Sunday, February 03, 2002

Mike Tyson: Exhibit A for national regulation

All-encompassing governing body long overdue

By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Assuming he can avoid incarceration — and that's always an even-money proposition — Mike Tyson will find a place to fight.

        Some state will license him. Some spineless boxing bureaucrats will swallow their indignation for the sake of fast money and provide Iron Mike another venue for his violence.

        They will see the millions to be made from staging a big heavyweight bout and err on the side of economic development. They will overlook Tyson's antisocial tendencies, his growing rap sheet and his occasional cannibalism and sanction the sport's ranking reprobate. They will lock up their daughters, increase their insurance and pray Tyson leaves town before he can do any permanent damage.

        Denied a license in Nevada, Tyson now seeks sanctuary in California. The Staples Center in Los Angeles wants to put on the Lennox Lewis-Tyson title fight that was rejected by a state with legalized prostitution. Rare as it is for Nevada to take a moral stand, it is rarer still that all of its fellow states would follow suit.

        Should the California commission rule against him, Tyson then might turn to Texas or Michigan. There are even some shallow-thinking sports-talk panderers who, when they're not shilling for bookmakers, advocate bringing this fistic freak show to Cincinnati.

        This is a bad idea on a variety of counts, but it might help revive a good one: national regulation of boxing.

        Tyson's quest for a more lenient locale underscores the anarchy and corruption inherent in state-by-state sanctioning. Any commission that refuses to license a fighter does so with the certain knowledge that another state surely will look the other way.

        There's no consistency. There's no uniformity. And there's not much incentive in enforcing rules if it just means someone else is going to profit from your principles.

        “I've always thought you need a (national) commission made up of regulators, of television networks, of promoters and of actual boxers themselves,” said Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. “There should be some kind of board where you would have oversight to the states. ... There needs to be something where you have the same rules, the same licensing in every state, the same medical procedures.”

        Though the nation's various boxing commissions will honor suspensions handed down in other states, their licensing remains independent. Thus Tyson's application can be rejected in Nevada and accepted elsewhere. Thus Aaron Pryor can be declared legally blind, as he was in 1990, and be allowed to fight in Wisconsin because of that state's overly broad statute prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

        Legal loopholes, regulatory negligence and promotional greed ensure that virtually any boxer can find a local government or Indian casino that will sanction his (or her) bout. Recent reforms mandated by federal legislation — identity cards, reporting requirements, contractual limitations — should reduce the number of fighters who compete under fictitious names and/or without medical clearance. Yet these initiatives hardly scratch boxing's shady surface.

        “If the objective of a commission is to provide sanctioned fights that are entertaining and also protect the fighter's safety, the rules need to be consistent,” said Tom Jelepis, chairman of the Ohio Athletic Commission. “We have fighters we don't approve in Ohio and they go to other states. Let's face it: They don't belong in the ring. I'd like to see some uniformity.”

        If boxing is ever to be taken seriously, it needs to be streamlined. Ideally, that would mean one national governing body, one set of rules and one set of titles. Though promoters surely will resist increased regulation, it ultimately would work to their advantage in solidifying a sport that grows progressively marginalized and silly.

        Uniformity ought to be attainable and it is obviously advisable. The current state of boxing is chaos.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456 or e-mail:


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