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December 18, 2012

By Steve Smoger as told to Doveed Linder

Referee Steve Smoger discusses the significance of knockouts in the sport of boxing and lists the top 10 knockouts that have occurred while he was the third man in the ring.

STEVE SMOGER: In boxing, everybody loves a knockout.  Knockouts give the crowd a true sense of finality.  It’s the ultimate punctuation of victory and it’s a way for a fight to come to a definitive conclusion.  In my view, what makes for a “great” knockout is not when a fighter comes out and overwhelms his opponent.  It’s when two fighters give everything they have in a competitive affair.  Over the past thirty years, I have been fortunate enough to have been the third man in the ring for some of the most exciting moments in boxing.  Looking back at these moments, I have selected ten fights and created a list of which I feel are the top ten knockouts of my career.  When I say “knockout”, this means a fighter could have been down for the ten-count, I waved it off, the corner threw in the towel, or a fighter elected to not continue.  What puts these fights in the top ten are not necessarily the knockout itself (although some of these knockouts were very dramatic), but everything that was at stake for the two combatants and the action that took place leading up to the moment of truth. 
10. Gabriel Rosado TKO10 Charles Whitaker, September 21, 2012: Rosado-Whitaker was an IBF junior middleweight eliminator and it was my third fight in a recent “trilogy” I had with Gabriel Rosado.  All three fights were knockouts and any one of them could have been on this list.  I chose Rosado-Whitaker because of how I previously illustrated what I consider to be a “great” knockout.  This was an instance of both fighters giving everything they had.  Not to take anything away from the efforts of Jesus Soto-Karass and Sechew Powell who had previously faced Gabriel Rosado, but in my view, Charles Whitaker was on a true mission.  There were moments in the fight when Whitaker went down and it looked as if he might have been finished.  But as soon as he made it to his feet, it was like “Custer’s Last Stand”.  He was firing back and he even buzzed Gabe at one point.  It was a tremendous effort from both fighters, but Gabe was just too much for him.  In tenth round, it was clear that Whitaker was a beaten fighter.  He no longer had a realistic opportunity to win, so I waved it off. video:
9. Reggie Johnson KO5 William Guthrie, February 6, 1998: 
Johnson-Guthrie was a toe to toe war for the IBF light heavyweight championship.  Guthrie was the champion, as he had just stopped Darrin Allen for the vacant title.  Johnson was a former champion, who had previously had competitive fights with James Toney, John David Jackson, and Jorge Castro.  Up until the moment of the knockout, this fight could have gone either way.  But in the fifth round, Johnson caught Guthrie with a clean punch and Guthrie was out before he hit the canvas.  At the time, there was a great deal of concern for Guthrie’s safety.  The doctors came into the ring and he was carried out on a stretcher.  Fortunately, he was okay and he went on to have a long career. video:
8. Bernard Hopkins TKO12 Felix Trinidad, September 29, 2001: Historically speaking, Hopkins-Trinidad is the most significant fight I’ve ever been involved with.  It was at Madison Square Garden and it was the first major boxing event after the devastation of 9/11.  Aside from trauma that everyone was feeling, this was the climactic moment of Don King’s middleweight tournament, which also included William Joppy and Keith Holmes.  Hopkins and Trinidad were unifying the middleweight titles and there was a lot of electricity in the building that night.  Trinidad had just destroyed Joppy in May of that year and a lot of people thought he would do the same thing to Bernard.  The early rounds were fairly close, but as the fight progressed, I could see Bernard slowly taking over.  By the ninth and tenth rounds, he was completely dominating the fight.  Trinidad went down in the twelfth round and his father elected to stop it.  Lesser men would have fallen much sooner.  The fact that the fight went as long as it did is a testament to the heart and determination of Tito Trinidad.  As for Hopkins, at age thirty-six, he had finally made a case for himself as one of the best of his era by defeating another great fighter.  video:
7. Kelly Pavlik TKO7 Edison Miranda, May 19, 2007: Pavlik-Miranda was a WBC eliminator, with the winner to get an opportunity to challenge Jermain Taylor for the true world middleweight championship.  Both Kelly and Edison had a lot of knockouts on their resumes, so it was very unlikely that this fight would go the distance.  Before the fight, Edison was completely overlooking Kelly.  In fact, at the pre-fight press conference, he had to be separated from Taylor, who was fighting Cory Spinks in the main event.  He was calling out the champion before he faced Kelly!  In the fourth round, Kelly absorbed some hard right hands and kept coming forward.  It was at that moment when I really started to sense that this was Pavlik’s time.  Sometimes a fighter reaches a point in their career where they find a certain zone.  They are of supreme confidence and they are destroying everything in their path.  This was Kelly’s zone.  In the sixth round, he hurt Miranda and had him just about out of there.  I called the doctor in and he allowed Edison to continue.  In the seventh round, Kelly jumped on him and that’s all she wrote. video:
6. Javier Castillejo KO6 Mariana Natalio Carrera, November 13, 2007: Castillejo-Carrera was a WBA middleweight eliminator.  It was also a rematch.  Their fist fight resulted in a no contest.  Castillejo had a little more notoriety than Carrera, as he had previously gone the distance with Oscar De La Hoya and Fernando Vargas.  He also knocked out Felix Sturm for Sturm’s middleweight title, but then lost the title back to Sturm in a rematch.  Carrera had a good record coming in, but the majority of his fights took place in Argentina against relatively unknown opposition.  He had not faced any of the big names in America.  That being said, this was a Madison Square Garden quality fight.  It was eighteen minutes of war!  They stood toe to toe and every punch they threw had bad intentions.  It was a fabulous display of heart.  Castillejo appeared hurt early on, but his experience and his conditioning got him through it.  As the fight progressed, the impact of the punches seemed to hurt Carrera more than they did Castillejo.  In the sixth round, Carrera got caught against the ropes and that was it. video:
