By Jake Donovan
None of the four officials assigned to the HBO-televised co-feature between Sergey Kovalev and Ismayl Sillakh have ever before worked a fight involving either fighter. However, at least one member of the group—the third man in the ring for Saturday’s chief support at Colisée de Quebec (nee Pepsi Coliseum)—has enjoyed an integral role in the championship run of the headlining act.
Veteran referee Michael Griffin gets the call to make sure all rules are followed between champion and challenger, in a bout that marks the first defense of Kovalev’s alphabet light heavyweight title.
A native of Montreal with more than 15 years of officiating experience in the pro ranks, Griffin is well known on the Canadian boxing scene. One fighter well familiar with his body of work is lineal light heavyweight king Adonis Stevenson, who headlines on the same show versus mandatory challenger Tony Bellew.
Four of the past five fights for Stevenson were officiated by Griffin, including his championship winning 1st round knockout over Chad Dawson in June, and his 7th round stoppage of Tavoris Cloud in September. Saturday marks the first time in more than a year in which an official other than Griffin will serve as ring official for a Stevenson fight; referee Frank Garza gets the call for this weekend’s main event.
Kovalev (22-0-1, 20KO) has scored six straight knockouts, none lasting more than seven rounds. There exists the potential for that streak to continue this weekend; Sillakh (21-1, 17KO) is a talented boxer, but his lone loss came when an early lead evaporated in an instant when he was suddenly stopped in the 8th round of his April ’12 ESPN2-televised clash with Denis Grachev. Four wins have followed, coming against modest ring competition.
In the event this weekend’s bout goes to the scorecards, the fate of both fighters will be in the hands of a trio of judges from Canada. Pasquale Procopio, Jean Gauthier and Benoit Roussel serve as the three ringside officials.
Saturday night will mark the first time either fighter has fought in Canada. Both are Eastern European transplants, but who have spent the majority of their careers in the United States. Sillakh also makes his HBO debut this weekend, while Kovalev makes his second straight—and overall—appearance on the premium cable network. His first came in his championship winning effort, dismantling Nathan Cleverly in four rounds on the road in Cardiff, Wales.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox