Kenny Bayless came of age in the 1960s and ‘70s, when watching boxing on “regular” network television was part of the norm. Watching his heroes Ruben “Hurricane” Carter and Muhammad Ali, Bayless developed a passion for the sport that led to his own involvement in the ring.
"All you had to do back in those days was go and turn the television on," Bayless said. "You could just sit right there and watch it in your own living room, and growing up I used to watch them all. It definitely had an impact on me, because when I eventually got older and moved to Las Vegas in 1972, and I continued to go to the live boxing shows, the impact of watching Muhammad Ali and 'Hurricane' Carter and those guys influenced me to want to become an official."
Since becoming a professional boxing referee in 1991, the Las Vegas-based Bayless has developed into arguably the best in the business. He will be the third man in the ring March 7 when 147-pound fighters Keith Thurman (24-0, 21 KOs) and Robert Guerrero (32-2-1, 18 KOs) go toe-to-toe at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in the debut of the Premier Boxing Champions series on NBC.
The televised card also includes a co-main event featuring three-time world champion Adrien Broner and John Molina Jr. in a 140-pound bout, as well as a 126-pound clash between three-time champion Abner Mares and Arturo Santos Reyes.
Bayless, 64, has refereed more 100 world title fights in his career, including some of the most thrilling bouts of the last 20 years involving fighters such as Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao, Wladimir Klitschko, Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones Jr., Shane Mosley and Marco Antonio Barrera, among others.
"It's always a thrill to be selected to work these high-profile fights. I've been blessed to have refereed the number of fights that I've refereed and to be in the position that I'm in,” Bayless said. "To find out that a lot of these big fights that I've been working, I've been requested by the fighters to do their fights, that goes to show that my work has been clean and that it's been fair. It just touches my heart to know that my work is at the level that I'm considered one of the top in my profession."
This will be the first time Bayless has worked a fight involving Thurman. He was in the ring when Guerrero won a unanimous decision over Robert Enriquez in March 2002.
"I expect this to be a really good fight. I think both fighters have something to prove, and they're both talented. There may be a little more pressure on them, knowing that they are fighting before a bigger audience," Bayless said.
“With people now able to watch fights on NBC, that opens it up and broadens the range of people who will watch. It's great for the sport that NBC is doing this. For me, though, it's just another day at the office, but I'm very proud to be a part of it."