By Robert Brizel, Head RCM Boxing Correspondent
The New York State Athletic Commission could have and perhaps should have picked anybody from the New York Metropolitan area best of the best known referees, from Harvey Dock to Steve Smoger, from Benjy Esteves Jr. to Ron Lipton. For the moment of truth in the Madison Square Garden main event this past weekend, the World Boxing Council Middleweight championship of the world between Sergio Gabriel Martinez of Argentina and Miguel Cotto of Puerto Rico, the referee accepted by both sides was neutral Canadian Michael Griffin.
A veteran of several hundred professional bouts since 2000, almost all of Griffin’s refereed bouts are in his native Quebec, Canada. He had appeared in four international World Boxing Council male and female regional and world title bouts in the United Kingdom, Japan and Mexico in the past 14 months. More importantly, Griffin gave American Fernando Guerrero no particular preference when he counted him out at 1:56 of the third round at Bell Centre in Montreal in his last ring appearance before Cotto versus Martinez on June 24, 2014.
So far as New York City fight fans were concerned, Griffin was an unknown. Griffin’s selection proved to be an overall irrelevant. Martinez entered the ring cold, got knocked down three times in the first round, and lost every round on the scorecards for nine lopsided rounds until trainer Pablo Sarmiento refused to let Martinez out for the tenth round. Martinez, unfortunately, was an old 39 years old, and it did not take Cotto or Griffin or Sarmiento to come to the conclusion. Everybody in Madison Square Garden knew almost immediately.
As Sugar Ray Leonard found out against Hector Camacho, as Sugar Ray Robinson found out against Joey Archer, as Florentino Fernandez found out against Vernon McIntosh, as Carmen Basilio found out against Paul Pender, as Nino Benvenuti found out against Jose Chirino, as Dick Tiger found out against Emile Griffith, as Winky Wright found out against Peter Quillin, when the end comes in the middleweight division it is the end.
While it is not likely Michael Griffin will be invited back to New York as the neutral referee in a championship bout, Griffin brought class back to the role of referee. The bout was clean, the outcome never in doubt, and the job done to the highest level of professionalism. As Griffin knew after the bout began, Martinez’ knees and legs were shot.
To his credit, Miguel Cotto never floored the gas pedal. He did not have to. The end came after round nine, but the end really began after round one. Cotto knew, and Michael Griffin did too. Martinez tried to defend his WBC title when he was not one hundred percent. IBF middleweight champion Darren Barker tried this some months back against Felix Sturm, and it did not work. Martinez saw this bout. The handwriting was on the wall.