Russell Mora has been in the ring with Tyson Fury, Canelo Alvarez, Manny Pacquiao, Gennady Golovkin, Deontay Wilder, Dmitri Bivol, Claressa Shields, Nonito Donaire and dozens more of the world’s greatest boxers.
They never put a glove on him.
More importantly, as the third man in the ring, he laid hands on her as little as possible.
“No one has ever bought a ticket to see the referee,” Mora said over the phone from Las Vegas, Nevada, where he has lived for the past 17 years. “When a referee sees that and embraces that and understands our role, then honestly everything starts to sort itself out.
“You’re only there when you’re needed. If not, stay out of the way.”
Mora, a Colorado native who has lived and worked in Albuquerque for about 25 years, recently announced his retirement after reaching the pinnacle of his profession as a boxing referee – he has more than 120 world title fights and more than 600 professional fights in total.
Mora spent the first 17 years of his life in Colorado and the last 17 years in Nevada. But he said: “When people ask me where my home is, I say ‘New Mexico.’ ”
On his decision to retire at the age of 60, Mora said he doesn’t think he’s lost a step but wants to step down before he does.
“When I was a young umpire,” he said, “I looked at the older umpires and said I didn’t want to be old in the ring with young fighters. That was something that caught my eye.”
However, Mora is not leaving the sport. He has accepted a position as Chairman of the Official Committee of the World Boxing Organization.
“I’ve been involved (in boxing) for 42 years and a referee for 25 years,” he said. “I just wanted the next chapter now.”
Mora grew up in Denver immersed in boxing. His father Richard fought professionally. Russell only boxed as an amateur, but his younger brothers Anthony and Adrian were successful professionals.
After moving to Albuquerque at the age of 17, he began working with Henry Anaya Sr., Johnny Tapia’s original coach and one of the city’s most experienced coaches
“There I met the most beautiful people, the Anaya family,” he said.
After quitting boxing, he visited an amateur smoker who lacked a judge.
“Irene[Anaya, Henry’s wife]said, ‘Russell, we need a judge, sit down.’ That’s how it all started, thanks to the Anayas.”
As a judge, Mora began observing the referees and their work. Sometimes he saw young boxers being punished unnecessarily.
“I kept thinking, ‘Stop fighting. Hey, this kid is going to get hurt and he’s fighting for a plastic trophy.”
“You have to make that decision, good or bad, whether people agree with you or not. You have to save that kid, sometimes from himself. And I started refereeing very shortly after that.”
According to boxrec.com, the official boxing archive of records, Mora’s first professional match as a referee was a four-way match between Mario Raul Ortiz and Jose Terrazas on April 5, 1997 in the Manuel Lujan Building at the New Mexico State Fairgrounds. (Terrazas won unanimously).
Mora refereed exclusively in New Mexico and Colorado for the next nine years, occasionally working on fights with Johnny Tapia, Danny Romero Jr., Holly Holm and Austin Trout.
He refereed Holm’s fight against Tricia Turton in December 2006. Three months later, after moving to Las Vegas and taking a job as an electrical inspector for Clark County, he worked his first fight in Nevada.
A year later he contested his first men’s world title fight in Paris.
It wasn’t a steady climb. Like many a boxer, Mora was thrown to the ground and is hanging from the ropes.
On August 8, 2011, Mora – already at the peak of his career – denied an IBF bantamweight title fight in Las Vegas between champion Abner Mares and challenger Joseph Agbeko. Mares landed several obvious low blows and Mora failed to punish him. Mares won unanimously, with no points deducted for the repeated fouls.
Amid an avalanche of criticism, the Nevada Commission relegated Mora to the preliminary rounds indefinitely.
At first, Mora said, he viewed the controversy between Mares and Agbeko as “an absolute curse.” But looking back, looking back or looking back, it was an absolute blessing.
“I realized then that I had to get better. Good is not good enough. I need to get better at refereeing and familiarize myself with the rules and how to apply them if I want to continue refereeing.”
Mora quickly overcame the setback and re-established himself as one of the best and most reliable referees in the world
“I am so grateful and thankful to this commission for believing in me and believing in me,” he said. “…I couldn’t see success or get to this point until I absolutely knew failure, and that’s what happened.”
Although the majority of his work has taken place in Las Vegas over the past 17 years, Mora has acted as an arbitrator in Thailand, France, Germany, Japan, the Philippines and several South American countries. Since moving to Nevada, he has returned to New Mexico several times as a referee.
His swan song: Alvarez’s unanimous victory over Golovkin on September 17th.
The WBO position, he said, offers the perfect transition
When asked what the qualities of a good referee are, Mora said the job requires absolute concentration and a certain mobility of the foot. But at heart he said: “It’s the safety of the fighter, number one. Then, closely followed, is the fairness of applying the rules to the fighters.
“If they fight fair and clean, the referee stays out of the way.”