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Steve Smoger discusses Khan-Peterson, Cotto-Margarito II stoppage
NEW YORK Steve Smoger is in his 29th-year and was officiating his 168th career title bout on Dec. 3 when RING No. 1-rated junior middleweigh Miguel Cotto stopped Antonio Margarito in the 10th round for a successful defense of his WBC belt before a sellout crowd of 21, 239 at Madison Square Garden on HBO Pay Per View.
In victory, Cotto avenged an 11th-round knockout loss of July, 2008, when Margarito dethroned him as WBA welterweight beltholder.
Cotto-Margarito ended somewhat controversially, with ringside doctors advising Smoger, against his desires, to wave an end to the bout as a result of Margarito's swollen and badly closed right eye. An encounter with Manny Pacquiao some 13 months earlier had produced similar results, fracturing Margarito's right orbital bone to the point that the area required three surgeries to repair.
As a result of the injury against Pacquiao, Margarito was not cleared by the New York State Athletic Commision to fight Cotto until Nov. 23. Margarito, nevertheless, argued that the fight was stopped prematurely, claiming that he was coming on and was on his way toward repeating his initial conquest of Cotto.
In this Q&A, Smoger told ******.com that he agreed with Margarito. Smoger's track record is one of allowing fights to be contested to their violent conclusion, mainly meaning that the fighters' fists or their corners stop bouts that do not last through to the decision.
When the area around the right eye of junior middleweight Pawel Wolak became swollen to the size of a softball during his 10-round, majority draw with Delvin Rodriguez in July, for example, Smoger allowed the fight to continue to its conclusion.
"Smoger's credentials are that he refereed the first Wolak-Rodriguez fight and with Wolak's eye really swollen, he let the fight continue to the end," said Top Rank Inc. CEO Bob Arum. "So Smoger is a gutty guy. He has balls. He's a balsy referee, and I think that that's what people want to see."
Smoger also spoke to ******.com regarding last Saturday night's upset split-decision victory by RING No. 2-rated Lamont Peterson that dethroned RING No. 3-rated Amir Khan as IBF and WBA beltholder.
Khan was deducted one point each during the the seventh and 12th rounds by Virginia's Joe Cooper, who was chosen by the Washington, D.C., Boxing and Wrestling Commission from a list of four judges provided by the IBF, according to the organization's Championships Chairman, Lindsay Tucker.
Khan was penalized for pushing Peterson's head down in the seventh, and for shoving Peterson away in the 12th. Others on the list of referees provided by the IBF included New Jersey's Eddie Cotton, Pennsylvania's Ernest Sharif and Michigan's Sam Williams.
******.com: Your thoughts on the Khan-Peterson fight and the sentiment surrounding the penalties assessed against Khan by the referee?
Steve Smoger: Well I can't comment on a fellow brother referee, but I will tell you that in my career, I have never seen such an accentuation on the "foul of pushing."
In my view, a fighter who is endeavoring to evade a clinch or move out can sometimes try to execute what may appear to be a push, but he's seeking an advantage in order that he get his inside combinations off.
If one fighter is endeavoring to clinch, and another fighter -- I always maintain that if a fighter does not want to be held, then he can work his way out.
Sometimes that entails breaking away from the other fighter, which could be conceived as "pushing." In my career, I have never -- N-E-V-E-R-- taken a point for pushing.
So I want to comment not on Joe Cooper. He's a friend of mine. He saw fit to implement it in that regard, but you could say that I would not have done it. I would not have taken points in that situation there.
I have worked Amir Khan's fights. I had him with Paulie Malignaggi. He was respectful, and he was clean and I had no problems with him. I accept his explanation that he was weary of Lamont Peterson's head.
******.com: Overall, in your estimation, was Khan-Peterson a clean, action-packed fight?
SS: I would have in essence, I may have issued a warning when there was an elbow involved. And there was an elbow involved on one of Khan's pushes. Then, I would have given a warning.
Because that could have been considered illegal use of an elbow. But I would not have taken points. Clearly I would not have taken points. Whatever he did that night did not rise to that level. Point deductions are very, very severe.
And if you want a textbook case on why you have to be very, very careful in taking points, you just saw a referee inject himself to the degree that his decision-making changed two world titles on one night.
You understand what I'm saying? Without those two points, Khan would have won on either a majority decision or unanimous decision. So if ever there was a textbook case of being very, very careful with point deduction, that's it.
This is the one that will be debated at seminars, because a title changed hands not only on the fighters' skill and will, but the onus on the decision-making was in the hands of the referee. And I don't feel that was warranted.
