John Coyle: Reflections of a referee

Mark Butcher
01/05/2015 3:40pm

John Coyle refereed a number of epic fights in his career, but no contest ended as spectacularly as Danny Williams’ pain-defying, one-armed victory over Mark Potter in a British and Commonwealth heavyweight clash in October 2000.

“I was called in front of the Boxing Board of Control because of that fight,” Coyle told Boxing Monthly. “But I argued that Williams was at no point in a position where he could not defend himself or being overwhelmed by Potter. If he had, I would have stopped it in the normal way, even if he had two good arms. The situation never arose.”

Williams, who later beat the shell of Mike Tyson before being crushed by Vitali Klitschko in a WBC title bid, dislocated his right shoulder in the third before it was pushed back in by cornerman Danny Tovey. The shoulder separated again in the sixth yet, defying all boxing logic, Williams sensationally floored Potter three times in the round to triumph in one of the most astonishing bouts in British ring history.

“Had Williams been at any point in trouble because of that shoulder problem I would naturally have stopped it, but he was managing. I spoke to Danny and the corner and they said [he was fine to continue]. As it happened he got himself out of jail, didn’t he?” laughed Coyle.

The former referee confesses to loving every minute of his career in the ring, citing the spine-tingling encounter between Nigel Benn and Michael Watson at Finsbury Park Supertent as one of his favorite officiating assignments. Yet one, possibly surprising, fighter stands out above all others.

“People ask me the best fighter I’ve refereed and without drawing breath I say Khaosai Galaxy, the former WBA super-flyweight champion from Thailand,” said Coyle, a veteran of over 100 world title fights. “I refereed his 15th defence and that was in Bangkok before a stadium of 40,000 people.

“They told me that they sold 10,000 tickets and gave the other 30,000 away. It was unbelievable. He was treated like a god out there. But what a fighter! How he got 8st 3lbs in to that frame of his, I don’t know. He was built like a lightweight from the waist upwards and so, so strong. Tremendous fighter.”

Coyle had a brush with a few tasty characters in Italy, too, whilst refereeing the European light-middleweight title fight between future WBA king Gilbert Dele and Sicilian favourite Giuseppe Leto in 1989.

“That was in a circus tent,” recalled Coyle. “Very first round, Dele backed the Italian against the ropes. Leto crouched and was knocked spark out. But half the crowd thought he had hit him on the back of the head. And boy, oh boy, I had to have the Carabinieri protecting me. I was smuggled back to my hotel. The same morning when I had to catch my fight they took me on a special circuit to avoid the main route and the town. It was crazy. But looking back on my career I loved every minute of it.”