Unless it's being used to determine the world mah-jongg champion, an 18-foot boxing ring in the ballroom of an Atlantic City hotel isn't the most likely hangout for a sixtysomething grandmother. But as surely as the least heralded fighters on a card serve up the best action, Eva Shain, boxing judge, takes her ringside seat. Perched on a stool, with her head slightly cocked, the animated redhead watches the ferocity on the canvas above her, keeping an eye out for low blows, rabbit punches and cheap shots after the bell.
Tonight she's in Donald Trump's Taj Mahal to judge seven bouts on a program that includes Roberto Dur�n, Hector Camacho and Buster Douglas. Shain, trained not to bat an eye for three-minute intervals, stares straight ahead, with one hand clasping her purse. Between rounds she glances down only to record her score. She says, "Judging fights can be summed up in one word: concentration."
Like the combatants in the ring, Shain is ready for anything. "Each fight is different, and every fighter has a different style, so you're always preparing for the unexpected," she says. "This job is no easier now than it was when I was just getting started."
Nearly 30 years ago Shain accompanied her husband, Frank, then a ring announcer, to New Jersey club fights. While Frank introduced the likes of Eddie Gregory and Rocky Graziano, Eva was at ringside keeping score.
"One day in 1967, Johnny DeFoe, who was the head boxing coach for the Police Athletic League, asked me, 'Who did you give that fight to?' " Shain recalls. "I told him who and why, and he said, 'How'd you like to be a judge?' That was it. I was hooked."
Shain cut her teeth on amateur fights for eight years, then applied to become the first woman certified to judge pro bouts. "I was ready to sue if they didn't give it to me," she says. "I knew I had the ability." After passing a battery of interviews with the New York State Athletic Commission she got her license in 1975. At a time when the only job for women in boxing entailed parading between rounds in bikinis and high heels, the sight of a middle-aged mother of two deciding the outcome of fights was enough to draw a standing eight count. "But people got used to it, and I got used to some of the resentment," Shain says.
In September 1977, Shain was tapped for her first title fight. "It was Muhammad Ali against Earnie Shavers, and Madison Square Garden was packed," she says. "When they announced the judges, everyone was yelling, 'My gosh, she's a woman!' It was like I was a freak."
Shain gave the decision to Ali, as did her colleagues. Shain subsequently proved she was no flash in the spittoon. She estimates that she has worked more than 4,000 fights, and she has tallied the blows and scrutinized the footwork of Mike Tyson, Tommy Hearns and Larry Holmes.
"She gets asked to work lights because she's one of the top judges, not just in this region but in boxing, period," asserts Larry Hazzard, commisioner of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board. The subjects of her decisions echo this sentiment as well. "To be honest, I don't even notice that she's a woman," says Douglas, whose June 22 fight against Tony LaRosa at the Taj Mahal was judged by Shain. "She's known as a fair judge, and that's what counts."
Shain judges roughly 25 cards a year, and although she prefers to stay within driving distance of her home in Fort Lee, N.J., she has worked as far away as Tokyo and Moscow. "I go wherever they send me," she says. "I figure, as long as I'm still enjoying my work, why retire?"