In the world of professional boxing, where every punch, movement, and second counts, the role of a referee is pivotal. Among the many referees who have graced the boxing ring, one name stands out with a legacy that has left an indelible mark on the sport – Steve Willis. In this article, we explore the remarkable career and legacy of Steve Willis, shedding light on why he is often considered one of the best boxing referees in history.


Early Life and Path to Boxing Refereeing

Steve Willis was born on October 21, 1968, in Flushing, New York. His journey into the world of boxing officiating began in the most unexpected way. As a young man, Steve was working as a waiter in a restaurant when he overheard a conversation about a boxing referee who failed to show up for a local fight. Seizing the opportunity, Steve volunteered to step in as the referee, despite having no prior experience in the field.

That fateful decision marked the beginning of a remarkable career in boxing officiating. Steve Willis started his journey at the grassroots level, officiating local and regional bouts. His dedication and natural aptitude for the role quickly caught the attention of boxing authorities.


The Steve Willis Approach

What sets Steve Willis apart as a boxing referee is his unique and empathetic approach to officiating. He doesn't merely enforce the rules; he understands the fighters' psychology and respects the physical and emotional toll that a boxing match takes on them. Willis' style is characterized by his ability to maintain control without being overbearing, allowing the fighters to showcase their skills while ensuring their safety.

One of his signature moves is the gentle but firm pat on the fighters' backs as he separates them during clinches, a gesture that conveys respect and acknowledgment of their efforts. His distinctive hand signals and facial expressions have also become iconic in the boxing world, adding an extra layer of entertainment for fans.


Legacy and Recognition

Steve Willis' legacy as a boxing referee is defined by several key factors:

  • Consistency: Throughout his career, Willis exhibited unwavering consistency in his decisions, earning the trust and respect of fighters, trainers, and fans alike.

  • Professionalism: He approached every fight, whether it was a local match or a high-profile championship bout, with the same level of professionalism and dedication.

  • Empathy: Willis' ability to connect with fighters on a human level and understand the mental and emotional challenges they face during a fight is unparalleled.

  • Respect: He earned the respect of the boxing community for his fair and impartial officiating, making him a trusted figure in the sport.

  • Iconic Moments: Over the years, Steve Willis has been a part of some of the most iconic moments in boxing, contributing to the sport's rich history.


Considered the Best

While opinions on the "best" boxing referee may vary among fans and experts, Steve Willis undeniably holds a special place in the hearts of many. His combination of technical expertise, genuine empathy, and unique approach to officiating has made him a beloved figure in the sport.

Steve Willis, the highly respected boxing referee, has officiated numerous significant and high-profile fights throughout his illustrious career. While it's challenging to cover all of them, here are some of the notable bouts in which he has played a crucial role as the referee:

Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao (2015): Steve Willis was the referee for the long-anticipated "Fight of the Century" between two boxing legends, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao. This bout, considered one of the most lucrative fights in boxing history, saw Willis maintain control and ensure a fair contest.

Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin I (2017): In a thrilling middleweight showdown, Steve Willis officiated the first bout between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. The fight ended in a controversial split draw, with Willis' professionalism and impartiality receiving praise.

Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury II (2020): Steve Willis was the referee for the highly anticipated rematch between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, two of the top heavyweights in the world. Fury emerged victorious, and Willis' role in maintaining order during the heated contest was crucial.

Miguel Cotto vs. Canelo Alvarez (2015): Willis oversaw the middleweight championship clash between Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez. The fight showcased Willis' ability to manage high-pressure situations in a championship bout.

Manny Pacquiao vs. Adrien Broner (2019): Steve Willis officiated the WBA welterweight title fight between Manny Pacquiao and Adrien Broner. The fight demonstrated Willis' experience in handling fights involving seasoned champions.

Terence Crawford vs. Amir Khan (2019): In the WBO welterweight championship fight between Terence Crawford and Amir Khan, Steve Willis ensured a fair contest and maintained control inside the ring.

These are just a few examples of the many significant fights that Steve Willis has refereed over the years. His presence in the ring has become synonymous with professionalism, fairness, and a unique connection with the fighters, making him a respected figure in the world of professional boxing.



Steve Willis, the boxing referee with a legacy and history like no other, has left an indelible mark on the world of professional boxing. His unique approach, empathy, and professionalism have made him a beloved figure in the sport. While the title of "best boxing referee" may be subjective, there is no doubt that Steve Willis' contributions have enriched the world of boxing and left an enduring legacy for generations to come.