joe cortez bio

​World Renowned Boxing Referee Joe Cortez, was born in Spanish Harlem New York in 1943. He became an outstanding amateur boxer, winning 6 Golden Gloves tournaments between 1960 to 1962. Joe was the last (and likely only) fighter to have knocked out two opponents on the same night in Madison Square Garden - during the 1961 Eastern Golden Gloves Championships.

​Joe and his brother, Mike Cortez, were the only brothers from the Boys Club of New York to ever win the novice Golden Gloves and New York Open Golden Gloves, Eastern Golden Gloves and National Golden Gloves Championships in the same year in different weight classes. During the amateur years both brothers won the novice Golden Gloves Championship in 1960. 

Then in 1961 winning New York Golden Gloves, Eastern Golden Gloves and National Golden Gloves Championships in two consecutive years. Joe amateur boxing career was 42 wins and 2 losses. Joe's mentor is the great Gasper "Indian" Ortega.


1960 Novice Golden Gloves Flyweight Champion

1960 Spanish Open Golden Gloves Bantamweight Champion

1961 Open Golden Gloves Bantamweight Champion

1961 Eastern Golden Gloves Bantamweight Champion

1961 National Golden Gloves Bantamweight Champion

1962 Spanish Golden Gloves Featherweight Champion

Joe turned pro at the age of 18 and earned a record of 13:1 as a professional boxer, having been defeated at the hands of Georgie Foster in a 6-round decision at Madison Square Garden. Some of his additional fights are not recorded due to a lack of boxing integration between Mexico and the United States at the time. 


Seven years after retiring from boxing, Pat Mascia (who had refereed Joe during his amateur career in the Golden Gloves Tournaments) planted a seed in Joe's head to become an amateur boxing referee. Just six months into the amateur ranks as a referee, Deputy Commissioner, Frank Morris for the New York State Athletic Commission saw Joe Cortez referee two Golden Gloves championship fights at Madison Square Garden in 1977 and was impressed by his performance, prompting Joe to become a professional "third man in the ring".

Before becoming the Boxing Hall of Fame Referee he is known as today, Joe lived and worked in Puerto Rico for 8 years at the El Conquistador, where he worked his way up to Executive Assistant Manager. He later moved back to New York and worked as a Casino Operations Manager for the El San Juan Hotel Corporation for another 7 years. From 1981-1987 he owned and operated a delicatessen in Yonkers New York. 

After selling the deli, Joe worked with several doctors in the field of Ophthalmology in New York, New Jersey and Nevada. After moving to Nevada in 1992, Joe was appointed as a Deputy Constable in North Las Vegas from 1995-1999, and by two governors (Gibbons and Gwinn) to serve on the Nevada State Nursing Board as a consumer member, serving two terms in Nevada. It has always been important to Joe throughout his career to give back to the community. Joe's a graduate of the FBI Citizens Academy Alumni class 2004 to present.

Having started his professional boxing referee career in New York in 1977, Joe worked 35 years as referee major championship fights in NY, NJ, Nevada and around the world.   Joe was recruited by the Nevada State Athletic Commission in 1992, and quickly became one of New York and Nevada's preferred boxing referees for World Title Fights.

Joe has refereed over 176 World Championship Fights, which included such great fighters as:  Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Roberto Duran, Oscar De La Hoya, Julio Cesar Chavez, Evander Holyfield, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Fernando Vargas, Felix Trinidad just to name a few. Joe is known for his catchphrase during pre-fight instructions, "I'm Fair But I'm Firm!" is now a registered trademark. ​


Joe has appeared in several major production films including: "Rocky Balboa" with Sylvester Stallone, "I Spy" with Eddie Murphy, "Play It To The Bone" with Antonio Banderas and Woody Harrelson; and "Undisputed" with Wesley Snipes.

Joe Cortez was inducted into the in New Jersey Boxing Hall Of Fame in 1998, World Boxing Hall Of Fame 2000, the International Boxing Hall Of Fame in 2011 and Nevada Boxing Hall Of Fame in 2013. He retired from refereeing in September 2012 after Canelo Alvarez vs Josesito Lopez championship fight.

Most recent activities include boxing analysis with Showtime, ESPN and DAZN, Joe is once again licensed with the Nevada State Athletic Commission as a Review Official for the "Instant Replay". You can see Joe Cortez actively on Facebook and other Social Media platforms through his shows, Fair But Firm and The Joe Cortez Show. Joe is still very active. Look for the Fair But Firm Boxing Academy to begin soon, and an upcoming boxing video game! Other announcements coming soon!