Generally, the contention is that the people who work at most boxing commissions are not qualified enough, or may not be operating within the proper frame of reference.
To be able to project what one fighter who do in the ring with another - or more to the point, what he can NOT do - is something which is extremely difficult. It is, in fact, the business matchmakers engage in all the time, and matchmaking is a subtle art in which one has to look well below the surface.
It is too simplistic to look at a fight between a guy who is 20-0 and one who is, say, 8-9, and summarily dismiss it as non-competitive, simply by glancing at the numerical records, when in reality, the fighter with the 8-9 mark might actually be just as credible. I've seen this happen all too often with fighters who come in from outside an area to fight a "hometown" boy, or in cases where two fighters, both from out-of-town, are matched against each other.
Some commissions intervene a lot more than others. They want to be involved, from beginning to end, in the process of okaying each match, well beyond the point where it becomes overbearing.
Some exercise a great deal of inconsistency, which is as much of a concern. They will approve matches submitted by a promoter they may have a "relationship" with, while refusing to sanction fights of a similar or even higher caliber put forward by others. This goes on at many commissions, whether it's conscious or sub-conscious, admitted or denied. And since boxing commissions are customarily one of the more autonomous agencies, or sub-agencies, in state government, a promoter who feels he's been "wronged" has very little recourse.
Worse yet, some commissioners actually ask one of their promoter buddies about the validity of his COMPETITOR'S matches, opening the door for a massive conflict of interest. Who the hell do we see about THAT?
The posture of being too hands-on, too nit-picky, with a lack of sound judgment behind those decisions, can indeed constitute a state of dangerous ignorance.
Yes, sometimes only a matchmaker has a proper sense of what is a legitimate match and what isn't.
But does that mean that commissions only have the right to refuse the most egregious mismatches - at least those that look like it on paper?
I wouldn't go that far.
The way I figure it, one of the major responsibilities of a boxing commission is to offer protection to the consumer. This is a state agency we're talking about, so as long as they're in a position to exercise some quality control, why shouldn't they ensure that the consumer has at least a respectable product put in front of it?
I don't agree with the "caveat emptor" attitude. And I think it's rather contemptible for any promoter or matchmaker to feel that way. Yet some do.
You've got to remember, commissions were created with several things in mind - one of which was to protect the best interests of sport and society. Having some kind of right of refusal over matches - one which has some latitude - certainly falls within those parameters.
There's no doubt that if a fan is going to pay $50 for a ringside ticket with the expectation of being entertained, he shouldn't have to endure six one-round fights that were mismatches from the outset. A commission can provide that last line of defense. We protect consumers against manufacturers who market defective products, don't we? Same principle at work here.
There are some matchmakers who have no problem at all with the commission's occasional intervention.
"There are a lot of pressures on matchmakers, on all different sides, and having the commission to fall back on can be an advantage," says Chris Middendorf, one of the busiest matchmakers on the east coast. "There are probably not enough quality matchmakers who can do it without some oversight from the commission. They're a necessary part of the process."
Of course the flip side is that when the commission takes a proprietary approach, it has to shoulder much of the blame if it ultimately allows some mismatches into the ring. And justifiably so.
Then what can we do?
I've always thought an interesting idea for some enterprising young man (or old man, as it were) would be to establish a "central matchmaking board"; a service where former matchmakers and booking agents, who are now non-partisan, could be retained on a monthly basis by commissions across the country for the purposes of consulting with them on the feasibility of certain matches.
Of course it might be hard to find enough capable "consultants" to staff such an operation, and some conflicts of interest might be unavoidable. But if it ever proved to be workable, it would provide an invaluable resource for commissions to make use of.
But would many commissions use it? Really, I don't know. I don't know if enough of them care, if they have enough activity within their jurisdiction, or if too many of them think they already know it all (wouldn't that be ironic?). But it would afford the people who are in charge of approving matches with the opportunity to get some legitimate professional advice. And it would be a great model for something that could fit in with a nationwide structure, whether that be a national commission or an ABC-type organization (fat chance, right?).
