Published December 02. 2012 4:00AM
Underneath the bright lights in arenas around the world, Don Trella sits closer to the action than anyone.
Beads of sweat drip from prize fighters onto the canvas. Blood seeps from their bodies. He's close enough to feel the force of every thunderous punch.
A professional boxing judge, Trella is part of a worldwide fraternity of perfectionists who decide the outcomes of matches at the sport's highest levels.
"You're up front and involved in it, and (part) of the way a fight is recorded in history depends on the way I see it," Trella, of Noank, said. "You may not agree with my score - but usually it's in the ballpark. I'm going to give you the right guy."
Trella, 57, grew up in the Waterbury area watching prizefights with his father and grandfather. He soon came to love boxing and toyed with the idea of finding a way inside the sport.
The idea became reality when Trella, working at the time for ShopRite in New York, met Harold Lederman, a full-time pharmacist who had carved out a place in boxing as a widely respected judge and a regular expert analyst on HBO.
Lederman helped Trella find work judging and refereeing amateur fights, where judges cut their teeth and learn the ropes. After he spent about three years on the amateur circuit, Trella got the chance to judge professional fights when Mohegan Sun casino debuted its 10,000-seat arena in 2001.
Judging is a part-time job for just about everyone who does it, including Trella, who now works in human resources at Mohegan Sun. But he has still managed to spend the last decade traveling the world to judge.
Argentina, Germany and Paris were a few of his international destinations. There have been plenty of other stops at well-known domestic venues - Madison Square Garden, the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
Trella has judged more than 420 matches and 22 world title fights, featuring Bernard Hopkins, Roy Jones Jr., Wladimir Klitschko and other big names in boxing. His work has garnered the attention of his peers. Last year, Trella was named Official of the Year by the state's Boxing Hall of Fame.
"He's one of the best in the world, to be perfectly frank," said Lederman, 72, a World Boxing Hall of Fame inductee who is still a big presence on HBO. "I was certainly happy to help him. He knew boxing and he loved it. He really belonged there."
Similar to officials in other sports, boxing judges rarely enter the public eye. Fans typically focus on judges only when they're throwing heaps of criticism their way.
Trella found himself in the crosshairs in 2009 after a close welterweight title fight between Miguel Cotto and Joshua Clottey at Madison Square Garden. A prominent boxing analyst criticized Trella on live television after the fight for his final score. Trella scored it 116-111 for Cotto; another judge had it 115-112 for Cotto, and the third had it 114-113 for Clottey.
Further debate on the fight's outcome led one sports media website to say Trella should be shot from a cannon the next time the Big Apple Circus came to town. A post on another Internet message board referred to him as a "troll."
Trella acknowledged the criticism, albeit infrequent, bothered him at first. But in an interview in his office at Mohegan Sun, he said the subjective nature of judging is a big factor in the criticism. Trella said often a single punch can sway which fighter wins a round.
He also said he is proud of the fact that he has never been on the short end of a split-decision - the result in the Cotto win - where one judge has a different winner than the other two.
Nearly 11 years as a professional judge have been long enough for Trella to find peace in his craft. After he recently scored another close fight, Trella said, he went to bed that night without a second thought.
"I was so confident the guy won, why torture myself?" he said. "I'm to the point now where I say, 'I did a good job. I'm confident in my score.' I never thought I had the wrong decision."
Trella, who has two children and a girlfriend, said many judges who retire from their full-time jobs continue to judge as a way to keep busy. It also offers a source of supplemental income. A framed copy of a check from Trella's first title fight sits on his desk and shows he earned $2,587.
Retired or not, it's a good bet Trella will continue to wait for the next phone call or email that will summon him to his next big fight. He'll see many familiar faces and friends, the people who have come to respect him greatly.
"Don is an excellent judge," said Glenn Feldman, a member of the state's Boxing Hall of Fame who is friends with Trella. "We've been paired up a lot, and I know that when I work with him, it's going to be the right score."