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Former referee Richard Steele weighs in on Bradley-Pacquiao and the future of MMA

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Former referee Richard Steele is passing his knowledge onto others at his Richard Steele Boxing Club in North Las Vegas.
Photo: Leila Navidi

Perhaps no one in town is as qualified to give a well-rounded view of the current state of boxing as Richard Steele. The 68-year-old has done almost everything imaginable in the sport. Steele fought both as an amateur and professional, compiling a combined 37-8 record in the 1960s and 1970s. He went on to become one of the sport’s top referees, working nearly 200 title fights, including the fabled three-round war between Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns in 1985.

Steele now spends his days mentoring young fighters and running his gym, the Richard Steele Boxing Club, in North Las Vegas. We caught up with Steele to discuss the fallout from Timothy Bradley’s controversial split-decision win over Manny Pacquiao, why judges shouldn’t continue scoring fights into their 70s and the polarizing Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Obligatory question to start. What did you think of the Pacquiao-Bradley fight?

I definitely thought Pacquiao won the fight, without a doubt. It wasn’t even close. It was eight rounds to four for me. Those are the blind eyes that are going to end up killing boxing. People wait to see a title fight like that, and then something like that happens, it leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths and it’s hard to get them back once you lose them.

You’ve been around the sport for 50 years and seen so many fights. Was it the worst decision you’ve ever seen?

(Laughing) No, not close. It wasn’t the worst, but it might have been one of the worst. It was definitely bad.

Is there anything that needs to be changed when it comes to judging or scoring? Anything that can help prevent something like this from happening again?

I got out of the ring because I had been in there long enough. I did everything I could possibly do in the sport, so I retired. I think some of the judges should think about it. They think because they are sitting down and not doing anything physical like a referee that they are still there mentally. I think there comes a time when, for the sake of boxing, you say, “I’ve done enough. I’ve done hundreds of world title fights. I’ve been in the game for 30 years. Why don’t I retire?” They really don’t feel like they’ve lost something until it’s too late and they’ve messed up a kid’s career.

Like most around boxing, it sounds like you’re not buying the attention Pacquiao and Bradley received in the aftermath working as a positive for the sport. Are you concerned about the future of boxing?

I really believe we need to do a better job with what we can to save the sport. We’ve got to give guys like [U.S. Olympic heavyweight] Michael Hunter some credit. When he’s at home, he trains at my gym. I feel like people don’t even get a chance to see him.

Many people argue the growth of mixed martial arts and the UFC are contributing to boxing’s declining popularity, but you offer both at your gym. Can both sports thrive at the same time and prove beneficial to each other?

They can definitely help each other. I had two winners at an MMA tournament [last] weekend, and the kids were formerly in my gym for boxing. Boxing definitely complements MMA, because it gives those kids some knowledge of striking.

Why are more young people attracted to MMA over boxing?

You’ve got to remember that kids have been in martial arts for a really long time. Karate, jiu-jitsu, they’ve been doing all of that for a long time. Now, they’ve got a chance to add a couple more skills and really pursue a sport with MMA. They can become MMA fighters at a young age like that.

How do you think the Pacquiao-Bradley decision impacts the possibility of us ever seeing Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather fight?

It’s a shame. It’s going to be harder now. This was going to be the highest-grossing fight in history, and they really hurt the chances more with this decision. There’s no way that they can give Mayweather and Pacquiao the money they first started talking about. It really hurts Pacquiao, because now Mayweather is in the driver’s seat. He can dictate who gets what.

I agree. Even though I doubt it will ever happen, who would you favor in that fight?

Mayweather all the way. He’s just a hell of a fighter. He’s made some wrong decisions in the way he’s lived his life, but you can’t take anything away from him when it comes to boxing. He trains harder than anybody, and it shows every time he fights. He’s so dedicated to boxing, and you see it in his performance each and every time.

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