Interview From The Vault: Mickey Vann
Sometime ago I had the pleasure of catching up with renowned boxing referee Mickey Vann, if you didn’t catch it first time around here it is.
Mickey Vann is a former professional boxer turned referee and judge. Vann was the man in the middle for many a World Championship fight including the Lennox Lewis v Frank Bruno World heavyweight Title Fight.
Q: People know you as a referee but you also boxed as a professional yourself, what was your record.
A: I had my first amateur fight in 1956 I had 66 fights as an Amateur and I lost 19 as a professional I had 14 fights and lost 9.
Q: From your days as professional boxer what was a typical day like for you
A: When I turned professional in 1968 I worked on the night shift so I worked from 7:30 at night until 715 in a morning. I would then go home and get some breakfast, then bed and I would get up in the afternoon at about 2 o’clock and then go training for an hour and a half come back home get my tea, read the paper and then in to work.
On my first few fights I carried on working on the night shift and I would have a sleep for an hour at dinner time and then go home when it was time then go home get changed and wait for my manager to pick me up and we could go to the station for the train to the fight, or we would drive down in Tommy’s car and I would sleep on the back seat or if we went by train I would sleep on the train.
It wasn’t so much time off as never stopping as it was all training, working and a bit of time for do it yourself at home. So in today’s world it would seem tough but back then in the 60s it was just a natural thing to do as we were not as well off as people are now.
Q: Financially how tough was it
A: Financially I don’t think there was much difference than there is today, the young people of today although are better off financially and better off physically and dietary but the money that they have will only stretch the same distance as ours did.
Q: Did you always have an interest in boxing can you remember your first boxing memory
A: My first boxing memory was when I was working for my uncle Tom on the fairgrounds I was nine years old and when we built our show up it always seemed to be next to a boxing booth and only naturally I used to gib in and watch as there was always a lot of screaming and shouting coming from that tent,
Q: How did you get into becoming a referee, what was the 1st fight you did, and also your 1st World Title fight
A: When I retired as a fighter I missed the fight game only naturally as I had started fighting back in 1956 so, after a while I went to see my old manager Tommy Miller and I asked him if I could help train some of the fighters, when he eventually stopped laughing he asked me what in god’s name I could teach any of the fighters but suggested I would be better equipped to try to be a referee as there was a shortage of officials. So after just over 2 years of trials and scoring tests I refereed my first professional fight at the Piccadilly hotel in Manchester between Joe Jackson from Birmingham and Eddie Smith from Manchester. My first world championship was as a judge and it was Tony Sibson versus Dennis Andries in London.
Q: You were forced to retire at 65 due to rules of the British board of control. Do you think this is age discrimination, should it not be if you are capable and fit enough regardless of age, especially when you can referee elsewhere
A: I do think that the cut-off point of 65 years old for a referee is too low I personally don’t think there should be a cut-off point. Some referees are quite mentally and physically able to carry on past the age of 65 and on that same note some should be stopped from refereeing before the age of 65. I am quite able to referee at my age now I am 73 this month but I decided to finish before I made a mistake. A referee should be able to retire with dignity and hold his hands up and say that he is finding the job hard and wishes to retire. If he does carry on too long then the board of control that the referee works for should step in at any age and tell him very quietly that he needs to retire.
Q: Is it hard to make a living out of being a referee
A: It is not possible to make a full-time living out of refereeing and judging there are so many officials world-wide and the monetary value does not supersede the pride that one has when stepping in to the ring.
Q: I am so critical of the many governing bodies, it should be one World Champion per each weight division. However on the flip side does this provide fighter’s and even referee’s with more opportunities to work, or is it a case the money for both is less per fight fought or working as a referee.
A: I remember years ago when there were only two governing bodies and a fighter that was top class but not a champion could not get a title fight as the champion would sidestep him so he was left in the wings when there are more governing bodies, I do think for is sufficient then the fibre has a better chance of that elusive title. Yes this does give more work to boxers and officials but there should be a limit to the amount of governing bodies. I think the international titles and continental titles and all the other titles are a good thing for boxers. Britain has about 1000 licensed professional fighters they can’t all win British world or other major titles but there efforts over the years should give them the opportunity to gain a smaller title and in years to come they can show their grandchildren these belts and have that little bit of extra pride that the kids will look at them with.
Q: You took charge of the Lewis v Bruno fight, after the start he made did you think Frank was going to beat Lennox
A: When it got to the fourth round I did think that Frank Bruno was in with a good chance but only because Lennox seemed to be a little lazy.
Q: What’s the biggest waste of talent you have ever seen, Kirkland Laing for me.
A: Yes I agree Kirkland Lang was probably the biggest waste of talent that we have ever had, when he beat Duran in America we all expected so much but received so little.
Q: Do you follow MMA at all, if not are you aware of Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey.
A: MMA is something I have never watched nor have I ever read about, it is something that I am sorry but has no interest to me.
Q: You recently retired, what is the best fight you ever saw, and what plans have you got for retirement
A: The best fight I ever saw was Mickey Ward versus Arturo Gatti, their 1st fight.
My plans for my retirement are moving along nicely I have joined an archery club and have just passed my first course so I am aiming to go as far as I can in the archery sport. My wife has bought me a new bow and all the paraphernalia that goes with it I have bought a target, I am training in the gym four times a week for upper body strength and intend practicing most days in my field at the back of our house so watch this space.
Q: Harry Gibbs got a lot of stick for giving Bugner the decision over Henry Cooper, wrongly because the fight was very close, Cooper I don’t think ever forgave him, even though they did shake hands many years later. Have you had any similar situations
A: I have intentionally left the question on Bugner Cooper Harry Gibbs situations to the last as I had a very disturbing message a year or so ago from an ex boxer that I gave the decision against on one of his championship fight and he was very disturbed about it. But the boxing board of control representative that was there was Robert Smith who is now the secretary and he up held my decision saying that it was definitely the right one. This is the disgusting message that I received and it shook me up a little bit and then made me extremely angry although I didn’t give him they comfort of an answer.
“Hey you old skinny fu….g c..t haven’t you died from a debilitating painful death in the hands of cancer yet ?? Well to all fighters who won their fights only to have a c..t like you ruining their careers I hope yours is a long painful demise.
The answer to your question is yes I have had a Bugner Cooper Harry Gibbs situation and it is not very nice.
Totally agree, whatever his views on your decision the message is disgusting and obviously totally out-of-order
Thank you so much for your time and good luck in your well-earned retirement
Mickey’s autobiography, Give Me a Ring is available everywhere, and a really good read it is to.