SA referees have a proud record
SA boxing has been blessed with some fine referees since the days of Clem D Webb and James R Couper back in the 1890s, even though only a small number of South Africans have handled world title bouts.
Dan Maturin, Pat McCarthy, whose Frascati Beer Hall was well known in Johannesburg for many years, Chester Jones and Louis Heilbron were among the early referees to make their mark. Then came Edgar Lipsett, Tiny Dean, Harry Carter, Alec Wynton, Willie Corner and Jack Moodley, South Africa's first Indian referee.
After World War II came Willie Smith, Teddy Benjamin, Cyril Baynes, Peter Murrell, Jock Stephens, Eddie Maguire, Dick Brewis and George Kirsch. They were followed by Wilf Garforth, Wilf Lubbe and Andy Malloch and, in more recent times, by Peter Lock, Les Muller and Eric Moolman.
Outstanding referees in the 1990s were Stan Christodoulou, considered as one of the top officials in the world, and Darryl Ribbink, Len Hunt, Wally Snowball, Pakamile Jacobs, Alfred Buqwana, Lulama Mtya and Clement Martin.
In recent years we have also had Thabo Spampool, Andrew Smale, Andile Matika, Tony Nyangiwe, Siya Vabaza, Jaap van Nieuwenhuizen and Deon Dwarte.
SA referees have always been respected for their high standards but have not always received the international recognition they deserved.
Hunt, for instance, has been a top-class official for more than 30 years, but was never appointed for a world title bout by one of the major organisations.
Only one South African, Stanley Christodoulou has refereed and judged fights for all the major organisations, the World Boxing Council excluded. He has now refereed more than 100 world title fights.
No South African has worked a WBC title fight, but Spampool was appointed as a judge in the first heavyweight championship fight between Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman in Brakpan in April 2001. Buqwana was one of the judges when Mike Tyson fought Lewis in Memphis in June 2002.
The first recognised world title fight to be held in South Africa was on September 4 1937 when the rugged Petey Sarron, who had six fights in the country during 1937, retained his world featherweight championship against Freddie Miller in Johannesburg.
Tiny Dean, secretary of the Transvaal National Sporting Club — he was born in London and came to South Africa in 1899 as a stretcher bearer in the Anglo Boer War — made history when he promoted and refereed that first world title fight.
There was a gap of 13 years before another South African officiated in a world title fight. That was when Willie Corner refereed the historic meeting between Manuel Ortiz and South Africa's Vic Toweel for the world bantamweight title on May 31 1950. Toweel became the country's first universal champion.
Corner's selection was criticised in certain circles because he was considered too old. He had refereed most of the major fights during the 1930s and 40s, including the memorable encounter between Laurie Stevens and Petey Sarron. After the war he was also the third man when world light heavyweight champion Freddie Mills shattered Johnny Ralph's dream in November 1948.
Corner, one of the pioneers who placed SA referees on the map, collapsed at ringside between rounds on the night Vic Toweel fought Peter Keenan in January 1952. Less than two months later he died from a second heart attack at the age of 59.
In his first title defence, in December 1950, Toweel knocked down British bantamweight champion Danny O'Sullivan 20 times (there were 14 counts) before winning on a tenth-round stoppage. That gave SA referee Ted Benjamin a hard night’s work and became a record number of knockdowns for a world title fight.
Willie Smith, the second South African to win an Olympic gold medal, was rated as one of the most scientific boxers of all time.
When Charles Phil Rosenberg, then bantamweight champion of the world, and No 1 challenger Bushy Graham were suspended for a year in February 1927 by William Muldoon, who controlled boxing in New York, because of a shady deal between their managers, the bantamweight division was thrown into a state of confusion. This gave Smith an opportunity to fight for the British version of the world title.
Teddy Baldock, a young Londoner who had claimed the title after the Rosenberg suspension, was beaten over 15 one-sided rounds by Smith in October 1927. This gave Smith a claim to the world title.
Even though Smith's claim was not taken seriously those days, Herbert G Goldman, editor of the Ring Record Book and Boxing Encyclopaedia, recognises Smith as a world bantamweight champion.
Smith later spent several years as a salesman and commercial traveller before he took over the Richmond Hotel on the West Rand.
Willie became the best-known SA referee during the years immediately after World War ll. He controlled many important fights featuring Johnny Ralph and Vic Toweel.
He was the referee in what was possibly Toweel's finest performance, the defence of his title against powerfully built Spanish southpaw Luis Romero in November 1951. Smith was also the third man when Toweel lost his title in one round to Australian Jimmy Carruthers and in the return fight when Carruthers retained the title.
Smith died of a heart attack in 1955 when he was only 51.
Cyril "Ginger" Baynes was the referee in the dull world bantamweight title clash between Toweel and Peter Keenan at the Rand Stadium in January 1952.
When Willie Toweel fought a disputed draw with Robert Cohen for the world bantamweight title in September 1955, Wilf Lubbe was the third man in the ring. Lubbe was also a top soccer referee and refereed water-polo and hockey matches.
In one of the greatest fights seen in South Africa Arnold Taylor won the WBA bantamweight title from Mexican Romeo Anaya with a dramatic 14th round knockout. It was in this fight that Stanley Christodoulou made his debut as world championship referee.
When Taylor lost his WBA bantamweight title to the Korean Soo Hwan Hong in Durban, local man Jack Bryant was the referee. He never handled another world title bout but was prominent as an official in amateur boxing.
After his November 1973 debut, Christodoulou, at one time also executive director of the SA Boxing Commission, established himself as one of the best referees in the world.
When South Africa was excluded by all world boxing organisations in 1986, Christodoulou was the only SA official to be retained by the WBA. He now has the proud record of being the referee in more than 100 world title fights all around the globe.
Christodoulou also has the distinction of being the first and to date the only man to have refereed world title fights in all 17 championship divisions, from heavyweight to strawweight. He has possibly travelled more kilometres to referee fights than any other man.
The slugfest between Richie Kates and Victor Galindez was another classic during his career. Christodoulou was covered in blood because Galindez kept wiping his badly gashed eye on the referee’s shirt en route to a dramatic knockout victory in the 15th round.
Christodoulou also handled the fight between Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler in Las Vegas in November 1983 and has become a role model for other referees.
Since South Africa’s return to international sport SA referees have been appointed as officials by the World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Organisation, International Boxing Organisation and World Boxing Union.
Stan Christodoulou is the only South Africa to have acted as a third man in a WBC title fight. No other South African has refereed a WBC world title fight, but Clement Martin has been the referee in five IBF title fights. Lulama Mtya, who had judged title fights for the IBF, was eventually given his break when he was third man for Mbulelo Botile's second defence of his IBF bantamweight title in East London.
There have been very few boxing tournaments in Cape Town in recent years but Rassie Erasmus, Eddie Marshall, and Howard Goldberg are competent officials who have done sterling work over the years. Goldberg has acted as a referee and judge in more than in more than 100 world title fights.