Laurence Cole is a boxing referee who has traveled the world and officiated hundreds of bouts, including three fights featuring Oscar De La Hoya and a matchup between Manny Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barerra at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Every year, he referees the charity fight night that Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket organizes. And he refereed the bout between Humberto Soto and Oscar Diaz at Cowboys Stadium last month. Around here, Cole is known as the 46-year-old East Dallas dad who works out at lunchtime and runs the Cole Insurance Agency.

How did you become a boxing ref?

My grandfather, Laurence “Frenchie” Cole, was a prizefighter when boxing was not heavily regulated, and he helped start the Dallas Golden Gloves. My uncles all fought. My father fought; he went to North Texas on a boxing scholarship in the ’50s. I have two twin cousins who were very good in the ’70s. Another cousin was No. 4 in the world at the 1980 Olympic trials. If you crew up a Cole, you grew up around the sport, and wound up doing it.

So you were a boxer?

No. I got to the point where I enjoyed being around it, but I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t any good. My coach said I had slow hands and a weak chin. My father [Dickie Cole, who now is head of the Texas boxing commission] was a ring official at the time, and he knew I couldn’t fight, so he said, “I can make you an official.”

Your dad trained you?

Yes. He taught me all the basic skills, the basic techniques. He worked with me a lot in the gym. Since we’ve worked so many fights together, he taught me to listen and not be so defensive. He’s very critical, but the reason he’s critical is that he always wanted me to get better, and I have a handful of friends who are like that.

When did you start refereeing?

I was about 25, and most boxing officials are like 60. I worked a lot of amateur fights for years, and was able to get into some pro fights. Then when my dad retired, it left a void in Texas for a boxing referee to work. And that’s how I’ve gained my experience.

What are some of the biggest fights you’ve officiated?

Shane Mosley and Vernon Flores — that was a rematch, and it was a real big fight in 2002. I was asked to judge the Tyson/Lennox Lewis fight in Memphis, but I got bumped at the last minute. It hurt at the time, but one of my friends said, because of the exposure, you don’t want it. And the guy who did do it isn’t doing much now. So that was probably for the best. Almost any big fight in Texas, I am on the card somewhere. I work a lot of fights overseas.

Like where?

I’ve worked a lot of big fights in Japan. Denmark. Germany. I travel for the World Boxing Organization.

This is a difficult question, but I want to ask about the fight you refereed [in May 2009 in Dallas] where one of the boxers died.

I really haven’t said much about that because, honestly, your fear is that you’re going to get sued. It was very surreal. Everything was done right, which was lucky. The kid [24-year-old Benjamin Flores] was in surgery within an hour of me stopping the fight … and they found he had an aneurism on the interior of his brain. It wasn’t a violent fight. You work fights where you go, “That boy’s not going to be able to tie his shoes tomorrow.” But this was not one of them. I stopped it because most fighters, when they get a lot of pressure, they cover up and then they’ll look for a way out. When he covered up, he looked like a 4-year-old. His corner didn’t know why I stopped it.

How did you get past that?

I didn’t work for a couple of months. It was difficult for me. A buddy of mine runs the ER at Presby, and he goes through that everyday. We’d go have a couple of beers and he told me, you know, you did all you could do. I always had a reputation for stopping fights too soon, and then something like that happens.

What makes a good boxing ref?

Empathy. Confidence. You have to understand the rules, and there’s a lot of guys out there who understand the rules, but empathy and compassion and being able to concentrate. You’ve got corners yelling at you; you’ve got fans yelling at you. I’m an emotional, passionate person, and I have a hot temper sometimes. But when I’m working, I’m cool. I can take my time in the ring. I can do it there where I can’t do it other places in my life. It’s ironic.

How did you get into the insurance business?

I got into the insurance business in ’92, writing standard stuff — life, home, health, and I still do that. But I’m one of the only insurance agents in the country that will write health insurance for a boxer. And I realized there was only one agent writing spectator liability insurance for boxing matches, so I started doing that, and that’s been a great niche market. Now I write insurance for all kinds of events and concerts. I covered a snowboarding exhibition in downtown Milwaukee. You know, you just get known for something, and then you start getting tons of work.

You have three sons — two at Bishop Lynch and one at St. John’s Episcopal School. They’re Cole boys. Are they boxers?

No. I love sports. I still play soccer now. But to get hit in the head? To get hit in the body? You have to have a lot of tenacity to be good at the sport of boxing. Their will is a lot stronger than just being great athletes. It takes that mental fortitude to be good at it. My kids play hockey. My sixth-grader plays everything and bass guitar. They all skateboard and play Xbox and Wii and all that. I’m lucky because my ex-wife is a great mom. I have great kids.


WANT MORE?
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.