By Arthur Mercante

Inside tales of a few of the best prizefights of all time, together with Floyd Patterson–Ingemar Johansson II, Joe Frazier–George Foreman I, and The struggle of the Century: Muhammad Ali–Joe Frazier I. Referee and elder statesman of boxing Arthur Mercante offers behind-the-scenes glimpses into his global and into the lives and careers of the best boxers of all time. Mercante has officiated extra championship fights than the other referee, and his blow-by-blow bills are peppered with grit and telling details.

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It was quite an impressive operation, Farragut being the second largest naval base in the United States. I was sent there as part of the navy’s supervisory staff, overseeing the athletic program for their recruits. All the coaches there went under the title “Chief Specialist” and my specialty was, of course, the manly art of self-defense. Just as before, I coached boxing. I made fast friends there; some friendships lasted a lifetime. We were all mostly young guys, and being far from home, companionship and a feeling of community was important.

It was a great experience for me, both as a coach and referee. All the college boxers were fine, clean-cut boys, and what they lacked in boxing skills they made up for in fighting spirit. Because of my success and notoriety as a referee on the college circuit, I was soon encouraged to apply to the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) for a professional referee’s license. Being a pro referee would put me even closer to the game I loved, and pro refs like Arthur Donovan and Ruby Goldstein were respected boxing figures in their own right.

Instinctively, I fired a right hand with everything I owned. It landed square on Apostoli’s chin. His legs wobbled and I grabbed him by the arms to give him support: “Gee, Fred, I’m sorry,” I said. ” Such niceties bothered him more than getting hit. “Quit apologizing, goddamn it. ” Fred was a hell of a nice guy, but for him the ring was no place for the softhearted. Looking back, I loved everything about the navy. For some the service is too challenging, too hard a life. But I thrived on the discipline, the regimentation and the exacting demands they made, both physically and psychologically; and the physical rehabilitation of our brave navy men was the most satisfying and rewarding work I was ever involved with.

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