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Boxing notes

An opening -- for this sport to clean up its act

By Ron Borges
Globe Staff / January 18, 2004

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When the FBI invaded the offices of Las Vegas-based promoter Bob Arum, snatching his computers and records and threatening indictments over allegedly fixed fights, phony medical records, unreliable scales, and illegal entry into the country of undocumented opponents, it was seen by many as another black eye for the sport of contusions. The people who thought that are wrong.

What boxing has now is not a tragedy but an opportunity. If this investigation into questionable outcomes in fights involving low-level boxers such as Joey Torres, Jorge Paez, and Eric "Butterbean" Esch, as well as other shady and sometimes dangerous practices, leads to a housecleaning and long-needed national reform, the sport finally will have been done a favor.

If, as some fear, it results only in a few high-profile indictments and perhaps the conviction of one or two shadowy figures, like recently fired Arum matchmaker Sean Gibbons or longtime booking agent and manager Bob Mittleman, who has been telling people he fears he will be indicted, no good will have come from all this smoke.

Boxing has been given another chance, perhaps its last, to clean up its house. The sport has marginalized itself over the years with cheese champions, absurd ratings, corrupt decisions, disreputable mismatches, fixed fights (either literally or simply by the quality of the "opponent"), and shoddy medical and financial practices that have cost many fighters dearly.

Every man is innocent until proven guilty, including Arum and his fellow promoter, Don King, whose offices have been raided by the FBI more times than John Gotti's, to little avail. Perhaps it will be found that Arum and his associates are as clean as they insist they are, but if that is not the case, the government needs to do more than simply send a few people away for tennis lessons at some penitentiary/country club in Oklahoma.

It needs to do what Arizona Senator John McCain has been trying to do for years. It needs to sponsor, create, and fund a national commission to oversee the sport in the United States.

The bulk of the money made in boxing is generated in the US. The bulk of the taxes paid by the sport are paid in the US. Yet prizefighting is the only unregulated professional sport in America.

It has no high commissioner, no board of directors, nobody whose job it is to look out for the best long-term interests of the game and the men and women who sweat, bleed, and shed tears for it.

Organizations such as the World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council are based in foreign countries and run like two-bit dictatorships. The International Boxing Federation is based in New Jersey and was shut down several years ago after president Bob Lee Sr. was found guilty of selling his organization's ratings and other misdeeds for which he has yet to serve a day in jail.

Arum, Cedric Kushner, Dino Duva, and Main Events all admitted to paying bribes to secure ratings for either their fighters or opponents of their fighters to the IBF, yet not one of them has missed a day of work since. They all would contend, and perhaps rightly, that, as Kushner said at the time when asked if he had paid kickbacks to Lee, "That depends on your definition of extortion."

In other words, these promoters and others in the business felt compelled to pay the IBF in many ways to guarantee a worthy fighter (or sometimes a not-so-worthy one) would receive a high enough ranking to get a title shot. What's the difference between that and the way the Mafia ran boxing in the 1950s?

The difference is the Mafia was more organized. And maybe more honest.

Because of years of controversial decisions, too many champions, and consistent ratings manipulations, boxing has become worse than a joke to many sports fans. A noble endeavor that at its best often shows the best in men, boxing has become an afterthought -- and to be ignored is far worse than to be laughed at.

That is why this federal investigation could be a saving grace for a graceless business. If it leads to a commission replacing the state bodies that have little connection with each other and often seem to be nothing more than tax collectors, the sport will have embarked on a right course after years of being lost at sea.

