By Thomas Hauser: A proposal that could put people in harm's way and would result in an economic windfall for a small privately-held corporation is wending its way through the New York State legislature. On June 14th, it was approved by the State Senate by a vote of 57 to 3. It's now in the State Assembly Committee on Tourism, Arts and Sports Development and is expected to come before the full Assembly this autumn.
The bill would legalize an activity known as "white collar boxing" and place it under the exclusive control of a company called United States White Collar Boxing, Inc (USWCB). Its Senate sponsors are Martin Golden (R-C Brooklyn), Hugh Farley (R-C Schenectady), and Owen Johnson (R-C Babylon). The Assembly sponsor is Darryl Towns (D-Brooklyn).
Professional boxing in New York is regulated by the New York State Athletic Commission. Amateur boxing is forbidden except for competition and exhibitions conducted under the supervision of (1) the New York State National Guard or Naval Militia; (2) schools recognized by the New York State Board of Regents; or (3) USA Boxing (the non-profit corporation that is the national governing body for amateur boxing in the United States).
The proposed legislation would exempt "white collar boxing" from state regulation. It defines a "white collar boxer" as "a person who is not a professional boxer nor an amateur registered with the U.S. Amateur boxing federation, and who engages in boxing or sparring contests and exhibitions where no cash prizes are awarded to participants." It would allow white collar boxers to compete for non-cash prizes of any size as long as the prize is approved by USWCB. And it would require any individual or entity that conducts a white collar boxing contest to register with USWCB and abide by its rules and regulations.
United States White Collar Boxing, Inc. is a for-profit corporation. Its sole shareholder is Bruce Silverglade, the owner of Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn.
Silverglade introduced white collar boxing to Gleason's in 1988. "We had a lot of businessmen training at the gym," he says. "After a while, they'd ask, 'What's next; what can I do now? I want to fight.' I had to do something to keep them in the gym, and that meant putting them in some kind of fights. The New York State Athletic Commission didn't want anything to do with it. The amateur governing bodies weren't interested in older fighters. So I started white collar boxing."
"This isn't Brad Pitt and Fight Club," Silverglade explains. "White collar boxing at Gleason's is basically sparring without a decision, not a competition. There are a lot of big egos, but the fact that we don't have decisions tones down the action. The boxers are less aggressive. We can shorten a round and the referee can break up the flow of the action without worrying that he's acting prejudicially against one guy or the other. For most of our fights, we have three two-minute rounds. The boxers wear padded headgear and a protective cup. A doctor or an experienced trainer is at ringside. There are no winners or losers. At the end of the evening, everyone gets a trophy and goes home happy."
One might add that white collar boxing is profitable. The boxers pay gym dues. Relatives and friends buy tickets to their fights. "White-collar boxing is keeping Gleason's open," Silverglade acknowledges. "It's an important source of income for us at a time of high rent and other expenses. I ran one show a month every month for seventeen years and made $1,500 or more on most of my shows. Other gyms started doing the same thing. It wasn't legal; they were bootleg shows. But no one seemed to care."
Then the environment changed. Last year, the New York State Athletic Commission advised gyms that unregulated "white collar boxing" was illegal. In November 2005, it forced the cancellation of a white collar boxing charity fundraising event on Long Island.
In response, Silverglade tried to work with USA Boxing. "It wasn't a good fit," he says. "There was a sanctioning fee of $200 per show and another $500-or-so for a doctor, referees, judges, and other officials. But cost wasn't the problem. The larger issue was getting USA Boxing to accommodate our format of exhibitions without decisions. USA Boxing is for serious amateurs. It has a 'master boxing' division for fighters thirty-five and older, but even those fights have knockouts and decisions. So I started talking to people and asking what I had to do to make my shows legal. Someone suggested I talk with [New York State Senate majority leader] Joe Bruno. We met at his office, and I asked for help. Senator Bruno has been the driving force behind the legislation."
But the proposed statute is a slippery slope. For starters, it's woefully lacking in safety standards, saying only that white collar boxing must be conducted pursuant to the rules and regulations of United States White Collar Boxing, Inc. This means that USWCB would be both a promoter and the regulator, a law unto itself. Silverglade acknowledges that problem when he says, " I'm adamantly against decisions and anything else that would turn the match-ups from friendly sparring sessions into competitive fights. But yes; if I sold White Collar Boxing, someone else could come in and change things. The guys I have who are in their thirties are already a gray area. They're the ones who are the most competitive. And with a new owner, the competition could become more aggressive."
That means Silverglade's "friendly sparring sessions" could be replaced by all-out "toughman" contests featuring bone-breaking punches and knockouts with a $100,000 car instead of a trophy going to the winner.
