Richard Steele worked with some of the greatest fighters of the past quarter century. On Wednesday, the Las Vegas referee was reunited with the sport’s best when he was selected for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Joining Steele in the Class of 2014 are former world champions Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Joe Calzaghe, along with eight others.
“It’s the cap on top of the bottle,” said Steele, who joins fellow Nevada referees Joe Cortez and Mills Lane in Canastota, N.Y. “If you look at any sport — baseball, football, basketball, golf, whatever — every athlete’s dream is to one day be in the hall of fame.
“For me to make it, it validates everything I did in boxing.”
Steele, 69, was a former Marine who became a professional boxer in 1966.
Steele retired with a 12-4 record with 10 knockouts and became a referee in 1972.
He moved to Las Vegas in 1981 and worked hundreds of fights over the next 20 years. He retired in 2001 after working the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Diego Corrales fight, but came back in 2004 and refereed two more years.
Of all the fights Steele worked, none was more memorable than April 15, 1985.
That night at Caesars Palace, Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns met in what many believe is the greatest fight ever, even though it lasted less than three rounds.
“Hagler-Hearns will always be a special fight for me,” Steele said. “The excitement. The atmosphere. Two great fighters. It was an amazing experience to be in the middle of it.”
Hagler won by technical knockout when Steele determined that Hearns had taken too much of a beating and stopped the fight in the third round.
“As each round ended, I asked myself, ‘Can these guys keep this up?’ ” Steele said. “But Hagler really hurt Hearns in that third round, and my first obligation is to protect the fighter, and I thought Tommy couldn’t continue.”
Steele worked other memorable fights, including Hagler’s with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987, the Leonard-Hearns rematch in 1989, Mike Tyson’s pummeling of Frank Bruno in 1989, and Julio Cesar Chavez’s comeback win over Meldrick Taylor in 1990.
“I was blessed to be chosen to work so many big fights,” Steele said. “I had great respect for every fighter who climbed through the ropes, and I will always be grateful to (former Nevada Athletic Commission executive directors) Chuck Minker and Marc Ratner for giving me the opportunity to referee in Nevada and to work all over the world.”
Steele said he prided himself on knowing when to stop fights. He would remind fighters before the first bell to “protect yourself at all times,” and it was his catchphrase.
“I believe God gave me a gift to see when a fighter had enough,” said Steele, who runs a boxing club and youth center in North Las Vegas. “I tried to be safety-conscious whenever I worked, because I knew from having boxed myself how dangerous a sport this is.”
Also selected in the 2014 class were old-time boxers Mike O’Dowd, Charles Ledoux and George Chaney, pioneer boxer Tom Allen, referee Eugene Corri, promoter Barry Hearn, writer Graham Houston and photographer Neil Leifer.
Ceremonies will take place June 8.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.