Short jabs

Both ends of the Manny Pacquiao-Marco Antonio Barrera fight made headlines last week. Pacquiao dumped the IBF junior featherweight title, as expected, after stopping the best featherweight in the world in November, and said he hopes to challenge IBF 126-pound titleholder Juan Manuel Marquez. Barrera appears likely to return to the ring for the first time since Pacquiao stunned him on the Shane Mosley-Winky Wright HBO card in March in Las Vegas . . . Speaking of vacating titles, as expected, Acelino Freitas vacated the World Boxing Organization junior lightweight title to claim the 135-pound crown he won from Artur Grigorian Jan. 3. Former champions Diego Corrales and Joel Casamayor will fight for the vacant title March 6 . . . Rumblings continue to come out of Puerto Rico hinting at the return of former welterweight champion Felix Trinidad. In response to the talk, Oscar De La Hoya issued a press release last week saying a rematch between them would guarantee Trinidad $15 million. De La Hoya claims he left Trinidad several phone messages asking for a meeting but has not heard back . . . Undefeated Ishe Smith continued his rise by defeating former two-time champion Randall Bailey Wednesday night on Showtime. Bailey had not fought in a year and had begun working in a warehouse near King's offices in Deerfield Beach, Fla., to support himself. Although Bailey is a shadow of what he once was, it was a good test for the young welterweight and one he passed with flying colors. Smith (14-0) bears watching and soon could land a world title shot . . . Apparently the public is fascinated by the Feb. 7 clash between short-in-stature heavyweight James Toney and the massive Jameel McCline in Las Vegas. The bout is an IBF title eliminator to create a No. 1 contender for champion Chris Byrd. Toney is 9 inches shorter and at least 40 pounds lighter than the 6-foot-7-inch, 260-plus-pound McCline. That fight will be on Showtime and already has sold more than $700,000 worth of tickets at Mandalay Bay in the first week . . . Roy Jones Jr. continues to maintain his silence about defending the WBA heavyweight title belt against mandatory No. 1 contender John Ruiz. Jones has until early next month to agree to the match, but his foot-dragging probably has cost Ruiz a shot to defend the interim title he won from Hasim Rahman against Fres Oquendo March 20 on King's pay-per-view card. King had hoped to match the Puerto Rican heavyweights to try to drive up sales among the very loyal Latino audience, but it now seems unlikely the bout could be arranged and that Ruiz could return to training in time to properly prepare for such a fight.

Local bleatings

Providence will be well-represented at the Olympic Trials next month. Jason Estrada already had qualified for the Trials by winning the gold medal at the Pan-Am Games in the super heavyweight division, and Friday night Matt Godfrey also got in in the heavyweight division by reaching the finals of the Everlast US National Championships in Colorado Springs. Godfrey fought Chazz Witherspoon for the national title late last night. A tip of the cap goes not only to the fighters but also to their trainer, Dr. Roland Estrada (Jason's father), and to Peter Manfredo Sr., out of whose gym both fight. The US already has qualified its fighter for the super heavyweight division at the Olympics this summer but has yet to win a spot in the heavyweight division, so for Godfrey to make it he would have to win the Trials, the boxoffs that follow a month later, and then reach the finals of a regional international qualifying event. The only good news is that the Cuban team would not participate because all its fighters already qualified for Athens . . . Worcester native Jose Rivera, the WBA welterweight champion, is in line for a match with former champion Ricardo Mayorga March 20 on King's pay-per-view show. The deal is not yet done. Rivera holds the WBA title but Cory Spinks, who defeated Mayorga in December, is the super champion, a designation used by some of the ratings organizations if a fighter holds the title of more than one organization. What that does is allow them to charge championship sanction fees to two guys instead of just one . . . Promoter Doug Pendarvis will stage a woman's world title fight Jan. 30 in Worcester with Yvonne Reis facing IWBF middleweight champion Leatitia Robinson at the National Guard Armory. Ray Oliveira will headline the show. For information, call 617-592-2771 . . . One man's pain is another man's gain. Emmanuel Clottey has replaced injured James Leija in the fight of his life Jan. 24 against rising prospect Panchito Bojado on the undercard of Arturo Gatti-Gianluca Branco for the vacant WBC super lightweight title. Clottey is a former sparring partner of Micky Ward and is managed by Sal LoNano, Ward's manager. Ward may be retired but he'll be all over the ring that night. He will work in Clottey's corner and is also leading his old friend Gatti into the ring for his match with Branco. "It's an inspiration to have him around me," Gatti said of Ward, whom he fought three times. . . The final ESPN2 show under the old rules, under which the network actually paid a rights fee to the promoter, will happen Friday night at Foxwoods and it should be a grand finale. The main event is a rematch between Scott Pemberton and Omar Sheika. Their first bout was ESPN's 2003 Fight of the Year.

Material from personal interviews, wire service reports, and other sources was used in this report.