Down for the Count

Minnesota's boxing commission gets socked in the kisser

Such griping is a favorite pastime among many in the industry. Few are so outspoken as Peterson, though. Others who have on occasion been critical of past rulings took the news badly, on the belief that a regulatory board is crucial to the future of Minnesota boxing.

"As bad as the commission can be, I don't think the solution is to eliminate them," says Tim Eastman, a newcomer on the scene who promoted three shows in Minneapolis this year. Without a board, Eastman theorizes, boxing as we know it--clean, with good matches--could well be taken over by unscrupulous promoters ready to take advantage of less aggressive oversight. "I find it disgusting that they'll stop the funding for the boxing commission [while] they're talking about building a goddamn stadium for the Twins that will cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars per taxpayer."

Bill Kaehn, who has been training and managing Minnesota fighters since the Forties, agrees. "I don't have any trouble with the board. I think they do a good job," he says, adding that Minnesota's commission is more strict than most and tends to err on the side of caution in matchmaking. "There's nothing wrong with being safety-minded in this sport. It's a rough, tough, nasty business."

On the ropes: Boxing board chairman Joe Azzone (front) and executive secretary James J. O'Hara
Daniel Corrigan
On the ropes: Boxing board chairman Joe Azzone (front) and executive secretary James J. O'Hara

That's one thing everyone can agree on. According to the Association of Boxing Commissions, in the 44 states that have some form of oversight board, the trend is toward more regulation of a sport notorious for its vulnerabilities to sham fights, mismatches, and all sorts of sordid abuses. Dismantle the board that keeps fights and promoters at least nominally legit, says association director Greg Sirb, and "you're cruising for a bruising."

Indeed, some of the sport's worst disgraces have occurred in places where regulation was in short supply. Take the case of the late Jerry Quarry, former top heavyweight contender who fought Ali, Frazier, and a slew of other greats in the Seventies. At 47, a decade after signs of what's called pugilistic dementia showed up on his CAT scan, the punch-drunk boxer couldn't get approved for a fight by any board he approached. So in 1992 he headed for Colorado, which has no commission. There, in the inglorious finale of his career, he got his teeth knocked out, his brain scrambled, and his body mauled--for a thousand bucks.

Cautionary tale? Representative McElroy says no: The commission's regulatory duties will likely be taken on by another state agency, perhaps the Department of Health. "We can make sure that we comply with all the federal laws and protect the health and safety of boxers, but still make government smaller." The transfer-of-power details are slated to be hammered out in the next legislative session, and McElroy has vowed to quash any efforts to reinstate the commission's funding. "We fought round one in the last session," he declares with gusto. "Round two is coming up."

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