When Joe Cortez climbs through the ropes at Mandalay Bay Events Center on Saturday to referee the WBA junior welterweight title fight between Amir Khan and Marcos Maidana, he'll do so with enhanced credentials.
The 67-year-old Las Vegan was selected Tuesday as a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame's Class of 2011 and will be inducted June 12 in Canastota, N.Y. Cortez, the first Nevada referee to be inducted into the Hall, is part of a class that includes two of the best known fighters in history -- Mike Tyson and Rocky Balboa, who was played in the movies by Sylvester Stallone. Stallone is being inducted as a contributor after his series of "Rocky" films transcended boxing and exposed millions of nonfight fans to the sport.
Also going into the Hall will be legendary Mexican champion Julio Cesar Chavez, Australian champ Kostya Tszyu and trainer Ignacio "Nacho" Beristain. The inductees were voted on by members of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a panel of international boxing historians.
"It's unbelievable," Cortez said from Beijing, China, where he had just worked three world title fights and also conducted a referee seminar. "I never dreamed that this day would come. But like I tell the kids who come to my gym, there's no mountain that you can't climb."
Cortez, who was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in Riverside, Calif., in 2007, has worked more than 170 title fights since beginning his officiating career in New York in 1976. He moved to Las Vegas in 1992 and said his goal was to just do an honest job in the ring and live up to his motto "Firm but Fair," a phrase he has trademarked.
"I've always loved boxing and the sport has given me so much," Cortez said. "To one day reach this pinnacle means a lot. And to be the first Nevada referee and the first Latino referee to be inducted, it makes it extra special,"
Cortez's friends in the local boxing community were thrilled for him.
"That's a huge honor and a well-deserved one," Nevada Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer said. "He's been a great licensee for this commission and for prior commissions."
Former NAC executive director Marc Ratner said of Cortez's election: "I'm delighted for Joe. He's been at the top of his game for many years and the way he communicates with the fighters, they respect him."
Tyson is the biggest name in this year's star-studded class. The youngest man to claim the heavyweight title at age 20, he was one of the most feared and controversial fighters of his era. His ear-biting incident with Evander Hoylfield in their 1997 rematch at the MGM Grand Garden shocked the sports world and was a blight on his career that produced a 50-6 record with 44 knockouts.
Chavez, whose brilliant career spanned three decades and produced a remarkable 107 wins against just six losses and 86 KOs, is regarded as one of the greatest Mexican fighters in history. Known as "El Gran Campeon Mexicano," Chavez was a star in the 1990s, winning the world junior welterweight title and earning titles in three weight classes (super featherweight, lightweight and junior welterweight).
Tszyu compiled a 31-2 record with 25 KOs from 1992 to 2005 and beat Chavez in 2000 to claim the WBC junior welterweight belt. He also beat Roger Mayweather in 1995 to retain his IBF junior welterweight belt.
Cortez has a connection with each of his fellow inductees. He refereed six of Tyson's fights, including his 1988 TKO win over Larry Holmes. He worked four of Chavez's fights, including his 1993 TKO win over Greg Haugen in Mexico, which drew more than 132,000 spectators. He was in the ring at Mandalay Bay in 2001 when Tszyu stopped Shamba Mitchell in the first of two meetings. He has been the referee for several of Beristain's fighters, including the first fight between Manny Pacquiao and Beristain's fighter, Juan Manuel Marquez, in 2004 at the MGM Grand Garden, which ended in a 12-round draw.
He even worked with Stallone, appearing as a referee in "Rocky Balboa," the sixth movie in the "Rocky" series, in 2006.
"I hadn't thought about that," Cortez said. "That's pretty interesting that I played a small part in those fighters' careers.''
In addition to Cortez, Tyson, Chavez, Tszyu, Beristain and Stallone, posthumous honorees to be enshrined include bantamweight Memphis Pal Moore, light heavyweight champion Jack Root and middleweight Dave Shade in the old-timer category; British heavyweight John Gully in the pioneer category; promoter A.F. Bettinson; and broadcaster Harry Carpenter.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913.