“Double SS” Steve Smoger Interview – From Judge to Boxing Referee! by Ken Hissner
“Double SS” Steve Smoger has Seven C’s for a professional boxing referee that are conditioning, communication, composure, confidence, consistency, concentration and courage. You don’t have to have seen him more than once in the ring to see that he doesn’t just preach but lives by them!
Smoger earned his position into the professional end of boxing by spending from 1974 to 1982 as an official for the United States Amateur Boxing Federation and the Atlantic City Police Athletic League. He has been licensed by no fewer than 15 commissions in the United States. As a member of the WBA and IBF he has been the referee in some 154 World Title Bouts. An amazing record that includes not only the US but Argentina, Panama, Venezuela, UK, France, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Kosova, Switzerland, Spain, South Africa, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, China, Poland (First ever licensed pro ref) and Israel! That last country, Israel, was the first title bout in Tel Aviv, in April of 2010 in a WIBF title bout. That is some 22 countries and still going!
Smoger was inducted into the New Jersey State Boxing Hall of Fame, Lodi, New Jersey, in 1997. He has also been nominated for induction to the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame which should happen in the near future! He has served as Legal Counsel and Board Member of the Atlantic City Police Athletic League since 1978. Smoger is one that doesn’t forget his roots! His credentials of serving as a Seminar Presenter since 1991 are numerous. He has performed in this role in such countries as the UK, Bahamas, Ukraine, South Korea, Columbia and Israel.
Smoger’s awards are almost too many to mention. Let’s just say he must have a room that will never need painting or wall papering! In 2002 Ring Magazine awarded him Number One Referee in the World! He has received the same award by such publications as Ring Sports Magazine, Boxing Scene Magazine, Flash Magazine, Boxing Central.com (Internet), the Ohio Press Club and the CT Boxing Guild and the IBA.
Smoger is a retired Atlantic County (NJ) Municipal Court Judge. His military background is as a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Senior Reserve Office, United States Air Force Reserve and Judge Advocate General (Retired).
This writer remembers one of the top managers in the business during an Atlantic City show pointing to Smoger in the ring during a bout and saying “every corner likes him. He is fair and respectful.” Smoger is known to be there for the fighter’s well being. He is not afraid to step in between the biggest of boxers or call a halt to a fight no matter the importance if he feels the fighter can no longer defend him or her self. He also has that “trademark” after giving instructions to the fighters prior to the start of “God Bless”!
Writing primarily for a three state area in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware this writer gets to see Smoger at all three each year. Delaware has had only one event so far and Smoger was the man in charge. It is not uncommon to see him on national television, HBO, Showtime, ESPN2 or a PPV broadcast. Unlike some officials who are on top of the fighters, Smoger has the quickness to jump in when needed. He always has a smile and a wave for the writers at no matter what event.
I had the chance to ask some questions of “Double SS” recently and here are a few:
KEN HISSNER: I’ve seen you at many a major boxing event. How much notice do you usually get upon receiving your assignments especially when they are out of the country?
DOUBLE SS: It varies so I try to always stay ready. I always have my gear set. On a big fight it might be a 2-3 week notice. In the Atlantic City hay days it may be the day of the fight.
KEN HISSNER: Do you ever second guess yourself stopping a fight of great importance?
DOUBLE SS: Though I try to review the fight I worked I have never second guessed a decision.
KEN HISSNER: Have you had a favorite location that you were sent to officiate?
DOUBLE SS: Thailand. I was there in 1997 outdoors with some of the fighters coming in on elephants.
KEN HISSNER: Since starting back in 1974, were there some referee’s you admired and used as a measuring stick as the years went by?
DOUBLE SS: Several, I like Zach Clayton being he taught me motion by music. Another would be Arthur Mercante and finally Frank Cappaccino.
KEN HISSNER: How difficult is it to finally come to the point when you have to disqualify someone?
DOUBLE SS: Unless it is an aggressive foul like throwing someone out of the ring I have hard and soft warnings that may lead up to that point.
KEN HISSNER: What events would you say were some of your most prestigious that you worked?