And I have an answer for those people who think commissions should keep their nose completely out of the "matchmaking game" - that's next.
But some things kind of have a way of snowballing.
First, after having been called out on this bad check, Webb started in, accusing me of "poor reporting" and lying in direct e-mails to my office. And he demanded I respond and retract, or else "I will have no other choice but to contact an attorney".
Hey - everybody's choices are completely up to them.
But when you try that kind of shit with me, you had better be completely in the right, or you're liable to buy yourself a follow-up story. Or two. Or three.
So I started writing them.
Instead of sitting back and taking his medicine, however, Webb decided he would try to cover his tracks, then call me a liar again.
Why? Well, I recently learned that Webb got himself involved in a February 14 ESPN show in Louisville that features Laila Ali, and not in a small way either - Webb actually forwarded money to Johnny McClain of Absoloot Boxing in order to buy the rights to the live gate.
Of course, by engaging in that activity, he's violating the terms of his suspension by the Kentucky Athletic Commission. But I'm not so sure he's as worried about the commission as he is about fighters, and the people involved in the promotion, to the point where, in a subsequent, less inflammatory e-mail to me, he said, "I only hope that you will take the facts that I have supplied you with and consider correcting the situation because as of right now no one wants to deal with me". Indeed, McClain is making arrangements to get his own license in Kentucky, so he won't have to use Webb's.
And I'm still waiting for facts that would lead me to "correcting the situation".
But I don't lack for evidence that completely exacerbates it.
A few days ago, I get a call from someone named Henry Oglesby, who apparently is acting as sort of a matchmaker for Webb. His son, Byron, also happens to be the trainer for Travis Simms. I think you know where this is going.
Oglesby immediately began to sing the praises of Webb - "Chris Webb paid everyone with no problem at all."
"Chris Webb is one of the straightest guys I know."
"Chris Webb is just trying to do the right thing."
And, in so many words, where the hell did I get off saying those horrible, awful things about his associate?
Then, the explanation that was supposed to put the whole thing together for me: "The problem was that Simms went to the wrong bank to cash his check. He went to a bank that SOUNDED like the name of that bank (Fifth Third Bank), but it wasn't the same. Chris (Webb) had enough money in that account."
Well, I explained that I had talked to Travis Simms and his wife in the process of preparing the original piece. They seemed like intelligent people to me. And so I told Oglesby his own tale just didn't sound plausible. In fact, I could sense it was something that was hastily put together because there was no truthful story they could have told that would have worked.
I asked Oglesby three times if he was sure Simms had the story all wrong. He said he did, and added that he had documentation to back up everything he was saying. I told him he could feel free to have it sent, but cautioned him that the only thing I was interested in; the only thing that would hold any water with me, was a statement of account balance that showed Chris Webb had sufficient funds to pay Travis Simms ON THE DAY HE WROTE THE CHECK TO HIM.
That evidence, of course, has never made its way into my office.
Well, I certainly wanted to call Travis Simms and follow up. But he saved me the trouble; now more than five minutes after hanging up with Oglesby, my phone was ringing and Simms was on the other end of the line.
The first words out of his mouth were, "I'm calling on behalf of promoter Chris Webb.....". He went on to tell me that ultimately, he is happy with the way things turned out; he has his money, and that he, Travis Simms, was looking forward to the opportunity to work with Chris Webb again (there you go, Travis - you're on the record).
Then he mentioned the word "retraction".
I stopped him right there. Here were the first words out of MY mouth: "Gee Travis, by any chance has Webb told you he was giving you a fight on the February 14 show?"
"So you're looking to back off your story because they're promising you a payday?"
"Well, you've got to understand, this is my career. This is my livelihood."
"I understand all that. But you say you want me to issue a retraction. It was YOUR complaint that started this whole thing. So really, we're not talking about MY retraction, we're talking about YOUR retraction, aren't we? Are you trying to say that what you told me, and what your wife told me, wasn't true? Did you lie to me?"
