Brian Garry loves to talk about boxing. The Wright State graduate took interest in the sport as a youngster tagging along with his father to a union hall gym in Springfield, Ohio, in the 1950s. Little did he know then that his love for the “sweet science” would lead to a 26-year career as a boxing referee that would take him to five continents, 22 countries, and throughout the United States, including some 33 cities in his current home state of Florida.
Along the way he has refereed more than 1,300 fights—including 59 world championship events—and traveled to China twice with Muhammad Ali. He has been named among the top 50 refs in the world by The Ring magazine, named referee of the year in 2004 by the National Boxing Association, and served as an official at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Since his retirement as a referee in 2009, he has remained active in the sport by helping develop the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame in his hometown of Tampa and completing the book Your Third Man in the Ring, which reflects upon his career in the “squared circle.”
When Garry talks about boxing, his insight is only exceeded by his enthusiasm. “When you referee a fight, you have the best seat in the house to experience the energy and adrenalin of the fighters,” he explained. “The challenge is to be in the right position to make the right call all of the time. It’s a daunting task because of the quickness and athletic ability of these warriors. My motto was always ‘stop it one punch too soon, rather than one punch too late.’ Safety always comes first. You always have to focus on the safety of the athletes, the rules, and sportsmanship. If you approach the bouts in any lesser manner, you are shortchanging the athletes. My least favorite task was when the promoters came up with a mismatch, and the least talented kid needed to be protected, and saved, by an early stoppage.”
He said Muhammad Ali was without reservation the greatest of all time. “He was tall, quick, and possessed the fastest hands in the game. He was also a good person as well, very unselfish with his time and talent.” Garry said one of the highlights of his career was going to China with Ali in 1993, where the American contingent sang the national anthem before the main event in front of a predominantly communist crowd of some 25,000.
But that wasn’t the largest crowd he experienced. That honor goes to more than 41,000 at the Georgia Dome for an Evander Holyfield title fight in 1998. He said the best boxers he has refereed include Roy Jones, Jr., Holyfield, and Roberto Duran. “Duran gets my nod as the overall best because of his power, defense, and ring generalship,” he said.
Garry, who works in the insurance and brokerage business when not involved in boxing, was raised in Springfield and was attracted to Wright State because of its affordability and proximity to home. As the first person in his family to graduate from college, he earned a B.A. in psychology from Wright State in 1969.
“I have many positive memories from Wright State,” he explained, “such as the great staff in experimental psychology and some graduate work with NASA at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.” He served on the steering committee that formed the Wright State University Alumni Association and was active with the group until moving to Florida in 1977.
But his real love was sports. More than 40 years later, he can still name several of the players from Wright State’s 1967 undefeated 10-0 flag football team. On the day of his graduation, he wore his baseball uniform under his cap and gown because he had an amateur league game immediately following the ceremony.
His interest in boxing was spurred at the Springfield gym when Davey Moore was training there. Moore fought in the Olympics in 1952 and was later world featherweight champion for six years. Garry got involved in some amateur boxing as a youngster but got away from the gym after graduating from Wright State. He returned to training in Tampa when urged on by a friend.
“Our goal was to qualify for the Golden Gloves, but my trainer recognized that I wasn’t going anyplace, except maybe the hospital if I continued boxing,” Garry explained, “so when he suggested I consider becoming a referee it sounded like a good idea.” After a couple of years refereeing amateur bouts, he was asked to fill in at the professional level. The rest, as they say, is history.
Because of his years in the sport, Garry (whose wife, Phyllis, is a boxing judge) is a household name in boxing circles. “Brian Garry was a model referee—he’s in the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame—a fine man and good citizen who loves to talk about the great sport of boxing,” said Tampa sports columnist Tom McEwen in reflecting on the career of a man who has come a long way from a union hall gym in Springfield.