"Now, hindsight, I should have taken control of [Salido-Lomachenko] much earlier. I tried to get involved -- it was too late. It was out of control."
"HBO, Jim Lampley -- to me they get what they deserve by not being on TV anymore. Because every fight, there was controversy."
"I'm 55 years old, and I'm single. I'm dating. I meet a girl. She googles me. What comes up? 'Incompetent referee' -- and I mean, these are old articles."
The Texas state boxing commission -- officially known as the "Combative Sports Program" -- has a reputation for suspect decisions and chicanery.
That includes the work of referee Laurence Cole, who'll be working the undercard of Spence-Garcia on Saturday (perhaps as many as four bouts -- a ref doesn't learn the number of state assignments in Texas until the day of the bout; similarly, the refs are urged to stay away from the weigh-in, to keep things above board).
To name just a few examples:
Cole's taken heat for letting Salido maul Lomachenko with dirty tactics. For allowing Chaniev and Velasco to hit the canvas three times each (unnecessarily) in separate bouts. For brokering insurance for fight promotions while also making on-the-fly medical decisions as a referee.
For the presumptive nepotism that allows him to work in the commission, which his father, Dickie Cole, now 88, ran for decades.
As fight night approached, however, I recently began to wonder what would happen if I asked the younger Cole about this most unsavory reputation. Last August, the Boxing Writers Association of America censured him.
What does he truly believe about himself? If fed certain facts, like some robot learning the boundaries of its artificial, programmed existence, would his head spin out of control and then combust?
There was only one way to know -- though I didn't anticipate our conversation would last 80 minutes.
What's your take when someone says, 'Ah, Texas. You don't want to go to the judges there. You don't want to go to the refs there. You're not gonna get a fair shake' -- like Paulie Malignaggi before and after his controversial decision loss to Juan Diaz, in Houston?"
"It's offensive. Why did he take a fight here if he knew he wasn't gonna get a fair shake? He's the one who signed the contract. I didn't. The judges didn't."
Cole then looks up the fight online and feels vindicated when he sees that two of the judges were not from Texas. Which obscures the fact that the Texan judge, Gale Van Hoy, had the only truly inexplicable scorecard -- one that had 10 rounds for a local in a very close bout.
Cole decries "the lack of journalism" on the part of the commentators who paint matches as Texas-tainted even when only part of the officiating crew is Lonestar-State-linked.
"I'm attacking the guys on TV," he says. "HBO, Jim Lampley -- to me, they get what they deserve by not being on TV anymore. Because every fight, there was controversy. Teddy Atlas (formerly ESPN's color commentator on all boxing matches) -- every fight there was controversy.
"They lost viewership because everybody had the interpretation that the sport is corrupt."
Nah, not the reason HBO left the game.
"I've known (ESPN writer) Dan Rafael for years. He's told me he doesn't like the way I referee. I can live with that. If I see him, I'm going to be cordial to him because he's not attacking my character."
Meanwhile, he attends seminars each year on officiating at sanctioning body conventions. "So Max Kellerman, when he makes (character-based) comments that he makes, has he ever been to a seminar? I've been reading all my life. Am I a journalist?"
So the fight game's entirely clean?
"I don't think there's any corruption within the sport -- in this sense, in this sense, as a ring official, I've never been approached to swing a fight."
Yes, he repeats "in this sense." A curious and limited disavowal.
What about the apparent conflict of interest presented by his brokering of fight-insurance?
"If I let fights go on and people get hurt, then the rates will go up, and I can make more money off that commission. So there's not a conflict between my job as a ring official and my job being a broker for insurance. I drive a car, I also write the insurance on my car. So do you think there's a conflict of interest there?"
I argue here that cars and boxing are very different. What I don't say -- because I want time to listen to it again on the recording -- is that his answer seems a textbook definition of conflict of interest.
Are you more scrutinized more because of who your father is?
"I will give you a 'yes', but I was refereeing before my dad became the commissioner." He then goes on to praise his pops before dropping this:
"Now, I'm not saying he did everything right. He was horrible at delegating authority, he didn't handle stress well, he chewed out a lot of people, got in a lot of trouble, he pissed off the state a lot."
Later, indications that his relationship with his father is a more sensitive topic than boxing people even realize:
"Don't talk about my dad. You don't know what my dad's given up to be in a position he is...I had a cousin one time trying to get my goat, an older cousin trying to stir things up, and she goes, 'You'll never be half the man your dad is,' and I said 'If I am, I'll be just fine.'"
