Steve Smoger Remembered As A Fighter’s Referee And One Of The Best All-Time Ring Officials

Steve Smoger left behind an officiating legacy likely to go unmatched.

The legendary referee—a Class of 2015 International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee—passed away over the weekend at age 79 in Ventnor, New Jersey, having been hospitalized for months after battling kidney failure. News of his death was revealed on Monday, more than a year after his final pro assignment when he worked as a judge for two undercard bouts on a November 2021 DAZN show in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Smoger was born August 15, 1943 in Norfolk, Virginia but was raised in the greater Atlantic City area where he spent the duration of his life. He graduated from Atlantic City High School in 1961, then received his higher education at Penn State University and later at George Washington University.

The charismatic ring official also served in the US Air Force Reserves for more thirty years before retiring in 2005 while obtaining the rank of colonel.

The renaissance man was ultimately known for his more than 40 years of service in boxing, which was always his first love. Smoger was raised on the sport, a bond shared with his father as he spent his childhood watching the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports. His first official role in pro boxing came as an inspector in 1978, licensed by former heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott who was the chairman of the New Jersey State Boxing Commission at the time.

Smoger would make his way into the ring in 1984 as a referee and also as a ringside judge. He spent his first two years working fights in his native Atlantic City before working his first world title fight. It would double as his first assignment outside the US, as he served as third man for an April 1986 IBF flyweight title fight in Busan, South Korea.

The trip would mark the start of an incredible globetrotting adventure enjoyed by Smoger, who officiated in more states and countries than any other official ring. He would ultimately work in more than 30 countries across six continents, his last trip outside the country coming in a July 2018 ten-round contest in Kingston, Jamaica.

The full list of countries where Smoger was assigned as a referee or judge were (in alphabetical order): Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, China, Cypress, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Morocco, Panama, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, South Korea, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Ukraine and U.S. Virgin Islands.

Smoger also had the honor of refereeing more than 200 title fights among 1,051 overall pro bouts across 32 years. His final night as a referee came in August 2018, when he worked four club level bouts at the famed 2300 Arena in South Philadelphia.

At his best, Smoger was known as a fighter’s referee. While never putting an athlete’s health at risk, he earned a reputation for giving boxers every chance to fight their way out of trouble in lieu of being quick to stop a fight. One shining example was the unforgettable September 2007 clash between Jermain Taylor and then-unbeaten challenger Kelly Pavlik in Atlantic City. Pavlik was dropped and badly hurt in round two but permitted to fight on, as he rallied to drop and stop Taylor in the seventh round to win the lineal/WBC/WBO middleweight crown in their first meeting.

His years of ring expertise allowed Smoger to also double an on-air expert analyst. Smoger worked multiple boxing series, including USA’s Tuesday Night Fights, ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights, HBO’s Boxing After Dark and serving as a rules expert for several Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) telecasts on NBC and the now defunct NBC Sports Network.

Smoger was the eleventh referee inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2015. He was also enshrined in the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame in 2013, while serving as a member of the Class of 2014 in the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Fittingly, Smoger was honored in his hometown as an inaugural member of the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017.

Funeral arrangements and surviving family members were not immediately known as this goes to publish. Longtime friend and fellow Hall of Fame inductee J Russell Peltz informed the boxing community to pass along condolences to the Smoger family at 8 S. Cambridge Ave., Ventnor, NJ 08406.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox


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