Home / ring observations / Tony Perez: My Life In Boxing

Tony Perez: My Life In Boxing


By Scoop Malinowski

“I say boxing saved my life. I’ve been involved in boxing since I’m ten years old in Puerto Rico. And I could never believe I’m going to be in the ring with Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. That was one of my greatest fights. They fought three times and I did their second fight. “

As if we don’t remember. Tony Perez is one of the most successful big-time referees in the history of the sport. Look at his resume. 149 world title fights. Buster Mathis vs. James J. Woody in 1968, Joe Frazier vs. Jimmy Ellis 1970, Muhammad Ali vs. Jerry Quarry in Atlanta, George Foreman-Scott LeDoux, Galindez-Harald Skog in Norway, Monzon-Licata, Wilfredo Benitez-Bruce Curry, Esteban DeJesus-Buzzsaw Yamabe, Yoko Gushiken-Rigoberto Marcano, Alexis Arguello-Bazooka Limon, Gerry Cooney-Ken Norton, Billy Collins-Luis Resto, Larry Holmes-Scott Frank, Gerrie Coetzee-Michael Dokes, Salvador Sanchez-Azumah Nelson, Marvin Hagler-Juan Domingo Roldan, Julio Cesar Chavez-Rocky Lockridge, Nigel Benn-Henry Wharton, Ray Mercer-Tommy Morrison, Roy Jones-Montell Griffin I, Frank Bruno-Oliver McCall. Perez, now 72 and a resident of New Jersey, says his start in boxing was by chance. 

“Oh boy, there was a lot of bullies in my neighborhood in Puerto Rico. And I got beat up a couple of times. I was walking one day and I see two retired boxers, they were training in the garage. One of them was Sixto Escobar, the former Bantamweight champion. He is the first Puerto Rican world champion ever. And they have the best park in Puerto Rico named to his name. And I was watching them everyday training in the garage. And then one day they said to me, ‘You like this?’ I said, ‘Yeah. ‘ He said, ‘Want us to show you how to do it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, if you help me. ‘ So I started training, then I joined the novice amateur. No one lasted two rounds because I had the experience. “

An Army boxing match in Panama stands out as his brightest memory. “I always say as a fighter myself, the greatest moment was when I was in the Army stationed in Panama and I fought a guy – I was 19 – and there was a guy there named William Palau. He was champion and he was about 38. And I was 19 then, in the Army. I joined the tournament in the Army, I said, ‘Gee, I’m a lightweight and Palau is there, I’m gonna have to fight this guy. I hope we keep winning fights and we meet at the end. He could beat me, so I could be in the finals. ‘ No. When they pick the names, Boom, the first night, Tony Perez against William Palau. I knocked him out in the third round. Somehow. When they announced, ‘The champion of this, the champion of that – and in this corner recruit, Tony Perez [laughs]. So it was a big surprise I stop him in the third round. “

The worst moment for Perez during his career as a ring referee, he says, was making a controversial ruling against one of the biggest stars in the sport. “When I had to disqualify Roy Jones Jr. He was leading, he was champion, and he got Montell Griffin on his knees. And I have no other choice but to disqualify him (in the ninth round of a close fight). Because the guy cannot continue. That was a big one. And they have to escort me – two big guys – to my room upstairs in the Taj Mahal (Atlantic City in 1997). And they told me to be careful. Nothing happened. After the fight, Roy accepted. He saw it and said, ‘Oh my God, I did that? If I seen that I would have to disqualify myself. ‘ I didn’t have no choice. “

Balancing out the serious matters of the ring, Perez says he had a funny memory. “One time – I won’t mention any names – there was a fight that was won, ten round by this guy, and the two judges scored it 9-1 and the other guy scored it 8-2 for the other guy! So I wondered, What the hell was he watching? I never saw that judge again. “

