Who's Betting What On The Fights?

Mayweather v Judah (pic Tom Hogan)
Mayweather v Judah (pic Tom Hogan)
By Thomas Hauser

Boxing has a problem; a big one. Think of it as a monster that's hiding under the bed. Eventually, the monster is going to come out and take a big chunk out of boxing.

Fighters, trainers, managers, promoters, even government regulators, can legally bet on fights. They can also bet on fights that they're involved with.

Keith Kizer (Nevada's chief deputy attorney general and soon-to-be executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission) says that there is no prohibition in Nevada against someone in boxing walking into a sports book and betting on a fight.

Tim Lueckenhoff (president of the Association of Boxing Commissions) says that he knows of no prohibition in any state regarding people in boxing betting on fights that they're involved with other than the laws with regard to gambling that apply to everyone.

In some jurisdictions, a court might rule that government personnel betting on a fight that they're involved with is a violation of laws that require "ethical fitness." But there is no specific prohibition against it. There should be; and the prohibition should extend a lot further than government regulators.

In the world of sports betting, boxing is no longer a major sport. Except for an occasional high-profile fight, the amount of money bet on the sweet science is small. And even the biggest fights pale in comparison with other sports where gambling is concerned. Indeed, the Nevada Gaming Control Board, which tabulates betting within the state on a sport-by-sport basis, classifies amounts bet on boxing within the category of "other sports".

As a general rule, Las Vegas sports books take boxing bets only on major fights. The same is true of most Internet gaming sites. Within that framework, not only does boxing allow participants to bet on their own bouts; it sometimes encourages them to do so. Shane Mosley versus Fernando Vargas and Bernard Hopkins versus William Joppy are two high-profile fights where the combatants were encouraged to place side bets as a promotional tool to market the event.

Most major sports benefit from the fact that betting by the general public fuels fan interest and boosts television ratings. The Super Bowl and "March Madness" are prime examples. But sports other than boxing draw a clear line where betting by participants is concerned.

Would the National Football League tolerate Tom Brady betting on the New England Patriots to cover the point spread? Of course not. Imagine turning on ESPN and hearing Barry Bonds say, "I've just bet $100,000 that the San Francisco Giants will beat the St. Louis Cardinals tonight and an additional $50,000 that I'll hit a home run in my second at bat."

Boxing allows conduct like that and more.

There are many propositions that can be bet on a big fight. It's not just who wins. A dominant fighter can carry an opponent past the "over-under", which is like shaving points in basketball. He can bet on a knockout in a given round, carry his opponent until the appointed time, and then . . . WHACK ! Not possible? Early in his career, Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) openly carried lesser boxers until his predicted knockout round.

And keep in mind; it's not just fighters that we're talking about. Referees, trainers, and ring doctors can stop a fight at any time. Someone placing a bet seeks an edge, not a sure thing. Even if they're not always successful, betting on a specific round will give a crooked insider a huge edge.

Would basketball fans be tolerant of the notion that a coach or referee called a game a certain way so that one of the teams could cover the point spread? I think not. But some people believe that, on December 13, 2003, a referee, a ring doctor, and William Joppy's corner allowed Joppy to take a horrible beating so that he wouldn't lose a $50,000 side bet with Bernard Hopkins that he would finish on his feet. Joppy went the distance, but who knows what longterm damage he suffered as a consequence of the punishment he endured those last few rounds.

And suppose a fighter is being brutally beaten, but his trainer (or the ring doctor assigned to his corner or the referee) has bet the "over" on an "over-under" wager and needs one more round to cover the bet?

We know unequivocally that, in this day and age, fighters still take dives. The August 12, 2000, fight between Richie Melito and Thomas Williams taught us that. We also know that referees sometimes favor one fighter over another and that judges are capable of marking their cards with some very strange scores. When the conduct of an official raises eyebrows, the prevailing view is usually that it has been influenced by hometown loyalty or the wishes of a promoter. But a bet might also be the motivating factor when misconduct occurs.

What's the solution?

It's self-evident that officials shouldn't be allowed to bet on fights that they're involved with. No one else involved with a fight, including the fighters, should either. In fact, no one who is licensed in any jurisdiction in conjunction with boxing should be allowed to bet on any fight, period.

The Association of Boxing Commissions will hold its annual convention this year in Philadelphia from July 5th through July 8th. The ABC should address this issue, as should every individual commission in the country.

How can a ban be policed? After all, people associated with boxing can get friends to place bets for them.

You police the ban the same way Major League Baseball does. Rule 21(d) of the Rules of Major League Baseball states: "Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year. Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible."

In other words; get caught once and you're gone for life. If you don't believe that, ask Pete Rose. A rule of this nature won't completely eliminate betting on boxing by participants, but it will certainly decrease the number of wagers.

No good can come out of people in boxing betting on fights, particularly those that they're involved with. Betting by insiders has a corrosive effect. It breeds suspicion, adds to the appearance of corruption, and worse, invites corruption.

Will the powers that be act? Probably not. There's so much else wrong with the sport that this issue is hardly noticed. The integrity of the boxing is at risk, but some people are of the view that the sweet science is so tarnished already that a gambling scandal won't hurt it.

They're wrong.

* * *

A postscript on the April 8th fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Zab Judah.

