MaxD4-500x334Max De Luca wins prestigious award in Cancún

“And the NEW 2010 WBC Judge of the Year…MAX DE LUCA, hailing from Southern California!”

Upon his recent return from the World Boxing Council’s (WBC) 48th World Convention in Cancún, the professional boxing official had some exciting news to share with his family, friends and colleagues. During a special ceremony, WBC President Don Jose Sulaimán made a heartfelt presentation to De Luca and his fellow official Vic Drakulich, who was awarded the WBC Referee of the Year.

“The convention was a blast–there was a lot of love,” Jill Diamond, of the WBC, NABF and World Boxing Cares, tells me. And of the well-deserved award to De Luca, she remarks, “Max at ringside is decisive and elegant. Outside of the ring, he’s one of the sweetest gentlemen you could hope to meet. He defines good natured.”

For us boxing aficionados, we can all quickly identify the gladiators of the ring whose mugs we see regularly on TV or at live fights. But what about the officials? They are part of a quiet group of unsung heroes who are both invaluable and indispensable in boxing. Without the three judges perched above the apron, those hands of the boxers wouldn’t be raised in victory; those championship belts wouldn’t be strapped around the waists of these athletes if it wasn’t for the judges’ all-important scorecards.

While many of you may recognize some of the high-profile referees as the “third man” in the ring, I bet most of you wouldn’t normally spot a boxing judge if you happened to cross him or her in the street. Although they are usually the “first one in, last one out” at the fights, these pro boxing officials choose to stay out of the limelight while staying completely neutral in judging. They are there to do their job judiciously, fairly and unbiased.

Max De Luca is part of this corp of officials. And if the name De Luca sounds familiar, it is because he is a second generation official. His father Dr. Michael De Luca was a ringside doctor for over three decades. He has since retired, but his son–his heir apparent in boxing–continues in his father’s legacy.

Born and raised in Villa Park, the strapping young judge from Orange County is from a large Italian family and the youngest of nine children. “Yes, I have five sisters and three brothers,” he confirms with a chuckle. He says his siblings also enjoy boxing but he is the only one who works in the sport.

And Maximo is the “baby” of the De Luca brood.

“You deserve a prize for being the youngest of nine,” I say. “Christmas must have been fun!”

“My parents deserve a prize!” he answers. “And Christmas still is really fun!” Max stays close to his roots; and he obliges me listing the names of all eight. “Here you go–in order: Mick, Margie, Mary, Mira, Marilyn, Marc, Monica and Matt!” says the youngest son of the bunch. “I know…” he jokes. “My parents are crazy!”

“So they like the letter “M”? Just a guess…” I counter.

“Well, my mom’s name is Dorothy! The only one without an “M,” he notes of his beloved mother who passed away ten years ago. “She was the foundation; she and my dad were married 40 years.”

Dorothy De Luca’s name may not officially start with the letter “M,” but I think this mother of the “Magnificent Nine” actually does own the best name that begins with an “M”–that of being called “MOM.” And the prodigal son certainly made the patriarch proud too. “My father’s birthday was Sunday,” Max mentions. “So I got to take the award to my sister’s house where we had his birthday party.” His WBC Judge of the Year award is a gleaming silver plate with De Luca’s name engraved on it. It is the highest award earned in honor of official Harry Gibbs, the famed British boxing judge and referee.

Always unfailingly polite and unassuming, I often see the newest awardee at various fights around town. He is sincere in what he does and is well-liked among his peers and colleagues. A frequent participant in seminars for judges and referees, he attended last month’s IPRO (International Professional Ring Officials) with Duane Ford in Vegas. De Luca has judged 22 world title fights and has also logged in over a thousand fights in his 13-year tenure thus far. He is also a globe-trotting official, traveling to many countries along the way. And by now, while he has certainly judged the brightest, biggest elite superstars of the ring, the humble official is also just as happy judging a local club fight in a small venue.

And after a bit of coaxing from me, Max, who has worked as a judge in the State of California since 1998 and has been a WBC judge since 2006, took part in this following Q&A where he gives me a glimpse of what it’s really like to be a judge, proves his 100% dedication to the sweet science and reveals his thoughts on receiving the WBC award!

