DUBAI // The organiser of Dubai's International Boxing Championship (DIBC) announced last night the recruitment of the renowned American referee Steve Smoger in an attempt to put an end to long-standing scepticism regarding objective officiating in the UAE.
Ever since Eisa Aldah, the country's first professional boxer, beat Larry Foster in March 2007 with a controversial first-round knockout at the Dubai World Trade Centre, the reputation of boxing in the UAE has been brought to question.
Aldah, who has since gone on to train with Amir Khan and now divides his time between gyms in Dubai, England, and the United States, returns to the ring tomorrow evening at the Aviation Club to fight the Mexican welterweight Miguel Angel Munguia as part of a 10-bout mixed-discipline fightcard.
Amir Shafiy Pour, the chief fight promoter of the DIBC, is hopeful the sight of Smoger, who has officiated bouts involving Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and Floyd Mayweather Jr, will dispel any doubts surrounding the professionalism of the sport in the UAE. The Iranian said he was "delighted" to have secured Smoger's services.
"Steve is one of the top referees in the world," Shafiy Pour said. "Over the last few months, I have visited four different countries to recruit boxers for this event and such is Steve's calibre he was refereeing in three of those countries."
Smoger will officiate four boxing matches as part of tomorrow night's event, which also features mixed martial arts (MMA), kickboxing and muay Thai.
The New Jersey native is adamant there is "absolutely no chance" of complicity tomorrow, adding that it is not worth his reputation.
"The most important aspect is that you have fighters from around the world, but the ring is neutral," said Smoger, who officiated December's super middleweight title fight between Carl Froch and Andre Ward. "We may be in the UAE and Eisa may be a local fighter, but fairness dictates. My feelings and so forth are all left in the locker room.
"I wouldn't risk my career and I certainly wouldn't be involved in anything that was unfair to any of the boxers who get inside the ring."
Aldah has noticeably matured since his first fight nearly five years ago and, despite having only managed a further eight bouts since then, the 33-year-old Emirati is confident he is ready to take the fight to his experienced Mexican opponent.
"Muhammad Ali was special; I don't believe you can predict rounds in boxing," Aldah said.
"I know I need to be careful and patient because his record is good - he has won 19 of his 22 victories by KO - but I know I can cause him problems. I will wear him down and then knock him out with my speed."
Aldah said he has learnt a lot from working with Khan, the former WBA super welterweight and IBF light welterweight champion.
"Amir has helped me a lot with my speed and focus," he said. "I watch how he trains and it inspires me to improve."
He added he had hoped Britain's youngest Olympic boxing medallist would attend this week, but that it was not possible.
"He called me to wish me luck," Aldah said.
The main event sees American Bob Sapp, 37, take on Sweden's Tofan Pirani, 35, in three rounds of MMA.
At last night's weigh-in the two fighters, who are believed to have a strained relationship following a previous fight in Japan, squared off and had to be separated by security guards.
How much of that was for the onlooking media remains to be seen, but Sapp said he is looking to start the new year positively by ending the fight early.
"I'm all about knocking them out quick and getting no damage," Sapp said.
"We've known each other for many years and because he has seen me growing up, he thinks he knows my weaknesses.
"He is quick and he can out manoeuvre you and make you look a little bit stupid, but he's messing with the wrong man.
"It's scheduled for three rounds of three minutes, but if you go in with The Beast, you leave deceased - in one round."
The pick of the undercard sees Mikaela Lauren, a Swedish bodybuilding champion and ranked No 6 in the world by the Women's Boxing Archive Network, face Chantal Ughi, an Italian muay Thai specialist.