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All eyes were on B.J. "The Beast" Lacy.
At the "Downtown Throwdown" at the Target Center two weeks ago, Lacy's mixed martial arts match went the distance, and it fell to the three judges at ringside to render a decision.
At first, Lacy was declared the winner. Then the call was abruptly reversed and the contest was ruled a draw—two of the judges had it a tie, with only one scoring it for Lacy.
Moments later, a gunshot rang out. In Section 133, a man tumbled down the steps, got up, and ran off. The gunman had apparently already escaped.
The lights came on, revealing blood on the concourse—apparently from a fight that had preceded the shooting.
Twenty minutes later, the "Downtown Throwdown" continued.
Now critics are questioning Minnesota Boxing Commissioner Scott Ledoux's handling of the event. A local heavyweight legend, Ledoux boxed 11 champions in his day, including Ali, Foreman, Holmes, and Spinks. But these days, "The Fighting Frenchman" is battling for the future of state-sanctioned combat sports in Minnesota.
Already this year, the boxing commission has lost three of its five members. Last month, State Sen. Dick Day, who is running for Congress, resigned. The next day, retired judge and Hamline Law professor James Morrow quit. The day after that, former FBI special agent Nancy Schuster dropped out. Each cited "time constraints."
Ledoux has always enjoyed an outsized reputation. He's no longer boxing heavyweight champions, but he still gets caught up sparring with old rivals. On his website, he refers to himself as "The Champ." He even has his own golf tournament: The Scott Ledoux Long Haul Classic.
"He's an egomaniac," says Dan O'Connor, a promoter who runs a gym in Rochester. "I did a show here last year, and I made it known that I'm not doing another one if I have to deal with Ledoux. He's playing manager, doctor, and matchmaker, when his job is to make sure everything goes off smooth and it's legal."
O'Connor has been promoting fights in Minnesota for years, but these days he'll only do them on tribal land. At the Grand Casino in Hinckley and at other casinos in the state, a promoter deals with tribal leadership. The sovereignty of the reservation is a haven from what O'Connor calls Ledoux's "dictatorship."
Duluth promoter and gym owner Chuck Horton books his fights across the border in Superior, Wisconsin, where the boxing commission is "very strict but fair." He avoids Minnesota because promoters have to pay for their own judges and referees. That's on top of the $1,500 they pay the commission to bless the fight. In Wisconsin, Horton pays the commission $900 and the commission pays the judges and referees.
Ledoux's commission is struggling for cash. In 2006, when the state Legislature resurrected it, Ledoux was given $50,000 to get started. He was expected to make the commission self-sustaining. But this year, Ledoux talked the Legislature into giving him another $50,000.
Which may explain why Ledoux has moved aggressively into MMA—a hugely popular sport thanks to the success of the Ultimate Fighting brand. Ledoux recently launched "The Official Site of the Minnesota MMA Commission." The barebones website explains that the regulatory body is the "successor" to the boxing commission, which, according to the site, has been replaced.
These days, the boxing commission might as well be the MMA commission. When the commission only regulated boxing, there were maybe two fights a month. Now there are up to two MMA events a week.
Commission members are expected to attend these events. For boxing fans, this isn't what they signed up for.
"People thought they could stroll in, watch the fights, and leave." Ledoux says. "This is a working commission and you have to work."
If Ledoux feels threatened, he's not letting on. "I'm told we have to be self-sufficient by next year. I'm meeting with state officials and working with them on getting the commission's budget taken care of. I haven't heard a word about closing the commission down. We need oversight."
As to the incident at the Target Center, Ledoux says it was the first time there's ever been a problem. "There have been 600 MMA events and no shootings."
Years out of the ring, Ledoux still has the confidence of a contender.