******.com: What transpired in Margarito's corner that led to the fight being stopped?
SS: The conversation went as follows. Dr. [Anthony] Currerei had been monitoring Antonio's eye for a good portion of the fight, I would say from about rounds 6 and 7 on there.
I noticed that they were getting quite serious about stopping it because the chief physician, Barry Jordan, then came over to the ring. That was after Round 9 and before the start of Round 10.
******.com: What happened from there?
SS: I want to make clear that some articles had indicated that there was confusion in the corner. But the confusion, I created it. I take full responsibility for that.
For two reasons: In the state of New York, both the doctor and the referee can stop the fight. That's very, very rare. Generally speaking your international bodies and a majority of your states, it's the referee can stop the fight.
But that's on the advice of the physcian. Very rarely will a referee go against the advice of a ringside doctor. But that just gives the referee a little insight in trying to avert the stoppage.
******.com: What was the situation with Cotto-Margarito II?
SS: In this instance, when I gave pre-fight instructions, I went into Miguel's dressing room. Pre-fight there was very light, and he was in a great mood. This was my third title fight with Miguel.
When we spoke this time, he wanted me to totally give him the instruction in English, and I said that I wished that I spoke Spanish as well as he spoke English.
The key element in Antonio Margarito's dressing room was that I told him that from my perspective, he was a compete fighter.
I didn't let the fact that there was pre-fight discussions about the eye influence me in any way shape or form. I indicated that to him both in Spanish and in English that he was a complete fighter.
He had two eyes, two fists, and the rest that goes along with it. I could see a change in his demeanor when I did that. He was releived. There was a sense of relief in his face.
On my way out, his trainer, Robert Garcia, tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Steve, we're very, very happy to have you as a referee," which was very meaningful to me to think that I had put their corner at ease.
They felt like they were on a level playing field in New York.
******.com: Back to the corner?
SS: I was very hesitant to stop the fight. In light of Antonio's pleading, he really, really wanted one more round. And I don't know about you, but I had sensed a little bit of a momentum shift.
I saw him catch Miguel with a couple of shots on the ropes that had me saying, "wow, his persistance is paying off." And I would have loved to see him come out in the 10th. I really would have.
But, doctor Curreri, I was speaking with him, and Antonio and his corner was pleading, "Can we go forward," and so forth. Doctor Jordan then made a sign with his index finger and his thumb, squeezing.
That meant that he was saying that the eye was closed. And then, he told me "Steve," and with no uncertain terms, "Stop the fight."
******.com: You spoke about confusion, what do you mean?
SS: Well, I was hesitating to see if I could enlist one more round between the two doctors. Part of the confusion was that I had doctor Curreri up on the ring apron on one side.
But doctor Jordan had already given his instructions to stop the fight and was already walking down the steps. He was already on floor-level.
I didn't get the "stop the fight" sign until he gave me the sign, "it's over." So that was the situation. The hesitancy was me hoping that we could gain one more round.
******.com: Your thoughts on the ultimate ending of Cotto-Margarito II?
SS: Had it been left up to me, based on the fact that in my view, Antonio Margarito did not take a backward step for nine rounds, and just had such a great desire to go on, I would have allowed him to come out for round 10.
I would have watched him of course, but I didn't think that he took any undo punishment. And I felt that in Round 9 that Antonio was giving as much as he was getting.
So, I'm just telling you that had it been my call, I would have allowed him to come out for the 10th round. But I was totally over-ruled by experts in the field.
I'm not an eye doctor and I'm not an opthalmologist. But they thought that it was in his best interest for future life, that it was better that it be stopped.
Photo by Chris Farina, Top Rank Inc.
Photo by Naoki Fukuda
Photos by Chris Farina, Top Rank Inc.
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And that's why he's considered the best in the game, he doesn't get involved very often and when he does, he usually has a damn good reason.
Judah Beat Matthysse
Good interview,but I have to disagree with Smoger a bit..Khan was pushing and extending his arms..Now if he was pushing off with the shoulder or clinching and repositioning him self,ok that makes sense..But Khan was pushing with his arms all the way extended,clearly a foul in my book..Yea the ref should have gave a hard warning,but I have no issues with the points being taken...
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i agree with what he said but i disagree that its what happened in the fight. khan wasnt pushing for position nor was he pushing to break a clinch. he was pushing to get away. and to me, thats not boxing. u should not be allowed to avoid offense by pushing your opponenet before he can get close.
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Best ref in the game no doubt. I'm extremely pleased he's got the super six final this week! He was bang on with his thoughts on the AK v LP fight
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