Michele Chong: Hi Max! First and foremost: Congratulations on being voted WBC’s 2010 “Judge of the Year”!

Max De Luca: Thank you, Michele! It’s a great honor being a WBC official and this is the best honor I will probably ever, ever receive. I was very surprised; we have so many great judges that were all deserving of this award too. I have so much respect for Don Jose and Mauricio Sulaimán and their organization–and I love being part of the WBC family.

MC: How does one get to be a WBC official?

MD: I had to build up a lot of experience and a lot of regional titles in California. Then when I got my resumé to where it was good enough, I attended a WBC Convention in Croatia. I felt I was ready to do my first fight and I was lucky enough to do my very first WBC title fight in Japan.

And I was brought up kind of like the fighters are brought up! I started out doing four rounders; that was it. And I worked my way up to do regional titles and then world championship fights.

MC: And now you have traveled the world through boxing…

MD: Yes! I’ve been to Japan five times, I’ve been all over Mexico to do fights, Canada, Croatia, the Philippines, China and Korea for conventions. And I’ve also judged in the states of California, Texas, Oklahoma and Nevada.

MC: Have you ever boxed?

MD: No, I never boxed competitively but I was taught by my dad who was a boxer in college, at a small private college in Iowa.

MC: How did your father’s career influence your own path in boxing?

MD: My dad was a ringside doctor for over 30 years. I never would have gotten into boxing if it wasn’t for him! I can remember going to the Olympic, the Forum and the Irvine Marriott. I grew up going to the fights with him and I got to know all the officials. I loved it and knew that’s what I wanted to do–I wanted to be part of the sport in some way.

MC: Is your dad still involved in boxing?

MD: He’s retired now; he was also a psychiatrist. He still watches and comes to the fights every once in a while. Also, he was inducted into the California Boxing Hall of Fame in 2007 and the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999.

MC: Tell me about your first professional fight as a judge and about your first world title fight.

MD: As a judge, it was at the Irvine Marriott and it was a four-round fight that ended in a knockout. My very first world title fight ever was the IBF fight between Manny Pacquiao and Emmanuel Lucero. It was in 2003 in L.A. And my first WBC title fight was in Japan.

MC: Can you name three of your most memorable fights you were assigned to?

MD: Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez III, Sugar Shane Mosley-Antonio Margarito and Oscar De La Hoya-Stevie Forbes.

MC: What do you think is the best thing about being a boxing judge?

MD: The very best thing is the boxing community; it’s great with great people involved in the sport. Also, being able to travel the world and meeting friends all over who have something in common–boxing. I’ve met some of my best friends through boxing.

MC: And on the flip side, can you name some of the most challenging aspects about being a judge?

MD: Yes! You have to block EVERYTHING out once you get there. And when the fight starts, you block out the crowd, you block out the TV announcers, you have to be 100% focused. You have boxers’ livelihood and careers on the line. You want to do the best job you can so it’s important that you concentrate and block everything out.

MC: During the break between rounds what are you thinking about?

MD: I block everything out and get ready for the next round. I don’t think about the previous round. It’s like going into a zone; I can’t lose concentration.

MC: Okay Max, please complete this sentence: “If I wasn’t a boxing judge, I’d be…”

MD: A BOXING WRITER!

MC: (Laughs) Are you just saying that?

MD: No! (Laughs) Really, if I wasn’t a judge I would like to still be involved in the sport so either as a writer or maybe like an announcer or commentator.

MC: And you also have been in films and TV, right?

MD: Yes, I played referee Harry Kessler (in the Muhammad Ali-Ernie Terrell fight) in the “Ali” movie. And I worked the first three seasons of “Contender.”

MC: What are your other interests besides boxing?

MD: I love other sports–football and the Chicago Bears, baseball and the Chicago Cubs. I also like working out and playing softball. And…well…that’s about it. (Laughs)

MC: Tell me about your highlights from the Cancun convention?