What about medical exams for the boxers? "We haven't had medicals in the past," Silverglade acknowledges. "We plan on requiring them in the future." But as white collar boxing promoters around the state "register" with USWBC, whatever rules and regulations the company puts in place will become more difficult to enforce.
Age is also a consideration. Silverglade's oldest fighter is 78. He has been in four shows and, each time, boxed three 15-second rounds. "In seventeen years, we've never had a serious accident," Silverglade says. "Although, once, a 68-year-old fighter broke a 60-year-old's nose."
Does the State of New York really want 78-year-old men in a boxing ring and people in their sixties punching each other in the nose?
And from an economic point of view, the proposed law will create a state-sponsored monoploy. Bruce Silverglade will own one hundred percent of a promotional company that has the exclusive right to control white collar boxing in New York. We're not talking about a license that can be revoked. This will be a statute that can only be stricken from the books by another piece of legislation.
Bruce Silverglade is known throughout the boxing community as an honorable person who cares about the sport. But he doesn't deserve this kind of preferential treatment. In fact, he might not even want it.
"I didn't do this because I want to run shows in Syracuse or be the tsar of white collar boxing in New York," he says, "I'm not trying to put anything over on anyone. I'm just doing what people told me to do. I'm a small businessman. I want to run shows in my gym and make some money without anyone getting hurt; that's all."
Silverglade should run his shows under the auspices of USA Boxing. And the best way to facilitate that would for the state legislature to make USA Boxing's current privileged status dependent upon its accommodating "white collar boxing."
* * *
While on the subject of New York, it's worth sharing some thoughts on the August 5th fight card that took place at Madison Square Garden.
In the first of two co-featured bouts, former IBF 154-pound champion Kassim Ouma faced Sechew Powell.
Ouma throws punches in bunches and then more bunches. Since losing his title to Roman Karmazin last year, he had won three straight. This was a crossroads fight for him. If he won, more lucrative opportunities lay ahead. If he lost, he'd fall to lower level.
Powell, an unbeaten southpaw from Brooklyn, doesn't light up a TV screen. His performances tend toward the workmanlike and methodical, but he's a craftsman who generally gets the job done. Sechew saw this as a break-out fight that would continue his upward climb.
Moving forward throughout the night, Ouma was able to get inside, apply constant pressure, and negate Powell's reach advantage. His volume punching gave Sechew problems, but the big difference was Kassim's speed and quickness. Powell had no answer for it; and in the middle rounds, he started to lose form. Then Sechew gathered himself together and did a better job of negotiating the space between them, which brought his reach advantage back into play and enabled him to get off first from a distance. But by then, it was too late.
This observer scored the fight 97-93 for Ouma. Two of the judges had it 97-93 and 96-94 respectively. Inexplicably, the third judge (Dick Flaherty) saw the bout as a 100-90 shutout. Flaherty's scoring was an unfortunate precursor of things to come.
The main event was an attractive match-up between Vernon Forrest (age 35) and Ike Quartey (36); two once-elite fighters doing battle to determine which of them would get another shot at boxing's brightest lights and biggest dollars.
Quartey's only previous appearance in New York had been at Madison Square Garden in 1996. He'd come into that bout as the WBA welterweight champion with a 32-0 record and had looked good enough that some boxing insiders were calling him "great." The opponent that night was Oba Carr. Quartey was the aggressor for most of the bout, but it wasn't always effective aggression. He was stronger than Carr, hit harder, and landed more punches. But he also looked one-dimensional at times en route to a 12-round-decision triumph.
Twenty-eight months later, Quartey went up in class to challenge Oscar De La Hoya for the IBF 147-pound title. It was close but Oscar rallied late to eke out a split-decision. In Quartey's next outing (against Fernando Vargas), he looked under-motivated, ill-conditioned, and flat-out awful, losing a unanimous verdict. Then, at age 30, he walked away from boxing, went back to Ghana, and made some money in real estate. He returned to the ring last year and had since won three fights against credible but hardly scintillating opposition.
For Forrest, August 5th marked a return to the site of his greatest glory. The highpoint of Vernon's career came on January 26, 2002, when he fought Shane Mosley at the Garden. The two men entered the ring as their sport's best welterweights, undefeated champions in their prime; one of them (Mosley) arguably pound-for-pound the best fighter in the world. That night, Forrest did things in the ring better than he'd ever done them. He shut Mosley down; limited him to single-digit connections in nine of twelve rounds; and hit Shane with more solid blows than Mosley had experienced in all of his previous outings combined. The result was a satisfying twelve-round decision. Six months later, they met again in Indianapolis and Vernon repeated his conquest.