"Then I don't understand where a retraction would come into play."
Then I walked him through his original story. Was he sure that he went into the same bank as the one listed on Webb's check? Yes. When he asked the teller to cash the check, was he told there was no account at that bank, or that he was at the wrong bank? No. Was he instead told that there was no money in the account? Yes.
I relayed the story Henry Oglesby had told me. Without calling Oglesby a liar, Simms assured that his own original account, the one I relied on to publish Chapter 70 of "Operation Cleanup", was accurate.
I appreciated the honesty.
But the point is, while Simms didn't back off his story, he wanted ME to back off MINE. And if I started to do things like that, with no basis whatsoever, I might as well turn in my pen and paper right now.
This whole incident can teach everyone a lesson, because it shows why it can so difficult to move forward if you're trying to bring about changes. A lot of fighters get scared to speak up, and think twice after they've done so. And how do I know when a fighter is really sincere when he comes off as if he's standing up for all fighters in general but is ready to cast all that aside the second it looks like he's going to be able to take advantage of that same system, or when he is coerced, through some form of satisfaction, to reverse field?
While it's true Travis Simms did not back off his original story to me, quite frankly he was in a position where he had no other choice but to tell the truth. I'm thoroughly convinced he would have been perfectly happy if I had turned around and told my readers I had originally made a big mistake, or that I had misquoted him. I'm sure he wouldn't have minded at all if it was ME who turned around and lied in that manner. All because someone was going to offer him a fight. Or was he offered the fight on the condition that he could soften me up? I don't know. All I can tell you is that as of this writing, Simms has been taken out of consideration for a place on that February 14 show.
There's a lesson for the Chris Webbs of the world to absorb also. If you're caught with your pants down, sometimes it's best to just hope it all blows over. What you DON'T do, if you're in a position that is not absolutely defensible, is to CHASE it. Which is exactly what Webb did - first by threatening me with an attorney, then by being party to a cover-up, in which I was fed an embarrassingly hokey story, then following that with further e-mails designed to appeal to my sympathetic side, in which he wants me to feel bad because no one wants to deal with me. Well, SHOULD anybody want to deal with him?
And what happens as a direct result of all this? You're just feeding me with more ammunition - and more motivation - to make this a continuing story.
Of course, the ironic thing, as we have mentioned previously, is that as Webb is paying site fees, putting together undercard matches in conjunction with Oglesby, making the fight offer to Travis Simms, and prodding Simms to contact me for a "retraction", he is doing so while under suspension by the Kentucky Athletic Commission, supposedly until June 30.
I say "supposedly", because instead of issuing further disciplinary action against Webb for violating the terms of his suspension, Jack Kerns, the paragon of virtue who is the chairman of the Kentucky commission and front man for the Association of Boxing Commissions, is getting ready to take him OFF that suspension.
By all accounts it's for no other reason than that Webb will be instrumental in producing a fight card in the area, which would generate money for the commission, and for all I know, Kerns personally.
Proving once again - a whore is a whore is a whore.
I say - bravo! But not because King isn't entitled to such an tribute. In Atlantic City, anything goes, right? But if we are going to honor him, we simply can't leave out the dozens of other people who have made their own unique "contribution", as it were, to the landscape of boxing - seen strictly through the eyes of "Operation Cleanup", of course.
There are enough streets in A.C. to go around, and enough personalities to where we can fill out a virtual Monopoly board full of thoroughfares.
Come along with me for a tour of the city - I'm sure you'll understand there's a highway or byway to fit every description, and every taste (please excuse the inside jokes):
Lou DiBella Avenue -- After two years of insisting it was a "street", this road finally admits - it's an "avenue".
Bernard Hopkins Boulevard -- On this block, there's just no activity whatsoever.
Jack Kerns Drive -- You can go on this road, but you may not get off it alive.
