Joe Cortez was the third man in the ring with some of the best boxers in history, and he holds the unofficial record for world championship fights as a referee. Yet he's still capable of being thrilled by the announcement of the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Canelo Alvarez fight.
"I want to see the fight in person, to chat with fans and talk about this matchup that will be very special," said Cortez, who entered the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2011 and retired last year. "This will be one of the biggest fights in boxing in the last 10 years."
Cortez officiated four Mayweather fights and one Alvarez bout, when the junior middleweight titlist knocked out Josesito Lopez last September. That was also Cortez's farewell fight.
When asked what impressed him most about Mayweather, Cortez pointed to the pound-for-pound king's intelligence and preparation.
"In the ring, having been with [some of the best fighters in the world], I could see that Mayweather had an amazing style. He's always thinking, he knows when to throw his combinations," said Cortez, 69, who oversaw Mayweather's controversial knockout of Victor Ortiz in 2011. "Mayweather throws his punch, and most times he's going to land that punch.
"He's very smart, he brings style and spirit [to the ring]. When he moves in the ring, you say, 'Wow!' He’s very hard to beat."
But Cortez, who refereed almost 3,000 fights in a career that lasted 35 years, also was impressed by Alvarez in the Lopez fight (after which the Mexican star symbolically placed his title belt on the referee's waist, knowing it was Cortez's last fight).
"He was very poised, never lost his control in the ring and had tremendous power," Cortez said of Alvarez. "He connected with good body shots, good combinations and had good defense. He looked like a much more experienced fighter than [his age implied]."
That said, Cortez considers Mayweather the favorite against Alvarez. He warns, though, that boxing always has the potential to surprise, and Alvarez could hurt Mayweather with his powerful right hand, as he did in a win over Austin Trout in April.
"Canelo Alvarez is a superstar today, he's a kid who is 22 and has a great future, a boxer with a tremendous style and a guy who is hungry," Cortez said. "I don't know if he has the experience yet that he should have in one or two more years. Mayweather is 36, and 36 is not the same as 22, but he brings a lot of experience to the ring and has a style that is very hard to beat. He has good power, and I think that right now it will be a little hard for Canelo to beat him because Mayweather has the experience and he, in his last fight, fought like a 22-year-old boxer.
"It will be really interesting because I think the two are coming to battle, but the experience always wins over the youth. It's going to be very close, but I'm favoring Mayweather simply because of the history he already has."
Cortez was the referee in another megabout -- the first meeting between Julio Cesar Chavez and Oscar De La Hoya, in 1996 -- which he says resembles the Mayweather-Alvarez matchup.
"Mayweather being Julio and Canelo, Oscar -- one being older and the other younger," Cortez said.
Young De La Hoya, undefeated at the time and already a star in his own right, won that fight 17 years ago. When Alvarez tries to follow his lead on Sept. 14, Cortez plans not to miss it.