If you were a boxing fan in the mid-1980’s through the early nineties you probably recognize the name Richard Steele.
No, Steele wasn’t a great athlete. He never went 15 rounds with Tyson or took the belt from Sugar Ray. In fact, Steele wasn’t a fighter at all. He was a referee.
The reason a fight fan would know his name is that he was responsible for several of what are considered the worst calls in the sport’s history. The most notorious of which involved an already legendary Julio Caesar Chavez and Meldrick Taylor.
In what turned out to be an incredible fight – often referred to as “The Fight Of The Century” – Taylor surprised the crowd by dominating and beating up Chavez the entire bout. In fact, going into the final round it was clear to both the fans and the judges (all three had Taylor clearly ahead on points) that JCC was going to need a knockout in order to secure a victory and keep a very long winning streak alive.
Most fighters would play it cautious in this position. Keep their distance and stay defensive. But Meldrick decided to keep the pressure on and mix it up with Chavez. A decision that ended up costing him dearly.
With seventeen seconds left in the fight Chavez, one of the heavier punchers in the division punctuated a flurry of punches with a devastating right hand that put Taylor on the canvas. Taylor got up 5 seconds into the count when Steele came over, rubbed the fighters gloves together and asked him if he was all right.
Apparently, Steele did not like the answer he received. And with two seconds – TWO SECONDS – left in the fight, Steele called for a stoppage and Julio Cesar Chavez was declared the winner by technical knockout.
Steele received death threats after the fight and there were several allegations that he was paid off in order to favor Chavez.
Unfortunately, this was not Steele’s only controversial call. In one of the early Mike Tyson fights versus Razor Rudduck, Steele also called for an unpopular stoppage of what was a very evenly matched back-and-forth battle up to that point when Rudduck was hurt by a couple of stiff Tyson shots in the seventh round. This was a huge stepping stone win for Tyson leading up to the heyday of his career.
From then on it seemed like Steele was under a microscope. While in the past no one really paid attention to who was reffing a fight, crowds started to moan and complain when Steele was announced as the official.
I clearly remember watching Larry Holmes and Marvin Hagler fights with my Dad and waiting for Steele to inappropriately insert his will into the action and change the flow of the fight.
So why the eff am I telling you about a long ago retired referee that only old fight fans like me even remember?
In this case, the answer is the question. No one remembers a ref when they do a good job. Very rarely do you hear someone upon the conclusion of a title fight or NBA playoff game or Sunday night double-header say, “You know what? That was some really darn good officiating!”
No. The referee is either hated or ignored. Despised or forgotten.
And the reason I find this interesting is that it’s my experience that the personal trainer or general population coach finds themselves in almost the exact opposite position.
I’m not talking about clients complaining about a grueling set of 10 on the back squat or another 30 second burst on the fan bike. I’m talking about a client’s general feelings about the person they hired to get them in shape.
Everyone wants to love their trainer. Everyone wants to tell their co-workers who show any interest in working out that, when they are ready, they have just the guy for them. People root for their trainers to do well just like they do their barista or local dry cleaner or any small business ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps-type’ of professional.
Their lawyer or accountant does not get quite the same latitude. Fuck that guy. He may as well be a referee.
In fact, as long as you always show up on time, have a reasonably good attitude and don’t hurt anyone, you’ll keep the vast majority of clients happy. Sadly, you don’t even have to deliver good results.
A lot has been made of the idea that this is a “results-based business” but that is just not true. Maybe it should be. Maybe we want to think it is. But years of seeing who retains clients, what business models are successful and where the loyalties lie tells me a very different story.
This is a relationship and experience-based business. Most people are searching for a feeling more than an outcome. A relationship more than a result.
So what is our responsibility as good coaches? To give people what they want or what they need?
I’d argue the answer is both. Deliver what the clients want and they have a good experience. They feel good about you and the training. They keep coming back. They tell all their friends that they have “just the perfect trainer for them. But don’t try to steal my time slot!!”
Deliver what the client needs (even if they don’t know it) and you will take them to places they didn’t even know they needed to go. They’ll move better. They’ll get stronger. They’ll be more resilient both inside and outside of the gym.
As coaches this should be our calling and our responsibility to deliver both a great experience and a great result – even if we never get called out on it. Honestly, why else are you doing this? To make money? If that’s the case may I suggest you become the aforementioned lawyer or accountant. They do way better than we do.
Turns out that Richard Steele actually has had quite the life and career. He is a veteran of the US Marine Corps and was an accomplished amateur fighter while serving and a decent professional afterwards. He even competed in the 1964 Olympic trials. He has officiated 167 title fights around the world and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He currently still works in the fight game as a promoter living in Las Vegas.
But I’ll always remember him as the guy who elicited a groan from me and my old man while being introduced before the Tommy Hearns or Roberto Duran fight we were about to watch in our family room on any given Saturday night. Always on the edge of our seats waiting for Steele to get in the way and change the flow or the outcome of the fight. Allowing ourselves to despise the man who was there to be despised. But never knowing what it must feel like to be in those shoes.
Hopefully I never find out.