Frank Cappuccino, legendary boxing referee, dies at 86

Frank Cappuccino, who refereed numerous world title fights and was also the third man in the ring for one of boxing's most savage slugfests, the first bout between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward, died on Monday in Yardley, Pennsylvania, of complications from Alzheimer's disease. He was 86.

"When he was in his prime, there is no doubt he was one of the top five referees in the world," said Greg Sirb, the executive director of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, who knew Cappuccino well and assigned him to the fights he worked in the state since 1989.

Cappuccino, a Philadelphia native, was a fixture on the city's robust fight scene for decades. Cappuccino boxed as an amateur lightweight in the 1940s and had a brief professional career, going 3-0 in the summer of 1949 as he won each four-round bout by decision.

He turned to officiating in the late 1950s and served as a referee and judge for decades.

"When he was reffing, he was poetry in motion," Sirb said. "He had as much respect from the fighters as any referee there is. I just think they liked his style. He was straightforward. When you got Frank Cappuccino assigned to your bout, you knew you made it."

Cappuccino served as a judge for a number of world title bouts, but mostly worked the fight cards in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, New Jersey, last scoring bouts in 2010.

A member of the Pennsylvania and New Jersey boxing halls of fame, Cappuccino was much more well known as a referee, working thousands of fights until 2008. He was assigned to referee numerous major fights. He was the referee for six Mike Tyson fights, including one of the biggest fights in history, Tyson's 1988 undisputed heavyweight championship fight with Michael Spinks, whom he knocked out in 91 seconds, in Atlantic City.

Cappuccino refereed a pair of Bernard Hopkins' undisputed middleweight championship defenses (Carl Daniels in 2002 and Morrade Hakkar in 2003) as well as two Lennox Lewis heavyweight title defenses in 1998 (Shannon Briggs and Zeljko Mavrovic).

He also refereed world title bouts involving the likes of Marvin Hagler, Pernell Whitaker, Johnny Tapia, Zab Judah, Kostya Tszyu, Stevie Johnston, James Toney, Michael Moorer and Meldrick Taylor, not to mention many other world title bouts in Asia.

"When you had Cappuccino, it was one less thing I had to worry about," Sirb said. "Of all the times I assigned him to a fight, I never once had a single person call me to say they didn't want him assigned to their bout. It never happened."

As many big-time fights as Cappuccino refereed, it was his performance in the classic 2002 first junior welterweight showdown between Gatti and Ward at the Mohegan Sun Resort Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, that many will remember most.

Ward won the 2002 fight of the year by 10-round majority decision. But after an extremely violent ninth round, one of the greatest rounds in boxing history, it appeared as though Gatti's corner was going to stop the fight after he had been knocked down by a body shot and taken tremendous punishment.

Gatti trainer Buddy McGirt, however, did not stop the fight, but Ward and his corner thought it had been called off. Cappuccino, standing in the middle of the ring, brought the fighters together, and HBO picked up his voice at that moment as he howled, "Whoa, whoa, fight ain't over! Fight ain't over! No, last round!"

"That was Frank, Philly-style," Sirb said. "He was a die-hard Philly guy. He loved boxing. I'd ask Frank to do the little shows -- make that three- or four-hour drive to the places like Allentown or Scranton for shows. He was there. He did all the club shows as well as the world title fights."

Cappuccino is survived by wife, Florence Cappuccino.