Then Forrest's star fell as dramatically as it had risen. On January 25, 2003, he was knocked out in the third round by Ricardo Mayorga. Later that year, Mayorga beat him again; this time by decision. That was followed by multiple surgeries for rotator cuff, elbow, and arm-tendon problems that kept Vernon on the shelf for two years and left a scar shaped like a large Nike "swoosh" on his back beneath his right shoulder. Recently, he'd won two bouts against ordinary competition.
"I'm dealing with the after-effects of four major surgeries," Forrest acknowledged before the Quartey fight. "My ability is directly affected by those operations. When I'm training, at times I'm cautious about how much I extend my body because one problem creates another problem. Physically, there's no way you're going to be the same at 35 as you were at 25. People who say they are are lying to themselves. I'm unable to be as physical as I was when I was 25, but I can substitute by being smarter."
Forrest-Quartey was a good action fight with neither man fighting like an old fighter. Vernon got off first in round one with Ike biding his time. In the second stanza, Quartey established his jab and landed several thudding body shots. In round three, Forrest came back with a sharp right-uppercut that forced Ike to hold while he steadied himself. But for most of the fight, Quartey advanced relentlessly behind a stiff jab, did damage to the body, and landed upstairs with chopping right hands. Vernon sought to turn the tide with uppercuts and also went below the belt with troubling frequency, which would cost him a point in round nine. Quartey tired a bit late, which gave Forrest the edge in rounds seven through nine. But Ike reestablished himself in round ten and seemed to have the fight won.
Then the scoring of the judges was announced. Steve Weisfeld 95-94, Melvina Lathan 95-94, and Tony Paolillo 96-93; all for the winner . . . Vernon Forrest.
A chant of "Bullshit! Bullshit!" arose from the crowd. In truth, if the judges had flipped coins to determine the result of each round, they probably would have come up with a more equitable outcome. Given the probabilities of a coin toss, the rounds would have been divided relatively evenly and Quartey would have won by virtue of the point that Mercante took away from Forrest for low blows. As it was, a bad decision ruined a good fight.
Hugh McIlvanney once observed, "There are times when scoring in professional boxing shows all the intellectual consistency of rolling a pair of dice." This was one of them.
There are too many weak ring judges in boxing. New York can't dictate what happens in the rest of the country but it can get its own house in order. That means training a new generation of judges. And when it does, the New York State Athletic Commission should make a concerted effort to recruit and train former fighters to serve as judges.
Also, Ron Scott Stevens (the very capable chairman of the NYSAC) should watch a tape of Saturday night's fights and then sit down with Steve Weisfeld, Melvina Lathan, Tony Paolillo, and Dick Flaherty to review their scoring with them. When bad scoring is ignored, it happens again and again.
Finally, there's one more point to be made with regard to Saturday's show at the Garden. Each of the five undercard fights was a mismatch that had a fighter who shouldn't have been fighting in it.
In the first bout of the evening, Darling Jimenez (who has lost only twice in 23 fights) fought Arturo Brambilla. Bramillia, who was knocked out in the first round, has now lost five fights in a row.
Next, "Punchin' Pat Nwamu (whose total of three knockouts in twelve fights suggests that he can't really punch) fought John Battle (who has fourteen wins in 31 fights) for something silly called the "IBA World Super-Cruiserweight Championship." Battle, who was knocked out in the third round, has now lost eight of his last ten,
The third bout matched Jaidon Codrington against Carl Daniels. Codrington was once considered New York's brightest young prospect. But he has been protected since a brutal knockout defeat at the hands of Allan Green last November. Jaidon began his comeback six weeks ago in South Carolina with a decision over Robert Marsh (who has lost 20 of his last 21 fights). A week later, in Michigan, he bested Roy Ashworth (a 4-and-3 club fighter). Meanwhile, Daniels has become an opponent, having won only twice since the year 2000 and losing six fights in a row. All three judges gave Codrington the nod over Daniels by the score of 60-54.
The worst mismatch of the evening was Andre Berto versus Roberto Valenzuela. Berto is an enormously talented young fighter with championship potential. Valenzuela has lost 25 fights and been knocked out eleven times. The fight was delayed because Berto's team neglected to bring his boxing trunks to the arena. After they arrived, he knocked Valenzuela out in the first round.
The card also included a women's bout between Noriko Kariya and Michelle Herron. Herron is an industrial painter who took up boxing after she was laid off from her job. She seems like a nice woman, but has no idea how to fight. Kariya won a unanimous decision.
The mismatches led to long delays, sometimes more than thirty minutes between fights. That was unfair to the paying customers. And more to the point, there has to come a time when Ron Scott Stevens puts his foot down and says, 'Mismatches like this are bad for boxing. We won't allow them anymore in New York; and certainly not on a showcase fight night at Madison Square Garden."
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org