The first fight between unified middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez ended in a storm of controversy last September, when it was ruled a split draw, with judge Adalaide Byrd's wildly wide 118-110 card in favor of Alvarez drawing worldwide condemnation.
With the rematch less than a month away -- back at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Sept. 15 (HBO PPV, 8 p.m. ET) -- the Nevada State Athletic Commission on Wednesday quashed a brewing referee controversy at its monthly meeting, where it appointed the officials for the sequel.
In the end, the commission unanimously approved the appointment of New Jersey referee Benjy Esteves Jr. and judges Dave Moretti of Las Vegas, New Jersey's Steve Weisfeld and Glenn Feldman of Connecticut.
While neither camp had an issue with the judging panel, the referee appointment was not as easy.
Nevada commission executive director Bob Bennett provided both sides with his list of potential referees and judges two weeks ago. At that point, the camps could voice any concerns before Bennett's recommendation to the five commissioners at the meeting.
The referee pool originally included Kenny Bayless, who was the third man in the ring for the first Golovkin-Alvarez fight and is widely considered the best referee in the world. Bennett planned to appoint him to work the rematch as well. However, on Tuesday night, Bayless was removed from the pool because he informed Bennett that he would not be available on Sept. 15 due to personal reasons.
So Bennett replaced Bayless with Tony Weeks, another of the world's best and most experienced referees, and notified Golovkin promoter Tom Loeffler and Alvarez promoter Eric Gomez, the president of Golden Boy Promotions.
At Wednesday's meeting, Loeffler strenuously objected to Weeks as a possible referee for the fight. The reason was because of an issue that Abel Sanchez, Golovkin's trainer, has with Weeks stemming from his work in a December fight in Las Vegas between junior lightweight Denis Shafikov, whom Sanchez trains, and Rene Alvarado.
"Tony was giving the prefight instructions in the dressing room, and Abel was trying to clarify something," Loeffler told ESPN following the commission meeting. "The gist of it was Abel didn't agree with some of the instructions Tony was giving, so he didn't feel comfortable with Tony in this fight. When Abel voiced that to me last night, I told Eric, and I made it clear to the commission that we have nothing against Weeks. If they want to assign him to a different fight on the show, no problem. It was just the [main event] Abel had a problem with."
Loeffler told the commission that the Golovkin camp would be happy with either of two other referees in the pool -- Esteves or Robert Byrd. However, commission members voiced concern about appointing Byrd because he is married to Adalaide Byrd -- which could create possible undue controversy even before the fight.
At that point, Bennett recommended Esteves, both camps agreed and the commission approved the appointment.
"Benjy is very experienced and fast in the ring," Loeffler said. "The main objective from both sides is to focus on the fighters, not the officials. We have accomplished that going into the fight. Neither side has an issue with the officials."
Gomez said the Alvarez side would have had no problem had Weeks been appointed but was fine with Esteves as well as the judges.
"We're very pleased," Gomez told ESPN. "They are the top guys with the most experience, and that is what we want. We have no issue with Benjy whatsoever. What we want [is for] everyone to be comfortable with the officials. We don't want any controversy with the officials, and we don't want any excuses after the fight, and I think we achieved that today. I understand Tom's position about Weeks. We had the list of potential referees two weeks back and then it got changed [Tuesday] night, so it was of concern."
Esteves, who will be paid $5,000 to referee the fight, has never worked a Golovkin or Alvarez bout.
Moretti was a judge for the first fight and scored it 115-113 in favor of Golovkin (38-0-1, 34 KOs). The rematch will be Moretti's second Golovkin fight. He has judged six previous bouts involving Alvarez (49-1-2, 34 KOs), including megafights with Floyd Mayweather, Miguel Cotto and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Weisfeld will be judging his fourth Golovkin fight and his first Alvarez bout. Feldman will be working his fourth Golovkin fight and third Alvarez bout. Each judge will make $2,500.
Weeks was appointed to referee the co-feature in which Jaime Munguia (30-0, 25 KOs) will defend his junior middleweight world title for the second time when he faces Brandon Cook (20-1, 13 KOs). The judges for that bout will be Nevada's Burt Clements, New York's Julie Lederman and New York's John McKaie.
The middleweight undercard bout between former world titlist David Lemieux (39-4, 33 KOs) and Gary "Spike" O'Sullivan (28-2, 20 KOs) will have referee Russell Mora and judges Robert Hoyle of Nevada, Max De Luca of California and Don Trella of Connecticut.