Referee Eddie Claudio speaks with Real Combat Media
By Robert Brizel, Real Combat Media Correspondent
New York, NY– The boxing world lost some big names in 2012, including Angelo Dundee, Carmen Basilio, Hector Camacho and Emanuel Steward, to name only a few. One name which will be lost in time is name well known to the New York City area boxing scene, the late great referee Wayne Kelly (1948-2012).
Kelly’s grandfather, the late lightweight Harlem Eddie Kelly who boxed between 1915 and 1922 and fought in 48 professional bouts. On May 9, 1922, Harlem Eddie Kelly fought his last bout, a no contest three against Mickey Walker, better known as ‘The Toy Bulldog’.
The grandfather undoubtedly influenced his grandson Wayne’s decision to become a professional fighter, judge and eventually one of professional boxing’s finest world class referees. As a boxer, Wayne Kelly fought in seven professional bouts at light heavyweight between 1975 and 1979 in Commack, New York, and Queens, New York, and finished his boxing career with a record of 4-3, with three knockouts.
As a professional boxing judge, Wayne Kelly judges only two events: the International Boxing Council Welterweight 12 round championship bout between Thomas Damgaard and Phillip Holiday in Denmark in February 2000; and Andre Berto’s 10 round decision over win over Cosme Rivera in July 2007 in Saratoga Springs New York
As a professional boxing referee, Wayne Kelley refereed 129 bouts between 1989 and 2012, when he passed away. is first refereed bout was a third round stoppage win by Merqui Sosa over Charles Hollis in the third round of a super middleweight bout in the Felt Forum in New York City on January 12, 1989. Sosa would go on to lose a 12 round decision in Mexico to WBA Super Middleweight champion Michael Nunn, get stopped in the second round by Roy Jones Jr., and win by ten round decision over Glen ‘The Road Warrior’ Johnson. Hollis won his first eight bouts, then lost his next 14 bouts, including losing an eight round decision to future world middleweight champion Gerald McClellan, a very credible ring performance.
Between 1993 and 1996, Wayne Kelly refereed four world championship bouts held in New York State: the WBA Bantamweight title; the WBC Super Bantamweight title; and two IBF Super Featherweight title bouts involving the late Arturo Gatti.
On Jul 11, 2006, Wayne Kelley was the man in the middle who disqualified Andrew Golota in his bout against Riddick Bowe in the seventh round of their Madison Square Garden bout, which turned into an outrageous uncontrollable melee, no fault of Wayne’s-who made the right call in disqualified Golota before bad corner emotions caused the individuals inside the ring-and outside the ring in the garden-to go bananas and trigger a televised worldwide sensation capped with trainer Lou Duva’s ring collapse and exit on a stretcher through the televised mayhem. Kelly would become world famous as the man in the middle of a bout ending turned ugly.
Watch Riddick Bowe versus Andrew Golota on YouTube, Wayne Kelly, referee
Contacted on the weekend before Christmas 2012, championship referee Eddie Claudio of New York remembered his friend and mentor Wayne Kelly as an important positive influence on his life and referee career when he got his start.
Referee Eddie Claudio: Wayne Kelly was my mentor and true friend. When I was coming up the ladder (as a new referee), he took me under his wing. When I came to the New York State Athletic Commission in 2000, Wayne was one of those veteran officials I befriended. he was very likeable and sociable, he greeted you with a smile and befriended you. ”
Real Combat Media: “Wayne was a Vietnam veteran and had a pro boxing career.”
Referee Eddie Claudio: I fought amateur in the U.S. Army military in the 1970’s when I was stationed in Baumholder, Germany. I knew Wayne had fought before in the professional ranks.”
Real Combat Media: “Talk about Wayne Kelly’s influence on you as a referee.”
Referee Eddie Claudio: “I already knew Wayne from watching his other television high profile fights as well. Wayne had refereed the Ray Mercer versus Jesse Ferguson ten round heavyweight boogie fight, where Mercer allegedly offered Ferguson a $100,000 bribe during the bout to take a dive, which Mercer lost and blew a 1.5 million dollar world title shot against Riddick Bowe. Charges of sports bribery were lodged against Mercer by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.”
