Book review – Ian John-Lewis ‘I Am The Referee’

There’s not a great number of autobiographies out there, detailing the lives of boxing referees, which is a real shame, as there’s an untapped source of gossip waiting to explode!


Ian John-Lewis life story is certainly not about gossip or trying to dish the dirt on anyone. He’s the templates for modesty, honesty and sincerity and this comes across very well in his book.


One of the questions which many back seat boxing fans will always shout at a referee when they are not happy with a decision or outcome is, ‘What does he know about boxing???’. The answer in the case of Mr John-Lewis is, ‘A fair bit!’. As a decorated amateur, he then went on to fight 20 times as a professional, managed by Frank Maloney, fighting for the Southern Area title, but unfortunately having to retire after sustaining a broken jaw – for the second time in his career.


Perhaps it’s that knowledge of receiving injuries as well as dishing it out that gives Ian that empathy with fighters in the ring. That understanding of how much a boxer can take versus how much a boxer thinks they can take. The role of a boxer is often quite emotionally driven, whereas that of a referee, in comparison is fairly simple – first and foremost, make sure the boxer is safe. Ian demonstrates this throughout his eventful career.


As with many people in boxing, unless you are at an elite level, the income is simply not enough, or consistent to survive – certainly not long term. Ian’s double life he’s combined with boxing for near on 20 years now, has been working as a custody officer in a police station. But Ian being Ian does more than just lock people up in cells, he often finds himself acting as a counsellor, a shoulder to cry on and a mentor. The anecdotes to accompany this are often heart warming, but sometimes sad. Everything from saving people from hanging themselves, through to seeing his ‘regulars’ coming in and progressively kill themselves via alcohol and drugs would be enough for most of us to turn away from the job, but Ian is made of stronger stuff than that, and sees the merits of adding value to peoples lives as an essential part of his outlook. He’s certainly one of the good guys.


As a professional referee, he always humbly gives you the impression that he’s a long way from reaching his goals and is at the bottom rung of the referees hall of fame. Far from it Ian. He’s refereed a long list of world champions and title fights, for the likes of the EBU, WBU WBC and IBF, including Ricky Haton, Markus Bayer, Clinton Woods, Lelia Ali, Sakio Bika, David Haye, Oliver McCall, Kiko Martinez, Bernard Hopkins, Jean Pascal and Amir Khan. Ian also cemented his place in the record books by being the 5th British ref in history to preside over a WBC world heavyweight title fight, which was between the outspoken Shannon Briggs and the mammoth Vitali Klitchko.


The controversial stoppage in the McKenzie v Maccarinelli fight is also openly discussed and Ian does not shy away from his decision and the reason behind it.


‘I’m The Referee,’ is a good honest read about a good honest man within boxing. If I didn’t already have a copy, I’d buy it.










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