When Steve Allred was appointed chairman of the West Virginia Athletic Commission by the governor in 2000, he was all too aware of the state’s reputation for lax supervision of professional boxing.
Since his appointment, he and other commission members Robert Fitzsimmons and Frank Hartenstein have worked tirelessly to bring respectability and credibility to the once maligned commission. From all indications they have done just that.
The fact that they have been able to do that on a shoestring budget is testament to their love and devotion to the sweet science. All work pro bono and are compensated only for their travel and hotel expenses. While the annual commission budget is a mere $20,000, that is $10,000 more than it was when they first took office.
“When I tell people that we are running a boxing commission on $10,000 to $20,000 a year, we get laughed at,” said the 48-year-old Allred, a former professional cruiserweight who by day is the executive director for the West Virginia/Ohio Valley chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association. “This is definitely a labor of love for all of us.”
When the current commission took office, Allred informed all statewide promoters that changes would be forthcoming. To ensure competitive matches, which all of the commissioners agreed was of paramount importance, they made clear that each and every bout would be scrutinized before being approved.
Allred said that all of the state’s major promoters, which includes Simons Promotions (Steve Simons), West Virginia Sports Promotions (Jerry Thomas), and World Class Promotions (Greg Nixon), have been extremely understanding and cooperative.
“They adapted very well to the changes,” said Allred. “All of the promoters in the state are easy to deal with. They understand and respect the job we have to do. West Virginia is no longer a state where you can come and pick up an easy W (win).”
Because of Allred’s background as an amateur boxer of some renown, as well as a professional who in June 1985 was stopped by future light heavyweight title challenger Ramzi Hassan, he realizes that fighters with bad records don’t always equate to fighters with no skills.
“We look at each and every bout proposed to us, and I can’t tell you how much we spend on phone calls to research fighters,” he explained. “Sometimes it is frustrating when we realize how many hours we’ve spent on the phone, but it is rewarding when we approve equitable matchups.
“Steve Simons is very good at competitively matching two guys who might have losing records but are still skilled fighters,” he continued. “He might match a guy who is 9-10 with a guy who is 10-12 and wind up with the fight of the night right there.”
Making things even more logistically difficult for the commission is the fact that they are currently down two members. The commission is supposed to consist of five members, all of whom are appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the senate.
All members serve without pay for terms of four years. Being two men down has not deterred the current trio from doing their jobs with the diligence that has become their benchmark. During the past fiscal year, West Virginia hosted 17 different events with gross receipts in ticket sales being just over $678,000.
The only monies received by the commission are licensing fees, which between July 1, 2005 and January 31, 2006, amounted to only $15,745. Unlike a lot of other states, the West Virginia commission receives no percentage of ticket sales, a gate tax, or event fee. That has not slowed down the commissioners one bit.
“When fights are coming up, we put in long, long days,” said Allred, who is especially grateful to his wife Cindy and two grown children, Michael and Sarah, for being supportive of his fistic endeavors since the days when he was an amateur boxer. “We all share in the work equally and do what we can to cut costs.”
As an example, Allred cites the recent actions of Fitzsimmons, an attorney, as being typical of the extra efforts put forth by all of the commission members. “To save on our budget he printed and copied a lot of the license and permit forms at his office,” said Allred. “He didn’t ask for any reimbursement.”
Allred looks forward to the day when West Virginia becomes one of boxing’s major players, vying for big fights like venues in Nevada, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut do. With the Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Center and the Wheeling Island Race Track already putting on significant shows, it looks like that might soon become a reality.
He said Ted Arneault, the chief financial officer of the Mountaineer, is not only a wonderful man but a steadfast supporter of the sport at all levels. “Ted has been a superb supporter of the commission and the sport in general,” he said. “The Mountaineer has already had significant fights, some of which were on HBO.”
Moreover, says, Allred, promoter Thomas, is doing shows at the Wheeling venue and Simons runs regularly in Morgantown. In addition, Toughman contests are held throughout the state.
Until recently West Virginia has enjoyed no real boxing legacy, even though it is the home state of Christy Martin, who prior to the emergence of Laila Ali was the face of women’s boxing.
It is also the home of former heavyweight fringe contender Tommy “Franco” Thomas of Fairmont, who between 1977-86 fought such notables as Pierre Coetzer, Leon Spinks, Michael Dokes, and Jimmy Young, as well as onetime middleweight contender Mark Frazie who between 1980-88 fought, among others, Alex Ramos, Bobby Czyz, Leslie Stewart, Wilford Scypion, and Vinnie Curto.
Allred hopes that in the years ahead, the state will develop even more fistic prominence. “Boxing is a great sport and I would love to see it grow,” he said. “I would like to be part of that growth because boxing has been so good to me. It gave me self-esteem and took me to places I’d never seen. It’s only right that I give something back.”