5. Ezra Sellers KO4 Carl Thompson, November 26, 2001:
Sellers-Thompson was a magnificent fight in Manchester, England that hardly anyone saw.  It took place on a Monday night.  Sellers was challenging Thompson for Thompson’s IBO cruiserweight belt. In four rounds, both fighters tasted the canvas multiple times.  Sellers was a big underdog in this fight.  Earlier in his career, he had campaigned as a heavyweight.  He had come up short in meaningful fights, so he was now attempting to make his mark as a cruiserweight.  Thompson had hit a few bumps in the road as well, but he had recently captured a title and gained a little momentum.  In the first round, Sellers was knocked down and it looked like it was going to be a short night.  But then he got back up and he knocked Thompson down!  They went back and forth like that for four rounds until Sellers landed the signature punch and Thompson was out.  I have that fight poster prominently displayed in the gym at my home.  When fighters fight like that, it makes me proud to be the third man in the ring. video:
4. Derrick Jefferson KO6 Maurice Harris, November 6, 1999: Jefferson-Harris was apart of a showcase of up-and-coming heavyweights, who were about two victories away from earning a title shot.  We were the co-feature to Oleg Maskaev-Hasim Rahman.  Jefferson was a big, well-muscled gentleman, while Harris had a slender (for a heavyweight) and athletic physique.  It should have been a classic case of the boxer vs the puncher.  Instead, it was a slugfest!  In the second round, Derrick knocked Maurice down and had him in trouble.  Just as it looked as if he was going to finish him off, Derrick ran into something and got knocked down himself!  At the end of the round, both fighters exchanged a look of mutual respect and touched gloves.  It was a beautiful boxing moment.  In the sixth round, Maurice went down again.  It looked like he was on his way out, but then he wobbled Derrick!  And then Derrick came back and knocked him out with a big left hook!  I’ve heard a number of people compare this fight to George Foreman-Ron Lyle.  Like Foreman-Lyle, this was a back-and-forth contest between two big men where both guys tasted the canvas. [Editor's note: this knockout caused the famous, "Derrick Jefferson, I love you!" soundbyte by HBO's Larry Merchant] video:
3. Kennedy McKinney KO11 Welcome Ncita, December 2, 1992: McKinney-Ncita was an absolute war between two undefeated fighters.  Ncita was a big star in South Africa and he was defending his IBF super bantamweight title.  McKinney was a former Olympian who was a serious up-and-comer.  There was a lot of back-and-forth action and McKinney was hurt at one point.  Welcome dropped him with a significant shot.  When Kennedy got up, he was still dazed.  I looked at him closely and he indicated that he wanted to continue.  When they resumed, I noticed that he recovered very quickly, which I attribute to his outstanding condition.  In the eleventh round, they got into a furious exchange. McKinney caught Welcome with a perfect right hand and that was it.  It was very sudden and dramatic.  At that point, the fight could have gone either way, but one punch changed it all. video:
2. Simon Brown TKO14 Tyrone Trice, April 23, 1988: Brown-Trice was for the vacant IBF welterweight title.  At the pre-fight meeting, both camps made it clear that they wanted to fight to the finish.  They wanted a true champion to emerge.  The title was suspended in the middle of the ring and they were going to fight for it.  And boy did they fight!  This was the “Fight of the Year” in 1988.  In round nine, Brown caught Trice flush and Trice fell like a tree.  I made eye contact with him and I could see in his eyes that he was going to get up.  And he did!  This was a fifteen rounder and he gave me five more rounds.  In the fourteenth, he fell into my arms and Simon Brown emerged victorious.  This was a time in my career when I truly became aware of the incredible recuperative powers that some fighters possess.  How does a man who is hit flush make it to his feet and continue fighting?  It amazes me to this day.  On a personal note, this was the first fight where I was acknowledged on television for my work as a referee.  The late Gil Clancy, who was one of the announcers, paid me a lot of nice compliments during the broadcast and my career really took off from there. video:
1. Kelly Pavlik TKO7 Jermain Taylor, September 29, 2007: Going into this fight, Taylor was the subject of some criticism, given the fact that he did not have a dominant performance since winning the world middleweight crown.  As I recall, his team intended to make a statement.  They felt that Kelly was the perfect opponent for Jermain to shine, as did a number of other people in the boxing world.  Kelly was perceived as an underdog, despite piling up a string of knockout victories against Bronco McKart, Jose Luis Zertuche, and Edison Miranda.  In the second round, Jermain knocked Kelly down and had him in desperate trouble.  In my view, Jermain spent his gas tank after the knockdown when he tried to finish him off.  He followed the knockdown up with some tremendous punches that just missed.  To this day, over five years later, I can still feel the breeze from some of those shots Jermain threw.  Had he landed one of those shots, we would be discussing a different subject.  But Kelly survived the assault and in the third round, he began to systematically take over the fight.  In the seventh round, he caught Jermain with a right hand and that was it.  Jermain was out before he hit the canvas.  I didn’t even have to count.  That was the Fight of the Year in 2007 and it was a tremendous performance from both men.  There were several polls after the fight that speculated how ninety-five out of one hundred referees would have stopped the fight in round two when Kelly was hurt.  Nigel Collins wrote, “The What Ifs Of ’07.”  What if Steve Smoger called in ill on the night of Taylor-Pavlik? video:
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Felix Trinidad TKO8 Ricardo Mayorga, Micky Ward KO1 Steve Quinonez, Harold Knight TKO7 Kenny Baysmore, Paul Ingle TKO11 Junior Jones, Mike Tyson TKO7 Brian Nielsen.

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