I recently came across comments on one of the best referees I’ve ever seen at the time, Mitch Halpern of Nevada prior to his death. I am a real critic on 90% of the referee’s I see working today but there was something about Halpern that you knew “he was in charge” but didn’t make it “all about him” in the ring. He died a month after his 33rd birthday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It’s hard to believe it will be 14 years ago on August 20, 2000!
Richard Steele, who was recently inducted into the IBHOF, mentored Halpern in teaching him everything he knew. I asked another future IBHOF referee Steve “Double SS” Smoger to comment on Halpern.
“I had the pleasure of meeting Mitch at a Boxing Convention in Reno, NV. He was a reserved guy, but we enjoyed the art of refereeing. He told me that Richard Steele was the driving force behind his refereeing career and he learned so much from working with Richard. Mitch was on the “fast track” of being one of the best referee’s in pro boxing. At the time of his passing he had reffed approximately 89 World Title’s in a relatively short period of time,” said Smoger.
“Sight Unseen” by Tim Struby (7/10/2012) is an excellent article about Halpern - how he “stayed in the shadows” and that’s where he died! Halpern was a perfectionist who I understand went into the boxing gyms and got in and ref’d sparring sessions. He also put on the gloves with Steele in order to “feel” what the boxers went through.
“I was coming out of the gym one day when this kid (Halpern) came up to me and said he wanted to learn to be a referee. Okay, be here Monday. Most guys don’t show. Mitch did. We were together for 8 years. He was like a son to me,” said Steele.
When Halpern was 23 the NV commission assigned him to his first fight. By the time he was 26 he had his first World Title bout. “There was a grace about him. He had a natural timing when to stop a fight,” said Marc Ratner (NV Commissioner).
“Two days after I moved into town (from NY to NV) there was an article about me in the paper. The next day it was framed and mounted. That’s the kind of guy Mitch was,” said Joe Cortez (another IBHOF ref).
“He’d give you the shirt off his back. No one disliked him,” said Steele.
“I don’t think he had an enemy. He was such a stable, rational personality, cool under pressure, unflappable. A lot of people, me included, thought he was the best around. Nobody ever questioned his integrity,” said Bob Arum (Top Rank promoter).
Dr. Edwin Homansky, another Commission member, said “everyone knows Mitch was one of the top referee’s in the world but his greatest qualities were displayed outside the ring, where he was one of the nicest and most caring people I have ever met.”
Halpern did the first Holyfield-Tyson fight and was scheduled to do the rematch but Tyson’s people complained. Halpern accepted the assignment up until the last moment and decided he didn’t want to make himself bigger than the fight before it happened and gave it and 10 k up to Mills Lane and we all know how he mishandled that one! If Halpern was in there Tyson would have been disqualified after the first “bite” and not the second one.
We sometimes never know what goes through a person’s mind especially when we think “they have it all” but that’s only on the outside. No one suspected Halpern to ever take his own life. He will and has been missed as a top referee and more so as a person!