He “worked and scuffled,” as he put it, his way out of Springfield’s South End to see more of the world, but he never expected to see this much.
He became a world class boxing referee – working over 1,300 bouts on five continents and in 28 countries – and yet he never saw anything quite like what happened in a ring right here in Tampa where he lives.
“It was really a bizarre situation at the Martinez Center,” Brian Garry said with a laugh. “I had a women’s bout, 126 pounders, and one of the boxers was a beautiful, light-skinned African American. It was like God had built her from a blueprint.
“Well, she comes out dressed as an American Indian. She has rawhide boots and a loin cloth. And up top she’s got this little leather bikini deal. When I was checking her gloves in the prefight, I nodded to the top and said, ‘You’re gonna fight… in that?’
“She says, ‘Oh yeah.’
“I’m thinking ‘this isn’t gonna work’ and, sure enough, in third round she’s mixing it up – and she’s a good boxer – but all of a sudden during an exchange, her left (breast) just bounces right out of her top.
“The whole place is going crazy and I call ‘time.’ But because she’s got boxing gloves on and really can’t do anything, she comes to me.
“I put my arms around her to shield her and she says, ‘Go ahead, put it back!’
“Well, I was trying to and my face was red as can be…. I’ll tell you, I’ve never forgotten that fight.”
When the 76-year-old Garry says he’s seen a thing or two since graduating from Catholic Central High School, playing basketball at Urbana University and getting his degree at Wright State, he’s only scratching the surface.
• He refereed 59 world title fights and is in the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame.
• He officiated bouts featuring some of the best boxers the game has ever known, guys like George Foreman, Evander Holyfield, Roberto Duran, Alexis Arguello and Roy Jones Jr.
• He went with Muhammad Ali to China on a boxing promotional tour in 1993 and was part of that country’s first-ever international boxing match.
• In 1996 he worked the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
• Two years later he refereed the heavyweight title fight between Holyfield and Vaughn Bean in front of a crowd of 41,357 at the Georgia Dome.
• He’s worked fights when the lights went out in the arena, when the ring collapsed and when rain nearly washed away an outdoor show and he had to use a broom to sweep water puddles off the canvas.
• And then there was the 2005 bout between Nate “The Galaxy Warrior” Campbell and Almazbek Raiymkulov, which was a co-main event with the Roy Jones-Antonio Carver title fight at the old Ice Palace in Tampa.
That fight left him black and blue, not red.
“They kept fighting at the end of the round and I stepped in and tried to break them up just as Nate Campbell threw a left hook,” Garry said. “I blocked some of it, but he still caught me right on the jaw. At the same time Raiymkulov threw a right hand and caught me on the bridge of the nose.
“The fans went wild. And even though the guys hadn’t meant it, I was ticked and I went to each of them between rounds.
“I said, ‘Damn you, Nate! I’m gonna disqualify you if you hit me again.’
“In Raiymkulov’s corner I talked to him through an interpreter and told him, ‘Knock it off! When the bell sounds, quit fighting.’
“And then a few rounds later, when they went at it again at the bell, instead of stepping in, I just pushed them together.”
Early start in Springfield
Raised on Ontario Avenue on the South End of Springfield, Garry was introduced to boxing at a young age.
“I had a pair of Rocky Graziano gloves when I was six,” he said. “In fact, I still have them.”
He said by the time he was 10, his dad was running the (UAW) Local 402 boxing gym out of the old Triangle Building in town.
Davey Moore – Springfield’s favorite son who was seven years older than Garry and was about to represent the United States at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics before turning pro and winning the world featherweight crown — trained at the same gym.
“I didn’t know anything when I first came in there,” Garry admitted. “They gave me a stop clock for timing, a bucket, and had me sweep floors and cut off (hand) wraps. But after about six or seven weeks I had boxing gloves on, too.”
He had his first bout at a fight show at UAW picnic near the Clarence J. Brown Dam outside of Springfield.
“I was put in with Richard White, a kid I went to school with,” he said. “We just did 1 ½ minute rounds or so, but that got it in my blood. In junior high and the first years of high school we had intramural boxing. A group of us guys from Central boxed together at the Y, too, and I’d go over to Al Jackson’s gym on West Third in Dayton.”
He said his family struggled financially when he was in high school – “I had three pair of pants, that’s it,” – and then his dad died when Garry was just 19:
“He died in my arms of a heart attack.”
Garry worked various odd jobs – including with circuses and carnivals that came to town – and said he eventually scraped together enough to pay “every dime” of his college expenses.
He started out at Wittenberg, then transferred to Urbana where he was a point guard on the basketball team. He ended up at Wright State, where he got a psychology degree, and then worked in aerospace research at Wright Patterson Air Force Base until, he said, “Nixon took the funds from the space program.”
