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R.I.P. referee Eddie Cotton Who Vowed to Contravene Protocol for Mike Tyson

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  • R.I.P. referee Eddie Cotton Who Vowed to Contravene Protocol for Mike Tyson

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    By Arne K. Lang

    The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed another member of the boxing fraternity. Referee Eddie Cotton died this morning, April 17, in a Paterson, New Jersey hospital. A former U.S. Army sergeant and the son of an amateur boxer, Cotton (no relation to the 1950/1960s-era light heavyweight of the same name) was 72 years old.

    Cotton was the third man in the ring for the 2002 match in Memphis between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson which at that time was the highest-grossing pay-per-view in boxing history. He also refereed world title fights involving such notables as Shane Mosley, Vinny Pazienza, James Toney, Bernard Hopkins, Riddick Bowe, George Foreman, and Gennadiy Golovkin and made three trips to Germany to work title bouts involving Wladimir Klitschko including Klitschko’s 2009 match with Ruslan Chagaev that played to 61,000 in a domed soccer stadium.

    Cotton paid his dues before getting his first pro assignment. He refereed at the amateur level for 10 years. During this period, the New Jersey Department of Corrections ran amateur boxing tournaments for inmates at the state’s penitentiaries and Cotton refereed many fights behind prison walls.

    According to the noted boxing writer Keith Idec, who was then a reporter for the Passaic Herald-News, three referees – Jay Nady, Laurence Cole, and Cotton – were considered for the Lewis-Tyson assignment after both camps ruled out Bill Clancy who was the preferred choice of the Tennessee Athletic Commission. Clancy was deemed too young and too inexperienced.

    Eddie Cotton had two things going for him. At six-foot-five and approximately 240 pounds, he had the strength to pry apart heavyweights in a match that figured to be soured by a lot of clinching. Secondly, he had acquitted himself well in Bowe-Golota II, an infamously unruly fight. Cotton disqualified the “Foul Pole” in the ninth round to the consternation of the pro-Golota crowd at Atlantic City’s sold-out Boardwalk Hall.

    Lewis vs. Tyson came to fruition on June 8, 2002. It had originally been scheduled for April 6 of that year at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas but the Nevada Athletic Commission pulled the plug following a nasty rhubarb between the opposing camps at a pre-fight press conference at the Hudson Theater in New York. Lennox Lewis emerged from that fracas with a deep puncture wound on his left thigh where Tyson bit him.

    For all his accomplishments, Mike Tyson was best known to casual fans for biting off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear in their second encounter. After the Hudson Theater incident, wags had a field day speculating whether Tyson’s teeth were more lethal than his fists.

    Cotton told reporters that he was going to waive a certain custom should the need arise. “If a mouthpiece comes out during a round,” he said, “normally you wait until there’s a lull. But this time, I’ll stop the action immediately and have the mouthpiece put back in.” He wasn’t going to give Tyson the opportunity to bare his fangs.

    The opportunity never arose. Tyson fought a clean fight and, recalled Cotton, was a perfect gentleman before and after the bout. Fighting before a celebrity-studded crowd that included Donald Trump, Lennox knocked out Iron Mike in the eighth round.

    A referee working a Mike Tyson fight in this era was working under a magnified microscope. Cotton said he would have had more butterflies if not for the assurances that came from some of his fellow referees. “Richard Steele called me up,” recalled Cotton, “and said you are the best referee for this particular fight.”

    Eddie Cotton was well-known in Paterson. In 1980, he won election to the City Council. He subsequently became the first man of color named Chairman of that body. When he was tabbed to referee the Lewis-Tyson fight, he was the Director of the Paterson Housing Authority. It would be written that in Paterson folks with no interest in boxing tuned in to the Lewis-Tyson fight simply out of loyalty to Cotton. Some had first met Cotton, a pillar of the community, when he coached peewee league football.

    Hall of Fame referee Joe Cortez remembers Cotton well. Both regularly attended the annual conventions of various sanctioning bodies and shared the dais at seminars. Ironically, Cotton once presented Cortez with the key to the city of Paterson. This had nothing to do with boxing. Cortez was recognized for his work with outreach programs that he implemented with leading ophthalmologists to address vision problems among seniors.

    “Eddie Cotton was a very nice man,” Cortez told this reporter, “and, as an aside, he was also a very good golfer.” Indeed, golf was a passion for the standout referee who regularly took to the links before he got sick.

    Cotton is survived by his wife Ruby, a Paterson councilwoman, two children, and a grandson. We here at The Sweet Science send our condolences to his loved ones.

  • #2
    RIP ...stay safe people


    • #3
      Rest in peace , stay safe ...Regards Josey


      • Kid Blast
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