Thomas Williams Avenue -- This street has an unusual strip mall -- seven shops that sell nothing but diving gear.
Max Kellerman Lane -- The noisiest street in the city, but no one seems to be going anywhere. Oh - and don't spit on the sidewalk.
Laurence Cole Avenue -- On this road, your insurance absolutely isn't valid.
Russell Peltz Place -- You've got to agree to give up at least 50% of your car before getting through.
Roy Jones Expressway -- What else - no speed limit.
Mike Tyson Terrace -- Naturally, you just can't get on this street - between all the cars in Mike's collection, there simply isn't any room. Who'd want to go down this road anyway?
Dr. Michael Schwartz Way -- By all means, don't get into an accident here. You're liable to be treated for internal injuries by a dental assistant.
Michael Buffer Avenue -- This street's in a tough neighborhood. You better be ready to.......well, you know.
Greg Sirb Circle -- If you get a ticket on this block, you can always get it fixed - just keep it hush-hush.
Bjorn Rebney Boulevard -- Put your high-beams on - this road is completely blacked out.
Richie Melito Road -- People are laying down, left and right.
Slammin' Sammy Avenue -- DUI's are permitted.
Sugar Ray Leonard Road -- Lock your car. Take your keys. And hold on to your money.
Nancy Black Place -- No one knows what's going on here at any time. Nor do they know why. Nor do they care.
Shelly Finkel Street -- Pretty unique - you can be an amateur when you get on this road, and leave it feeling just like a pro.
Fight Fax Terrace -- This requires a $9 toll, whether you travel one inch or three miles.
Tim Lueckenhoff Lane -- Actually, no one's ever been allowed to see this road.
Calvin Davis Avenue -- Lots of traffic.....er, trafficking.
Christy Martin Drive -- This street looks brand-new after they fixed all the potholes. Oh, you mean THAT'S where her $300,000 went?
Ward-Gatti Way -- This goddamn street is all banged up.
Mat Tinley Place -- Can't go on this road - it's buried in three feet of red ink.
Greg Page Parkway -- Yeah, this is the road where Jack Kerns gets in his car, drives a couple of miles, makes a left, and goes straight to frigging hell.
Nicolai Valuev Road -- Steep upgrades. Ends at the top of a hill - and the air is rare up there.
Butterbean Boulevard -- See Richie Melito Road.
Joe Calzaghe Court -- Of course, you've got to drive on the left side of the street.
Bob Arum Avenue -- Can't figure it out - all the street signs are in Spanish.
Bernard Kerik Trail -- It's safe here - no one ever shows up.
Brad Jacobs Street -- Slippery. Very, very slippery.
Frank Warren Lane -- Clearance 4'11".
Flat Top Street -- Famous residents include Rosie Ruiz, Sidd Finch, Alan Smithee. Keep an eye out for viruses.
Darius Michalczewski Drive -- Actually, never mind. Nothing of his can ever leave Germany.
Tonya Harding Terrace -- Best place to get your tires slashed. Move at your own risk.
Oscar De la Hoya Plaza -- Paved with gold, of course.
Ken Nahigian Way -- This street goes absolutely nowhere in particular.
John McCain Boulevard -- He's going to reform this street if it's the last frivolous thing he ever does.
Michael Stewart Road -- Yes, joke.
Ike Ibeabuchi Avenue -- Go straight to jail. Do not pass "Go".
St. Charles Jay Place -- Simply a minor adjustment.
Okay, after all that I give up. Let's go back to........
Don King Boulevard -- You could tell this street pretty easily; it's the one you can't travel on unless you give up three options.
I managed to dig up this story I wrote more than three years ago for a now-defunct website, NFLTalk.com, in which I focused on this very angle. And rather than "freshen it up" a bit, I figured I would just reproduce it "as is", since the fundamentals really haven't changed.
