Experience as a fighter and now a referee, counting up to 52 years, has enabled Ray Klingmeyer to become immersed in boxing, enjoying the excitement of the arena yet disturbed by the clutter of too many champions caused by a proliferation of associations, plus contrived weight classes. It makes for confusion and distraction.
Klingmeyer is more than a casual observer. He fought extensively as an amateur, was a member of the elite Marine Corps boxing team at Cherry Point, N.C., and then had a record of 39-8-3 as a professional welterweight. He knew how to move, to punch and avoid getting hit.
For 24 of the 28 years he was employed with the Georgia-Pacific Corp., he was sales manager of the gypsum division. A clear thinker and model citizen, who boasts of being married to his childhood sweetheart for 44 years, with two college-educated sons, it's understandable why he's president of the Baltimore Chapter of the National Veteran Boxers Association.
"As close as I am to the game," he says, "I can't begin to sort out all the champions, so I wonder how this must baffle the public. The last time I counted there were 17 different champions. It damages interest. Cruiserweights, junior middleweights, oh, I could go on and on. I don't know if television created the glut, but it's not in boxing's best interest."
A clarification is needed, but that might be too much to expect because the boxing business has never offered logic or even common sense to support the worldwide bureaucracy it created for itself. Klingmeyer has been offered an orderly and respected voice. After 18 years as a referee and judge, he has applied for a position on the Maryland State Athletic Commission.
He has opinions the sport should welcome. In Maryland, he admits, without bias, referees and judges should be paid more than $62 for working a full night of professional boxing. That should change, along with a boost in the salaries of the commissioners and inspectors.
Offering an independent observation, contrary to popular opinion, he believes a referee should have a vote. "I know they took the responsibility away because it was believed it would free a referee to concentrate more on the action. But I know from experience, a referee sees what's happening a lot better than anyone outside the ring. He's the one closest to the fighters."
In Maryland, Klingmeyer takes pride in pointing out that "hometown decisions" have never been a problem. This is to the credit of Klingmeyer and other judges, past and present. In the main, boxers from outside the state get the fair shake they deserve.
He says there's little doubt in his mind the most competent referees in history were Arthur Donovan and Arthur Mercante Sr., mainly because of the way they handled pressure in major bouts. It bothers him, though, that boxing hasn't established a pension for its own.
"I certainly think with so much money from television rights that some small percentage could be put aside to build a retirement program," he said. "It has been talked about but nothing happens. An ideal man to head this would be someone the type of an Al Flora, who was a fighter, a manager, a promoter and a businessman. He also is a boxing commissioner."
Why isn't there a higher grade of fighter? "To succeed in boxing, and I don't care how much ability you have, it's necessary to be dedicated. When I was young I had a good friend named George Neubeck, who was a top prospect. But he didn't like to spend time in the gym or to run at 6 a.m. A great future awaits if you're willing to accept the personal demands."
As to the finest boxers in his lifetime, he names Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis. In 1984, he made an appointment with Robinson at his Hollywood office and had an hour-and-a-half visit that counts among his fondest memories. The same with getting to know Archie Moore.
When Klingmeyer, as a referee, delivers pre-fight ring instructions, he makes it succinct: "Protect yourself at all times. Keep punches up. Obey my commands." It's not an occasion, with the boxers and crowd waiting for the opening bell, to listen to a reading from the rule book.
Boxing and refereeing span 52 years for Klingmeyer. There has never been a time, either fighting or officiating, when he didn't give the assignment an honest count.