Ray Russell has officiated some 5,000 boxing matches all over the world and shows no signs of slowing down.
“I keep myself in good physical condition. The way I look at it is no matter how old you are if you keep yourself physically and mentally strong you’re as good as anyone half your age as far as doing this,” Russell, a Stephenville native, said earlier this week from Florida where he is on vacation.
Russell, a 65-year-old retired member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, is fresh off officiating in his 11th international boxing event at the FeliksStamm Tournament in Warsaw, Poland.
He was involved in 56 bouts in Warsaw, 49 of those bouts as a judge and seven as the referee. Every international bout requires one referee and five judges, so Russell and fellow boxing officials spend more time as a judge at ringside than being in the middle of the concrete jungle making sure it’s a fair fight.
Russell, like most officials he believes, has more flare for being the referee.
“You’re more involved in the action, you’re moving around and you’re more involved in the decision making, although judging is very important obviously,” he said.
Russell moved up through the ranks as an official to the point where he’s qualified to do any boxing match on the international stage. His involvement with boxing also including serving the sport as chief official for five years.
His career has seen him call the shots in major boxing competitions in places like China, Wales, Greece and even a world championship in Cuba.
It’s not exactly a picnic having to travel by plane for long flights up to 24 hours both ways sometimes, but Russell forgets all about the headaches associated with travel pretty easily.
“But, once you arrive at your destination the competition itself makes up for it,” he said.
Russell has experienced pretty well every side of boxing, from competing as a heavyweight to coaching pugilists in boxing clubs in both Nova Scotia and Regina through his life as a young police officer just getting started in his professional life.
He grew up in Stephenville when there wasn’t a glimmer of organized boxing in the town or the west coast, one of many who decided to practice and train on their own. After joining the RCMP he found himself stationed in Cape Breton and quickly immersed himself in the sport with those with a knowledge of the fight game.
He spent four years fighting as a heavyweight.
“I had some wins and I had some losses. I don’t profess to have been the top dog by any means, but I had lots of experience,” he said.
Russell, who has three children with his wife Rita, hung up the gloves in 1974, choosing to stay in the sport and pass on his wisdom in a coaching capacity for the next 10 years.
He ended up being transferred back to Nova Scotia from Regina in 1983, but it would be a move that would mark the end of his coaching career and birth of his officiating gig.
“Due to shift work coaching wasn’t the best because I wasn’t able to get to the gym as often as I’d have to so therefore I went into officiating which, to me, was the ideal thing for me because the referee for example is the policeman in the ring,” he said. “He’s the one who enforces the rules and uses his discretion in doing so and I’ve been doing that ever since.”
Russell recalls trying to ignite a spark to have boxing clubs started up in both Stephenville and Corner Brook several years ago. He believes there is enough knowledgeable people on the west coast who could make things happen and if somebody did step up he feels the boxers would come out of the woodwork.
“I was trying to encourage people in both communities to start it up again because both had boxing previously, but it didn’t work out,”he said.
“It’s sad because the place is ripe for boxing as far as I’m concerned,” he added.