Mark Nelson was sanctioned as a professional boxing referee by the state of Minnesota in 1994. Three years later, he was working a world championship bout: Tim Austin's win over Mbulelo Botile for the IBF bantamweight title on July 19, 1997, in Nashville and on Showtime.
That was the first of now 85 world title bouts that he has refereed, covering the three major organizations — IBF, WBA and WBO — and also championship fights of the World Boxing Union when it was an important sanctioning body in Europe.
Nelson has refereed from Australia to Germany and in 10 states. He recently became one of four nonresident referees sanctioned in Nevada, and worked his first fights in Las Vegas on Aug. 7.
"I've refereed world championship fights all over the world," he said. "One place that I've never refereed a world championship fight is in Minnesota."
Nelson, 53, followed his father, Denny, into this field. Denny, a Minnesota boxing Hall of Famer, was 79 when he worked his last professional fight in April 2016.
"My dad and I were having a beer a few years ago after a boxing card," Mark Nelson said. "He said: 'I refereed my first world championship fight at age 47. You're 47 now and you've had 40-some world championship fights. You're doing great.'
"I went to gyms and fights all over with my dad. I knew that refereeing was where I wanted to show my love for boxing."
The renovated Minneapolis Armory held a card — featuring a Premier Boxing Champions telecast — for the second time in four months Friday.
Welterweight Jamel James of Minneapolis was the main attraction on both cards, and Nelson was the referee. In April, James managed a narrow, 10-round decision over veteran Abel Ramos. He was much sharper this time and knocked out another veteran, Mahonry Montes, in the second round.
James entered as the No. 3-rated welterweight in the WBA. He might need one more win before a title bout. If that comes, Minneapolis would be a likely location, and Nelson would be a strong candidate to get the chance to work a world championship bout in his home state.
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More on Mark Nelson:
•You could see this in several fights Friday: He has command of the boxers, and he can read a fight — not stopping it too early or too late.
•Nelson worked the Jeff Horn-Manny Pacquiao title fight in front of 52,000 fans in Brisbane in the summer of 2017. Horn won a unanimous decision with a late rally.
•Nelson told Horn in his corner after the ninth round, "Show me something or I'm going to stop it." The Pacquiao camp complained, but top refs often "sell" their view of a fight to a boxer and his corner.