. Aptly referred to as “The Dean of Boxing Referees”, he has been the third men in the ring for fifty eight years and one hundred and forty five world title bouts.

Mercante is best remembered as being the third man in the first Ali-Frazier bout, on March 3, 1971. He also officiated such classics as Foreman-Frazier I, Ali-Norton III and Nelson-Fenech II. Much to his credit, Arthur let fighters mix it up, but knew when to step in to take away points for fouls and when to stop a fight. “I’m opposed to the standing eight count, because the point at which a referee is supposed to use it is precisely the point at which a fight should be stopped. The fighter’s knees are weak; his eyes are rolling. So why prolong his agony?”

Based on the fact that Mercante Sr. had refereed Judah’s fights before, and on the above cited comments, we felt hard pressed to speak to Mercante, making this interview the final chapter of our “The Zab Judah Aftermath” series of articles and interviews. Always a gentleman, and a very passionate lover of the sweet science, he was more than happy to respond to our questions and to talk boxing. This is what the legendary Mercante Sr. had to say.

BRC: Arthur, was the stoppage correct? And please tell us why?

AM: Well, with the stoppage, I’ll cover that first, the referee doesn’t have to know what time is left on the clock, because when a fighter goes down, he immediately starts the count; they said the clock was at 2:59 but that has nothing to do with the referee. When he went down the count should have continued, then when he got up the bell rings, then he returns to his corner, that’s the way it should have been done. Referee should have counted and then if Zab Judah got up on his feet, then the bell would sound, (because you can’t be saved by the bell), and therefore he would have returned to his corner and got his full minute’s rest.

BRC: What, if anything, should happen to Zab Judah as a result of the incident after the fight ended?

AM: As far as Zab Judah’s behavior, if I were the Commissioner I would not allow him ever to fight in my state again. Because, I mean, to pick up the stool and toss it across the ring? He could have killed someone, and by attacking the referee which he did, he did have his forearm in the ref’s throat pushing him back…I think that Mark Ratner the Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission in Las Vegas, should really think of a real heavy fine. Let’s assume he was getting one million, they could give him a real hefty fine…
BRC: You do realize that his purse has been held pending the Commission’s investigation of the melee that occurred in the ring…

AM: In all the years of my experience, purses have been withheld, and eventually the Promoter gives in and pays off and that is the end of it. What I think they should do is withhold the purse, as you just said, and consider a real healthy fine. It could be $100,000, it could be $200,000. $100,000 won’t hurt him, but he definitely deserves to be fined.
BRC: I need you to clarify something for me, please. When Zab fell and Nady began his count, Zab leapt up and he turned to the referee saying what seems like “I’m okay, I’m okay” and as he was doing that, he went back down again, on his face…

AM: Yeah, that’s right, if I were the referee I would have continued the count. Let’s say I was on three and he got up, because he was dazed and then he went down again, you just continue on with the count, four, five, six, seven…then if he got up, the bell would ring and he would be sent to his corner.

If a fighter is being counted over, and then he gets up quickly like on two or three, there is no reason why the referee can’t go on with the count.
At this point of the interview, I asked Mr. Mercante if he had a message for his many fans and this is his very special message to all boxing fans:

After the Trinidad fight, I did the co-feature that night, I decided that I would retire from being a referee but continue on as a judge in a more sedentary position; so I did work as a judge at Foxwoods Casino where I made my debut as a judge in the Savarese vs Bostice fight. I’m happy to say my scoring was just as good, we (judges) were all the same, every round was the same.
BRC: (Laughing) So, does that mean you passed Judging 101 with an A?

AM: (Laughing) Yeah, I guess that I passed, yeah. Sitting at ringside, though, made me very nostalgic, I don’t know whether I did the right thing or not, so maybe I’ll do a Michael Jordan…(we both laughed at this analogy); Frank Sinatra did it too, but no, I’ll remain retired. I still feel very, very active, very strong, even despite my advanced years in age, I still feel like I felt when I did the Ali – Frazier I, thirty one years ago, I feel the same way.
BRC: What else have you been up to these days?

AM: They put me on the Ringside Physicians Organization as Director. We had our first meeting at Foxwoods, doctors from all over the country were there and it was a great honor; particularly when a newspaper man came over to me, his name is Jack Harris and he said you know Arthur, it’s hard for me to comprehend the referees of today, every fight is a big controversy, you’ve been in the ring for seven decades and I don’t recall one controversy that you’ve ever been in. Well, I did have one hundred and forty five world title fights, and I don’t mean to be boasting, but the writer reminded me of the fact, I wasn’t even aware, and when he said that to me, I said, You know what? I would have never thought of that. Jack Harris said yes, not ever a controversy, that’s something that no one else has ever achieved.

But enough of that, I just came back from California where I received the World Boxing Hall of Fame’s President Award. All the fighters were there, it was just a great evening. It was a fantastic affair, they had 2,000 people in the Banquet Room, black tie, and I sat with Frank Stallone, (Sly’s brother and the man behind the classic “Eye Of The Tiger”), and Ryan O’Neal, all the champions from all over the world were there, it was just a fantastic affair.

The Corner wishes to thank Arthur Mercante, Sr. for his contribution to this report and for all the wonderful memories he has given us over the years. Arthur Mercante, referee and gentleman, a true credit to the sport of boxing, we are in awe.

Our thoughts and prayers goes out to his family and loved ones.

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