Back in 1982, within a couple of days of each other, Deu-Koo Kim had died at the hands of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini, and Alexis Arguello had taken a horrific 14th-round beating from Aaron Pryor. In the ensuing days, there was a great deal of deliberation as to how far to go in letting a fighter take punishing blows to the head, and the boxing world scrambled for answers.
About ten days after this, I was attending a fight card at a place called the Knight Center in Miami. In one of the bouts, the referee waved off the action after one fighter had the other rocking and reeling on the ropes. Then the show broke for intermission, and as I waited in line in the men's room, a guy was heard to complain, "I can't believe the ref stopped it. That guy wasn't even CLOSE to death yet!"
Sometimes I think this is the way many fans feel about their NFL heroes. If you can walk, you should play. If you can breathe, you should play. As long as you are alive, you should be able to slip the pads on.
Looking at the NFL injury report for this week, there are six players listed as suffering from a concussion. Three of them are scheduled to play this weekend, including quarterback Dave Brown of the Arizona Cardinals. Another is on injured reserve.
The other two - Steve Young and Troy Aikman - are at a career crossroads. Young may or may not play again this season, or ever again. The Niners have not put him on the I.R. yet, but may very well do so at some point. Aikman, who suffered another concussion against Minnesota in the Monday night game, is not playing against the Packers on Sunday, but might be back in the lineup the next week against Arizona. Aikman has now suffered EIGHT concussions in his NFL career. At least.
Both men, at the end of this season, are going to be faced with a major decision - whether to continue their careers and risk serious head injuries, or pack it in.
Some fans, for their own selfish reasons, may want both to continue, and in fact, may wish for Young to get back in the lineup sooner rather than later, to lift the Niners out of their current doldrums.
Fans can have interesting tunnel vision that way.
In fact, I distinctly remember the response I got from one misguided soul, when I wrote, back in the pre-season, that the Dolphins had better be very careful with Zack Thomas, because he was suffering not only from some very strange and mysterious dizzy spells, but from what he described as "flashes" as well, which made it doubly hard for him to concentrate in meetings and which, in his words, "made the game seem slower".
This guy, who obviously must have been one of Jerry Quarry's cornermen at one time, wrote: "Zack Thomas has about a month to recover from the lingering effects of his concussion. Had he suffered a torn ACL or something I think you might be on to something but right now, I think you're just looking for something to write about."
Sure. And if your son or daughter were suffering from "lingering effects of a concussion", there wouldn't be anything for you to be freaking out about - right, asshole?
The fact that Thomas has come through the season so far without incident is not the point at all. The point is, he was suffering from something that not only could HE not explain, but the DOCTORS didn't know anything about either. When you're still suffering "lingering effects of a concussion" after a month, that's cause for concern. It's scary. Though not as scary as some tough-as-nails couch potato who thinks head trauma is "not that big a deal".
But I'm wondering how many people with NFL teams feel the same way about it. There is such a single-mindedness about winning in the league that it's apparently easy to overlook a lot of things that should be blatantly obvious. Or to ignore good common sense.
As it stands now, there is nothing to tell Steve Young or Troy Aikman what to do with their careers, aside from their own conscience. Sure, their doctor can suggest retirement, but one thing is for certain - if you go and visit enough doctors, one of them is going to clear you to play. And that's the guy you tend to listen to.
Though fans, teammates, coaches, and physicians may have their own opinions, when it comes to the "retire or not" issue, it's going to be Steve Young's decision. Troy Aikman's decision. And absent any rule or regulation to govern this decision, I have to trust their judgment. After all, it's their life, right?
Well, yes, but perhaps it shouldn't be that cut-and-dried.
Should it, in the end, always be THEIR decision? Should it be the decision of their team? If you feel strongly about such independence of thought, then perhaps you can learn something from the example set by professional boxing.
PROFESSIONAL BOXING? Don't laugh. In the world of bought-off ratings, controversial judges' decisions, and the exploitation of athletes, there are indeed practices that are very positive, and indeed progressive, that the NFL should consider integrating into its own safety policy.