DOUBLE SS: April of 1988 at Palais des Sports, Berck-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calair, in France for the first Simon Brown and Tyrone Trice fight for the vacant IBF welterweight title. They must have liked my work because when they had their rematch in April of 1990 in Washington, DC, I got the call. Another was working the James Toney IBF Cruiserweight title bout against Vassiliy Jirov at Foxwoods Resort in April of 2003. (One of the best fights this writer has seen). I couldn’t ever forget working the Hopkins and Trinidad fight that was postponed right after 911 until September 29th at Madison Square Garden. It was the most emotional night I have ever worked. In the front row were families of the fire and police departments along with one of the Irish Tenor’s who sang the national anthem.
KEN HISSNER: In a sport that can be brutal at times and being an obvious compassionate person, have you found yourself reacting any differently when you officiate a women’s event?
DOUBLE SS: When you mention women’s boxing right away Lucia Rijker comes to mind. In May of 2005 I worked a bout with Mia St. John in Beijing, China. She is beautiful outside the ring but when she gets in the ring she is all business. I recently did a WIBF bantam title bout featuring Hagar Shmoulefeld Finer in Tel Aviv, Israel. I have to say with total respect there is a difference. When I would break them I would tap them on the shoulder. If they didn’t break I would separate them by the waists. Never across their chests as I would in a men’s bout.
KEN HISSNER: Is there that one assignment that you haven’t received yet that you are waiting for that phone call?
DOUBLE SS: I would love to get an assignment in Australia. I know people there and would jump at the chance.
KEN HISSNER: How do you keep yourself so fit for a position that some people may not realize takes a lot physically and mentally to be at the top of your game?
DOUBLE SS: I have a gym at home or go to the Ocean Club in Atlantic City. Sometimes I may go to the Atlantic City PAL, or just go on the beach or boardwalk. You have to be careful especially at fight time because you do not want to step on something that could cause an injury preventing you from working.
KEN HISSNER: How difficult do you find handling a bout when neither boxer speaks English?
DOUBLE SS: There are three words all boxers are taught. Stop, box and break. Besides I speak Spanish and have gone for a refresher at Atlantic Community College recently.
KEN HISSNER: How did you ever get started in this business over some 35 years ago?
DOUBLE SS: I boxed some as an amateur at the YMCA and at Penn State. I approached Pat Duffy one of the legends especially in amateur boxing. He told me if I wanted to learn to be a referee I should come to a fight early and see how the entire event is prepared. When I got there Pat hand’s me a broom. He tells me the spot the ring will be set up on should be dirt free so get started. I started judging and being a referee in the amateurs. I was also a State Inspector from 1978 to 1982 in New Jersey. I got my first license handed to me by the former world heavyweight champion and then New Jersey Boxing Commissioner “Jersey” Joe Walcott.
KEN HISSNER: Being a man of faith myself, do you ever get any flack saying “God Bless” after giving the boxers instructions? Especially since I know you have worked Communist China.
DOUBLE SS: No, I never have.
KEN HISSNER: In all the fights you have officiated have you ever taken an “accidental” punch?
DOUBLE SS: Yes, in the Carl “The Truth” Williams and Tim Witherspoon fight in Atlantic City in March of 1991. Both were holding the entire fight. I leaned in to break them and Williams hit me with a left hook from about 6” away. If you ever saw Batman and how they go “pow” well I was seeing stars but stayed on my feet and stayed to the outside of the ring until my head cleared.
KEN HISSNER: How do you feel about how in times past and possibly currently in some places, the referee also serves as a judge for the same fight?
DOUBLE SS: I think it would be too difficult. I try to stay focused on the fight itself and don’t think I could see it the same way as if I was a judge.
KEN HISSNER: In closing what do you think of the idea of a “Boxing Czar”?
DOUBLE SS: In states like North Carolina where they have a part-time commission they could use someone from another state to assign commission people there. In general it may be difficult appointing someone.
KEN HISSNER: Is there something that stands out about fighters?
DOUBLE SS: When I see a fighter get hurt and come back to overcome his opponent. For instance in the Pavlik-Taylor first fight when Pavlik was hurt in the 2nd round, but I saw how he reacted when he was hurt in the Edison Miranda fight. He was able to come back by the end of the round and finish Taylor off in the 7th round. He thanked me after the fight for not stopping it in the 2nd round. I told him I would have done the same for Taylor.
KEN HISSNER: Steve, it has been my pleasure you taking the time to answer these questions.
DOUBLE SS: It has been the same here in talking to another boxing man!