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Q&A With Former Referee Ron Lipton: “Logic Doesn’t Exist Anymore!”

Feb 22, 2004 
Ron Lipton is a man with an axe to grind. Lipton, a former homeless person, turned boxer, turned cop, turned referee, and current boxing instructor at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, feels that he has been ostracized from the sport of boxing, and as such has not refereed in quite some time. Add to that the story of his friendship with Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a life story. If you didn’t know who Ron Lipton was before now, you will certainly know who he is after reading what he has to say.  

DB: Tell us how you met Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. 

I had been homeless for a little while, and my parents had divorced. I was staying at a boxing gym in Newark. I saw a picture of Carter on the wall, and he had a picture of a black panther on his robe. On all my robes and trunks, I had a picture of a black leopard and it had always been a good luck sign for me. I said, Wow, this guy likes panthers too. I asked my trainer, who knew Carter, about him and he said ‘that’s one guy you don’t wanna meet, he is a very hateful guy.’ I said that doesn’t bother me.  

 I had seen a couple of his fights and our styles were similar. I was very muscular like him, but a bit lighter than Carter. I weighed about 147 and he weighed about 157. I felt that I could deal with him because I was dealing with some of the heavier fighters, pros, in the gym. I said set up a meeting, and my trainer George Branch set up the meeting. I walked up to Carter and I said ‘I understand you’re looking for another white boy to beat up. How about giving me a chance?’ He just busted up laughing. Everyone in the gym couldn’t believe it, they thought he was going to sucker punch me. He was laughing, and it busted me up too. We just hit it off and I went up to his training camp and that’s how we met. I was a sparring partner for most of his fights. 

DB: Talk about your involvement in setting Carter free from prison and the effect your role had on your personal life. 

It was devastating because I had become a police officer in Essex County, New Jersey in Verona. I would visit him in prison, and I had been a very active, competitive shooter. Throughout my police career I was a police Firearm Instructor. I was very successful in combat shooting, and I would go to the various dinners they would hold for the competitive shooters. At one of them, some of the guys from Paterson, New Jersey bragged about how they had framed him. That’s how it started. I knew from speaking to Rubin and from I saw with my own eyes how he was treated over there, it wasn’t too good. At the time there was a survey done by a commission appointed by the Governor which said the Paterson Police Department was the most racist in the United States. Not in New Jersey, but in the United States. So there was validity to it. I reported it and it fell on deaf ears. I later became a Criminal Investigator with the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, which was the number one crime county. I stayed there for five years, I was the S.W.A.T. Team Commander, I worked on the Narcotic Strike Force and I worked in the Special Investigations Unit. Carter had made an application for a retrial, circa 1976, and the Paterson prosecutor’s office came down and some of the key players made some very deleterious comments about how he was framed and how they would keep him there no matter what, that they knew their witnesses were lying.  

I immediately went to my chief and the prosecutor and I told him as a detective what I heard and I wanted to expose this. I went into the Daily News and there was a very brave reporter by the name of David Hardy who did an article in January 1974 when I got Muhammad Ali to help me. It went into the paper as ‘white detective in Hudson County prosecutor’s office says Carter was framed.’ That started the ball rolling, got him a lot of help and attention. The backlash from the case was horrific because careers were built on his conviction. The then Governor Brendon Byrne had been an assistant prosecutor in Essex County and had prosecuted Bellone and Bradley the two thieves who had robbed the dead bodies in the bar and who had been uncovered as the Motel Bandits. Byrne got them leniency and some people claim that leniency was given for the testimony against Carter to inculpate him as the shooter.  

Here I’m writing the Governor not knowing that he was involved in getting leniency for the very people who put Carter in jail. The resurrection of the Carter case and throwing it into the light of public scrutiny was going to hurt a lot of careers. I lost my job, I lost my home because I couldn’t make the payments. I applied to many other prosecutor’s offices who would not accept my employment even though I had an exemplary record.  

Finally, I had a cross burned on my lawn and got into an embroilment with about thirty guys who were friends and relatives of the state police. So it was a long, horrible saga. Those things never die, and only someone that’s involved in law enforcement from the inside would know how seriously people take these things and how you can be prevented from working if you break the blue wall of silence. The scars are still there. 

