The 69th Round

Quite a while ago, I was approaching one of the major boxing equipment companies about a project I was into. It was an independent boxing writers' poll – the forerunner of what we're in the process of undertaking right now, and which I was trying to keep alive at the time. I thought this particular equipment company might want to be part of a positive effort to bring about some order in the ratings system.

I didn't the get the standard patronizing responses – stuff like “We just don't have it in the budget at this time.”

What I got was “We don't want to show partiality toward any fighters”, or words to that effect.

Well, I wasn't sure the individual at this company quite understood the concept I was putting across. After all, the poll was about IM-partiality. But at the end of the day, I respected the fact that, contrary to most people in boxing, there was at least a consciousness of conflict of interest. Good for them.

NOT.

About two weeks after I received that response, I get a press release announcing that this company had just signed a prominent heavyweight to an exclusive endorsement contract.

Other fighters have followed. So have promoters, and networks.

So much for impartiality.

Naturally, this kind of thing gets me wondering. If these guys are disingenuous enough, how far would they actually go?

Obviously, it's a question I'm still asking.

It's occurred to me that when an equipment company invests its money in the advancement of the career of a fighter, and has an interest in his success – especially when that fighter is contracted to wear its gloves in the ring – it opens up a situation that's well worth exploring.

Wilson manufactures custom rackets for the tennis players they have under contract.

Hillerich & Bradsby makes Louisville Sluggers for baseball players, built to order.

Nike creates customized shoes for basketball stars.

And Calloway crafts specific golf clubs, I'm sure, for all of their golf endorsers.

Why wouldn't the same hold true in boxing?

Of course, in this case, it's a little different – gloves are an instrument by which a lot of damage can be done to another participant. So one can argue that it's a piece of equipment that should come under much closer scrutiny.

It's not such a far-fetched concept. In fact, you wouldn't believe how easy it could be. Let's go through the process.

For each card he puts on, a promoter is usually required to order new gloves for the main events, and sometimes also for the semi-finals. Actually, if he so chooses, he can order new gloves for ANY fight on a card. Perhaps this promoter is also receiving something in the way of sponsorship monies from an equipment company that will be providing those gloves – an advertising expenditure that gives that company at least an indirect interest in the advancement of that promoter's fighters.

And more directly, one or more of the fighters may actually be signed to an endorsement or marketing contract with the equipment company.

It's safe to assume that if a relationship exists, the gloves are coming straight from the manufacturer.

These gloves come in a package, and they are commonly upacked at the weigh-in, so the participants have the opportunity to choose the gloves they're going to wear. Of course, in most jurisdictions, there is nothing to prevent a switch of those gloves later on, since they typically remain in the custody of the promoter.

And after the conclusion of a bout, the gloves are usually taken off the fighter, and handed to a “glove man” who is an employee of the promoter, who simply puts them all in a box and takes them under his own control.

In other words, there is minimal opportunity, and, I would assume, minimal motivation, on the part of a boxing commission to make a determination as to whether the gloves were tampered with at any time from weigh-in to the final bell.

And here's another question: how much do those gloves really weigh? I'm going to tell you something that I found rather shocking – I have talked to numerous people from boxing commissions, not to mention managers, promoters, matchmakers, and fighters themselves, and to this date, no one, and I mean NO ONE, has actually ever thought to weigh the gloves.

Let me repeat that – they weigh the fighters, but NO ONE WEIGHS THE GLOVES.

What does this mean? Well, you could have a heavyweight fight, in which the combatants are supposed to be wearing ten-ounce gloves, where one is wearing eight-ounce gloves and the other ten-ounce gloves. I don't think I need to explain what kind of advantage that could be.

Remember, just because gloves say “10 oz.” doesn't necessarily mean that they ARE. How hard would it be for a pair of eight-ounce gloves to carry a marking of “10 oz.”? Not too difficult. It's something that's pretty much at the manufacturer's
discretion, isn't it? And there is no way of knowing for sure unless the gloves are actually put on a scale.

How do we know gloves aren't “marked” in some way by the manufacturer, so that the fighter under an endorsement contract to it knows which pair to pick out at a weigh-in? We don't. And if a fighter wearing eight-ounce gloves is the “puncher”
in a fight, wouldn't he be at a tremendous advantage if he knew which pair to grab at the weigh-in?

That's a rhetorical question.

As we mentioned before, gloves can very easily be customized by a manufacturer. The contours can be made to be different, as they are in the Reyes glove, which is generally regarded to be the “puncher's glove”. Also, the weight distribution can be different. For example, if more of the weight than normal is distributed in the wrist portion of a glove, providing for less of a “cushion” in the fist portion, that will certainly have its effect.

But unless one were specifically checking for this, who would really know?

I'm not implying that there's actually a manufacturer out there doing this – there is no substantive evidence of it. I'm only saying that if something fishy WERE happening, there is no mechanism in place to prevent it.

Would I be shocked if it were happening? Not really. Not if there is a lot to be gained by it. Not if the company rationalized that the advancement of their own agenda constituted the “greater good”. Not if that company spread around enough
“goodwill”, financial or otherwise, to the ABC, USA Boxing, and other “institutions” that no one would even think to look in their direction.

What I would suggest is that if you are the opponent of a fighter who has one of these endorsement contracts, or if that fighter is with a promoter who has one of these deals, you may want to keep you eyes open. Take all those gloves and get them on a scale. What the hell – bring your own scale if the commission refuses to provide one. And if your gloves seem much different than that of your opponent, by all means get that on the record.

Because you never can tell.

I've seen more unlikely, bizarre things happen in boxing than “rigging the gloves”, which, you could say, might be the rough equivalent of some baseball equipment company sticking the cork in Sammy Sosa's bat, except that it would come with a
few more life-and-death ramifications.

How many Sammy Sosas are there in boxing?

I guess until commissions get on the ball, we're not going to know.

fightpage@totalaction.com

Copyright 2003 Total Action Inc.