Whether it's a lightweight or a heavyweight match, Ali versus Frazier or Mayweather versus Hopkins, the rules of boxing are enforced by a referee. Some become as famous as the boxers they officiate and earn six-figure salaries or more annually. Notable and famous referees include Mills Lane, Richard Steele and Randy Neumann. Several factors determine salaries for boxing referees, including professional or amateur status, experience and the "purse," or overall amount of the fight.
The Salary Structure
In professional boxing, the fight promoter assigns and pays referees. Their pay can range from $150 to $25,000 per fight. Well-known and more experienced referees working high-profile fights (fights between championship boxers or extremely popular boxers) typically earn pay in the higher range. Top boxing referee Joe Cortez, in an article for USCombatSports, states that the "purse" for boxing referees is higher in Nevada. Annual salaries for boxing referees also depend on the number of fights they officiate yearly.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010-11 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the average salary for umpires, referees and related workers was approximately $23,000 as of 2008. Salaries on the lower end were $15,000 compared to mid-level salaries of between $18,000 and $43,000 annually as of 2008. The highest-paid 10 percent earned as much as $63,000 yearly.
Boxing's Top Men
While professional boxing referees stand to earn some income from refereeing as opposed to amateur referees, who usually volunteer, they still may hold other jobs to support their families. Such is the case with Cortez, who is a member of the Boxing Hall of Fame. Though he works top fights in Nevada, he states that he manages and has other sources of income. Another top referee, Steve Smoger, served as a prosecutor and then a municipal court judge until his retirement in 2005.
MMA, also known as mixed martial arts, combines boxing, kickboxing, wrestling and martial arts. Boxing in this sport is done without the use of gloves. As with traditional boxing, referees enforce the rules in the ring. Their salaries depend upon expected revenues for an event and may range from $200 to $1,200 per event. Unlike in traditional boxing, fees are set by the athletic commissioner, who also assigns MMA referees.