Officiating fights from the 1960’s until 2002, Perez has witnessed a lot of explosive performers at the height of their powers. The most memorable early knockout? “I have seen so many of them, knockouts in the first round, knockouts in the second. Gerry Cooney-Ken Norton. Gerry Cooney had him in the corner. Ken Norton is going down but he can’t go down because he’s sitting on the bottom rope. Bang-bang-bang! I said, ‘Gerry please stop it! STOP IT!’ He don’t stop it. He keeps hitting him. So I have to jump and give him the elbow. I gave him a big elbow. And he hit me. He was going crazy because, you know, that was his first big fight. He had him. He hit me accidentally. Oh my God! Ooooh. He hurt Norton bad. When the decision was announced (Cooney) saw me talk to the commission and he asked me, ‘Are you disqualifying me? I’m sorry, what I did was an accident. I didn’t mean to do. ‘ I also got a blackeye from Wilfredo Benitez. I break him up and he keeps throwing punches at Bruce Curry. Bang! He became world champion when he was 17. “

Of all the sluggers he’s seen, Perez ponders who he rates as the hardest hitter. “Good question. There’s a guy that fought 49 times, won 49 times, 47 by knockout. Rocky Marciano. Nobody beat him. Nobody beat him. And he was only 5-ft. -11. Left hook to the body. Bang! The hardest puncher I was in the ring with – Gerry Cooney. Why he didn’t become world champion was when he fought Larry Holmes, they told him to take it easy. If Gerry would have fought attacking from bell one, I believe he would have knocked Larry Holmes out. But the reason he didn’t was because he didn’t want to run out of gas. “

In almost 50 years as an official in boxing, Perez says he has a few favorite gladiators but he won’t reveal them. “I love to see fighters but I don’t favor none. I like some fighters. But I keep that to myself. If I ever have to do a fight with them, I be neutral. I call it the way I see it. “

The last world title fight Perez handled was the WBC Flyweight championship between champ Pongsaklek Wonjongkam vs. Jesus Martinez in Rangsit, Thailand in 2002. The last two pro fights Perez refereed were Sean Bullock TKO 1 Andrew Gizzi and Jon Gaddis W4 Eugene Parler at the Sovereign Bank Center in Trenton, N. J. in October 2005. He still judges professional cards in New Jersey along with his wife Barbara, most recently at July and September shows at Resorts in Atlantic City. Most notably, Perez worked three fights for Muhammad Ali. “I did the second fight between him and Joe Frazier. I did a few of his fights – Jerry Quarry, Chuck Wepner. Chuck Wepner put him on the floor. And he was mad. And all I see was, ‘Oooohh!’ He was so mad. Muhammad Ali was sulking, and he said (about me), ‘This guy’s not white, he’s not black, he’s just a Puerto Rican. And he’s probably with the mafia. And he probably got money on the. [laughs]. ‘ That was on the Howard Cosell program (TV Show on ABC). Eight lawyers called me that night. They said, ‘Tony, you’re gonna be a rich boy!'”

Perez says he and Ali settled any differences, real or perceived, years later. “Yes, now, one time we met and he said, ‘I love you Tony, you were a good referee. ‘” But Perez admits it was a sorrowful moment with The Greatest. “It’s a sad scene today to see him the way he is. He was such a great champion, the way he was. You see him now. I was very surprised. “

Perez remembers Ali’s mastery. “The way he boxed. Great boxer. Good puncher. Bang! He’d let go the right hand and then move around, move around. As I told you, I did the second fight with Joe Frazier. What a fight. In the spot Frazier put him down in the second fight. In the third fight, a local guy from Manila, Carlos Padilla refereed it. Now he’s a famous guy there. He’s making movies. That’s what happens. “

Perez never made any movies, and he has yet to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame but he certainly made his mark on the history of boxing’s golden era. 

About Scoop Malinowski

Check Also

When Ali And Tyson Argued About Who Was Greater

By Scoop Malinowski In the 1980s on live television Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson actually ...