As I sit here banging out the words to this column, I just know I’ll never make it past even the third paragraph without getting a bit watery.
Many of you younger fans won’t remember Chuck Minker. Neither will you newer fans to the sport. Chuck was a boxing judge in Nevada from 1980 until 1987. Then he became the Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC). Chuck was an outstanding judge. He was a great Executive Director. He was an even greater friend. In fact, he was my best friend, a close brother.
In the spring of 1991, Chuck called to tell me horrible news. He had just come from a medical checkup to find out why his nagging cough refused to go away. The doctor informed him he had a rare form of lung cancer. It was inoperable. It was terminal. Chuck had one year to live. The doctor was right. On Sunday, May 17, 1992, I received a call from Chuck’s fiancé, Dawn Pacheco. In a low, quiet voice, she told me “We lost Chuck tonight.” He was just 42. Damn that disease! I told you I wouldn’t make it past the third paragraph.
When I lost my best friend, boxing lost its finest administrator. But I’ve always heard that when the good Lord closes one door, he opens another. Believe me, it’s true.
Chuck had two other “brothers” besides me. One was Edwin “Flip” Homansky. He is a warm and brilliant physician, who, for years, worked as a ringside doctor for NSAC. His other “brother” was Marc Ratner.
When I was Editor-in-Chief of Ring Magazine and a boxing analyst for ESPN and later the USA Network in the first half of the 1980’s, I used to get together with Minker, the boxing judge, on my many trips into Nevada to cover the likes of Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran.
Later in the decade, I’d visit with Minker the Executive Director, when I was on official business in Nevada as Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission. I attended his seminars, I attended his organizational meetings, I learned his ways and I met his staff and colleagues. Included in that lot were Chuck’s “brothers,” Dr. Flip Homansky and Marc Ratner.
My initial reaction to meeting Ratner was that he sounded, not a little bit, but exactly, like Minker. If you closed your eyes, you couldn’t tell who was talking. Minker was Ratner. Ratner was Minker.
Ratner, now a spry 60, began as a NSAC Inspector in 1985, but quickly became their Chief Inspector.
During an Association of Boxing Commissions convention in Las Vegas in 1989, Ratner gave a seminar on the finer points of being an inspector to the throng of commissioners in attendance. Seated next to me throughout the seminar was Minker. At one point he leaned over and whispered proudly to me, “Nobody is better than Marc! Nobody!” He wasn’t bragging. He was just telling the truth.
In Minker’s final few months on Earth, he confided in me that he desperately wanted Ratner to be the man to replace him when the time came. Even in those last few weeks, when every breath was a mountain to climb, when he was forced to walk around with an oxygen tank and tubes in his nostrils, Minker pushed Marc Ratner’s name in front of the five Governor-appointed-commissioners who made up NSAC. Minker knew there was only one man for the job. He knew that man was Marc Ratner. The five commissioners could have gone in another direction. They didn’t. They listened to Minker. When Chuck left us, they turned their Chief Inspector into their Executive Director. That’s why, since the days of Chuck Minker, the Nevada State Athletic Commission has been the role model for every other commission in the country.
Oh, there have been boxing controversies inside Nevada’s borders. Plenty of them. But controversy and boxing go hand in hand.
Fan Man flew over the arena and into the ring during Evander Holyfield-Riddick Bowe II.
Mike Tyson took, not one, but two, chomps out of Holyfield’s ears during the course of their bout.
Did referee Tony Weeks stop the Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo bout too early?
Sadly, four fighters lost their lives during his tenure.
None of it was Ratner’s fault. Anybody could have been Executive Director. But if anybody had been Executive Director, the situations might not have been handled as smoothly. Arguably, nobody could have handled each situation more professionally.
You see how baseball is handling their horrific steroid situation. In Nevada, steroids are not tolerated. In 2002, Ratner and the NSAC fined Fernando Vargas $100,000 and suspended him for nine months for testing positive after losing to Oscar De La Hoya.
As if being Executive Director of the heavyweight champion of athletic commissions is not enough, Ratner is also the commissioner of the Southern Nevada Official’s Association, a football line judge for the Mountain West Conference and the official timekeeper at UNLV basketball games.
