The 96th Round

About a year ago, and rather quietly, I might add, the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board pulled itself from participation in the Association of Boxing Commissions, by simply not going through the process of renewing its membership. It has been said that the bad taste left from the 2001 ABC presidential election, in which NJSACB executive director Larry Hazzard, an African-American with a wealth of experience regulating boxing, was passed over in favor of Tim Lueckenhoff, a Caucasian regulator from Missouri with very little experience, was contributory to it.

I guess if I were Hazzard, I'd be a little miffed too. But there were other legitimate reasons for it.

Hazzard has told me he was worried that somewhere down the line, his state, as an ABC member, may have found itself embroiled, perhaps as a co-defendant, in a legal entanglement in the event the ABC did something unwise or unfair. In light of what could eventually happen if Armando Garcia's saga ever evolved into a legal case, Hazzard might prove prophetic indeed.

With New Jersey's secession come certain complications – also of the legal variety – that would become greatly exacerbated with the passage of John McCain's Boxing Amendments Act.

By way of preface, let me quote from Section 4 of the proposed “Professional Boxing Amendments Act of 2003”, as it involves a higher agency's authority to render approval on professional boxing matches:


`(a) IN GENERAL- No person may arrange, promote, organize, produce, or fight in a professional boxing match within the United States unless the match–`(1) is approved by the Administration; AND `(2) is supervised by the Association of Boxing Commissions or by a boxing commission that is a member in good standing of the Association of Boxing Commissions.

`(b) APPROVAL PRESUMED- For purposes of subsection (a), the Administration shall be presumed to have approved any match other than–`(1) a match with respect to which the Administration has been informed of an alleged violation of this Act and with respect to which it has notified the supervising boxing commission that it does not approve; `(2) a match advertised to the public as a championship match; or `(3) a match scheduled for 10 rounds or more. '.

Essentially, what this means is that if there is going to be a fight anywhere in the United States scheduled for ten rounds or more (in other words, a legitimate main event), or a championship fight (which incidentally has been designated as such not by a governmental agency but by a sanctioning body), the promoter of that fight must get approval from BOTH the new United States Boxing Administration AND the Association of Boxing Commissions, or a current member commission of the ABC.

If you're like me, you can envision the scenario already.

Let's say some promoter makes a deal with an Atlantic City casino for a multiple-championship card, to be shown on HBO or pay-per-view; Hazzard assigns a group of New Jersey officials to be among those working on that fight card; everything is OK with the sanctioning bodies; and people from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and beyond have plans to come in for the weekend to see the fight.

And all of a sudden., the United States Boxing Administration steps in and says there can't be a fight card, because the ABC won't sign off on it. And why is that? Well, the technical reason is that New Jersey's ring officials (judges and referees) may not have attended any ABC-sponsored certification seminars. And if they're not “certified”, they can't work.

The REAL reason is that New Jersey is not a member of the Association of Boxing Commissions, and therefore, they will be frozen out of any kind of significant fight action.

Of course, things could get complicated from there. If the USBA and the ABC were especially passionate about following the “law of the land”, as they interpreted it, they could go get themselves an injunction from the United States Attorney and enforce it by bringing a bunch of federal marshals, the FBI, the Army, or whoever else they want to bring, to physically prevent the promotion from going forward. If Greg Sirb were the head of the USBA, this is the route I think he would take – kind of like Napoleon leading his troops into battle – perhaps to his waterloo, perhaps not.

At this time, naturally, the New Jersey Attorney General, which incidentally directly oversees the NJSACB, would get on his cell phone (from ringside seats which no doubt were gratuitous “gifts” from the promoter), and call out the New Jersey State Police, invoking his state's right to regulate a professional boxing event with officials it deems qualified.

You see where I'm going here, don't you?

All of this would – or could – happen simply because the ABC would not only still exist, but remain in the federal statutes, given authority and responsibility as if it were a real government agency. The reality, we stress again, is that not only is the ABC nothing more than a TRADE ASSOCIATION (which, incidentally, we have not confirmed has 501(c)6 status with the IRS), but its membership is VOLUNTARY. There is nothing in the federal law that requires state boxing commissions to join it, or remain members once they have joined. Indeed, New Jersey has chosen to pull itself away.

And they may not be alone. Several other states, disgruntled with the lack of vision, lack of competence, and geographic concentration of leadership, are currently considering a secession from the ABC.

“I really don't see any reason to stay with them (the ABC),” one commissioner told me. “When you look at the people running the thing, they're all from states that just don't have any significant boxing to speak of – Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska, et cetera. In their states, their standards are lower than mine. So what is membership in that organization going to do for my commission aside from get us involved in a lot of political nonsense?”

The point is well taken. Voting in the ABC does not takes place like an electoral college. States like Vermont, Maine, Montana, and yes, Tim Lueckenhoff's Missouri, which have very little in the way of real boxing activity, have as much of a voice in decision-making as the states who have a lot invested in the sport – such as Nevada, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, or California. And since the “small” boxing states out-number the ones that have significant fights, a “small state” mentality is more often than not going to infiltrate ABC policy – something that became magnified under the regime of the megalomaniacal Sirb.

That's why this whole thing is such a concern. Does the fact that the ABC is given authority over sanctioning matches mean that commissions are forced to join, or remain members? That indeed seems the case. If so, is there an anti-trust question there? What if a group of the “big” boxing states decided to form their own trade association, based on more forward-thinking; more sanity; more competence? Would they be doing so in violation of the law? I would hope not. Would the ABC intercede in fight promotions held in those states and try to stop them from happening, not only as a show of power but in defending what it interprets to be its legal position, as it did arbitrarily in the Armando Garcia matter?

And wouldn't that draw the ABC, and the USBA, into court a lot more than was ever intended?

You bet it would.

Because the ABC, for example, would be in the precarious position where if it did indeed ignore the fact that a non-member was sanctioning and approving a fight card, in what could be interpreted as non-compliance with the law, it would perhaps obviate the need for it to exist. The organization would almost be forced to take action – capricious as it might be – lest risk itself being neutered.

Certainly these are useful propositions for legislators to consider before taking any action on this bill.

Copyright 2003 Total Action Inc.