After Judah's January 7th loss to Carlos Baldomir, it looked as though the bout was going down the drain. But the fighters agreed to purse cuts (Zab's cut went deeper) and "The Battle of the Bling" was on again.

The story-line for the fight was that Judah lacked the professionalism to prepare properly and fight like a champion against Baldomir but would do better against Mayweather.

"Judah ought to be ashamed of himself," Bob Arum said, elaborating on that theme. "But if you say maybe that wasn't really Judah in the loss to Baldomir, that it was a Judah who was a God-damned moron and didn't prepare for his fight and that the real Judah could give Mayweather a contest, that's a different thing. All I'm doing is making events that I believe I can sell to the public. Sometimes I'm right; sometimes I'm wrong."

A second attention-grabber was that Mayweather-Judah featured Arum and arch-rival Don King co-promoting for the first time since Oscar De La Hoya versus Felix Trinidad in 1999. "Don and I have been around for a long time," Arum proclaimed at the kick-off press conference. "I think it's fair to say that, each in our own way, we do a pretty good job of promoting a fight. Together, we're magic."

"Every rap artist in America will be at this fight," King added, putting his own spin on the promotion.

Mayweather opened as a 4-to-1 favorite and, in some quarters, the odds soared as high as 6-to-1. As for the fight itself, everything that happened was expected to happen except for the now-infamous extra-curricular brawl.

With five seconds left in round ten and Mayweather dominating the action, Zab smashed Pretty Boy in the testicles. The blow appeared to be intentional. Mayweather doubled over in pain and Judah whacked him behind the head with another illegal punch. At that point, Roger Mayweather (Floyd's trainer and uncle) charged into the ring (a no-no even in "what happens here stays here" Las Vegas). Yoel Judah (Zab's trainer and father) then took it upon himself to enter the fray and throw a punch at Roger. That led various entourage members and fans to join in. Security personnel surrounded the ring, although it took a while to subdue the non-combatant combatants. Finally, order was restored and Roger Mayweather was ejected. After a ten-minute break, Mayweather-Judah (Floyd versus Zab, not Roger versus Yoel) resumed, and Mayweather won a 119-109, 117-11, 116-112 decision.

There remained the formality of punishing the wrongdoers. It was assumed that the Nevada State Athletic Commission would say that everything was handled properly by its officials because that's what the NSAC says about everything that happens on its watch. It was also understood that the commission wouldn't do anything that caused a problem for the sports books (which had begun paying out on the basis of a Mayweather victory as of Saturday night).

On Thursday, April 13th, the commission met, fined Roger Mayweather $200,000, and revoked his trainer's license. Other states may choose to honor the revocation but are not legally obligated to do so. Roger may reapply for a Nevada license in one year.

No decision was reached by the commission with regard to the conduct of Zab and Yoel Judah. Zab, of course, has a history in Las Vegas. On November 3, 2001, he assaulted referee Jay Nady in the ring after a second-round loss to Kostya Tszyu. For that bit of unpleasantness, he was suspended for six months and fined $75,000. Ironically, in that instance, Yoel Judah was a calming influence. He threw his arms around Zab to restrain him and kept his son in a bearlike embrace until Zab's rage subsided.

The commission said that, before meting out punishment to Zab, it intends to study tapes of his punching Floyd to the back of the head and subsequently pushing his way through two inspectors to punch Mayweather cornerman Leonard Ellerbe (who shouldn't have been in the ring either). Yoel's untimely ring entrance speaks for itself. Roger Mayweather was already being restrained and pushed backward by Richard Steele and two inspectors when Yoel approached him and threw a punch. Yoel didn't come into the ring to protect his son. He came in to punch Roger.

How should the situation have been handled? Let's go back to square one.

In a perfect world, when Zab fired his low blow and rabbit punch, referee Richard Steele would have deducted two points, given Floyd time to recover, and the fight would have resumed. But before that could happen, Roger Mayweather entered the ring.

The Rules of the Nevada State Athletic Commission state, "The referee may, in his discretion, stop a contest if an unauthorized person enters the ring during a round." If nothing more untoward had happened, Steele could have told Roger, "Get out now or I'll disqualify your fighter," and allowed the fight to continue after deducting two points for the trainer's transgression.

The situation burgeoned out-of-control when Yoel Judah entered the ring. At that point, the last clear chance to restore order was gone. I agree with Ron Scott Stevens (chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission) who says the proper thing to do then was to disqualify both fighters.

Should a fighter be penalized for what his corner does? Sure. A basketball team is assessed technical fouls for the misconduct of its coaches. And let's deep-six the rationalization that it would have been wrong to stop the fight because that would have penalized the fans. Every time a fighter is disqualified for a foul, the fans lose entertainment. But the disqualification still stands. And in any event, we know that something wasn't properly officiated because, despite all the misconduct, no points were taken away from anyone.

The NSAC's handling of the situation to date has been within the realm of reason. Two hundred thousand dollars is a hefty fine and the suspension will be a thorn in Roger's Mayweather's side. But a double disqualification on fight night in addition to fines and suspensions would have been more appropriate.

Yes, Floyd was winning the fight and Zab deliberately fouled him. And Floyd behaved well during the mayhem while Zab didn't. But both camps went beyond the pale of anything that is remotely acceptable in boxing. As far as the athletic competition is concerned, a double disqualification was in order.

Regarding the punishment to be meted out after the competition, so far so good.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com.
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