It's said the most thankless job on the planet is that of a sports official. That may be especially true for boxing referees.
Stop a fight a punch or two too soon - and you are second-guessed, questioned and, sometimes, vilified. Years after stopping the Julio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor fight with two seconds to go, referee Richard Steele was still roundly booed when his name was announced to the crowd. Though he was one of the best referees in the world at the time, Steele's career never quite recovered from that call.
But stop a fight too late - and a ref has more than a tarnished legacy and a few upset fans to think about. Veteran Las Vegas referee Richard Greene was said to be so devastated after Duk Koo Kim died in his 1982 fight with Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini that it reportedly led to his suicide.
There are dozens of examples of refs who let one-sided fights go on just a tad too long - with tragic results. Gabriel Ruelas-Jimmy Garcia and Jesus Chavez-Leavander Johnson are just a couple.
Through nine rounds Saturday in Las Vegas, Mexican tough guy Alfredo Angulo had taken a horrific beating from countryman Saul "Canelo" Alvarez. That ominously shaved skull had been rocketed backwards again and again - often times sickeningly. Left hooks, right hands, uppercuts, body shots - Angulo absorbed it all and kept chugging forward like the true warrior that he is. His determination and toughness were awe-inspiring, as he took a beating and continued to wing his slow, ponderous punches to the delight of his barking fans (his nickname is "El Perro") and a large pay-per-view audience.
You couldn't help but root for the man from Mexicali, as he shrugged off Canelo's huge shots.
He started to get close in the eighth and ninth rounds - as close as he'd been all night. He was pressuring Canelo against the ropes and landing some shots. Alvarez, who came out on fire and seemed to be tiring, was certainly feeling some of Angulo's blows.
But Canelo was also continuing to tee off on Angulo, and you could tell, in the ninth round, referee Tony Weeks was starting to become alarmed. There was a sequence where Angulo absorbed a frightful blow, stopped punching, and Weeks almost jumped in to stop it. But then, Perro suddenly swung back as he had all night. And he made it through the round.
But Weeks had his eye on Angulo. He was the man closest to the action, the guy who had seen Angulo take blow after blow. He saw his ballooned eyes and his swollen face. And when round 10 started, you could tell he would not tolerate much more.
Then, Canelo landed another mammoth uppercut, and Angulo's head popped skyward yet again, and his eyes glazed for a second. Weeks had seen enough. He stepped in and stopped it.
Weeks, like Steele back in 1990, is one of the best referees in the game. He has overseen some of the greatest fights in boxing history, including the 2005 classic between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo, in which Corrales rebounded from two knockdowns in the 10th round to knock Castillo out in the same round.
That stoppage was almost artistic in its perfection.
More recently, he refereed the Danny Garcia-Lucas Matthysse fight in September.
What he did Saturday night was keep Angulo in the fight game - and in the life game. El Perro was hopelessly behind on all the scorecards, so was Angulo's life worth the slim chance of a lucky punch? Should the prospect of an unbelievable ending justify a potentially unthinkable result?
Boxing fans are passionate. They wear their hearts on their sleeves. It's one of the many reasons the sweet science is so sweet. But passion also breeds bias. Those who were upset were probably hoping Angulo would pull out a miracle - like Chavez had done against Taylor 24 years ago.
But Angulo isn't Chavez, and that wasn't going to happen. What could've happened, had Canelo beaten Angulo up for another 2 1/2 rounds, was another tragedy.
The referee - that guy with the thankless job who is invisible until there is a controversy - saved boxing from that.
Well done, Tony Weeks. Well done.