The 70th Round

As defined by the Professional Boxer Safety Act, a manager is – “a person who receives compensation for services as an agent or representative of a boxer”.

The manager contracts to provide services for a fighter, but sometimes he does not perform the services for which he has contracted. Sometimes the fighter is uncertain or unhappy about expenses taken out of purses that he doesn't know about, or which he did not authorize.

It's not all that unusual for a manager to sign a fighter to a contract, then put forth very little effort relative to that fighter, except appear to pick up a portion of the purse for fights he may have had no role whatsoever in arranging.

And there are of course those situations, probably more prevalent now than ever, where someone who is under contract as a “manager” of a fighter is really something else entirely – namely just a “recruiter” for a promoter who is in for a cut of
the action but whose loyalty will in fact be with the promoter and not the fighter.

If the fighter doesn't think his manager is performing the way he should, where can he go and what can he do?

As it stands now, in the vast majority of cases, there is virtually no avenue by which the fighter can pursue proper relief, other than the civil courts, where the costs may indeed be prohibitive.

Maybe it's time for that to change……..

… a way where BOTH sides can get some relief.

There is so much discussion in the way of “fighter exploitation” by managers and promoters in the boxing industry, to where it has become fashionable. Certainly no one would doubt that it exists. But what is usually put forward is the monolithic view. I doubt, for example, that you'd ever hear John McCain make an issue of fighters exploiting managers.

In fact, what few boxing “reform” advocates care to admit, or know enough to point out, is that the manager also has interests that deserve to be protected, and often suffers because there are no internal mechanisms to protect those rights.

For example, if a fighter chooses to, he can go into any jurisdiction in the country and fight, without the permission and/or knowledge of his licensed manager of record. Unlike a promoter, the manager generally has no power to take any injunctive action, and it goes without saying that if he doesn't know about the fight, it's going to proceed without his input or involvement. This is not to say the manager should be able to arbitrarily stop fights from happening; after all, no one wants to stop a fighter from making a living.

But the manager, if properly licensed, performing, or attempting to perform his services as contracted, and with a contract that is completely in order, is still entitled to collect his rightful share of the purse. What becomes problematic is that more than a few commissions do not recognize this. Some commissions routinely deal with this matter, and require only that a manager fax some form of substantiation (usually his contract) in order to justify holding out a percentage, and if there is a dispute on the part of the fighter that amount might be held in escrow, pending some sort of hearing or other procedure.

But other commissions have required that the manager travel to the jurisdiction and show up in person to enforce his rights; some others choose not to get involved in the middle of this conflict at all, and give no consideration to these kinds of protests or complaints. This is wrong, and almost defeats the purpose for boxing regulation in the first place. It also serves as a ringing endorsement for some kind of national system to make the protection of these contractual rights more uniform among jurisdictions.

This is by no means the only time this have ever been suggested, but commissions not only should be able to, but should be REQUIRED to, tap into a centralized database that will alert them as to who has legitimate contracts with the fighters they are permitting into their jurisdiction, and they should take it upon themselves to do the proper thing and enforce the applicable rights, so as not to prejudice a manager who may indeed be in the right. This goes for whether there is a national commission structure or not.

Battles through the civil courts have long plagued boxing. And many of the disputes come about as a result of issues that could have been resolved by a boxing regulatory board. One would have to wonder about the necessity of boxing commissions at all, if they cannot inject themselves into the process to mediate disputes that arise between licensees.

It has been my experience that in boxing, most of the conflicts between parties that wind up in litigation get that way because one side is in a “disadvantaged” position; that is, one side has much less financial wherewithal than the other, and in fact may not have any. Sometimes the rich promoter or manager commits a tort against a fighter he knows cannot take him on in court. Is that fair, and can't it possibly be done another way?

The establishment – through legislation – of a national arbitration board, whether or not it's as a component to a national commission structure, would go a long way toward “evening out the playing field”, and in turn, would serve as a deterrent against parties acting with less than good faith toward each other. This is something I suggested a couple of years ago to the ABC, but I don't know that there's been any substantive discussion about it.

Contract disputes that require a background in, or knowledge of, the boxing industry to mediate should be spared exposure to the civil court system if at all possible. A committee that is well-equipped to deal with the peripheral issues surrounding the dispute can undoubtedly handle it better. This should be the procedure with as many conflicts involving licensees as possible. And decisions should be binding.

So the question becomes – what kinds of issues should a boxing commission, on the local or national level, have within its authority to mediate?

Well, if one of those things is contracts, an appropriate model (indeed, the one used by the NAAG Task Force) might be the one employed in Nevada, where a manager and a fighter can submit to binding voluntary arbitration. In order to avail themselves of this process, however, the parties must have already signed a “form” contract which is provided by the Nevada commission. This is a uniform contract which spells out terms and obligations clearly and simply.

It makes all the sense in the world, because if the commission (through the Attorney General's representative assigned to it) has drawn up the document, it should naturally be able to rule on it.

Of course, when civil contracts drawn up between a fighter and manager have various subtleties in them that make them materially different than the form contract, the civil court might be the proper place for them.

One of those variations occurs in cases where the manager may in fact have a more substantial role in the fighter's career. And it represents a different kind of “dynamic” between the two parties. You see, in reality, the manager works for
the fighter. He performs his services FOR the fighter, and the fighter, by and large, pays the manager his percentage (33-1/3%, or whatever).

But what about those instances where the manager gets involved in subsidizing the fighter's car, his rent, and paying a weekly salary on top of that? Clearly, this can create more of a “fighter-as-employee” relationship. As you can imagine, this
kind of relationship invites disputes somewhere down the line. Should commission prepare form contracts, spelling out basic understandings between the parties, to deal with these situations? Maybe, maybe not.

Certainly in other cases, where the duties of the manager (secure fights in exchange for a percentage) are pretty straightforward, there aren't so many inherent complications that a uniform contract shouldn't be accepted by everyone.

And so I figure, why not have the same form contract instituted on a national basis, covering all jurisdictions, either as a matter of policy within the ABC, a piece of model legislation all states can push though, or as part of legislation coming out of McCain's
committee? Then have the database that can assist commissions in honoring existing contracts, and the arbitration board that has the authority to rule on disputes.

That's a neat little system, and in the long run, would be much easier to “manage”.

If you pardon the pun.

Copyright 2003 Total Action Inc.