Las Vegas Sun

November 19, 2018

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Longtime referee Curtis dies at 79

A hard, straight left from then-World Boxing Council bantamweight champion Lupe Pintor to Jovito Rengifo's jaw made the challenger's eyes roll in his head. Referee Joey Curtis had seen enough.

Leaping between the two 118-pounders in the seventh round of their bout on June 26, 1981, Curtis hugged Rengifo and waved his right hand in the air. "No more," he shouted as the packed house at the old Showboat Sports Pavilion drowned him out with a resounding chorus of boos.

It did not matter to Curtis, an ex-fighter, that Rengifo was ahead on two of the three judges' cards or that he likely would never get another world title shot. On that day the safety of the fighter was all that mattered to Curtis.

Boxing referee George "Joey" Curtis died Thursday at St. Rose Dominican Hospital's Siena Campus in Henderson. He was 79.

Services for the Las Vegas resident of 30 years, who owned and operated Curtis Construction Co., will be at 7 p.m. today at Palm Mortuary Eastern. A graveside service will be at 10 a.m Wednesday at Palm Valley View Cemetery.

"Joey was a great guy -- a fun guy to be around -- and a competent referee," said Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission, which licensed Curtis as a referee in Nevada from 1971 through 1993.

"To him, the health and safety of the fighter was of primary importance."

It was such concern for fighters' health that landed Curtis in hot water on Dec. 10, 1982, when he stopped the Michael Dokes vs. Mike Weaver World Boxing Association heavyweight fight in the first round at the old Dunes hotel, giving Dokes the title.

Many ringside observers felt the fight should have continued, but Curtis said after the bout that he was influenced by a world lightweight title bout just weeks earlier at Caesars Palace in which champion Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini killed then-undefeated Duk Koo Kim.

In addition to his refereeing duties, Curtis served as president of the National Veterans Boxing Association Ring 711 in Las Vegas in the 1980s.

Curtis is enshrined in the World Boxing Hall of Fame.

Born April 9, 1925, in Romania, Curtis and his family immigrated to New York when he was 3.

A Navy veteran of World War II, Curtis took up boxing in the service and had a brief professional career as a featherweight -- 126 pounds -- after his discharge.

"We were on the Navy boxing team together, and he was a cocky little fellow back then," said longtime Las Vegas boxing judge and former Nevada Boxing Commissioner Art Lurie. "I was his chief and, to teach him some discipline, I would order him to wash white rocks with a toothbrush."

Curtis is survived by his wife of 57 years, Mary Curtis of Las Vegas; a daughter, Laura Curtis-Latrenta of Harrington Park, N.J.; a son-in-law, Richard Latrenta, also of Harrington Park; and two grandchildren, Emily and Bobby Latrenta.