Las Vegas Sun

October 17, 2018

Currently: 56° — Complete forecast

Boxing referee Halpern takes his life

The boxing community was stunned Monday to learn of the death of referee Mitch Halpern, a Las Vegas resident who had officiated a number of high-profile fights.

Halpern, 33, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home.

Metro Police Lt. Wayne Peterson said two other people were in the home at the time. Peterson said officers found Halpern dead of "an obvious self-inflicted gunshot wound."

Details pertaining to a memorial service are pending.

"By all measures he was the best young referee in the world," said his mentor, Richard Steele. "I just can't believe this has happened."

Dr. Elias Ghanem, the chairman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, was equally appalled.

"This is the greatest loss to us, in Nevada and in boxing, ever," he said. "The loss to the boxing world is incredible because I felt Mitch was our best referee.

"Every member of the commission and anyone who knew him is tremendously saddened."

Halpern, who is survived by his parents and a 4-year-old daughter, Maris, from an earlier marriage, was engaged to be married at the time of his death, which occurred Sunday.

Known for his decisiveness in the ring, Halpern officiated 87 world title fights, including the first Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson fight, and two blockbuster championship bouts in 1999 -- Oscar De La Hoya vs. Felix Trinidad and the rematch between heavyweights Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield.

"Mitch was a straightforward guy and a great gentleman," Ghanem said. "I've never seen anybody ever say a bad word about him. He was always polite.

"He was the kind of person you'd want your daughter to marry.

"I would never have expected his life to end this way."

Others in the boxing community expressed similar thoughts.

"I'm just flabbergasted," said Top Rank president Bob Arum. "I don't think he had an enemy. He was such a stable, rational personality -- cool under pressure, unflappable.

"A lot of people, myself included, felt he was the best around. Nobody ever questioned his integrity."

Back in 1997, NSAC executive director Marc Ratner predicted Halpern, barring unforeseen circumstances, would one day retire having worked more title fights than any referee in boxing history.

"There are certain officials in certain sports who are naturals," Ratner said. "Mitch has a real feel for it. He has a strong work ethic and he has been blessed that Richard Steele, Mills Lane and Joe Cortez have taken him under their wing."

During an interview with the Sun prior to the first Tyson-Holyfield fight, Halpern said he was "living his dream."

"I've been to places I never dreamed I'd see," he said. "I've met a lot of wonderful people and made a lot of friends and I want to referee as long as I can.

"I have no desire to be a (boxing) commissioner or a judge. I love being in the ring. It's my passion."