Davey Pearl Interview
By Barry Lindenman
BL: How did you first get interested in boxing?

DP: Well, I'm a little guy so I took up boxing as part of a self-defense program. Because of boxing, I was never afraid of anybody. When I got into the service, and I was in there for almost five years, I made sure the other guys knew I could box.

BL: What weight class did you box in?

DP: Oh I was very light. I'm eighty-one years old now. It's been so long ago I've forgotten!

BL: Ever have any aspirations of a professional career?

DP: Oh no. That was never an idea of mine.

BL: How did you get into refereeing?

DP: I first starting judging professional fights. I did that for about six or seven years and that led to me getting into refereeing. I think I refereed for about thirty-five years. But for many years, I couldn't get a title fight. They were always telling me I was too small. I had been refereeing club fights in Vegas for years so everybody knew me. Then I finally got to do a title fight. It wasn't a big title fight. It was for the Junior Middleweight world championship. Right after that fight though, a guy I knew moved here from Kansas City. I was friendly with him in the amateurs. He became sort of a big gun here in Vegas. He came down to the bar one time and left a message for me. I called him back and he said to me, "how'd you like to do the Ali - Spinks fight?" So I ended up doing the first Ali - Spinks fight in 1978. It was one of the biggest upsets in boxing history when Spinks won the fight.

BL: Aside from being a referee, how did you make your living?

DP: I ran cocktail lounges in Las Vegas. I was fairly successful doing that. I also worked the bingo halls here in Vegas.

BL: A referee is often under the microscope as far as being hassled and receiving criticism from fans. How did you deal with fans that disagreed with your actions as a referee?

DP: Boxing fans never gave me any trouble. First of all, everybody knew I was honest and there was no way anybody could do any funny business with me. I always stuck to that. Second, when I was in the ring, I was as fair as I could be to both fighters without showing any preferential treatment. So I got a pretty good reputation. I always carried myself according to the way I thought. I never took any crap from the fighters and the spectators never gave me any problems.

BL: We think of a referee as always being calm, cool, and collected in the ring. Would you say that it takes a certain kind of personality to become a good boxing referee?

DP: Absolutely. He has to stay cool and calm at all times. One of the most urgent things that I developed when teaching other referees is this: if a newspaper reporter comes over to you and says, "why did you do this" or "you shouldn't have done that," all you should say in response is that "I'm a human being and if I made a mistake, it's a mistake. I'll be sure to watch for it again." Then they'll forget you. They're not rapping you all the time. That's what happened to me. If I made a clear, big mistake, which were very few, my response was that "the reason I did it was because I thought it was right. In the future, I'll watch it to see if I need to correct myself." I never had any newspaper run a bum story on me yet.

BL: Taking into consideration all the hype, media attention and money involved in big time professional boxing, did you yourself ever get nervous or feel the kind of pressure that the participants feel when going into a world championship fight?

DP: No. Never. When I did the Ali - Spinks fight, the fight didn't go on until 7:00 at night but they told us to report at 2:00 in the afternoon. I was sitting there and I started getting sleepy. I started yawning. I wondered how I would react once I got into the ring with the two big guys. I was so cool and so calm, you couldn't believe it. I've never, ever been nervous in a fight.

BL: How many years experience did you have as a professional referee before you got a chance to do a world title fight?

DP: I'd say about ten or twelve years.

BL: How many total world championship bouts did you referee?

DP: About 70.

BL: How are referees chosen for a particular fight? Do you have to lobby to participate in certain fights?

DP: If you lobby to do a fight, it's the least chance you'll ever get to do a fight. Or if you have one of the fighters specifically ask for you, you'll never get the fight. It's the kiss of death. I never had to do that. There were times when I was so busy refereeing fights all over the world, I was never home.

BL: If you don't mind me asking, what was the most money you ever received for refereeing a professional fight?

DP: $1,500. It was for somewhere overseas. Probably in Japan. I've been to Japan eight times and Korea nine times. In those two places alone, I was as well known there as I was here. I received the first four figure paycheck that was ever written for a referee in the state of Nevada and that was $1,000 for the Ali - Spinks fight.

BL: It wasn't long ago when many states permitted the referee to act as one of the three judges scoring the fight. Did you participate in fights in which you scored the fight as well as referee the fight and did you prefer that?

