Steve Thomasson: Twenty five years and counting
INTERVIEW By "Big Dog" Benny Henderson Jr. (January 28, 2006)
It’s one of the most important over looked unappreciated jobs in the business, but somebody has to do it. The very one who can change the destiny of a prizefighter’s career by one call, the third man in the ring, the referee.
We dab into the fighter’s life constantly, getting their thoughts on their careers, their fights, who were their heroes, what are their ambitions in and out of the ring, and so on. But very seldom do we get the thoughts of a figure as important as the pugilist themselves. The unheralded one, the ref.
So in this exclusive interview we will get the thoughts of such a referee, a guy who has an endless list of accolades since fighting thirty-three amateur bouts as a welterweight in the seventies all the way from a small role in the film Rocky V to refereeing three thousand bouts that include the names of George Foreman, Iran Barkley and Shannon Briggs, twenty-four world title match-ups, eighty-eight state title fights in twenty-five years and still going strong. Without a shadow of a doubt he knows his business, introducing Steve Thomasson.
The forty-five year old refereeing, managing, training Oklahoman has seen and done just about all there is to do in the ‘sweet science’, a true professional. Steve stopped by the Doghouse to give his thoughts on twenty-five years of solid service to the bang for your buck sport, enjoy.
Benny Henderson Jr.: Hey Steve, first off I just want to say thanks for taking the time out to speak to the Doghouse, it is greatly appreciated. You have been in the business for over twenty-five years and have participated as a fighter, a judge, a ref, trainer, manager and no telling what else you had your hand into in the boxing biz, so I have to know what has been the craziest thing you have ever seen in your career in the sport?
Steve Thomasson: I was Chief Inspector, I started the Oklahoma boxing commission, I refereed in China, Austria, Canada, Mexico, France, South Africa, oh my I have been all over. Well I don’t know if it was the craziest thing I ever seen because I have seen a lot of crazy stuff but I was referring a bout in Oklahoma City and a guy was fighting out of Memphis and it was for the Oklahoma State heavyweight title. It was the last final round and in between rounds this guy was screaming and hollering and he reached between his legs and grabbed the stool he was on and threw it across the ring and started walking around the ring and acting all crazy and I kicked the stool out of the ring, the bell was about to ring and he was acting all strange and everything and then he leaned over into the corner and started yelling at his corner man and his corner man jumped up on the side of the ring and socked his fighter and knocked him out. The strangest thing I ever saw in boxing. I was just blown away, it amazed me. It was really funny.
BH: What inspired you to want to step in the ropes and then after your fight career what kept you in as a referee?
ST: In 1977 I fought on the Army boxing team over in Germany and after I boxed in the Army I came back home in 1984 and I fought pro but it ended up that I was a much better referee than a pro fighter (laughs) and I was sent to school to be a referee and I have been refereeing every since.
BH: As I stated before you have been involved in the sweet science for many years now and have pretty much seen it all, so what have you learned about the sport as a fighter and the business side as well?
ST: What I have learned about this sport is that you have to have an undying love for it; you can’t just go into it half-heartedly. I have participated in all kinds of sports but I really felt I belonged in boxing. If you are not sincere in mind and heart about boxing that it is a waste of time. So you have to dedicate yourself 120% or don’t do it at all.
BH: You have refereed in about three thousand bouts if I am correct in all sorts of match-ups, can you give us your top three fights you have been involved in?
ST: The biggest fight was a George Foreman bout; the second biggest bout I was in was Edip Secovic and Bryan Grant in a world title fight in Vienna, Austria. And let’s see, man I have done so many. Okay, Iran Barkley and Dino Stewart for the cruiserweight title fight that was on ESPN.
BH: How many times have you gotten hit as a ref and have you ever been dropped or knocked out referring a fight?
ST: I have gotten hit pretty hard a couple of times, I got hit square in the face trying to break a fight up and I got rattled and shook up pretty bad and kind of wobbled my knees a bit and staggered around but I maintained and kept my composure. I have been hit a total of seven times in the ring. You have to expect it in this sport, the worst part about referring a fight is when one guy has another guy hurt on the ropes and you jump in to stop it and they hit you.
BH: Have you ever had a fighter get pissed because of a call you made and come after you?
ST: Oh yeah, I have had fighters get pissed but I don’t know if you know this or not but licensed referees as long as you are licensed by the state and bonded and taken care of by the state if you are ever threatened or have hands put on you that is a felony, that is jail time, fighters know that. I have had fighters yell at me why did you stop it for and I tell them the same thing, I stopped the fight for your health and safety and that is my number one concern the safety of the fighters.
BH: How much has the sport changed since you began twenty-five years ago?
ST: When I started, Benny, a lot of fighters were fighting way too often. You’d have a guy fight on a Wednesday night in Memphis and then fight on a Friday night in Oklahoma and that has changed a lot, the rules have changed a lot. I am an activist for the standing eight count, I want the standing eight count in boxing but they stopped that in a lot of states and I don’t think that is fair to the fighters. I like the standing eight and it is definitely a benefit for a fighter especially if he can continue, let the ref see. Now you have to stop a fight if you think the fighter is hurt, if a fighter gets shaken up a bit you have to stop it if it appears he is hurt, why not jump in after a guy gets staggered and make the assessment whether he can continue or not while you are counting to eight. If he doesn’t respond on eight then it is over, Benny.
BH: If you could change anything about the business of boxing what would it be?
ST: (Laughs) You can open up a can of worms right there, I would change the rating system, let’s just leave it at that. You have a guy who has been out for two years and another who is working his butt off just to make number three or number four and the other guy who has been out just because he has a name they shoot him up to number one.
BH: You also manage and train fighters in between your refereeing. What advice do you give to your fighters as well as young fighters in general?
ST: I am going to tell you the honest truth and be straight about it, you come to me and you want to be a professional fighter you must prove to me that you have the salt if you don’t have the salt we are wasting each others time. If you come to me and you have the go and the ability and you have what it takes I will bend over backwards for you; my advice to a young fighter is to have the patience of Job. If you think you are going to make a splash in the sport the first year you are sadly mistaken, you have to pay your dues, you have to be willing to sacrifice, be patient.
BH: What is the hardest aspect of being a ref?
ST: It’s hard, you have to have an eye, and if a guy has never been punched or boxed I don’t know how they can ref. Just like a baseball umpire, if you never played ball how in the hell can you be an umpire? The hardest aspect is making that split determination, the judgements you have to make in a second will determine the entire fight.
BH: If anyone can get anything positive out of this interview what would you want it to be, and at the same time is there anything you want to say in closing?
ST: That they understand boxing from a referee’s standpoint, and if it wasn’t for boxing I don’t think I would be where I am today, boxing in the best sport in the entire world. It is one man against one man and it is the best sport that has ever come out of the dark ages.
I would like to thank Steve for his time and thoughts for the Doghouse, and his advice for my upcoming debut as well, it was very much appreciated.
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