Why should he receive complaints of nepotism, he says, when there are plenty of families with two generations in the judging game -- Harold and Julie Lederman, for example?
He claims people pick on Texas because it's "low-hanging."
Wait -- wouldn't it only be low-hanging if it were making obviously bad decisions? It seems like an accidental admission, but it comes in the middle of a longer monologue of Cole's, and I forget to revisit it.
Ref Steve Smoger is praised for letting guys rumble, for not ending fights at the first sign of real trouble: "Why do they like Smoger when he lets it go, and they criticize me?"
Cole says even his mother could've officiated Pacquiao-Margarito because there was little for the ref to do.
"And guess what? The Filipino media criticized me for not stopping the fight."
"Well to be fair," I say, "Margarito went blind."
"I put my hand over his good eye, I said, 'How many fingers I'm holding up?' He answers two -- alright, he can see, let's go. I brought the doctor up there twice."
"When someone just goes, 'You screwed up,' then it sounds like my ex-wife." He needs the reasoning. And he wants to work on improving, even if it's not always a comfortable effort.
Watching film with colleagues at the sanctioning body conventions, during which they evaluate each other and make suggestions, is "embarrassing," Cole says, "as if we're up there naked."
He says he wishes he'd handled the 2015 Omar Figueroa-Ricky Burns match better -- one that saw him dock two points from Burns for holding. He volunteers that he was very unsure of the job he did reffing 130-lb. champ Masayuki Ito's title defense last December in Tokyo.
After Ito won by KO, Cole asked fellow ref Vic Drakulich and a few other officials present whether he'd effed up -- even the event's promoter, Akihiko Honda.
"I still play soccer, and you still miss goals that are wide open. I've got to accept that I'm fallible. I don't know what faith you are, but my dad used to say there is only one person who walked on this planet who was perfect and look what they did to him."
Okay, but what does he tell the women he dates when they encounter all the online criticism of him?
"You're just honest with them and you say, They don't write fan pages for a referee. Half the fans -- one of their fighters loses, unfortunately, and they're upset, and we're an easy target to blame."
Does that work?
"Yeah because if I'm meeting somebody they actually can talk to me. You had an opportunity to talk to me...I'm actually discussing the situation, like we should be able to discuss everything."
About an hour after I first posted this interview , Cole called me, feeling vulnerable, in light of how open he had been, but more than that, concerned that the person the quotes evoked piece was a jerk (though he used a term that begins with "d").
"I don't want to be a bleep," he said, almost plaintively.
He wants the world to know, contrary to what his comments about Max, Teddy, Lamps and HBO might indicate, he really does blame himself, for the 10 or 20 fights he's screwed up of the 1,000 he's reffed.
"I want to take true accountability."
My Wednesday flight into Texas was delayed for so long on the tarmac in New York and then Dallas -- due to 80-mph winds that ripped apart nine skybridges at DFW -- that the pined-for ping sound, signaling passengers could finally escape an aircraft that was thankfully older (a Boeing 737 not yet replaced by the grounded, crash-prone Max models), unleashed a Black Friday front-door bash-dash.
Took an elbow to the back of an already-inflamed head and, dizzier than Jerome Herman Dean, more down than Dao, I passed out in my nearby hotel that seems situated almost beneath the highway. Woke up at midnight.
Thanks a lot, weather.
But here's what I can tell you about the Spence-Garcia hype in its near-home-city, so far -- it's muted.
My Lyft driver Thursday from the stadium in Arlington back to my hotel -- Wangchchu, originally of Kathmandu, Nepal -- was unaware of the looming contest -- despite his longstanding, Tyson-triggered love of boxing.
Dude told me -- without any prompting -- he wants to see Spence-Crawford and Joshua-Wilder -- and that GGG disappointed him in the second fight against Canelo. He even brought up Spence's 2016 opponent on Coney Island -- the now-44-year-old Italian Leonard Bundu.
If Wangchchu -- who retains a residence in Nepal, with a kitchen overlooking the mountains -- ain't aware of the event, something's off.
The two bigger live attractions in this area, just north of the Design District, so far seem to me Medieval Times (didn't know they still existed, then considered attending a joust, only to see that admission cost $85 for any of Thursday's three shows -- how could they not be killing it at the box office?) and this weekend's "Gun & Knife" expo at Market Hall.
