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March 04, 2013

By Steve Smoger as told to Doveed Linder

Referee Steve Smoger has been informed that he has been elected to the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame. His induction ceremony will take place in May. Smoger, a New Jersey resident and contributor to Boxingtalk, discusses his connections to Pennsylvania boxing with Doveed Linder.


Just recently, I found out that I will have the honor of being inducted into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame.  This means a lot to me, because it was Pennsylvania boxing that really influenced and shaped my career as a professional boxing referee.  In the late 1970s and early 80’, before I was licensed as a professional referee, I trained under the tutelage of Frank and Vic Cappuccino at the Cambria Gym in Philadelphia.  At this time, casino gaming was passed in Atlantic City.  With the casinos came professional boxing.  There were fights practically every night of the week and the cards were packed with Philly fighters – Lenny Matthews, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, Andre “Sugarman” Cooper, Frank “The Animal” Fletcher, Willie “The Worm” Monroe, Anthony and Timmy Witherspoon…  While laboring in the field as an amateur referee, I trained at the PAL Center in Atlantic City and these guys would come to the gym the week of their fights and “shake out”.  These guys are legends in the city they came from and they are among the first professional boxers I got to know up close and personally.
Frank Cappuccino, who was a well established referee from Philly [Editor's note: Cappucino refereed the legendary first fight between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward as well as Lennox-Lewis-Shannon Briggs and many other title fights], saw that I was a young, aspiring referee and he invited me to come up and work with him at the Cambria, where I got a true behind the scenes look at Philadelphia boxing.  I was treated to a number of gym wars and let me tell you – these guys don’t hold back at all.  These were fights with headgear.  I was very impressed with their intense training methods, as well as the sophisticated skills they learned from their trainers.  There are a lot of great trainers from Philadelphia, which is a big part of why the city produces so many talented fighters.  What I noticed about Philadelphia fighters is that records mean nothing.  You could get a guy with a record of 20-0 from another city and an 8-8 fighter from Philly would completely destroy him.  Bennie Briscoe, who is considered one of the greatest middleweights of all time, fought out of Philadelphia and he had a number of losses while he was coming up.  The same thing can be said about Freddie Pendelton, who was a lightweight champion.  Some of these guys came up the hard way, but they went on to become terrific fighters.
Earlier in my career, I worked a number of four-rounders at the Blue Horizon, which is a venue in Philadelphia.  It was these fights at the Blue Horizon that really prepared me for the championship level.  These guys in some of these lower profile fights would absolutely go to war - rough, tough, and sometimes dirty.  I had to work much harder at the Blue Horizon than I did at say Hopkins-Trinidad.  Speaking of Hopkins-Trinidad, Bernard Hopkins is a man who epitomizes what a Philly fighter is all about.  I had Bernard when he defended his USBA title against Gilbert Baptist back in 1993.  I also worked his very next fight when he fought Roy Jones, Jr. on the Riddick Bowe-Jesse Ferguson undercard.  We go way back.  Last time I saw Bernard, it was just before he took Kelly Pavlik to school.  I went over to wish him well and he said, “Watch me tonight, Steve.”
When I meet a fighter from Philadelphia, I immediately feel a strong connection.  In 2012, I had the privilege of working three fights with a young fighter from Philly by the name of Gabriel Rosado.  Gabe won all three fights by knockout and it put him in position for a high profile fight with Gennady Golovkin, which I happened to work as well.  That’s the only time I’ve worked four fights in a row with a fighter.  The first three fights, incidentally, took place in the state of Pennsylvania.  The Pennsylvania boxing scene really picked up under executive director Greg Serb of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission.  I’ve been working in Pennsylvania on a fairly regular basis and a lot of these bouts have been televised.  This state is doing a lot for the sport of boxing and I’m thrilled to be apart of it.”

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