The boxing referee, the third person in the ring, ensures civility in a naturally uncivil environment. No easy task. We thank Ricky Gonzalez for giving us some insights into the job.
19 Year Veteran Referee Chops It Up With NYF
For nineteen years and over 350 fights, Ricky Gonzalez has balanced the demanding responsibilities of being a boxing referee.
He has refereed numerous world title matches involving some of the biggest stars in the sport.
Dressed in a black T-shirt adorned with the image of his favorite fighter, Roberto Duran, Ricky sat down with NYFights, talked to us about his career, and gave our readers some insight into what it's like to be a boxing referee.
Born in Queens, NY, Ricky was introduced to boxing by his father, a massive fan of Roberto Duran. Hence, Ricky's love for the Hall of Fame boxing legend. “There were five kids, four boys, and one girl. He bought us boxing gloves, and we sparred with each other. So that's pretty much how the love of boxing came for me,” said Gonzalez.
Refereeing Is Not A Fulltime Job
Before his illustrious career as a referee, Ricky was a New York City police officer for twenty years. He applied the discipline and awareness he learned in the boxing gym to help him be a better police officer in the dangerous streets of NYC during the 1980s and 90s.
“I was able to focus better. As a street cop, I spent my whole career in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy (Bedford-Stuyvesant) section. Boxing taught me how to focus on what was happening in the streets.
“I worked the midnight shift. It was very difficult for a lot of guys to concentrate, especially during that shift. But for me, it was pretty easy, and I guess a lot of that had to do with the boxing,” said Ricky to NYFights.
Aside from training and sparring, Ricky never stepped in the ring for a sanctioned boxing match. Nonetheless, the passion for the sport burned immensely in him.
He used to visit a gym where his ex-wife's cousin trained as a boxer. One day the gym needed an official and asked Rickey if he would officiate the match. Ricky agreed, and the impromptu gig would be the beginning of his career as a boxing referee.
“Immediately, there was love. So, I joined the local boxing Commission and USA Boxing and started officiating from then on. That was around 1998. I started judging and officiating a lot of fights,” he recalled.
Soon after, Ricky retired from the NYPD. He then went to the boxing commission office and applied to become a professional boxing referee.
It's a very selective process, and Ricky’s vast experience as an amateur referee and NYPD officer helped him get selected.
Ricky “Turns Pro” in 2004
In 2004 Ricky Gonzalez embarked on his newfound profession and officiated as many fights as possible.
Before he knew it, he was refereeing in some biggest fights in boxing.
He was the referee when Gervonta Davis fought and defeated Jose Pedraza to win his first world title, when Amanda Serrano became the undisputed featherweight champion of the world, and the list goes on and on.
Ricky has been the third person in the ring for some of boxing's greatest moments. However, one fight sticks out as the most memorable moment for him. “Honestly, right off the bat, I would have to say when Canelo made his debut at Madison Square Garden. The crowd went berserk. The adrenaline was kicking into high gear; it was a great night,” said the veteran referee.
Inside the ring, Ricky's methodology for refereeing a fight is having balance.
Ref Describes Process
He tries to maintain enough distance between the fighters to stay out of their way but be close enough to respond swiftly to a situation.
Some referees prepare for boxing matches much like boxers do. For Ricky, preparation has been the key to success. “If I have a championship fight coming up, I'll look at tapes of those fighters just to see their style. I try to see if they come in with their head or if they do certain things that can possibly lead to a foul,” he said.
“Every referee is different. They do things differently. Some guys like to work out, and some guys don't. I like to stay physically prepared all year round, so when I do that championship fight, I'm ready too. I'm ready physically and emotionally to do the fight.
Props To Tank Davis
“Sometimes, I must physically push fighters apart. I refereed Tank Davis vs. Pedraza. Let me tell you, Tank was 130lbs., and when I went to break them, I felt like I was trying to break a heavyweight. I'm saying to myself, ‘damn, is this guy a heavyweight!’ Tank Davis is that strong.”
Being a professional boxing referee is a challenging profession.
And according to Ricky Gonzalez, every referee wants every fight to be clean and free of controversy. But that isn't always the case. Referees rely on their training and do their best to enforce the rules.
One of the most important jobs a referee is ensuring the safety of the boxers. Ironically, it is also one of the most subjective calls a referee has to make. If a referee gets it right, he saves a boxer's life.
If he gets it wrong, a fighter can be hurt, suffer lifelong health complications, or die. All referees must decide when to issue warnings, deduct points, and stop a fight. However, in the heat of a boxing match, decisions must be made in seconds.
Yes, The Refs Hear and See the Complaints
Has Ricky Gonzalez ever been scrutinized for his decisions during a fight?
“Honestly, if you're doing the correct thing as far as stopping a fight, a boxer, even if they are getting a beat down, will always complain because they want to finish on thier feet. I understand that. But there have been times when a promoter will start complaining about a stoppage,” he said.
“I won't name the promoters, but yeah, there have been cases like that. However, the Commission always had my back each time, saying that I did the correct thing. And I’m not saying I'm perfect, but in those instances, I feel I did the correct thing.”
