LAS VEGAS– However enticing and influential the monetary incentives were that prompted Marc Ratner to resign his position as executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, it’s not like the stoic standard-bearer just simply took the money and ran.
When it was announced he would soon be on a greener grass UFC payroll, Ratner expressed a continued deep affection for boxing but also admitted that family financial considerations made his choice immediately obvious.
That’s great news. There still aren’t enough cases of good karma: nice guy-finishes-first scenarios in any aspect of the duke-out game. Many years of firsthand observations indicate Ratner deserves any happy ending he derives from his service to the sport.
During a distinguished tenure, Ratner earned the deal in crossover realms from human folly to statutory logic, and life, and death. A job description included such improvised duties as separating contestants and their teams from each other during pre- and post-fight melees, or checking scales for intrusive toeholds.
There was no fine print about waiting at the hospital while a boxer faded away forever.
Still, Ratner remained a voice of calm reason from the tragic times to the absurd, from the sick to the sublime. He usually managed to keep a sincere, look on the bright side smile.
It’s hard to be a saint in Sin City. In boxing, in Vegas, an ongoing reputation like Ratner’s is rare. Sure there could always be the proverbial pictures with sheep at the orphanage, but in Vegas they would have surfaced by now. If Ratner’s civility was an act, it was one of the best ones on the Strip. For around fourteen years it lasted longer at the top marquee than most.
Reviewing a recent interview prior to his resignation changes focus from the state of Ratner’s mind to a state of reflective tribute.
“Well, no matter what fights we had, you have to term 2005 as a real tough year for boxing (in Nevada) overall,” said Ratner in December as he relaxed after the weigh-in for Jermain Taylor-Bernard Hopkins II. “We had two fatalities, and so no matter what great fights happened, you can never get away from that.
“There’s nothing tougher as commission director than sitting in the hospital. I went every day for Leavander Johnson. With Martin Sanchez, by the time I got to the hospital, he was already gone. If there was a common thread between the deaths, if we can find something, I hope we can.
“It’s a tough sport to get your arms around at best. You have to be constantly vigilant. Besides two deaths (in Nevada) last year, the government found that we had a fight in 2000 that was fixed. There’s always things that happen and you have to be ever vigilant. It makes you sharper, and I try to be sharp. Boxing is at a very high level here. The scrutiny on the commission and on myself is great, and I’m very much aware of that.”
While it was easy to envision Ratner in the commission position for life, there were also occasional scenes behind the scenes that would wear on any resolve or dedication. Juggling so many personal, political, and commercial agendas on so many levels would have to be a drain sometimes.
The commission dealt with a pair of tragedies as Sanchez and Johnson died directly from competition. It was the first time in many years where two boxers succumbed in the same calendar.
Ratner also had to keep the ship on a smooth sailing course after Governor Kenny Guinn chose to appoint a replacement for Dr. Flip Homansky, which preceeded the resignation of high profile ringside physician Margaret Goodman, reportedly Homansky’s significant other. Along the way there were piles of innuendo and conflicting angles of interest. Another primetime Vegas drama.
Ever the good soldier, Ratner held the company line and smiled as he fielded legitimate questions, scathing queries, or good-natured jibes toward various procedures like the Goodman-Homansky situation.
“It’s real simple. The governor decided that he would appoint another commissioner from the north. Dr Homansky’s term was up. And he was not reappointed. Dr Homansky is one of the most wonderful commissioners, one of the most wonderful ring doctors. He’s my personal physician, a very big part of my life, but I also respect the governor and that’s his decision.”
“The perspective is real simple,” continued Ratner. “Dr. Goodman is Chief of the Medical Advisory Board. She is still very much involved with the commission. She did resign as a ringside physician. She's one of the top ringside physicians in the world. I hope there will come a day when she’ll reconsider. I’d love to have her back. That’s her decision, but she’s still with us, and both she and Dr. Homansky are going to help a medical advisory panel come up with, hopefully, some good, innovative ideas to make the fights safer. We’ll just keep learning and keep going forward.
“I feel that there are a lot of great commissions out there. I deal with a lot of them, and I talk to states every day. We’re blessed because of the gaming in Las Vegas, so we get big fights. Obviously if there were no big hotels here, maybe we’d just be another small state. But (now) we’re a small state with a lot of great fights.”
