When Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns square off Wednesday to decide who will be the undisputed world welterweight champion, the total gross revenue from the fight could reach $50 million.
Despite this enormous sum, not to mention the future of the two fighters, the outcome could be decided by a Las Vegas tavern owner.
Davey Pearl, proprietor of Davey's Locker, a sports bar on Desert Inn Road, near The Strip, has been refereeing boxing matches for 34 years and just might be the third man in the ring Wednesday night with Leonard and Hearns.
Pearl is one of six local referees who have been given credentials for the fight and, according to several boxing people here, is the best qualified for the job.
The selection of this vitally important task is shrouded in secrecy, of course, which is why six are being given all the privileges that only one will need.
All of these men are state residents who have full-time jobs and just happen to be members of the Nevada State Boxing Commission. They all are qualified, naturally, having worked many professional fights in the past. But you couldn't tell from the money they make.
For breaking all the clinches, controlling these two bitter rivals and, perhaps, having the sole responsibility of deciding whether the fight should be stopped or continue, the referee will be paid a paltry sum of $1,200. There are people here who drop that at the crap tables in less than an hour.
"It's a labor of love," said Jay Edson, a veteran of 30 years as a referee and judge. "The fees are established by the World Boxing Association. For every title fight, the referee gets $1,200 and the two judges $800 each."
Despite the world-wide interest in this event, despite the financial investments, despite the repercussions to the many people involved, there is no way that anyone residing outside this state will be entrusted with the responsibility of refereeing the match.
"It's a closed shop," Edson said, with a smile. "Only Nevada officials will be used. Only twice since I can remember have we ever used outside referees. It just isn't done."
All right, it's a closed shop. But there are a lot of major boxing events held in this town. Many of the great names of the sport -- Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, Larry Holmes and many, many more -- have climbed through the ropes at Caesars Palace.
So how many referees are in the Nevada State Boxing Commission? Well, at the moment, about 10, plus an additional 20 judges, who, of course, can be pressed into the ring when necessary.
"We've got a strong, tough commission here," Edson said, proudly. "We tell the promoters if you bring a fight here, you will use our referees."
The requirement for becoming a sanctioned referee are about as vague as those for becoming a member of the Alcholic Beverage Control Board in Washington.
"Oh, some are ex-fighters and some are just appointed," said Edson. "Let's face it, a lot of the judge appointments are strictly political. 'Hey, you make a contribution, you help out the commission, you like to watch fights, we'll make you a judge.' It happens like that."
And judges become referees. Again, simply through attrition.
"Oh, sure, a lot of our referees used to be judges," Edson said. "In fact, the two jobs are really interchangeable. A lot of judges referee minor fights."
It appears to be just one, big happy family.
"Our ring announcer, Chuck Hall, is a pit boss at the MGM Grand," Edson said. "All the guys have full-time jobs. Boxing is just a hobby for them. Davey Pearl is probably our best and he owns a bar."
Davey Pearl wasn't at Davey's Locker Friday afternoon. He was at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where he helps with fund-raising. He wasn't behind a desk, however, he was out running.
"I run four miles every day," he said later. "You have to stay in shape in case you're called on."
Pearl knows he's on the list of candidates. He should be. He's worked 40 to 50 major fights all over the world. He worked the first Ali-Leon Spinks fight, the Larry Holmes-Earnie Shavers match and many others.
Others on the list are: Richard Green, Joey Curtis, Fred Hernandez, Mills Lane and Carlos Padilla. Only Padilla appears out of the running. He worked the first Leonard-Roberto Duran in Montreal and, of course, isn't a favorite of Sugar Ray's camp.
"The commission will meet Tuesday and select the officials," Edson said. "Of course, a lot of us know already who will work, but things change."
Both trainers, Angelo Dundee for Leonard and Emanuel Steward for Hearns, have done their lobbying. They won't be at the meeting, of course, but their input already has been felt. Dundee has said flatly "We'd rather not see Padilla."
"If I had to rank them," said Edson, who has worked 45 world title fights, including the Ali-Jimmy Ellis bout in Houston and three of Foreman's matches. "I'd put Pearl first, then Green, Padilla and Lane, but you never know."
The standards for being a candidate for this thankless, yet extremely gratifying, task are rather fuzzy. Apparently, it's like a driver's license -- once you've got one, all you have to do is renew it every year.
"It's not hard to get a license, but sometimes it's hard to get work," Edson said, smiling again. "The best ones get the top jobs, like it should be."
Just what does it take to be a good judge, or referee, the 57-year-old former high school guidance counselor was asked.
"First of all," Edson replied. "You have to have a basic knowledge of the sport, you have to know what to look for. Second, you can't let the crowd get to you. A lot of cheering sometimes influences a judge into thinking one fighter is dominating a round. Another thing, you have to keep your poise and your concentration.
"So many judges, well, I said it's a political thing, yet their decisions can determine a fighter's career."
Pearl, a short, thin, grayish man, started his career simply as a guy who enjoyed going to fights.
"I kept bugging these guys to let me do some judging," he recalled. "Finally, they did. I enjoyed it and must have done all right because after a while they let me referee.
"Now, I've been all over the world," he continued. "I've been to a lot of championship fights and I've really enjoyed it. It's like getting paid for a hobby."
Pearl says that the one of the major qualifactions for a good referee is to be in good physical condition.
"We don't get to sit down between rounds, you know," he said. "They won't even let us drink any water. That's why I run four miles a day."
The biggest single important decision any referee makes is when and if to stop a fight. And when the times comes for the ultimate judgment, he's all alone in the ring, with, perhaps, 50 million people watching on closed-circuit screens across the country.
"It's a split-second decision," Pearl said. "Only you can determine exactly when to stop it, yet an entire country can second-guess you. But I figure you can't be wrong, if you're just thinking about it.
"Sometimes you think about it for a round or more, sometimes you can go over and consult a doctor, but in the end you have the final say.
"In the Holmes-(Scott) LeDoux fight in Bloomington last year, LeDoux was cut badly near his eye. Between rounds, I told with the doctor and he said Scott could continue, but I overruled him and stopped the fight. That's the toughest part of the job."
The easiest part, of course, is counting out an unconscious fighter, but very few people here figure the referee will have that luxury Wednesday night. More than likely, he will have to add up the scoring and declare one of two evenly matched fighters the champion.
Then while the winner collects a check for, perhaps, $5 million, plus the promises of much more money in the future, the referee will pick up a check for $1,200 and slide back into anonymity.