This year has been “The Year of the American Sports Commissioner” due to all of the scandals, problems and issues beseeching the commissioners of our major sports leagues to take action. However, the sport that might need the most help of them all in this country, boxing, does not qualify under that heading. Why you ask? Because there is no national or unilateral commission, and there is no commissioner whom would be able to take the appropriate steps in reviving the suffering sport. Congress has discussed the possible creation of a national commission on at least one occasion, however the bill wasn’t passed.
No sporting event has the ability to captivate the entire country the way a big prize fight can. Ali vs. Frazier wasn’t just a fight, it was a near cataclysmic national divide. More boxing movies are made than for any other sport and there is a reason for that: boxing defines and highlights a person’s character, the best and worst sides like few other things in life, let alone sport, can. While boxing can still reach stratospheric heights of popularity for a big event – the May 5th Floyd Mayweather vs. Oscar De La Hoya fight set a record by being purchased in over 2 million homes – boxing as a whole is on the decline; constantly fading further and further back into society’s subconscious (read more about the current state of the sport here). What follows is a listing of the top reasons why boxing needs a national commission, as well as the top benefits of having one.
Nationwide Consistency and Improved Fighter Safety
Currently, each state has and controls their own boxing commission (if there is one at all, otherwise boxing falls under a larger athletic/recreation umbrella). The problem here is that they follow different rules and guidelines and don’t enforce each other’s rulings. If a fighter is banned from fighting or suspended for a period of time in say, New York, it’s possible that he could still have a usable boxing license in Nevada, California or anywhere else. Recent examples have been the challenges faced by Joe Mesi, and the unfortunate scandal involving Tommy Morrison. Morrison, at one point a champion in the heavyweight division, had to retire due to a positive test result on a HIV test. Just this year he claimed to have never have had the virus, and participated in a sanctioned fight in a state that did not test their fighters for HIV. Mesi, a one time heavyweight prospect/contender endured bleeding to the brain in a fight several years ago. He cannot fight in many states, however can obtain a license and fight in others.
There needs to be consistency in these rulings, and suspensions and bans need to be upheld everywhere. Clearly a national commission in control would abolish these concerns. In addition, the commission can establish stricter, pre-fight medical examinations and certifications to help prevent further injuries and scandals such as a HIV positive man allowed to a fight in which bleeding and open wounds are common occurrences. Finally, in non-championship fights states often have slightly differing in-ring rules. For example, some states have a mandatory standing 8 count after every knockdown while others don’t, and in some states a ringside doctor can stop the fight while in others he or she can’t. Again, consistency is the key here and will ultimately lead to greater safety of the fighters, which is the most important thing.
Improving and Certifying Judges, Referees and Ringside Doctors
There are many people that have an effect on a fight besides the two men actually participating in it. There are the three judges who score the fight and determine a winner should the fight go to the scorecards. There is the referee who controls the action, keeps order and also has the ability to call off the fight if he feels the fighter is taking too much damage. In addition there are the ringside doctors, who examine a fighter to make sure he is able to continue and who looks at facial cuts, contusions and bruising. In most other sports, the officials are under intense scrutiny and are upheld to high standards of near perfection. Because boxing is viewed subjectively, different for everybody, these standards are harder to uphold.
To begin with, all judges, doctors and referees should have to pass a yearly or semiannual certification process. Five judges should be used, to reduce the effect that one highly differing scorecard can have on the outcome of a fight. For any title fight, judges and referees should all be appointed from states other than where the fighters are from, to eliminate any form of bias. When a judge or a referee does make a bad ruling — such as last year, when a referee named Laurence Cole told a fighter that he was winning during the fight – he should not be able to gain big assignments, if any, until he proves his abilities again. A judge who scores a fight vastly different from the others should be placed under review. All of this will help to eliminate controversy, corruption, bad rulings and bad decisions.
The Creation of a Boxer’s Union
With the national commission should also come the establishment of a national boxer’s union. If a boxer wishes to fight professionally in the United States, he must be a member of the union. This will provide many things to boxers that they currently – and shockingly – lack. For starters, there will be a minimum purse that a fighter can make, dependent on the length of the bout and the importance of the bout. Promoters and managers will now make a fixed percentage of a fighter’s purse, which will be non-negotiable and considerably lower than most promoters and managers make off their fighters now. An agent for another sport cannot make more than a small, predetermined percentage, why should boxing be different?
Besides providing better income for the fighters themselves, this well also help fend off vultures and corrupt individuals who only want to make money for themselves and use their fighters to their own advantage. This will also help to erase the existing notion that fighters work for promoters or managers. It is the other way around, the promoters and the managers are there to serve and to be employed by the fighter, and this will help to rectify that situation. All promoters and managers must also be certified by the national commission and the union. Retired or injured boxers will also receive benefits and health care, which currently, is nonexistent.
In addition to all of those great benefits, this will help encourage top fighters to fight each other, because there is a lessened need to maintain an unblemished record or keep a worthless, fringe title belt in order to make the maximum money in the immediate timeframe. A fighter, knowing that his promoters and managers aren’t taking half of his money, and knowing that he will have retired benefits and health care in the future, would be naturally more inclined to take risks. Promoters and managers, not raking in inordinate amount of money on every fight, will have to put their fighters into bigger, more substantial fights to create bigger fights and more income. This will in turn lead to more fan interest as well as larger purses for fighters.
The Rebuilding of the Amateur Boxing Program
The national commission will be put in charge of the daunting task of rebuilding the American amateur boxing program. This means the creation of more youth boxing gyms and programs in cities and highly populated areas. Private gyms already in existence need increased funding for proper equipment and space. With the union and commission now looking after retired fighters, what better way to do it than by keeping them involved and having them be coaches, teachers and trainers in the national program. With the increased safety measures and standards seen in the professional sport, the commission should work with the NCAA to reestablish boxing as an official college sport. Young athletes will already be more inclined to take up boxing with more prevalent gyms and programs in their neighborhood, but now they will also have a chance to gain a scholarship and free education like an athlete in other major sports. This will encourage even more young athletes to stick with the sport, instead of seeing it as a pipe dream or a dangerous path without reward or chance of success.
Encourage Sponsors and TV to Get Back Involved
The biggest corporations and potential sponsors have been scared away from boxing. This is due to many reasons, including the perceived corruption of the sport as well as the inherently violent nature of the sport. Boxing has been relegated to pay channels, obscure cable time slots and Pay-per-views. During the last Olympics, the boxing competiton was seen in the middle of a weekday afternoon on a cable channel. However, with increased controls, consistency across the board and a national commission in charge of it all, this should help relieve the concerns of these sponsors. With sponsors willing to get involved, network television will also become involved, as it was in decades past. All of this leads to increased exposure for the sport and more money for the fighters. Young athletes, already more inclined to stick with or take to boxing with the chance of scholarships, participation in a more major sport and increased protective measures will now also be exposed to more role models and dreams, the way an aspiring NFL or NBA player is. Boxing will be seen as a legitimate “way out” for inner city kids and a worthy goal for children everywhere.
The health of the sport of boxing can be jumpstarted towards an upward trend and a revolving upward cycle. Increased safety and consistency, coupled with less corruption helps give the sport a platform to gain a wider audience. The wider audience plus the rebuilt amateur program encourages more children and athletes to get involved, leading to a deeper pool of even more talented fighters, which will lead to an even bigger audience. Whether by an act of Congress or some private, all encompassing movement, boxing needs a national commission-and the sooner the better.