DB: What has your relationship been with Carter for the past few years? 

He always acknowledged what I did for him. He even admitted on a television show that he probably wouldn’t be sitting there if it weren’t for Ron Lipton. There was an incident in 1997 where three men who had hunted me down, including the ex-boyfriend of the girl I was seeing. They attacked me, and I hit one of them with a right hand. I was in the gym all the time, and I have an ability to punch very hard and fast. I’ve been doing it since I was twelve, and I never miss a day punching the bag. I hit this guy with a right hand and it hurt him really bad. I couldn’t walk away, they grabbed me, I didn’t know who they were. So I hit the guy a right hand and it crushed his face. His friend was the police officer who came on the scene and they tacked on a whole bunch of charges. Those charges were dismissed all except that one misdemeanor assault. I called Carter and asked him to write a letter for me. I guess I caught him when he wasn’t feeling too good and he said ‘I’ll have to think about it.’ Here I had contacted the Governor for him and believed him on a triple murder case and I throw one punch against three guys and the guy says ‘I gotta think about it.’ I said, ‘I never want to speak to you as long as I live.’ I got a hold of Joe Frazier, and he wrote a letter to the judge instead. But what Carter did just hurt my feelings. I was also supposed to do the choreography for the movie Hurricane, and they wanted to make Rubin’s fight with Joey Giardello look like a racial robbery. I was at the fight, and I know Joey Giardello, and a lot of people think that Giardello outpointed Rubin fair and square. I didn’t want to do it, they wanted me to make Giardello look like a bum. I needed the money, but I told them I didn’t want to do it like that. I told them I would make it as historically accurate as possible, but they wanted me to do it their way. So I lost that job, and then Giardello sued them. They subpoenaed me, and I testified for Giardello, and he eventually won the case.  

DB: As a former amateur boxer yourself, what were some of the highlights of your career? 

I had about 145 fights, but a lot were exhibitions. The actual number of AAU fights that I had was 42, and I won 39 of those, 38 by knockout. I had 23 knockouts in the first round, two of which were back to back 16 second knockouts. I was a lightweight novice champ, and 147 open champion twice. I fought a couple of guys Roberto Duran fought, another that Bob Foster fought. I used to fight for the guy who owned G & S Sporting Goods, which the fighters in the old fights used to wear on their trunks. I fought all of the New York champs, New Jersey champs, Pennsylvania champs. 

DB: Why didn’t you ever turn professional? 

I had gone on to the police department in Verona, and there was almost no time to train. During that time, though, if I got a call from Dick Tiger or Muhammad Ali, I was up at their camp as a sparring partner, for the Earnie Shavers fight. It was good money on the side. 

DB: Who are some of the best fighters you’ve sparred with? 

Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, Dick Tiger, Carter, Carlos Ortiz. Ortiz was devastating in his time, and he used me for the rematch against Flash Elorde and his left hook was amazing to the body. Carter had fast hands, he could paralyze you with a punch. Tiger could crush your skull. He looked like about 175 when he came to camp, and trimmed down to 160 and had a heavy skeletal frame. Carter was a natural 158 pounder.  

DB: What got you into law enforcement? 

I felt that it was the most useful thing I could do at the time. I had admired police officers and I had a young wife and daughter. I needed work and it was the best thing I could do at the time.  

DB: Who are your favorite fighters of all time and why? 

Bob Satterfield. He was the type of guy who would throw caution to the wind and just go out and bomb away. I loved Joe Louis for his dignity and consistency of excellence. I admired Dick Tiger for his conduct in and out of the ring, his sportsmanship and decency, his kindness as a human being and his durability. Carter I admired for his punching power and his dedication to physical fitness. I enjoyed the stories of guys who could take you out with one punch, they weren’t the best fighters, but they could take you out with one punch. Rocky Marciano and Carmen Basilio, I admired their tenacity. 

DB: How did you become a referee? 

I had been in boxing for a long time, and applied to the New York State Athletic Commission and started out reffing fights. 

