Norfolk fight ref joins Mike Tyson in the record books!

Lee Cook with his Guinness certificate Picture: Lee Cook

Lee Cook with his Guinness certificate Picture: Lee Cook - Credit: Archant

Boxing referee Lee Cook has earned himself a place in the most prestigious record book of them all - as he explained to Chris Lakey

Referee Lee Cook at work in Norwich - here lifting the hand of Norfolk's first female pro boxer, Kin

Referee Lee Cook at work in Norwich - here lifting the hand of Norfolk's first female pro boxer, King's Lynn's Stevi Levy Picture: Picture: Mark Hewlett - Credit: Archant

Question: What do boxing legends Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather and Upwell resident Lee Cook have in common?

Answer: They are all Guinness World Record holders.

Racking up 665 contests as a boxing official, Cook attained the record of Most Professional Boxing Matches Refereed last November, achieving unexpected, but gratifying recognition for what he has put into the sport over a 15-year career.

“My path to the record started when I bumped into journeyman boxer Kevin McCauley (234 fights) outside the York Hall, Bethnal Green on July 23, 2017,” he explained.

“We got talking and he mentioned that he was trying to get the record for most contests in a year. I thought how neat that was and it planted the seed for me to look into what records there were for professional boxing referees.

“I’d been refereeing a lot of contests, travelling the length and breadth of Southern England, from Norwich to Plymouth, Bristol to Southend and I wondered if my numbers in the last few years were enough to constitute some sort of record.

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“When I looked into it, I found there were none relating to how many contests a professional referee had officiated. I applied for the record of ‘most professional boxing matches refereed between 18 April, 2015 to 30 November, 2019’. The description had to be very specific to meet the guidelines of the Guinness World Records.

“I heard that my record had been accepted in March, but then the long and involved process of providing proof and having the record ratified began. I had a mountain of evidence to present as I had clocked up 164 shows, 665 fights as a referee and 120 as a judge during that period.”

Finally, Cook was notified that he was the Guinness World Records title holder.

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“I was delighted as it has been a long road with many hurdles and challenges to overcome in my refereeing career,” he said.

“I am now officially the busiest professional referee in the world, but it’s not always the big shows, TV and glamour that most people associate with the sport. The biggest challenge sometimes is to find a decent toilet and a cup of tea.

“I have always loved the small shows and grassroots of the professional game. Seeing local boxers trying to progress in the hope they will get to title level. For many boxers an area title is their world title and they generally produce some fantastic contests.

“I never set out to achieve any records, it just evolved into one as I went along.”

Achieving the record took Cook almost five years, and a number of factors had to fall into place for him to accomplish it.

“I’ve been lucky that professional boxing has boomed in the UK in recent years and that I have been working in the Southern Area of the British Boxing Board of Control, which is their busiest area,” he said.

“Since returning to the sport after injury in April 2015, I wanted to make myself available for as many shows as possible, regardless of where they were. In each of the last three years, I have driven an average of 8,000 miles to referee during the boxing season.

“I’ve tailored my life around my boxing commitments. I have never regarded it as a hobby, as I have always taken the view that as a professional boxing official, I owe it to myself and to those I officiate to do the most skilled job I can. What people don’t realise is how draining it can be when scoring contests along with refereeing them.”

Elsewhere in the world, contests are officiated by a referee to control the action in the ring and three judges to score the fights. The UK is the only country where the majority of fights are still scored and refereed by one man.

“It takes a lot of concentration to referee and score up to 10 contests in an evening, it’s quite demanding,” he added.

With lockdown, boxing, like all other sports, has been severely affected and the big promoters have now slowly restarted, although it is likely to be a while before the local promoters up and down the country are able to get going again.

“My last show before lockdown was on March 7 in Brentwood,” said Cook. “With time on my hands I started writing books again, which has kept me very busy and fulfilled.

Lee has previously written three books on the history of United States Navy Fighting Squadron 17’s exploits during the Pacific campaign of WWII. “I have a couple of books in the works and hope they will come to fruition soon. There are many other things which I would like to write about and we’ll see where that takes me.”

“As for my refereeing career, I’m honoured to have achieved the Guinness World Record, which is something I believe has never been done before. Being the busiest referee in the world for the last five years is something I am immensely proud of.”

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