He went back to college, got a degree in financial services and moved to Tampa where he ended up as a top manager with Aetna Life & Casualty.
Although he was no longer boxing then, he hadn’t gotten it out of his system.
“I hate to say it, but boxing is almost like a drug,” he said. “Once you’re exposed to the Sweet Science – once you taste it, smell it, breathe it – it’s in your blood.”
And, sure enough, at age 36 he and a friend returned to the gym, supposedly just to get in shape. This time he was training alongside future champs like John “The Beast” Mugabi and Cornelius Boza -Edwards and his love of boxing was renewed.
“Finally one day Jimmy Williams, who was my coach, sat me down to talk because I was going to work at a Fortune 500 company with black eyes and a nose that was starting to spread,” he said.
“Jimmy said, ‘You’re married. You’ve got two kids. If you want this more than your next breath, we’ll go forward, but let me recommend something. Why don’t you think about being a coach or an official?’
“I went home and told my wife and she said, ‘Why don’t you try being a referee?’
“I considered myself an athlete and told her, ‘I hate referees,’ but then I tried it.”
And, like before, he was hooked.
He refereed his first bout – an four-rounder between welterweights Harvey Hester and Saphiel Ali at Curtis Hixon Hall in Tampa – that was part of a card televised on USA cable.
Angelo Dundee, who was doing color commentary at ringside, made some nice comments on air about his work and the following week the local fight commission signed Garry as one of its pro referees.
His first title fight was five years later when IBF featherweight champ Kelvin Seabrooks met Fernando Beltran in Paris. Soon after he was in demand everywhere.
“I’ve done fights in Melbourne, Australia, Cartagena, China, Japan, Thailand and all across Europe,” he said. “I’ve been to Germany 15 times.
“Boxing has been very good to both me and my wife (Phyllis.) It’s allowed us to travel the world.”
Garry judged George Foreman’s fight with Tim Anderson in 1987 and refereed his bout with Ladislao Mijangos at the Lee Country Civic Center in Fort Myers a year later.
“Ooooh man …his fist is this big and this thick,” said Garry holding his hands apart to signify the size of a cantaloupe.
“He’s built like a defensive tackle. His wrists are bigger than my forearms. When he throws a jab, it’s like being hit by a 4 X 4. When I checked his gloves in the corner before the (Mijangos) fight, I said, ‘Feels like you got some dynamite in there tonight Champ.’
“And he goes, ‘Hee, hee, hee…there might be a little bit.’
“He stretched the guy in two rounds.”
Garry remembered refereeing the second last fight of Arguello’s career, a 10-round bout at the Miami Beach Convention Center in 1994 with Jorge Palomares, who had a 3-12 record, but was more than a decade younger than the 42-year-old Hall of Famer.
“Alex was a good looking guy and he was trim and still ripped, but he had nothing left,” Garry said. “He managed to win a close decision because he schooled the guy, but Palomares leathered him.
“I talked to Alex in the dressing room afterward and it looked like someone had taken a meat tenderizer to his face. He looked in the mirror and finally said, ‘Brian, look at my face! I never looked like this before. I couldn’t get out of the way of his punches. I’m fit, but I can’t fight… I’m done. It’s over.’”
Garry also recalled Duran’s fight with Carlos Jiminez at the Knight Center in Miami:
“Duran got caught by a left hook in the first round and went down. He went down a second time with a body shot to the liver. This time he curled up in as fetal position and I’m counting and thinking, ‘He’s not gonna get up!’
“But at about 7, I hear this guttural roar – “eeraaaaah” – come from deep inside him and he gets up and neutralizes the kid the rest of that round. He starts to come on in the third and keeps it up every round after.
“In the 10th he sticks his chin out at the kid, takes three shots and doesn’t even flinch. Then he finished him.”
Garry retired as a ref in 2009 at age 66.
“I could still do it, but I didn’t want to get to the point where the commission gave me the hook,” he said. “I wanted to do it like Marciano did and go out on my own terms.
That same year he joined the efforts of Butch and Kathy Flansburg, Steve Canton, Sam Cohen and a few others to launch the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame. Last weekend the organization enshrined its 10th class in a gala three-day affair in Tampa.
And Garry still judges fights – he’s done eight world title bouts – and his autobiography, “Your Third Man in the Ring,” is being shopped to publishers.
All this now shows how shortsighted his assessment was after high school when he initially set aside boxing.
“I had always liked it, but back then I figured it wasn’t a sport where I could be anything great,” he said with a shrug and a smile. “I figured boxing wasn’t something where I could ever stand out.”