DB: What is the process that a referee must go through to graduate from the local club fight level to the big time fights that involve fighters like De La Hoya, Tyson and Roy Jones? 

That’s one of the most horrific things wrong with boxing today. The guys they are putting in there have no real underpinnings. You have to break away from the type of commissioner that’s giving the fights like that to his friends, or the sons of people that make great political contributions to the Governor’s Office. You have to have some real underpinnings, you can’t just say ‘hey, I boxed in the service’ or say ‘I had five or six fights in the sub novice division’ and then become a referee in a championship fight.  

You see guys in there with pot bellies who are slow, and they’ve never put on a pair of gloves in their life. I’m not saying that all fighters make good referees, but it’s just crazy. It’s like taking a brain surgery course on a matchbook cover. As long as you’re friends with them, they put you in. Logic doesn’t exist anymore. You got a guy in charge of the NYSAC right now who is a promoter. How can he be the chairman if he’s a promoter? You can’t, it’s a conflict of interest.  

DB: What are some of the best fights you have officiated and why? 

Prince Charles Williams and Merqui Sosa, which was a double TKO, there was hardly a clinch in the fight. I loved the Morrison-Ruddock fight. Holyfield-Mercer, where Holyfield knocked Mercer down for the first time in Mercer’s career. The first fight between Steve Collins and Chris Eubank, the atmosphere was the most intense you can imagine, even more intense than Ali-Frazier.  

DB: Speaking of Williams-Sosa, that was a fight where both fighters were ruled unable to continue in a rare “double knockout,” which was officially ruled a technical draw. What are your recollections of that fight? 

They were old school pros. I remember when I brought them to the center of the ring, Sosa said to Williams in Spanish, “Aqui jungle.” Aqui means “here,” and he was saying “here, it’s going to be a jungle right now.” I knew it was going to be a war. The shots to the body and head were hellacious, just incredible. 

DB: Do you have any “behind the scenes” stories from fights you’ve worked that you would like to share? 

In Collins-Eubank, the promoter was the manager of both fighters. On the way to the ring, he told me ‘watch out for Collins, he’s a dirty fighter. Watch out for the use of his head.’ Can you imagine a promoter telling the referee that about his own fighter? Eubank knocked Collins down and stood over Collins, and I had to pull Eubank’s off him. If he had gone to the corner, he might have had an extra second to finish, but Collins got up and went on to win the fight. As for Morrison-Ruddock, I went into the dressing room of Razor Ruddock. The room was flooded and he was up to his ankles in ice cold water. He said, ‘hey ref, do you think it’s right that I get a room like this?  

What kind of s**t is this?’ I said, ‘I got nothing to do with that, but I do think you need a proper room to get ready in.’ He was a gentleman though, and both of them, Morrison and Ruddock had the power to put someone in serious jeopardy. The left hook that Morrison turned over, a short hook, was beautiful. When Ruddock went down, I saw Ruddock’s legs go limp and he looked like he was concussed. I looked into his eyes and one was constricted and one looked dilated. I remember that I just couldn’t believe he got up.  

DB: Can you tell us why you aren't an active referee anymore?

Well, let's just say that I was aware of some illegal activity that was going on, and I refused to play ball with certain people.  So my license was pulled.

DB: What do you feel should be done to clean up the sport of boxing? 

One, have the Ring Magazine champion recognized, and none of the alphabet groups. Two, take a look at the real boxing background of the referees. If they’ve refereed fifty title fights, it doesn’t mean s**t to me. I want to know how they got those fifty title fights, and what really are their underpinnings in boxing. Put some people in there who know what they are doing. Clean house of the dynasty of these horrible referees and their political connections, and get rid of them. Same thing with the judges, and get people in the athletic commissions who are not tied to the promoters. Get people in there who have a heart and won’t use their good friends. 

DB: Is there anything you would like to add in closing? 

I train hard, and I’m always practicing boxing. I just wish someone would give me my license back because I haven’t done anything wrong. I have a better record as a referee than most of them. I just think it is one of the worst injustices that has ever been done to me and I don’t think I deserve it.

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