The specifics vary according to the jurisdiction, but generally speaking, when a fighter is "stopped" (TKO'd), the result is an automatic suspension of no less than 30 days, and sometimes as much as 45 or 60. When a fighter is knocked OUT (KO'd), the suspension is 60-90 days. That means that he/she can not compete at all during that time. In some states, the fighter can not even engage in sparring activity during the mandatory suspension period.
And before we go any further, make no mistake about it - when a player suffers a concussion in a football game, he is KNOCKED OUT. Yet you're seeing a situation where Dave Brown is very possibly going to play this week, and Aikman, despite suffering two concussions in a couple of weeks' time, could very well be back under center next weekend. Deion Sanders suffered a concussion in a game and was taken out, then was later re-inserted and actually returned a punt for a touchdown. Now, some people are going to point to that and say, "You see, it was no big deal." But Sanders says he DOESN'T REMEMBER his punt return, and that scares the living hell out of me. And he's not the only player to have a concussion, then come back into a game. It happens all the time. And it shouldn't.
When a player gets put back into a game, or plays the next week, there can be even more of a danger than in boxing, because there are a lot of different Or to get injured. Like a direct helmet-to-helmet hit. Or a blind side hit, which is always a possibility. Like a player hitting his head on the ground, causing additional trauma. Or any other kind of physical contact in which the player's helmet is involved.
Ron Borges wrote a very instructive piece in the Boston Globe about this a couple of weeks ago. In it, veteran boxing trainer Teddy Atlas, who is also a commentator for ESPN2, said, "Boxing doesn't get nearly the serious injuries football does. It's incredible the numbers every Sunday when you're watching, but you just don't hear about it because football is much more corporate. It's a well-run machine. Football dresses up its violence better. Nobody says anything about what goes on in pro football until someone like Steve Young gets a concussion. He ain't going back and playing this weekend, but how many other guys are? If Steve Young is a lineman who got those concussions, would they be treating him the same way? No they wouldn't."
All I can tell you is that you'll rarely, if ever, hear of any fighter allowed in the ring, or NEAR a ring, while he's experiencing "lingering effects from a concussion" or suffering from "post-concussion syndrome". It wouldn't even be a consideration.
So why is it a consideration in the NFL, where the contact is more constant, more sustained, and in many cases, of a higher impact? I don't understand why the league can't see the light, and mandate that 1) any player who suffers a concussion must sit out a minimum of four games and possibly more, depending on the severity of the situation; 2) any player who does indeed have a concussion must, after the mandatory suspension is served, be cleared by TWO doctors, with an EEG, in order to play; 3) more extensive mandatory suspensions must be imposed on players who sustain more than one concussion during a season; and 4) any team which is found to have inserted a player in a game while suffering from the effects of a concussion will be fined heavily, with suspensions imposed on the coaches, trainers, or medical staff that allow it to happen.
No player or team is going to zealously take these precautions on their own. A player wants to play. That's in his nature. And he'll have a tendency to go to as many sources as he has to until someone tells him he's okay. A team wants to win. That's IT'S nature. Every week players are sent out onto the field with injuries, of varying degrees of severity, and it is expected that players perform with pain. Okay, that's understood. But let's draw the line somewhere. Head injuries are as good a place as any.
And let's have someone who IS NOT an interested party make judicious decisions on this policy, based on common sense, as well as what is in the best interests of the athletes and the image of professional football.
For the life of me, I don't understand why the NFL Players Association hasn't spearheaded a move in this direction. Aren't these people concerned about the long-term health of their constituency?
I'm sure they are. And I'm sure someday they will.
But for those of you who would just as soon leave well enough alone, you are entitled to your opinion. Just don't chortle about the "punchdrunk stiffs", "bums", and "palookas" in a boxing ring. Those guys are well-protected, by comparison. The REAL palookas are out there on CBS and Fox on Sunday afternoons. They're just better-paid palookas, for the most part.