Ratner was born in Phoenix, Arizona. His family moved to Pomona, California, when he was a baby, then to Las Vegas, Nevada, when he was 11, where his father, Heiden, opened a business.
In 1979, Heiden died following complications from hip replacement surgery. Marc—and his lovely wife, Joann—named the youngest of their three children after his beloved dad.
Heiden Jr. is a junior at Silverado High School in Las Vegas and a star basketball player for his school team. Papa Marc, who you already know is an incredibly busy man, rarely misses a game.
When it comes to professional boxing, Ratner attends almost every press conference, runs every weigh-in, visits all the gyms and is ringside at virtually every fight card throughout the state.
You’d think with a job this important and so visible, that he’d love to be seen on camera once in a while. Not Ratner. In fact, he cringes—as did Minker—when a commissioner in another state places himself between the combatants at the official weigh-in.
“Chuck once told me, ‘Keep your back to the cameras,’” said Ratner. “I listened to him and have done that ever since. The weigh-in, as well as the fight itself, is all about the fighters.”
Last June, Ratner was inducted into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame.
When he stepped to the podium to graciously accept his award, his mind was on Minker.
“I shared the award with Chuck,” Ratner said. “His loss was a blow I still feel. He’ll always be a big part of my life. Any award I should ever be fortunate enough to get will be shared with his memory. He was a super guy and an honest man filled with integrity. I promised him, before he passed away, to always try to do what is right.”
Part of what Ratner considers doing the right thing is being available to the media…to his friends…to his licensees...to the fans…to everybody. Call the commission offices and see if I’m wrong (Colleen, Sandy and Barbara will beat me for this!!!). Without being told who’s on the phone, but just knowing there’s a call for him, Ratner will pick up the phone with a “Marc Ratner” or “Hello, Marc speaking.”
His office is a virtual museum of boxing memorabilia. It is a fight fan’s dream. On the wall are tickets to boxing matches. Photos. Framed letters from Roy Jones Jr. and Oscar De La Hoya. Official credentials to major fights. A magnificent sketch of him by legendary artist Leroy Neiman.
The first major fight he witnessed in person, not as Executive Director, but as a fan, was in 1962, when lightweight champ Carlos Ortiz captured a 15-round decision over Joe Brown.
“Who would have known, that 30 years later…” he said, proudly.
Who would have known that he would have turned into the greatest Executive Director any boxing has ever seen.
Last week, Ratner’s tenure as Executive Director of NSAC ended. He resigned to
take a three-year deal with the rapidly-growing, Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and become a vice-president for them.
UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta, a former NSAC commissioner, said Ratner will be involved in every aspect of the operation. Naturally, this includes regulatory issues and speaking and dealing with other state athletic commissions.
The news of Ratner’s stepping down came almost as much a shock to Nevada as the underground nuclear testing in the desert half a century ago.
Commission Chairman Skip Avansino admitted that replacing Ratner will be difficult.
“I don’t know of another Marc Ratner walking around,” said Chairman Avansino. “He’s been a fantastic leader for this commission and he will be missed something terribly.”
Las Vegas Sun columnist Ron Kantowski pretty much captured the essence of what Ratner meant to the sport when he wrote, “During his 20 years of service, you could use the words ‘integrity’ and ‘boxing’ in the same sentence and not be sued for false advertising.”
The Nevada State Athletic Commission’s loss is certainly the UFC’s gain.
Somewhere in Heaven, G-d’s Executive Director of Angels, Chuck Minker, is smiling, proud of the work he saw his “brother,” Marc Ratner, accomplish during his years in boxing.
For all of us who have ever been touched by him, thank you, Marc.
* * *
In order to be eligible for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, a person must, of course, have the credentials. They must also be retired from boxing for five years. Marc Ratner has the credentials. His retirement begins on May 13, 2006. To the President of the IBHOF, Don Ackerman, and to its Executive Director, Ed Brophy, get ready to start the countdown to Marc Ratner’s induction.
Who will win? Wladimir Klitschko or Tyson Fury?