After refereeing over 140 world title fights in 47 years, Arthur Mercante Sr. retired at the age of 81 in 2001. He would stay around the sport, accompanying his son Arthur Jr. to a fight card in Connecticut in 2004. As related in a 2010 espn.com story by Wallace Matthews, Mercante Jr., also a referee, heard a thump on the floor while staying in a Connecticut hotel with his dad. Fearing the worst, Mercante Jr. scurried to see if his dad had fallen to the floor. “I looked over and he’s down there doing push-ups,’’ Mercante Jr. related. Mercante Sr. was 84 at the time, but had lost none of the toughness that made him what the New York Times called the “most prominent referee in of the past half century’’ after the elder Mercante passed away in 2010.
Mercante Sr. is best known for being the referee in the first Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight in New York in 1971, but he had New England roots. Mercante Sr. was born in Brockton, Mass., where he was a childhood friend of Rocky Marciano. Mercante was also in the Navy, where his commanding officer was Gene Tunney, a former heavyweight champion of the world and a member of the Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame. Mercante has also been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.