Real Combat Media: “How come Wayne only liked to referee in New York?”
Eddie Claudio: “Wayne was licensed as a New York State referee. Wayne never wanted a license from another state. He traveled worldwide to IBF assignments.”
Real Combat Media: “Did Wayne have a family?”
Referee Eddie Claudio: “Yes he did. He was a divorcee who lived by himself. He had a son Ryan I knew. I met his daughter only for the first time at Wayne’s funeral in New Hyde Park.”
Real Combat Media: “When was the last time you were with Wayne?”
Referee Eddie Claudio: “I went with another IBF official, Carlos Ortiz, to Wayne’s home earlier this year. Carlos was assigned as an international judge for the IBF World Flyweight title fight Wayne was to referee in Italy, his last refereed bout before he died. I went to see Wayne because I had not seen him in awhile. We spoke about boxing. Wayne was the sort of guy who lived life to the fullest. We went to International Boxing Federation conventions each year, always held in different cities, and we had a good time. We Wayne we always had a good time. Wayne had a tremendous sense of humor which was 24/7.”
Real Combat Media: “How was Wayne as a professional referee in the ring?”
Referee Eddie Claudio: “Wayne was calm, cool and collected. He knew how to get his call across. You notice a referee by his demeanor. When you make a call, you sell it to everyone in the house. Everyone in the house has to believe your call is what you saw.”
Real Combat Media: “Remember Wayne with John Ruiz and Fres Oquendo?”
Referee Eddie Claudio: ” yes. The bottom line is if it’s not in the rule book, you improve and make the rule. The referee is the arbitrator of the contest. In the March 2004 World Boxing Association World Heavyweight title bout between John Ruiz and Fres Oquendo, it was a holding contest. Wayne did not take a point away from either guy. They did not want to fight, just taking turns throwing a punch and grappling. When take a point away from one guy and put him at a disadvantage when it would favor the other guy? Ruiz (finally) landed a big shot and put Oquendo in trouble, and Wayne stepped in and saved Oquendo from further punishment.”
Real Combat Media: “What did you and Wayne talk about at ringside?”
Referee Eddie Claudio: “At ringside we talk about boxing and stay focused.”
Real Combat Media: ” Wayne refereed Riddick Bowe versus Andrew Golota I.”
Referee Eddie Claudio: “It was a crazy night in Madison Square Garden. It was like…..no holes barred. Everyone just climbed into the ring, bull rushed the ring, and Wayne did as much as he could t protect both corners. Golota was hit by a walkie talkie or hand device of some kind right after he was disqualified. Somebody from the Bowe side ran across the ring to the Golota camp with a hand device, threw it at Golota, and that’s when the melee started and everybody got involved.”
Real Combat Media: “What did Wayne tell you happened in the ring that night?”
Referee Eddie Claudio: “Wayne was trying to subdue the situation by keeping people at bay, but he was outnumbered. There’s very little you can do. Wayne told me that night was crazy. Andrew Golota kept hitting Riddick Bowe very low with low blows, and how many warnings can you give this guy committing fouls before you begin taking points away. There comes a time (when) the person can’t comply, can’t follow the rules, or do what they’re supposed to, and the referee requests a disqualification, and that’s what happened. It is ironic the same thing happened again to Golota-disqualified for landing low blows on Bowe in their rematch.”
Real Combat Media: “What was the aftermath following the Bowe-Golota riot?”
Referee Eddie Claudio: “Wayne was happy to come out of the ring in one piece, that’s for sure. It was huge! (the riot) It was the worst boxing riot ever seen. Imagine being there. You could see little groups of riots in different spots of Madison Square Garden breaking out into fights like a snowball effect. You’ll probably see in events on Real Combat Media. What boxing fans saw on television-it was like being there.”
Real Combat Media: “Wayne had died. The IBF sent you to Argentina to referee the interim IBF World Light Flyweight title bout between Johnriel Caminero of the Phillipines and Luis Alberto Lazarte of Argentina. Lo and behold, a riot broke out.”
