These days, more
fans than ever arc asking Steele for his autograph, thanking him if they had a
bet on Ch�vez, gently scolding him if they lost money. They inevitably want to
plunge into a discussion of The Stoppage, even at the Las Vegas Baptist Church,
where Steele is an associate minister. He began studying for the ministry in
1982, and he was ordained two years later. He occasionally delivers sermons,
usually on the virtues of humility, discipline and hard work.
Sometimes, in his
congregation's stares, he feels the burning questions about how a minister can
condone this blood sport. "I'm asked a lot if there isn't some
contradiction, a man of God helping men pound each other," says Steele.
"But, you sec, the good fighters are almost always good kids. You can't go
halfway in boxing. If you're training only half right, you're all wrong. In
other sports you can drink beer and whiskey. In boxing you've got to live
right. If you don't, you aren't going to win. Like with Buster Douglas. Boxing
gives him so much, and then he doesn't train right for Holyfield. He went
halfway. Discipline and hard work is the only right way. That's why I tell
people at my church, all the time, that boxing is great."
In one of those
uniquely Las Vegas paradoxes, the minister also supervises the blackjack pit at
the Golden Nugget from 4 a.m. to noon, five days a week. "Nowhere in the
Bible does it say a man can't gamble," says Steele. "Sin comes in only
when people take money meant for family and blow it, whether it's on gambling
or drinking or clothes-buying."
Steele spends his
shift settling minor disputes between players and dealers over misinterpreted
card signals, and chatting with patrons. "We talk gambling, we talk
fights," he says. "Fifty percent of the job, like refereeing, is
knowing how to deal with people."
at the Golden Nugget may have cost him a major fight assignment last October.
The Nevada commission's decision to name the respected Mills Lane, rather than
Steele, to referee the Douglas-Holyfield title fight stemmed at least in part
from Steele's association with Steve Wynn, who owns the Golden Nugget as well
as the Mirage, where the fight was held. Wynn not only promoted the bout but
also held a promotional contract with Douglas for a future title defense. The
commission, concerned over the appearance of a conflict of interest for Steele,
turned to Lane. Steele was understanding. "It's for the best," he says.
"I'll get the next big fight."
"He takes the
disappointments and the pressures in stride," says Mark Ratner, one of the
commission's inspectors. "He has the perfect makeup for taking command and
resolving arguments in a ring or in a casino. His religion is very important in
this. Even if he had been criticized up and down after the Taylor fight, he is
the type who could have handled it. There's this quiet strength to
command of the ring has taken him far from the hot, volatile nights of Southern
California boxing arenas. "At the Olympic Auditorium in L.A. once, I had a
beer cup thrown at me," he recalls. "It drenched my leg, and I
complained to another referee that they were throwing warm beer at me. He just
smiled. He said, 'Richard, that's not beer.' "
heartily and continues, "You know, I remember some of these things at the
strangest times. Before Hearns-Hagler [in 1985]—which was the most exciting
fight I've ever done—I'm standing in the ring, nervous, nervous, nervous. It
was my first really big fight. Then I thought of the Bakersfields and San
Bernardinos and the Olympic, and I thought, 'You are ready for this. No one
gave you anything.' It's faith. It's what gets you through the hard moments
too, like, well, that fight, that night. Are we looking at it again?"
He glances back
at the television. Once again a dazed Taylor is on the canvas, instinctively
grabbing a rope, hoisting himself up. "See, Meldrick couldn't go on. Look
at those legs," says Steele. "Hey, what was that?"
He stops abruptly
and leans closer to the screen, the slight tensing of his shoulders indicating
he has seen something new, something unwelcome. "Those eyes," he
whispers numbly. "Look at all the hurt in them. He wanted it so bad, didn't
he? He got so close. Look...."