“It’s a tough, tough sport,” he said, “All I want is to do the best for the fighters. Invariably there will be some injuries, God forbid, and that’s my greatest concern. At the press conference for Hopkins-Taylor (II) Bernard said ‘kiss your daughter goodbye because you may not live.’ That’s the one thing I cringe at when I hear, because it brings back all the bad memories, and absolutely these things can happen.”
For such serious business, things could get silly.
“At the Castillo-Corrales weigh-in, luckily, I saw the Castillo corner person try and cheat,” said Ratner, ”I’ve never seen that before. All of a sudden I looked down and saw one of his medical advisors trying to put his foot underneath the platform so Castillo wouldn’t weigh as much. At that time we fined the fighter ten percent of his purse, or $120,000 dollars, and we suspended the corner person, Dr. Armando Barak, indefinitely. They still have to appear before the commission.”
Sometimes questionable behavior crossed even more serious lines.
“They said the fixed fight was on the first Holyfield-Ruiz undercard,” said Ratner, “Richie Merito and Thomas Williams. It looked like a real good knockout. Williams got knocked out of the ring, into a judge’s lap. The FBI had some wiretaps on Williams and he was convicted.”
Ratner believed a national commission would have helped straighten out the sport.
“The status quo is not working nationwide,” he said, “If the federal government would give the Association of Boxing Commissions a federal backbone, then they’d have everything in place already. What I mean by that is some kind of an office and some funding. What we need is standardized medical tests, standardized rules. It’s not real hard to figure out that if you fight in California the rules are a little bit different in New York or Nevada. One of my pet peeves in the sport is on HBO some nights they’ll say this fight is under one set of rules or the other. There should be one set of rules nationwide. It should be worldwide. That’s my big goal.”
“The federal idea is good. I’d want to see how the funding would be. I’ve never been able to get that answered – how big it would be? – how many layers it would be? – so there’s still a lot of questions. If they could federalize the ABC somehow, they wouldn’t have to have all these different bureaucracies.”
Whether or not the idea advances is no longer a priority on Ratner’s upcoming agenda. In the meantime, he can look back with definite pride on what was.
The wide-ranging mechanisms of various pugilistic enterprise grind along so freaky and fine around here that almost anything falls into the outlook of business as usual.
Human nature sinks and rises in a tide of megabuck marketing. A longshot underdog pulls off a house-breaking upset. Fresh hope keeps the prelims alive while gifted talent gets pissed away in a gutter of abandoned dreams.
Most of the old guard has just about seen it all in this dead end rainbow of a town, but word of Ratner’s resignation spread like a bittersweet sigh.
Vegas has continued to explode as an international party destination of theatric and culinary arts, amongst elite, top dollar entertainment. Boxing did a fine job of growing right along on the biggest stages while Ratner held down the guiding body’s helm.
In the face of multi-million dollar pressures, he pulled off one of the most consistent public relations jobs in a city of neon compliments where backs are patted and stabbed in the same farewell greeting. Governor Guinn and commission chairman Skip Avansino will have a big void to fill. They better hope previous moves don’t come back to haunt them.
The Ratner boxing era ends on May 13th, and the UFC’s new dawn begins two days later. The last boxing event during Ratner’s tenure looks to be Oscar De La Hoya versus Ricardo Mayorga. With the Boxing Writer’s Association in town that weekend, an appropriate gala farewell damn well better occur.
Ratner could return to boxing, but right now that seems unlikely. The three years on his new contract will pass relatively quickly in the treadmill timetable of broadcast combat sports. For some top fighters it’s just one or two contests. For some sports it’s a lifetime. Change of status is part of the natural order. What made it special in this instance was the nature of the individual.
“I love boxing and almost everything about it,” said Ratner, “It will always be one of the most important things in my life.”
From what we saw, if Ratner’s salary came from the taxpayers, they got a great bargain in the civil service and financial return categories. It will be interesting to see what kind of shape the commission, and the Vegas boxing scene, is in three to five years down the road.
It seems sure enough that Ratner left his office and appointed domain in exemplary shape. The fans owe him a fond farewell. The sport owes him history. The boxing fraternity owes him a party. It’s real simple.
May his Zen mastery remain positive. Up ahead for Ratner’s personal state, and behind for the state of boxing in the state of Nevada.