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Ulster boxing referee David Irving is on top of the world

Belfast official off to Vegas before taking charge of glamour fights

By Steven Beacom

It has been an incredible year for Northern Ireland boxing... from Carl Frampton winning a world title to Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan securing gold at the Commonwealth Games and the Northern Ireland team delivering the grand total of NINE medals inside the Glasgow ring.

And the hits just keep on coming... though the latest is with a twist.

Belfast man David Irving has been invited by the renowned World Boxing Council (WBC) to attend their annual conference from next weekend ahead of him taking a position as one of the organisation's elite group of referees/judges in the future.

The 52-year-old former Commonwealth Games boxer from the Glen Road believes he is the first Irishman to receive such recognition.

"I can't believe it. It is all very hard to take in. I live such a quiet life and then to get invited to Las Vegas for the WBC conference before going on their refereeing panel in the future is incredible," said David, married to Angela with two children Conor (16) and Leah (13).

Irving, who has been refereeing for 20 years, was unaware that in recent fights WBC officials have been monitoring his work.

The reports have been glowing.

One emailed to WBC headquarters read: "I carefully watched David in the undercard bouts when he acted as referee. I think that David is a very good referee, indeed.

"He moves properly in the ring always looking for the right position. He looks for the right angle and he is a very fit referee.

"Those are very important qualities for a referee and I told him at ringside. I would recommend him for the future."

The WBC now want the Belfast man as part of their refereeing/judging team.

"I wasn't aware that WBC supervisors were watching and reporting on my performances," revealed David.

"Once the reports went in to the WBC, they have obviously acted on that and now I'm on my way to the WBC conference after an invite from the President Jose Sulaiman. I'm going to Vegas next Sunday, December 14 for the week-long conference.

"There will be workshops every day, one of which will be for referees and judges.

"I'll also go through a medical when I'm over there and then the next step will be to be on their panel for a fight.

"This opens the door for me to referee or judge any WBC fight anywhere in the world including their big world title fights. I'm over the moon that they want me as part of their team.

"And I'm really looking forward to going to Vegas as I haven't been there before. People like Floyd Mayweather and boxing greats such as Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran are supposed to be going to the conference, so it will be a special event.

"The Boxing Union of Ireland are helping pay for the trip. They and the President Mel Christie have been very supportive to me down the years."

Irving's love affair with boxing goes back to his teenage years when he started out as an amateur. His record at that level was seven wins, all by knockout, and four losses.

"I boxed as an amateur and professional until I was 22. As an amateur I fought around the world including for Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games and when I was 20 I turned professional with Barney Eastwood and fought on an undercard for Barry McGuigan," he says.

"I was a hard-hitting welterweight and had quite a few knockouts on my record but the truth is my right hand was taking too much punishment on fight nights and I had to retire earlier than I had planned.

"Mr Eastwood was good to me though and said that he could see something in me that might help me become a referee. He put me through an expensive medical and things have progressed from there.

"I've now been refereeing on the boxing circuit for 20 years doing fights in Northern Ireland and also around Europe for the last two years. I was the referee for Tyson Fury v Martin Rogan at the Odyssey in Belfast, have been in the ring for Andy Lee fights in Dublin and did early Bernard Dunne fights."

He jokes: "At the start I thought refereeing fights was great because I was getting in a ring and nobody was hitting me!"

In boxing of course controversy is never far away, with referees and judges often in the middle of it with many dubious decisions in fights, big and small, questioned and debated for decades.

Irving tries to steer clear of that.

"I think having been a boxer helps me with decisions," says David.

"Also I do my research and am forever watching boxing on the television when I'm not in the ring myself. I look at the fight but I also watch referees to see their positions and the angles they take to see how they are handling fights.

"You can always learn in this game."


Five controversial decisions that rocked the boxing world

1976: Muhammad Ali always found Ken Norton a thorn in his side and in their rubber match many believed the Greatest was a beaten man - a chorus of boos greeting the decision in Ali’s favour at Yankee Stadium.

1985: Michael Spinks was given a unanimous decision over Larry Holmes to take the World heavyweight title after 15 tough rounds. Holmes was bidding to equal Rocky Marciano's record of 49 straight victories and the decision sent out a bad smell right across the world.

1988: Such was the outcry over Roy Jones losing to Korean Park Si-Hun in the final of the light-middleweight division at the Seoul Olympics, the governing body changed the scoring system from paper to pushing red and blue buttons.

1993: Pernell Whittaker, one of the most skilful boxers of all time, met Mexican Julio Cesar Chavez who was unbeaten in 87 fights in the San Antonio Alamodome. The venue surely had something to do with the majority decision that Chavez was given by the judges as Sweet Pea Whittaker boxed his head off for the majority of the 12 rounds.

1999: Lennox Lewis finally got his chance to tangle with Evander Holyfield to unify the World heavyweight title belts and after 12 rounds at Madison Square Garden it seemed he was a clear winner but Eugenie Williams had it for the American and British judge Larry O'Connell scored it a draw. An investigation was launched and a re-match staged which Lewis won on points.

David Kelly

Belfast Telegraph


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