Gavels and Gloves

Among boxing judges licensed to grade pro bouts in the pugilistic capital of Nevada, Natalie Tyrrell is a rarity in her field. Just ask a boxing legend.

“I wish there were more people like Natalie in boxing— she’s honest,” said Joe Cortez, a Boxing Hall of Fame referee on Tyrrell’s bona fides as a boxing judge. “I like to see her recognized for her skills.”

The Hon. Natalie Tyrrell of the North Las Vegas Justice Court.

And when she’s not sitting ringside, the Honorable Natalie Tyrrell is also a court judge, elected four times to the North Las Vegas Justice Court. She’s the only one in Nevada to tend both ring and courtroom and likely one of very few in the country to hold both titles.

Standing out in a crowd is nothing new to Tyrrell. During her four years at Minnesota State Mankato in the early- mid 1980s, she made a lasting impact.

“Natalie was a student who stood out because she knew college was a stepping stone to something bigger,” said Joe Kunkel, professor emeritus of political science at Minnesota State Mankato.

“I taught 6,000 students and frankly don’t remember many, but I certainly remember Natalie.”

A native of Wells, Minn., Tyrrell as a student commuted the 35-mile trek up Highway 22 to the University, where she majored in political science. She successfully ran for student government as an off-campus senator, then as student body president. All while remaining a stellar student.

“Natalie approached her classes in a serious manner,” Kunkel said. “She tried to do the work and be interested. As a result, she was a very good student.”

Tyrrell is also a judge for pro boxing.

During her term as president, Tyrrell was a leading student voice on the construction of the Ostrander-Student Memorial Bell Tower. Directing budgets and overseeing contentious meetings helped lay the foundation for Tyrrell’s future career in law.

“Running for student body president also taught me how organized you have to be to run a campaign.”

Viva Las Vegas

Tyrrell attended law school at the University of Minnesota, after which she interviewed with the Clark County District Attorney’s office in Las Vegas.

 Throughout the 1990s, Tyrrell climbed the ranks of the Nevada court system and in 2000 launched a campaign for the North Las Vegas Justice Court. That November, 10 years after arriving in Vegas, Tyrrell became the first female elected to preside over the state’s second busiest justice court. In January 2009, the Court named Tyrrell its first chief judge. Las Vegas voters re-elected Tyrrell three more times, most recently in 2018.

“I love my job, it’s always interesting,” she says. “It’s never easy, and I take it very seriously because I do make decisions that affect people’s lives. But it has to be done and I’m very thoughtful about that.”

In 2002, she founded Kids in the Court, a program encouraging students to stay in school. The mission of Kids in the Court, she said, is to educate children about the inner workings of the judicial process and the array of available careers in the court system.

Kids in the Court helps Nevada students, many of whom are the only English speakers in their households, to begin thinking about their career goals.

“A lot of these kids don’t see themselves doing something professional and that’s sad to think about,” Tyrrell said. “Kids in the Court has a real emphasis on staying in school because you need a high school degree to work in the court.”

In September 2019, Tyrrell’s outreach efforts with Kids in the Court earned her the American Judges Association’s prestigious Judicial Education Award.

After more than 20 years on the bench, Tyrrell plans to put down her gavel and hang up her robe after her term ends in January 2025.

It will allow her to devote more time to her second love—boxing.

The Sweet Science

Around 2007, Tyrrell was attending an event in Las Vegas— its famous strip is home to many of boxing’s most celebrated matches—when she struck up a conversation with Joe Cortez. Tyrrell, an ardent boxing fan, began peppering Cortez for his insights on historic matches he refereed.

“I think he was impressed with my boxing knowledge and that I love it so much,” she said.

Cortez vividly remembers his first conversation with Tyrrell. A court judge who’s also a boxing historian? This is fascinating, Cortez thought.

“I remember meeting Natalie like it was yesterday,” Cortez said. “I thought it was perfect, because we need more women in boxing. I thought she was the right person who brings credibility as far as having integrity and a background in law enforcement.

Cortez believed she was uniquely suited for the position.

“She’s very passionate and devoted,” he said. “As a judge, her mind is trained to be neutral.”

Behind Cortez’s encouragement, Tyrrell spent a decade sharpening her skills as a volunteer amateur judge.

“Any time you can get kids involved in activities that keep them positive, it’s a good thing, and that’s what I saw in amateur boxing,” Tyrrell said. “Boxing helps kids redirect their energy in a positive manner.”

In 2015, the Nevada State Athletic Commission announced a recruitment period for professional judges.

Tyrrell was one of four judges who passed the application process. Then she shadowed a professional judge—a ’mentor’—at matches.

After two years of shadowing, Tyrrell earned the sport’s most coveted boxing license when the commission appointed her a professional judge.

“It’s a part-time gig but I really enjoy it,” she says.

The man she credits as her catalyst to becoming a boxing judge says the sky is the limit for his protégé.

“I think she’s going to be one of the top judges in Nevada,” Cortez said. “Natalie has what it takes to become a household name in boxing.”