The Plot in Arkansas Thickens and Sickens

On Thanksgiving Day, November 23, this writer reported that the Arkansas State Athletic Commission had allowed a fighter to compete in Arkansas after being advised by the Association of Boxing Commissions and the State of Florida that the fighter had tested HIV positive. The information in the report came primarily from a November 22, 2017, letter sent by Association of Boxing Commissions president Mike Mazzulli to Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.

Mazzulli’s letter advised the governor that the Arkansas State Athletic Commission was engaging in conduct that amounted to “an egregious disregard for health and safety standards” and appeared to be “a direct violation of Federal Law.” Mazzulli concluded with the observation, “This situation is one of the most serious we have seen in many years. Hence we feel compelled to bring this matter to your attention.”

There are three primary blood-borne infections of concern to the medical community: hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV. HIV is a virus, not a moral failing.

In my previous report, the fighter in question was not named out of respect for his privacy and to give him the opportunity to tell family members and others of his situation should he choose to do so. But the fact that he fought after being told he was HIV positive and said recently that he plans to fight again is troubling to me. More significantly, Mazzulli’s letter to Governor Hutchinson is a public document, and there is now more than enough information publicly available for anyone with internet access to identify the fighter.

Kiun Evans is 24 years old and resides in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was the 2011 Arkansas Golden Gloves 123-pound champion and turned pro in 2012.

Evans attorney, Robert Holitik of Little Rock, told this writer late tonight (Nov. 28), “We don’t know that the man in question is my client. He is unaware of any failed test in Florida. He has not been advised of any failed test. It’s my understanding that he has tested negative multiple times. Our hope is that, when the facts come out, we’ll see that there was no failed test for my client.”

Evans won his first twelve professional bouts. Then he stepped up the level of opposition and lost three fights in a row. As of July 2017, his record stood at 13 wins, 3 losses, and 1 draw with 8 knockouts. All of his defeats were by KO.

This summer, Evans applied for a license to fight in Florida. His application was rejected. A July 14, 2017, entry on Fight Fax reads, “Unable to obtain license – Contact Florida Commission.”

Ozell Nelson (who trained Jermain Taylor in the amateur ranks and for much of Taylor’s pro career) trained Evans as an amateur and pro. Nelson told this writer today that he was working with Evans in anticipation of the Florida fight (which was scheduled for July 7 in Tampa) when Evans told him the bout was off because he’d just learned he had lymphoma.

“Then,” Nelson recounts, “he called me a week before the Arkansas fight and said he was fighting again but was training himself. And I said okay. I didn’t know anything about HIV. I thought he had cancer.”

Ruben De Jesus is director of operations for All Star Boxing which promoted the Florida card. De Jesus steers clear of mentioning “HIV” and Evans by name when discussing the situation. But he told this writer, “When I submitted him for lab work, he came back positive, I felt bad for the kid, so I went ahead and paid to have him retested just to make sure it wasn’t a false positive. The results were the same, and I notified Frank Gentile [of the Florida State Athletic Commission] that the kid has bad labs because I knew he would attempt to fight.”

Damian Walton was Evans’s adviser. When Evans told Walton that he wanted to fight again, Walton advised him orally and in writing that he would no longer represent him.

“The agreement was near an end,” Walton says. “And we decided to discontinue the relationship. I sent him an email, he sent me an email back, and we parted on good terms. He’s a nice young man, and I hope the best for him.”

That brings us to Arkansas.

The administration of blood tests for fighters is discretionary under Arkansas law, although the Arkansas State Athletic Commission’s regulations provide, “A positive test for the presence of infectious diseases shall result in an immediate suspension of the licensee’s license.”

Robert Brech (general counsel for the Arkansas Department of Health which oversees the Arkansas State Athletic Commission) told this writer today, “Initially, the ABC didn’t advise us which fighter was involved. So after we were notified of a potential problem by the ABC, we asked for and received bloodwork on each fighter. We got the test results from the promoter. In each instance, the results we were given indicated that the fighter had tested negative for HIV.”

The Arkansas State Athletic Commission lists Richard Wright as promoter and matchmaker for the November 11 fight card.

On Tuesday, November 28, Brech advised this writer, “Late last night [Monday], we determined that the blood test for the fighter in question was falsified. Someone created a false document using a previous blood sample and previous test result and it was sent to the commission.”

As noted above, Brech says that the test results were given to the Arkansas State Athletic Commission by the promoter. The provenance of the “false document” itself is unknown at the present time.

Are criminal charges possible?

“That’s a good question,” Brech answers. “We’re not a prosecutorial agency. But there are statutes in Arkansas that cover knowingly filing false documents with a government agency and exposing someone else to HIV. The matter is under further investigation at this time.”

The boxing media deals primarily with fight cards in states that host bigtime boxing. We forget sometimes how seamy small club shows can be.

There were four bouts on the November 11 fight card in question, which was contested at the Boys and Girls Club in Camden, Arkansas.

A fighter identified as 50-year-old, 247-pound Donald Caples was knocked out in the second round by a 40-year-old fighter named Maurenzo Smith. Boxrec.com states that Caples weighed 151 pounds for a February 13, 2016, bout and that he began his career at 116 pounds. It would appear as though either Caples recently developed an eating disorder or identity fraud was involved.

In other supporting bouts, 40-year-old Starr Johnson (5-28-1, 23 KOs by) knocked out Andrew Hartley (2-28, 27 KOs by) and Demario Moore (pro debut) knocked out Raymond Johnson (0-4, 4 KOs by).

Evans’s opponent was Terrance Roy (11-53, 43 KO by), who has won 2 of his last 37 fights. Evans weighed in at 130 pounds. Roy weighed in 118. Roy was knocked down six times before the fight was stopped in the fifth round.

The focus here should be on the performance of the Arkansas State Athletic Commission, not Kiun Evans. The Arkansas Department of Health has entrusted the regulation of boxing to a group of men and women who, collectively, don’t seem to be doing the job properly

As for Evans; he appears to need good medical treatment so he can live a long productive life, not more fights. As Damian Wright says, “He’s a guy who wanted to fight to feed his family. He’s not particularly sophisticated. He’s a nice young man. He might not have fully understood what’s involved here. He told me he was unaware that he had been suspended in Florida and that a doctor had told him he was cleared to fight. I said, ‘Okay, good luck.’”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – There Will Always Be Boxing  – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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