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Boxing Referee Kenny Bayless Retires After Stellar 32-Year Career

Kenny Bayless, known for officiating major fights, including Mayweather-Pacquiao, reflects on his legacy and future projects post-retirement.
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Kenny Bayless invested over 3 decades into the sport of boxing as a referee and his recent retirement announcement ends what has been a stellar career to one of the best to ever do it. Bayless were tasked the assignment of referee for many of boxing’s biggest fights, including Floyd Mayweather’s mega fight against Manny Pacquiao, Roy Jones Jr. and Antonio Tarver’s first fight, as well as Juan Manuel Marquez’s stunning knockout win over Manny Pacquiao during their fourth and final fight. Bayless even made his way on the big screen with cameos in both “Creed II,” and “Creed III.” Hoping to expand on more movie opportunities, public speaking, while staying involved in the sport of boxing in some capacity during retirement. 


Bayless also says a book has been discussed. For someone who has spent so much time in a sport like boxing, I’m sure Mr. Bayless has endless stories. 


Comments from Kenny Bayless regarding his choice to retire from boxing.

Over the years, I’ve done some of the biggest fights in Nevada, and one could probably say the world. I’ve had a very successful career. There are always bumps in the road that you have to overcome. I’m satisfied with what I’ve done and appreciate what I’ve been able to accomplish. I decided that it’s more out there for me to challenge myself to do. I’m willing to step out to step in. Looking at the new faces, I think we have some good referees in Nevada, they are bringing other referees from other states, and they are doing a good job. I figured now is a good time for me to exit and try something new. I do still plan to be active in the sport. If there are any celebrity or exhibition fights, even the movie scene… I was in Creed II and Creed III. I leave those doors open. I’m happy with my career.


Future projects.
I have been involved with a producer, along with a couple of other referees. The name of the show is, “The Official Call.” It isn’t out yet but should be announced in a couple of weeks. It’s a fun show with different celebrity figures who are involved in the sport, MMA as well as boxing. I’m also a part of the video game, “Undisputed.” They have me in the game as a referee. That will be released in March. I would also like to be like an in-studio referee when they have a controversial situation where the ref comes in and explains what’s going on. Sort of like what the NFL does when they bring in an official to breakdown an unclear call. I wouldn’t mind commentating. Anything related to the game, I’m very open-minded to it.


Did nerves ever play a part in his officiating.

I was never nervous stepping into the ring to officiate during my 32 years. If I was to use the word a little jittery, which I accept because it makes me focus and keeps me on my A-game. I had an extended career in the Golden Gloves amateurs. Starting as a judge and going in as a referee. I was 10-12 years into that when I got the nod to be a professional referee. The only jitters I had in my very first fight was going to the dressing room and giving out instructions because in the amateurs you don’t have to do that. That was a first for me. After my first experience in the dressing room, I knew what to do to correct those nerves.


His longevity. 

I definitely didn’t think that it would be 32 years. When I finally got appointed by the Nevada Commission, I was 41 years old. I thought that I was old then. The idea that I could last that long, wasn’t even a thought in my mind. I had to work at it. There were bumps in the road that I had to overcome. A part of overcoming it for me was to put it in the hands of the Lord because there were times I was going to quit because of the injustices that I felt that I was getting. With all the hard work, time, and effort that I was putting in. Putting it into the hands of the Lord was the best thing I did. It took a lot of anger out of me. I was very angry at that time. It put a focus on what I was doing in the ring as opposed to why I wasn’t getting certain fights.


Adjustments over the years/Safety first.

As an official, we gotta be ready for change because it comes in different ways. As far as the athletes and the rules, we have to adjust to them as they happen. Example, fights going from 15 rounds to 12 rounds. Depending upon their weight, fighters going from 10 oz. gloves to 8 oz. gloves. All of that is for the safety of the fighters. Another thing that I created back in the day was that clapper sound that you hear. I was the one who created that. I created it because back then, the rule was, when there was 10 seconds left in the round, the timekeeper would pound on the canvas 3 to 4 times to alert us that there were 10 seconds. I had a timekeeper tell me back then, on a long night, every fight went the distance. She mentioned her hand hurting after the event because of the number of times she had to pound on the canvas. That got me thinking, what could we do to change that, and that gave me the idea to make that clapper which is still being used today. It not only alerts the referees, but the fans, and the fighters as well. 


You look at a guy who fought as many times as a guy like Sugar Ray Robinson as opposed to a guy that fought 10 years ago. They don’t come close to the number of fights a guy like Sugar Ray Robinson did. Though they’re making quite a bit more money. Safety is the key, and one would think the less fights you have, the better you will be in the long run. 

Career defining fight.

It’s a combination of all of them. I’ve been involved in so many big fights. That’s my blessings. You take a fight like Mayweather-Pacquiao, which puts a marking on my career because I keep mentioning these bumps in the road. For me to get that fight was trivial for me. There’s only been one or two other fights… when Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazier the first time, it was marked, “The Fight of the Century.” When Mayweather fought Pacquiao, it was marked, “The Fight of the Century.” I’ve done both Mayweather and Pacquiao many times. There was no threat to me as far as fouls being committed or anything. They’re both clean fighters. My job was to break them and be out of the way and let them do what they do. The most exciting part for me doing that fight was being ringside and meeting the Denzel Washington’s, Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Mariah Carey. It was so star-studded. Jamie Foxx sang the National Anthem; it just doesn’t get any better. 

(Additional reporting provided by Miriam Onyango)

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