EXCLUSIVE: Q n A With New NYSAC Exec Director David Berlin

The New York State Athletic Commission has a new staffer in the mix, with the hiring of attorney David Berlin by Governor Andrew Cuomo as executive director. The Governor announced the appointment of the attorney, who will be responsible for overseeing the daily operations of the commission, on March 26.

The NYSAC has been under a microscope a bit, following the Nov. 2, 2013 bout pitting MikePerez against Magomed Abdusalamov at Madison Square Garden.

Abdusalamov, a Russian heavyweight and Florida resident, went back and forth with Perez for ten rounds, and was not long after the rumble taken to a local hospital, where he underwent brain surgery. He is currently in a rehab facility, working on regaining his faculties. (UPDATE, MONDAY MAY 19: I spoke to Mago’s cousin, Aminulla Suleymanov.  He told the fighter has made some progress recently, maybe not as much as the family would hope, but they are all holding it together. “Mago’s parents are here,” he reported. “Thanks for the interest!”  Good news, Mago can now say peoples’ names, and eat–he likes yogurt and ice cream–using his own left arm. Mago does have some use of his right arm, as well.)

A commission source not authorized to speak on the record informed me that a search for an executive director was in the works as much as six months before the Abdusalamov situation. So, the source told me, any inference that Berlin, age 50, was hired in response to that occurrence, and a pending suit lodged by the Abdusalamov family, which targets the commission for alleged procedural errors, is incorrect. I touched base with Berlin, who joins chairwoman Melvina Lathan, and commissioners Edwin Torres and John Signorile, and fired some queries at him to get a better sense of who he is, and what he sees is his mission.

Woods Q) For those unfamiliar with you, and your background, could you offer a short synopsis, and include how your history will make your tenure successful?

??Berlin A) I used to watch the fights with my father when I was a kid – that’s when boxing was televised on ABC and NBC on Saturday afternoons – but I really became hooked when my older brother Adam took me to my first live fights at the Felt Forum, which was the smaller venue inside Madison Square Garden. I was 15 years old and was visiting Adam, who was 18 and spending a year in New York City after high school. I don’t remember who fought but I remember the atmosphere and I remember feeling how different it was from watching on TV and how much more real. It was brutal but also beautiful, and I was attracted to it because it was so basic, so elemental, so stripped down. That was the beginning of my love for the sport, and my passion has continued to this day. Adam and I were regulars at the Felt Forum when we were both in our 20s and both living in New York. I attended law school in New York, at NYU, and started working out at Gleason’s Gym at that time, and later, when I was already a lawyer, I had a few amateur fights and won a Golden Gloves tournament in Florida. When I started my own practice as a lawyer, I was fortunate to be able to combine my profession with my passion, and I became involved in the sport as a boxing attorney and manager. I’ve also had a chance to write about the sport and my ideas for making it better. What will drive me in my new position? It is simple. I care about the sport and I care about the boxers who ply their trade in the sweet science. I want what the boxers and the fans want. I want to see the fighter who wins the fight have his or her hand raised in victory through competent judging and refereeing. I want to see competitive fights. I want to see a healthy sport where promoters succeed, because that will allow fighters to fight and to grow as fighters and to earn a living.

Q) What fight was your first on the job, and how did it go? What was the most surprising lesson learned, if any??

A) My first fight as Executive Director took place on May 10 in Whitehall, New York. It is a small town on the Vermont border and is a good reminder that New York State is far more than just New York City. Greg Gross, who started promoting boxing last year, has a beautiful facility, the Whitehall Athletic Club, and put on a pro-am card with four professional bouts, including a very exciting and very close main event. Ronica Jeffrey, who came into the fight undefeated at 13-0, lost her perfect record in a split decision loss to Carla Torres, who fights out of Cleveland. This is the second time the two have fought, and given how competitive the fight was, it’s no surprise that each of them can claim a victory over the other. I’d love to see a rubber match come to New York.

Q) Are you a fan of boxing? I’m assuming so, based on your years working with fighters and in this milieu. What attracts you to the sports and its athletes? What function does boxing serve in society, in your view?

A) Part of my attraction is visceral. It is competition at its most basic. No bats or balls, no nets, no goals, just two men or women in the ring using their skill, speed, strength and intelligence, and having their will and mental fortitude tested at the highest levels. I’m attracted to that. I love its simplicity. I am also drawn to boxing because of the human element. Boxing is a sport of underdogs. I spent many years working as a public defender. I have also represented children with disabilities, children in need of special education services. And I remain actively involved with the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, a not-for-profit that was founded and is led by Teddy Atlas. It’s an organization that runs youth programs and also helps individuals and families that have nowhere else to turn, people in difficult or even desperate situations who need help; and the foundation helps. I care about people in difficult situations. Boxing can be a way out for underdogs, for young people who might not have other places to turn, who might not have the support and structure in their lives that young people should have. Boxing can provide that support and structure. Young people find it in the gym. They find it in the guidance that they receive from their coaches, and in the discipline that boxing demands. They gain a confidence, a self-assuredness, a self- esteem that they didn’t have before, and that allows them to grow as individuals. Very few go on to make a living from boxing, but the vast majority become better people.

Q) What specifically will you bring to the table, and what do you want to achieve in this position?

A) I bring a knowledge of boxing and a care for the boxers. As a boxing lawyer, I represented boxers, trainers, managers and promoters. I negotiated boxing contracts and represented boxers and other people in the sport before athletic commissions, in arbitrations and in court. I traveled in connection with my work and had a chance to see how commissions function all over the globe. So I have a breadth of experience to draw from as I begin with the Commission. In terms of my personal qualities, I believe that I bring common sense, a basic competence, good judgment and a willingness to listen. There are a lot of people who care about the sport and who have ideas for making the sport better. I intend to listen to those ideas, to create an atmosphere that is open to ideas and is transparent. My hope is that I will be able to bring practical solutions to some of boxing’s problematic issues. And of course I will work to make certain that fighters, and the sport as a whole, are well protected.

Q) Can you give us a sense on how your hiring, and the activation of this new position, will change how the commission does its business? How will duties be parceled out? What changes do you foresee making, if any?

A) New York has decided to adopt a more traditional structure for the Athletic Commission. Similar to Nevada and California and Pennsylvania and Florida, an executive director will carry out the day-to-day duties involved in regulating and overseeing boxing, and will report to a board of Commissioners and carry out the policies set by the Commissioners.Q) Can you offer your view of boxing in New York, how healthy the sport is in NY and overall? A) New York is called the mecca of boxing, and I believe that with the growing number of shows in the state and the growing number of major shows at Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center, the moniker is still appropriate. There were 52 shows held in New York State in 2013, and we will have held 19 by the end of May this year. In June we have Miguel Cotto-Sergio Martinez at the Garden and a week later Ruslan Provodnikov is fighting Chris Algieri at Barclays. Exciting fights are being made and taking place in this great state and that is very healthy for the sport.

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-The Commish :

I spoke to David a few days ago. I think he is going to be a terrific Executive Director. It's such a pleasure to watch my old agenct returning to its rightful place among the top commissions in the country, this after being destroyed and decimated by Gov. George Pataki in 1995. Here's to David Berlin having a long and successful run as Executive Director. -Randy G.