Veteran Las Vegas referee Kenny Bayless has witnessed some of the most devastating knockouts in recent memory from just a few feet away.
He was the third man in the ring when Canelo knocked out Amir Khan, when Manny Pacquiao was scythed down by Juan Manuel Marquez in their fourth fight and when Pacquiao destroyed Ricky Hatton in two rounds.
Unlike many in the arenas who wonder if the fighters will be okay, the first thing Bayless has to know is whether there’s anyway they can continue the fight. It might only take a second to realise they won’t but his California colleague Jack Reiss proved that fighters can be given a second or two to prove they can go on.
“Amir Khan was doing well in that fight,” Bayless recalled of the Las Vegas night Khan met Canelo. “He was quicker and faster than Canelo but Amir Khan had moved up in weight and that’s always a concern, when guys are moving up and down in weight because of what they’re doing to their body. When guys get hit with shots like that, it’s a concern. Just like with Marquez and Pacquiao, when Pacquiao went down. That was a scary moment. When Pacquiao knocked out Ricky Hatton, that was a scary moment because it’s like the clock is ticking. There’s nothing you can do. We have great doctors here in Nevada and they do what they do to make sure these guys are okay, but if the brain is bleeding there is nothing you can do until you get them to the hospital and do some surgery to stop it.”
What does Bayless think of first when a shocking knockout like that happens?
“There’s a concern there because I don’t know if they’re going to get up or not,” Kenny continued. “I have to give them that opportunity. For example, when Deontay Wilder fought Tyson Fury the first time and Jack Reiss did a fantastic job because when Tyson Fury went down, the way he went down, he [Reiss] could have easily just stopped it. But because of the magnitude of the fight and what had happened in the prior rounds Jack gave Fury the opportunity to see if he could get up and he did.”
In Kenny’s 31-year career, he’s been witness to three ring deaths and they’ve each caused him periods of contemplation, about whether he should stop doing what he does.
“It’s terrifying,” Bayless told the Boxing Life Stories podcast. “First time it happened for me was a small card at the Orleans and the fighter got hit by one punch and I could tell by the way he went down that it was serious, because it was like cutting a light switch off in his brain. I didn’t even pick up the count.”
Bayless has also seen controversy, and with hindsight in 2008, might have handled a controversial fight that no one knew about at the time. He was the third man during one of the fights of the year, when Antonio Margarito ground down a dazzling Miguel Cotto.
In Margarito’s next fight, he was found to be loading his gloves when Naazim Richardson, then training Shane Mosely, spotted foul play. Cotto was always convinced that Maragrito had an unfair edge against them, but Bayless couldn’t be sure.
“It’s always going to be hard to tell or know what was used when Margarito fought Cotto because the handwraps are something that are not saved,” Kenny said. “When the fight is over with, they take the gloves off, take the wraps off and they just usually throw them away. Unless they were able to have confiscated the wraps, which they didn’t, because they didn’t suspect anything. I didn’t suspect anything. The only person that would know is Cotto, because he’s the guy who’s getting hit.”
Margarito-Cotto I was a fabulous war. “It was an extremely hard fight,” Bayless explained. “I thought the first half of the fight, Cotto was fighting a master fight. His game plan was to get off three or four combinations and then move, and for the first three or four rounds – and they were fighting clean – Cotto was doing a masterful job. Throw three or four combinations, duck and weave, move to another portion of the ring and when Margarito got over there, before he could get set, Cotto would hit him with three or four combinations and then he’d move again. That was basically the pattern of the fight but I believe it was about the fifth round, might have been the sixth, I thought that Cotto stood in the trenches a little too long and got hit by some Margarito shots and those shots I felt started to show a little wear and tear on Cotto and now when Cotto would move, Margarito was almost getting the spot before he [Cotto] got there because he could see what I saw.”
Overall, for Bayless, it was a case of “Cotto taking too many shots in the trenches and Margarito just wearing him down.”
Through more then three decades in the sport, and many unique experiences as a commissioner in Las Vegas long before he became a referee, Bayless has seen almost everything.
“It’s a tough business,” he concluded.
For this full interview with Kenny Bayless, listen here at Boxing Life Stories