Referee Eddie Claudio: “Luis Alberto Lazarte was 40 years old. Johnriel Casimero his younger Filipino opponent, was 22, an elusive boxer puncher who very quick with his hands, and he won by tenth round TKO. No doubt. As I was stopping the bout, Lazarte’s corner threw in the towel. The Filipino came onto the neutral ropes and waved his hands up in victory celebration, pounding his chest. Some people at ringside outside the apron had words with the Casimero camp, and a riot ensued.”
Real Combat Media: “Wayne’s experience became you own, all of a sudden.”
Referee Eddie Claudio: “Yes. Watch the whole fight on YouTube. The next thing you know, I saw people coming through the ropes I didn’t know. At that point, lawn chairs people were using to sit on came flying into the ring, along with debris, cups, beer cans, all that started raining into the ring, while unknown people were entering the ring as well. One chair hit me under my nose and sliced me up a bit. I didn’t notice this until I was trying to exit the ring. Groups were trying to ride the Filipino kid and pummel him and his handlers, chasing them all over the ring. I was trying to grab the Filipino kid to protect him but he was being surrounded. At the same time one of the Argentina security guards tried to drag me to safety by hauling me towards a corner so we could get out of here. The Filipino was running around like a bee in a hive. We got pinned in a corner. I thought I might have to defend myself, but nobody touched me. They were only after the Filipino and his handlers.”
YouTube Caminero-Lazarte IBF Light Flyweight bout with referee Eddie Claudio
Wayne Kelly refereed bouts for many years in New York State and Germany. The first bout I remember distinctly with Kelly as referee took place in April 2008 at the Utopia Paradise Theatre in the Bronx. Clarence Moore knocked out Jon Schneider in a cruiserweight rematch, remembered by me because I was sitting in the front row next to Schneider’s mother. This occurred only two months after Kelly had refereed Dr. Wladimir Klitschko’s 12 round decision win over Sultan Ibragimov at Madison Square Garden for the IBF, WBO and IBO Heavyweight titles. By November of 2008, Wayne was in Europe, refereeing Arthur Abraham’s sixth round stoppage of Raul Marquez for the IBF Middleweight title at Jako Arena in Bamberg, Germany. Wayne was in the ring in October 2009 for Odlanier Solis stoppage of Monte Barrett, and in January 2010 for Middleweight John Duddy’s first round stoppage of Juan Astorga, both bouts at Madison Square Garden.
While Wayne only refereed bouts in New York State in the United States, most in New York City, he traveled to Germany once and awhile to referee, and went as far as Switzerland, Argentina, Canada, Indiana and Baja California Mexico, to referee important bouts there. Madison Square Garden and The Felt Forum were like his home. Bridgehampton, Catskill, Huntington Station, Melville, Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Westbury and even Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn were among the other New York destinations where Wayne refereed on various occasions. However, it is Madison Square Garden, where Kelly was the man in the middle for everyone from Antonio Margarito to Arturo Gatti, which is the place he should best be remembered for.
The last several places I remember covering fight cards where Wayne Kelly set the tempo as a principal referee were Cordon Bleu Catering Hall and Nightclub in Woodhaven Queens, New York, Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan (which is where I completed my first ringside assignment for Real Combat Media), and B.B. King Blues Cub and Grill in Manhattan in 2011. Strangely, as a principal reporter in Atlantic City, I always wondered why Wayne never got a single chance in his ring career to referee there. The last memorable bout I remember Wayne refereeing (which I covered for Saddoboxing at the time) was Jonathan Cuba’s 8 round split decision win to win the vacant New York State Lightweight title over Ariel Duran, a toe-to-toe war. Top judge Steve Weisfeld (who was a judge at Manny Pacquiao versus Juan Manuel Marquez) cast the deciding 76-75 ballot for Cuba. It would be the last time I would see Wayne alive.
