Being a ref is natural for Drakulich
(This is the third of three articles on Northern Nevada referees in professional boxing.)
Being a referee comes so naturally to Reno resident Vic Drakulich, that sometimes he doesn’t even have to be in the ring to work his craft.
Take this 1988 incident for example. Drakulich was driving his wife, Linda, home one evening when he came across two guys fighting in the middle of Caliente St., just off South Virginia in Reno.
“This big guy had this little guy down in a headlock, hitting him in the face,” Drakulich said. “I thought ‘I can’t let this go. What if the guy dies?'”
Drakulich jumped out of his truck and yelled in his referee voice, “Break it up!” The big man complied, but for the wrong reason.
Said Drakulich: “The big guy got up and had a look on his face that said ‘New Meat.'”
As the kids say, it was on. After fielding some X-rated insults and a kick to the leg, Drakulich was forced to defend himself and tried to bend the big guy’s beak with a right hand.
“He caught my punch then knocked off my glasses,” said Drakulich, who suddenly realized he was 35 years old, “past his prime,” and had standing in front of him a mean, but not staggering, drunk who had malice in his heart.
Suddenly, Drakulich transformed from mild-mannered referee, to Muhammad Ali. Having worked out with University of Nevada boxing coach Greg Rice, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Drakulich began pumping his jab “like a piston.” The result?
“He had a bloody mouth. He said, ‘Good job! Put her there!'” said Drakulich, who learned that the guy just wanted a good fight, and having received one, was now happy to shake hands and go on his way. He even helped Drakulich find his glasses.
A 1975 graduate of the University of Nevada, Drakulich went on to earn his law degree at McGeorge School of Law at the University of Pacific in 1995 and began his legal career in the Washoe County Public Defender’s Office, before going on to open his own firm in 1991.
Drakulich reached the top of the legal profession in 1988, when his client was awarded a $23 million settlement in Hires v. Republic Insurance, and although the Nevada Supreme Court later reduced the judgement to $6 million, Drakulich had done well enough to semi-retire from his own law firm and redirect focus to other areas of his life – namely on his three daughters, Jessica Anne, Alyse Marie and Dianne Denise Drakulich.
Now 51, Drakulich is once again nearing the top of his profession, this time as a top-notch referee.
“I’m very pleased with Vic,” said Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. “Before Mills Lane retired, he was one of the top referees in the world. When Mills retired, the mantle was passed to Vic. He’s stepped up magnificently. He’s gotten better and better. He’s the No. 1 referee up (in Northern Nevada).”
Drakulich has 21 world title fights under his belt, including Oscar De La Hoya-Felix Sturm, Erik Morales-Carlos Hernandez and the first Floyd Mayweather-Jose Luis Castillo tilt. He has traveled like a rock star, refereeing fights in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan, Costa Rica and Canada, while attending conventions in Russia, South Africa, North Africa, Spain and Mexico.
“It’s been a great experience,” said Drakulich, who began judging amateur bouts in 1981 and reffing amateurs from 1982-85. “I love being active in the ring with two gladiators. I enjoy it.”
Drakulich constantly hones his skills at the Jimmy Olivas-Nevada Gym, where he can often be found in the middle of two sparring Wolf Pack boxers. He also continues to stay active between professional assignments, working bouts for the National Collegiate Boxing Association (NCBA), which enables him to travel to New York, Washington and Colorado, among other states.
“I enjoy the pro style (of refereeing) in the collegiate ranks,” Drakulich said. “I wanted to get away from the amateurs – the style is too stilted and they tell you not to move so quickly.”
Keeping Drakulich in your line of sight can be a good thing, especially if you are around him in the gym, where he has been known to sneak up on and pull down the pants of a certain reporter, or has emptied some bottled water down the back of Rice’s or assistant coach Pat Schellin’s pants.
“I like to keep some levity in the boxing gym,” Drakulich said. “I like to wet Schellin’s pants and move to the other side of the building before he can go, ‘Where’s Drakulich?’ It makes it fun.”
But Drakulich isn’t all fun and games and takes his role in the ring seriously.
“Bottom line, it’s a dangerous sport,” Drakulich said. “(Serious ring injury or death) is a constant factor you have to be aware of. You have to make a decision – do I stop it, or let it go on? Sometimes you get booed if you stop the fight. You have to take the bitter with the sweet.”
Drakulich said he likes to center himself before a fight.
“One of the things I do before I go into the ring is I try and go to a church,” Drakulich said. “Church brings me back to reality. You can get so hyper and tense that you can lose sight of things. I tell myself that it’s just a fight and that I’ve done it before. I put it into perspective.”
It appears it’s not if, but when Drakulich gets that one big fight that will put him in the ranks of the world-famous referees, but he’s not counting the minutes.
“Each fight is as important as the other,” Drakulich said. “The best thing I can do is keep doing my job, do it well, and everything will fall into place – whatever that may be.”
Contact Mike Houser at email@example.com.