MD: Besides receiving the award I would say the highlights were attending the Judges Seminar that was well run by Duane Ford and Tom Kaczmarek, hanging out with my friends Julie Lederman, Craig Metcalfe from Canada and Laurence Cole from Texas–we had a great time!

MC: You have a great group of officials you’ve met throughout the years. Who were your mentors when you first began?

MD: I’ve had great mentors: the late Lou Filippo, Larry Rozadilla and Chuck Hassett. And also Raul Caiz Sr., Pat Russell, Fritz Werner, Marty Denkin, Duane Ford, Tom Kaczmarek, Dean Lohuis, Armando Garcia, and Dr. James Jen-Kin. He and my dad both came from Chicago and I’ve known Dr. Jen-Kin since I was a little kid.

MC: Boxing officials do seem like they have a good camaraderie between them.

MD: Yes, and I do have many great colleagues like Julie Lederman from New York, Steve Weisfeld from New Jersey, Craig Metcalfe, Laurence Cole, Steve Morrow, David Mendoza, Jack Reiss, Tony Crebs, Raul Caiz Jr., Ray Corona, Jose Cobian, Tom Taylor, among others.

MC: Thanks, Max! Congrats again on your award. And we’ll see you at the next fight.

MD: Thank you, Michele!

With his suntan from Cancún still intact, you will see Max back at the fights ringside. He likes to attend boxing matches, showing his support even if he’s not working a fight. His peers in the field say this sincerity and dedication is what sets the new “Judge of the Year” apart from others. His fellow official, judge and referee Tom Taylor has known De Luca for over two years now. “Max is a consummate pro and is always willing to learn. And if he’s not working a show, he is probably there in the audience watching and scoring to stay sharp,” relays Taylor. “His integrity and knowledge about boxing is what separates him from the rest–and we are lucky to have him part of our team. I consider myself lucky to call him a friend and I look forward to always learning something from him!”

Adds Taylor, “He is much deserving of the award–that is for sure!”

While Tom was not in attendance at this year’s WBC convention, one veteran conventioneer was. Boxing photographer Carlos Baeza has known Max for over nine years now. “My thoughts are that as a person, Max is very reserved, an introvert. But he is friendly and outgoing when he feels the energy of others,” offers Baeza. “As a professional boxing judge, Max has a lot of dedication and has been involved in the sport of boxing as a young child. And he attends all of the judging seminars–he knows his business!”

I also spoke with a mutual friend who knows Max and who also knows his business as a judge too, the one and only Harold Lederman. The most famous judge as HBO‘s “unofficial” ringside scorer praises De Luca. “He is a terrific judge and a great guy,” Lederman enthused. “He just loves boxing; he delves into it and has respect for the way fights are scored. He has an enormous passion for the game–he was like I was at 25– with that passion. If I could have, I would’ve watched two cockroaches fight and try and score it–Max has that same passion!” Harold also states that there is a wave of young guns making an impact in the sport. “Now we have a whole new boxing generation,” the ebullient judge shares. “A new young group of officials who are doing a marvelous job like Max De Luca, Craig Metcalfe, Raul Caiz Jr., David Denkin, Mark Nelson, Steve Weisfeld, Benjy Esteves, Jon Schorle and others. This younger group is really coming into their own!”

Boxing’s next generation of judges is here to stay. And one integral member of this second generation is Harold’s own daughter, Julie Lederman. The pretty blonde judge was also in Cancún and witnessed Max receiving his special award. “I have known Max for over two years but have admired his work for much longer,” she tells me. “Max is known inside the ring for his honesty, experience and knowledge of the game. Outside the ring, he is known for his ability and willingness to assist and train others.”

With its gorgeous beaches and tropical weather in the Mexican city, it sounds like all the delegates at this year’s WBC convention had a very successful gathering as they met new colleagues and reconnected with other veterans of the sport.

“The highlight of this year’s convention was spending time with fellow officials from all over the world in a beautiful setting,” Julie says. “You can’t get much better than Cancún!”

For Max De Luca, this convention–where he was bestowed with the highest honor–will be one he will never forget.

Congratulations again to the “reigning” WBC Judge of the Year!

Photos by Carlos Baeza/ Additional photos courtesy of Julie Lederman