In his final ring appearance, Wayne traveled to Italy for the first time in his career to referee Moruti ‘Baby Face’ Mthalane of South Africa’s seventh round stoppage of Andrea Sarritzu to defend his IBF Flyweight title on October 28, 2011, whereby Sarritzu’s corner threw in the towel. Wayne died on February 1, 2012, which coincidentally is my birthday. I made it a point when I found out Wayne died on my birthday that I would not let the year pass without writing something to remember referee Wayne Kelley, because not a single other writer had lifted their pen to talk about Wayne’s career and say goodbye, other than a few short obituary notes.
When ring announcer David Diamante remembered those we had lost during the traditional ten count in the ring at Roseland ballroom recently, Wayne Kelly’s name was mentioned again. I remembered my subconscious promise to research Wayne’s career, to say a few king words about Wayne, and reach into my photo archive and find something, and put together some kind words to remember Wayne’s career.
Every referee’s career is not always in flashing lights. The impact of a man’s journey in the ring is seen in the influence he had on other people. Under Wayne Kelly’s trusted watch, safety was always the number one priority, and nobody died. Wayne handled himself with competency and accuracy in the ring, giving the fighters every chance, but knowing when it was time to stop the contest. That is the mark of a championship caliber referee. It should not take five years for Wayne Kelly to receive voting consideration for the World Boxing Hall of Fame or the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Wayne Kelly has earned the right to be on the ballot, and receive fair consideration, even if he is to be forgotten. I hope not.
Wayne Kelly has one asterisk on his resume which will NOT be forgotten. The Madison Square Garden brouhaha between Riddick Bowe and Andrew Golota in their first confrontation, in which referee Wayne disqualified Golota for repeatedly throwing low blows. In the highest sense, Wayne got it right, and everybody agrees.
Wayne made his statement for Hall of Fame consideration.
As Thomas Hauser wrote remembering Wayne for The Sweet Science in February 2012, Wayne Kelly was ‘a class act’ who did not play the political game with the world sanctioning organizations to the extent he might have. Wayne was clean.
Thomas Hauser’s online remembrance of Wayne Kelly can be found online at
In a higher sense, it is not fair the nature of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and World Boxing Hall of Fame voting favor high profile per-per-view Las Vegas referees like Mills Lane who are in high profile bouts, rather than refs elsewhere.
Wayne Kelly was an old school referee, from the mold of Rube Goldstein. Wayne, however, always made it through the rain. Goldstein was the referee when Emile Griffith stopped Benny Kid Paret in the twelfth round in Madison Square Garden on March 24, 1962. Paret slumped to the canvas unconscious and subsequently died on April 3, 1962. Goldstein, then age 54, never refereed a bout again. He died in 1984. Wayne Kelly never had to face such a tragedy as Goldstein did, and was still sharp as a referee at age 63. Considering Bowe versus Golota I, Wayne was lucky.
It saddens me to think that for all of Wayne’s unheralded accomplishments as a brilliant yet low profile referee at Madison Square Garden, he will quickly and unceremoniously be forgotten in the wind like so many memorable others…..just a name in a paragraph of forgotten names, like a bunch of old names being uttered by the late American boxing historian Hank Kaplan, a name some people in the boxing game knew and remembered, but without significance attached to its historical connotations.
A Vietnam War veteran, Wayne Kelly was recovering from gallbladder surgery when he suffered a heart attack. He was an active and long time member of the International Boxing Federation. He is interred at Calverton National Cemetery.
Former boxing champion Junior ‘Poison’ Jones was in two championship bouts with tge late Wayne Kelly as the referee. Kelly was in the ring in Catskill, New York on January 8, 1994, when Jones defended his World Boxing Association Bantamweight title against Elvis Alvarez. Kelly was also in the ring on December 19, 1997, when Jones lost his World Boxing Association Super Bantamweight title to Kennedy McKinney in the fourth round in Madison Square Garden.
Jones does not blame Kelly for stopping his world title bout with Kennedy McKinney. “I had McKinney down for an eight count. I went for the knockout, and I punched myself going for the knockout. McKinney survived very good, and I was punched out.”
Jones remembered that “Wayne Kelly was a very beautiful person and human being, always very popular. My 12 round world title fight with Elvis Alvarez was a great fight. Wayne Kelly let us fight and do what we had to do.”
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