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Cortez had a good amateur boxing career, winning various Golden Gloves tournaments from 1960 to 1962. In 1963,Joe turned pro at the age of eighteen. Cortez had a record of eighteen wins and one defeat as a professional boxer that loss was to Georgie Foster from Ohio. Unable to secure a world title shot, he retired from boxing after only nineteen professional fights. Cortez moved to Puerto Rico in 1969 working at The El Conquistador Hotel and worked his way up to Executive Assistant manager. Living there, he became fluent in Spanish. In 1977, he moved back to New York where he started work as a Casino Operations Manager for the El San Juan Hotel, one of the three properties in Puerto Rico.
Beginning in the 1977, Cortez started working as a referee. During the 1980s, he took on the responsibility to referee some major Championship fights. During this time he was the third man in the ring in several professional Mike Tyson and Roberto Duran fights.
As eminent referees Richard Steele and Mills Lane retired at the dawn of the 21st century, Cortez became one of Nevada and New York's preferred boxing referees for world title fights. He has refereed over 170 world title bouts, among which figure the first Oscar De La Hoya-Julio César Chávez meeting, Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe's first title fight and the match that saw 45-year-old George Foreman become the oldest World Heavyweight Champion in history. Asked by Telemundo personnel to give a prediction about the first de la Hoya-Chávez meeting prior to the fight taking place, he simply answered "I can't make any predictions", as referees are not allowed to do that before a fight (doing so might indicate favoritism towards one of the combatants).
Cortez still referees major boxing events, and his catchphrase during pre-fight instructions, "(I am) fair but firm!" (also said as "I'm fair but I'm firm!") is now a registered trademark. Cortez also gives boxing classes and has a website www.Fairbutfirm.com, which teaches someone how to become a referee and talk show host.
He also appears in the film Rocky Balboa as the referee in the exhibition bout between Balboa and the fictional champion Mason "The Line" Dixon played by the professional boxer Antonio Tarver. "I Spy" with Eddie Murphy---- "Play It To The Bone "with Antonio Banderas.
Joe Cortez was inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall Of Fame Nov.12,1998
Cortez retired from refereeing Sept 14, 2012 Canelo Saul Alvarez vs Joselito Lopez, and is currently a Boxing analyst for ESPN Sports.
Puerto Ricans in the International Boxing Hall of Fame
|1||Carlos Ortíz||1991||World Jr. Welterweight Champion 1959 June 12- 1960, September 1, WBA Lightweight Champion 1962 Apr 21 – 1965 Apr 10, WBC Lightweight Champion 1963 Apr 7 – 1965 Apr 10, WBC Lightweight Champion 1965 Nov 13 – 1968 Jun 29.|
|2||Wilfred Benítez||1994||The youngest world champion in boxing history. WBA Light Welterweight Champion 1976 Mar 6 – 1977, WBC Welterweight Champion 1979 Jan 14 – 1979 Nov 30, WBC Light Middleweight Champion.|
|3||Wilfredo Gómez||1995||WBC Super Bantamweight Champion 1977 May 21 – 1983, WBC Featherweight Champion 1984 Mar 31 – 1984 Dec 8, WBA Super Featherweight Champion 1985 May 19 – 1986 May 24.|
|4||José "Chegui" Torres||1997||Won a silver medal in the junior middleweight at the 1956 Olympic Games. Undisputed Light Heavyweight Champion 1965 Mar 30 – 1966 Dec 16|
|5||Sixto Escobar||2002||Puerto Rico's first boxing champion. World Bantamweight Champion 15 Nov 1935– 23 Sep 1937, World Bantamweight Champion 20 Feb 1938– Oct 1939|
|6||Edwin Rosario||2006||Ranks #36 on the list of "100 Greatest Punchers of All Time." according to Ring Magazine. WBC Lightweight Champion 1983 May 1 – 1984 Nov 3, WBA Lightweight Champion 1986 Sep 26 – 1987 Nov 21, WBA Lightweight Champion 199 Jul 9 – 1990 Apr 4, WBA Light Welterweight Champion 1991 Jun 14 – 1992 Apr 10.|
|7||Pedro Montañez||2007||92 wins out of 103 fights. Never held a title.|
|8||Joe Cortez||2011||The first Puerto Rican boxing referee to be inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame|
|9||Herbert "Cocoa Kid" Hardwick||2012||Member of boxing's "Black Murderers' Row". World Colored Welterweight Championship - June 11, 1937 to August 22, 1938; World Colored Middleweight Championship - January 11, 1940 until the title went extinct in the 1940s; World Colored Middleweight Championship - January 15, 1943 until the title went extinct in the 1940s|
|10||Félix "Tito" Trinidad||2014||Captured the IBF welterweight crown in his 20th pro bout. Won the WBA light middleweight title from David Reid in March 2000 and later that year unified titles with a 12th-round knockout against IBF champ Fernando Vargas. In 2001 became a three-division champion.|
|11||Héctor "Macho" Camacho||2016||First boxer to be recognized as a septuple champion in history. WBC Super Featherweight Championship - August 7, 1983 – 1984, WBC Lightweight Championship - August 10, 1985 – 1987, WBO Light Welterweight Champion - March 6, 1989 – February 23, 1991, WBO Light Welterweight Champion - May 18, 1991–1992.|
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