As the gun show forces guests to empty their magazines before entering, I was thinking of dropping in and loudly pronouncing my opposition to the whole arrangement. Highlights would've included "guns do kill people!" and "before you lynch me, may I call my brother? He has the flu, and I just wanna see how he's feeling before my larynx is crushed."
Or maybe, convergence: On Sunday of St. Paddy's Day, I find myself deposited, by way punishment, in the faux castle's green moat.
You ever been in the bowels of the Cowboys' stadium, searching for the home team's locker room -- so you can snap photos of the cubby where Zeke stores his headphones, say -- and, after wandering a warren of suites, hallways and storage rooms, found yourself inside the cheerleaders' dressing area (whose whiteboard still features dancing instructions)?
Um, no, neither have I.
I reached out to a people in a variety of impressive professions to solicit Spence-Garcia predictions. Straight-up punditry can be found elsewhere anyway.
A senior-vice president at NBC News, the deputy political director of Kirsten Gillibrand's 2020 presidential campaign, a manager of business development at American Express.
The head of marketing at Patron and Grey Goose.
Yet only one cohort of cool cats got back to me: Secret Service Agents.
Paul Eckloff is a special agent in charge of the Presidential Protective Division -- effectively, this means he stands right behind the President inside the White House and directly in front of him in the wider world.
He has been doing this for decades -- this is the third POTUS he's guarded.
Here's Eckloff, whose team sweeps any area the President visits before the official arrival, on why Secret Service agents find fight prognostication intriguing.
"Our job is vulnerability assessment analysis. You have to approach it from statistics and other factors...You go to a site and, though we don't like to put it this way, [we explore], How would I attack it? Where are the weak points? How will I get in there? Where's the soft, fleshy underbelly I can punch? And then we work with a site agent to close those gaps.
"It's the same as looking at a fight...Our model is advance-driven. We do our homework upside and downside, go inside a place, tear it apart, and do every possible assessment."
Also, fun fact: Secret Service officers watch combat sports together. "If you were to ask agents about MMA, you'd probably get more answers because when we watch boxing we're always like, 'Just kick him. Just kick him already. Come on, let's end this.'"
Alright, so Spence-Garcia speculation -- for which Eckloff not only did research on his own but asked fellow agents' for input.
"It's gonna be a closer fight than a lot of people think."
He likes how Mikey handled well the size of long lightweight Robert Easter last July. But he's also mighty impressed by first-round KO Spence scored against Ocampo via right hand hook to body (almost the kidney).
He also thinks Spence's size is not totally to his advantage if he hasn't brought in the proper sparring partner. "It's gonna be tougher to guard your mid section with someone who's three and a half inches shorter. It really opens up some angles that Spence may have not defended from" previously.
"It's all gonna hinge on the first couple of rounds. If Garcia can do some damage in the first couple of rounds, then I think he's got a shot, but other than that I'd have to go with Spence."
Britt Gardner is an agent based in the Dallas office who watched fights with his father when he was growing up. He also used to protect Second Lady Biden.
"Spence! Height, weight, reach, age. Physics. Even though Garcia has a ton of experience. Two weight classes is a big jump especially against a really good fighter. Maybe it goes the distance, but a unanimous decision and not particularly close. I think Garcia is fighting to stay up and in it in the late rounds...But I could be completely wrong about everything🤷🏻♂️"
Rafael Barros, Assistant to the Special Agent in Charge at the US Secret Service in Washington, DC: "I’ll have to go with the bigger guy. Spence."
Spence is a southpaw who works off a power jab that pushes guys back. His counter straight left over another guy’s slightly-drooping right is an anvil. He jabs where defensive hands aren’t – agnostic as to whether he lands upstairs or down.
And then you have his power shots just above the belt-line and their sonic signature – a thump followed by the sound of escaping air, of a quick, inorganic deflation. A wham and a wheeze. A homer off the bat’s sweet-spot followed by a squeeze of the bellows.
Spence bruises Mikey to the point the latter’s corner decides to stop the fight around the 10th.
Mikey is perhaps talented enough to figure a way to hang for all 12 even in a loss.
And Mikey is the man who arranged this evening -- made it such an event that Spence couldn’t turn it down. There's an undeniable mental advantage in being the instigator -- a point that gives me pause, even if it may not stop Spence for a second from strafing Life Cereal Shorty.