What is the correct thing?
I asked if there are fixed protocols referees have to follow or if it is purely subjective. For example, did Richard Steele make the “right call” in stopping the Taylor vs. Chavez fight with only two seconds left in the final round of a championship fight?
How about Tony Week's Romero vs. Barroso fight stoppage two weeks ago? That call was heavily criticized by most people that watched the fight. NOTE: This interview was conducted before the controversial stoppage, for the record.
What are the guidelines? What is considered too many warnings or not enough warnings? After how many warnings are issued, should a referee take a point from a fighter?
“If a fighter is taking a beatdown and that referee deems that the fighter's life is possibly in danger, he will do what he must,” Ricky said. “He has to stop that fight. But, unfortunately, some guys have waited too long to jump in. And some guys may have stopped it a little too early.
“But you know, at the end of the day, those boxers, thank God, were able to live another day. So, it all depends on the referee and the situation at hand. You want to give a guy a chance, especially if it's a championship fight, but at the same time, you don't want him to suffer a severe beat down,” said Ricky Gonzalez.
More Process From Ricky Gonzalez
During the fighters' instructions before the fight, Gonzalez clarifies to both fighters what he will do if he observes a critical foul.
Hitting behind the head, kidney shots, and hitting below the belt are some of the fouls considered “critical.”
“When I give the instructions, I make the fighters aware. That it is a severe penalty if two punches land behind the head. The first time, you're going to get that harsh warning. There's not going to be a third time. The second time you do it, penalty,” said Ricky sternly.
Do you take your work home with you? I asked.
“No, I don't. I don't do that at all. I never watched myself. I did it at the beginning of my career because I was still learning. I'm still learning, but it's like having a negative effect. I don't want to watch myself, you know? But I study the fighters before I enter the ring,” responded Ricky.
There is a lot that goes on in a boxing match. Referees have to make split-second decisions. Is there a fight or a call you wish you could have back? “No, I've been blessed with the fights that I've done. They were all learning experiences. But no, if I had to do it all over again, I'll do it the same way,” said Gonzalez to NYFights.
Do you stand by all your calls? I asked. “Yes, 100%,” confirmed Gonzalez.
Although most referees do a solid job of officiating a fight, a certain degree of human error always exists. Football, basketball, and baseball have established a challenge system for coaches and managers to challenge a call if they believe the official got it wrong. Is boxing leaning that way?
Looking At Changing Standards
“I 100% believe so. They're doing that right now. At the Mohegan Sun Casino, I think they have instant replay. I think it's fantastic because we're human, and they have instant replay in all these other sports. So why not boxing?” said Ricky.
What’s life outside of the ring for Ricky? He describes himself as a “boring guy.” He likes to spend time with his 16-year-old son and watch Netflix.
A fun fact about Ricky Gonzalez that I learned during my research is that he is an excellent conga player.
Go to Ricky's TikTok page and catch a glimpse of Ricky doing a solo on the congas in a salsa band.
Like boxing, Gonzalez was introduced to music by his father, who was a musician.
However, his older brother Jorge Gonzalez would be the one to pursue a music career. Jorge Gonzalez is a renowned bongo player and played for some of the greatest salsa bands in the world.
“I’m going to get a little emotional here. My brother just passed two weeks ago (at the time of the interview). He won two Grammys. He played with Ray Barreto, Ruben Blades, Celia Cruz, and Tito Puente. All the big names you can think of.
“My brother recorded almost 150 albums, so I got that through him. I was his shadow growing up, and I would go with him to the clubs while he was performing with Larry Harlow and Ruben Blades; it was phenomenal. So, during that time, I was also learning to play percussion, bongos, and congas. So that's pretty much how that came about.”
For the remainder of the interview Ricky and I chatted about our shared passion for boxing and salsa music.
For the rest of 2023, Ricky Gonzalez will do what he has always done since he retired from the NYPD, referee some boxing matches, play the congas, and spend time with his son.
My Take: Being a professional boxing referee is a challenging job and often a thankless one.
In boxing, referees are silent professionals who get little to no attention for their efforts, and when they do, it's almost always negative.
As was the case a couple of weeks ago when veteran referee Tony Weeks ended the Rolando “Rolly” Romero vs. Ismael Barroso fight. A stoppage that many believe was premature and resulted in Romero winning the WBA super lightweight title.
Once known as one of the very best referees in the business, Weeks was scorched on social media, with many calling for his retirement or, at a minimum, not being allowed to referee another world title match.
Boxing has some of the world's most passionate and critical sports fans. Heck, I'm guilty of being critical of referees myself.
However, during my interview with Ricky Gonzalez, I learned that he does his best to be prepared and unbiased and enforce boxing rules during a match to the best of his ability and experience.
And that’s all we can ask of people whose job is to ensure violence is appropriately conducted.
This article is dedicated in remembrance to the life of Ricky Gonzalez’s brother Jorge Gonzalez September 19, 1957- April 3rd 2023.