THERE is a long tradition of top-flight boxers becoming referees after retirement. Being the third man in the ring is not a position that would suit everybody, but ex-fighters, having been there themselves, particularly at championship level, have more than most to offer when it comes to experience and competence in what often is a challenging role.
Jack Hart, Johnny Summers and Jim Kenrick are all good examples of this back in the 1920s, and Jimmy Wilde was a capable and very popular ref a decade later. The tradition continued after the war when Tommy Little, Benny Caplan, Ike Powell and Eugene Henderson carried the flag. In 2019 I produced an article on Wally Thom, a very good referee throughout the 1970s, and the British welterweight champion during the 1950s, and now I would like to pay tribute to another from the same era who followed this route, Croydon’s Mark Hart.
Mark was part of a group of boxers from Croydon who made a real impact on the domestic scene in the early 1950s, the others being Pat Stribling, Ron Pudney and Albert Finch. All four boxed at either middleweight or light-heavy and, no doubt, they would have frequently sparred each other. Stribling was managed by Tom Fisher, a Croydon man, whose stable was packed with local lads. Both Pudney and Finch went with Jack Burns, and Mark was managed by John Harding, the ex-manager of the National Sporting Club.
A very good amateur, Mark won the 1944 ABA heavyweight title, and the following year he turned professional. After starting out as a heavyweight, his trainer, Jack Hyams, decided that he would make a better middleweight and slowly reduced his size. This made him into a formidable and powerful challenger at the new weight. By 1947 he was the South-Eastern area champion and was good enough to share the ring with both Dick and Randolph Turpin (with whom he shared a six-round draw), Albert Finch and Don Cockell.
By 1949, after switching weights again, he was the number one challenger for the British light-heavyweight title, having previously earned the same position at middleweight, and, after winning 36 of his 47 contests he was matched against Reg Spring of Southall for the South-Eastern area light-heavyweight title.
This bout took place at the Royal Albert Hall and Mark punched his way to a clear 12-round points victory. After a shaky start to 1950, when he won only two of his first four contests, he outpointed Dennis Powell in a British title eliminator and this earned him the right to meet Don Cockell again, this time for the British title. In a great fight at Harringay Arena, Mark was knocked out in the 14th round. As there was a printer’s strike on at the time, BN sadly did not carry a report of this contest. Mark had five more contests, with three wins, before he hung up his gloves in 1953.
Throughout most of the 1950s and 1960s, BN did not routinely provide the name of the referee for the contests that it reported upon. This is standard practice today and has been for over 50 years. It is quite difficult, therefore, to provide much in the way of detail about Mark’s early career as a referee, but he was certainly acting as third man by the mid-1960s and he was a regular throughout Southern area rings during the 1970s.
He never achieved ‘star’ status, but he was good enough to referee the 12-rounder between Charlie Nash and Jimmy Revie at the World Sporting Club in 1976. I also remember Mark in charge of the Randy Neumann and Billy Aird bout in 1975, the nine-rounder between Paddy Maguire and John Kellie the following year and Jimmy Batten against Trevor Francis in 1977. He packed in as a referee in 1979 and then became a popular member of the very active Croydon Ex-Boxers Association, where he is still remembered. He died in 2004.