DP: I did participate in those fights and I think the smartest rule they ever made was eliminating the referee as a judge. As a referee, your mission is not only for the safety of the fighters but also to control the fight. If you get two dirty fighters, and they'll test you believe me, you're too busy working on the two fighters to concentrate about scoring the fight. And if a referee worked like I did, you're moving all around all the time, you just don't have that much time to do both.

BL: Who in your opinion were the dirtiest fighters you were ever involved with?

DP: The worst fights any referee can get is the four and six round fights. Most of the time, these guys are beginners. They don't have the experience to be a good, clean fighter so the first thing they want to do is test the referee to see if you'll notice what they're doing. They start banging away and they go with the elbows and the knees and things like that.

BL: From a referee's standpoint, do you prefer to officiate a certain weight class over any other?

DP: Not really but if anything, I'd rather do the heavyweights than any of them. They're slower. In a heavyweight fight, a guy throws one shot and the fight can be over. Even though I was small, the fact that I had so much respect from all the fighters meant doing heavyweight fights wasn't hard for me.

BL: What specific criteria did you look for to know when the right time to stop a fight is?

DP: You look in the guy's eyes and if they're rolling a little bit and they look dazed and it continues for more than a round, you stop the fight. My motto was always "it's better to be safe than sorry." I don't know how I would have reacted personally if a guy got killed in a fight that I refereed. I never had a fighter get seriously hurt in any of my fights.

BL: My most vivid memory of you is waving off Sugar Ray Leonard as he pummeled Thomas Hearns on the ropes in their first fight in 1981. Was that the most memorable fight that you have been a part of and if not, which fight was?

DP: If you do your job long enough, you know well enough whether it was a good job or a medium job or a bad job. I felt that if there was ever anything even close to a perfect refereeing job, I had one the night of the Ali - Spinks fight. I felt real good about that fight. I showed the world that you don't have to be a big guy to referee heavyweights.

BL: Speaking strictly as a fan, what fighters do you enjoy watching today?

DP: I like a fighter who understands the science of boxing and who can box. These guys that come out and slug and hit hard, they miss ninety percent of their punches anyway. There aren't too many big punches landed anyway. So I like a guy that can stand up there and knows what to do and throws uppercuts once in a while. I like someone who throws a lot of body shots. That's what tires your opponent out the most.

BL: Would you characterize the relationship between the more notable referees in boxing such as yourself as one of competition or cooperation? In other words, are referees jealous of the other's successes or are they a pretty close knit group?

DP: In Nevada, I think they're pretty close. But there are places that I've been to where they weren't that close. Mostly it's childish stuff. This guy's getting more work than I am and all that baloney. I don't even listen to that stuff.

BL: Several years ago, world championship fights were shortened from 15 to 12 rounds, yet we still had the recent tragedies involving Jimmy Garcia and Gerald McClellan. What additional safety measures would you like to see introduced into professional boxing to help insure the safety of the boxers?

DP: I've always thought that if a referee is ever in doubt, he should call time out and call the doctor over. He's the professional. He knows what he's doing. I did a fight in Minnesota one time between Larry Holmes and Scott LeDeux, who was from that area. It was a daytime fight. Any time you have a daytime fight, more than half the audience is drunk! Before the fight, I wanted to speak to the doctor. I asked him how many fights he had done. He said this was his first one. The first world heavyweight championship fight in Minnesota and this is his first one! So I asked him, "you're not afraid to stop a fight, are you?" He said, "no, I'm not afraid." Well, Holmes gave LeDeux a big beating. His eyelid was hanging and everything. So I called the doctor over and he looked at his eyes and says to me, "he's blind in one eye but its OK to let him fight." I blew my top and started yelling at him, "where the hell did you ever get a license to practice medicine!" I called him every name. He started getting a little scared and rightly so, it was his first fight. I had already made up my mind that I was gonna stop the fight with the next punch to his eyelid. And he did. He punched him in the eyelid and I stopped the fight. What a riot we had there. That was one of the few times in my life where I started to get a little bit concerned about getting out of the ring.

BL: Who do you feel is the best referee in boxing today?

DP: That's a pretty hard question to answer because everybody's got a different style. I don't know what the other referees look for. It's hard for me to determine. I wouldn't want to say.

BL: What was the last title fight that you did?

DP: I think it was some fight over in Europe. But I'm retired now and haven't refereed a fight in about five or six years.

Barry Lindenman would like to thank Mike Rotker of Las Vegas, Nevada for his help in setting up this interview.
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