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Articles of 2003

NETWORKS: IT'S A QUESTION OF TRUST – OR SHOULD WE SAY ANTI-TRUST?

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The 76th Round

Whether they want to admit it or not, networks have always had more than just a passing interest in controlling the product that winds up on their air. Evidence of this can be traced all the way back to 1947, when CBS formed a wholly-owned subsidiary named Tournament of Champions, which was fully involved in the promotion of prizefights, emanating from the Polo Grounds in New York and other locations – televised, of course, over the CBS network.

Eventually, as a way of consolidating its power and eliminating competition that would perhaps prove harmful, the International Boxing Club executed an expensive but worthwhile buyout of Tournament of Champions. The IBC, as many historians are aware, used that transaction and the acquisition of Mike Jacobs' Twentieth Century Sporting Club, along with its control of leases on many viable fight venues, to establish a full-blown monopoly over all aspects of boxing – including televised fight cards – that was eventually challenged by the Justice Department – an investigation and subsequent prosecution which resulted in plenty of criminal indictments and civil actions, not to mention, of course, the complete dissolution of the IBC.

The issue then was the violation of anti-trust laws.

And I'm not sure that the issue, in part, isn't the same now.

Certainly one can make a very strong argument that, given their position of strength in being a potential influence over the balance of power, concerns about anti-trust violations, restraint of trade, and market manipulation would almost necessitate the oversight of networks, vis-a-vis the boxing industry.

There are really two entities that “fuel” boxing promotions, and the promoters who stage them. One are the casinos, who provide the “found money” for promoters at the venue itself. But that is small potatoes compared with the more important entity – television. As we alluded to previously, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make any kind of profit promoting boxing in this day and age without the support of television revenues. And because of this, the number of fight shows is clearly not what it was many years ago.

As a result, the promoters who are able to secure television for their boxing shows prove to be those who are able to develop the power base necessary to operate. If a television executive were to grab any promoter, and I mean that – ANY PROMOTER – and tell him he was going to have twenty TV dates, guaranteed, for the upcoming year, along the rights fees that accompany it, it's fair to say that while it would not be a steadfast guarantee of profit, it would still provide the promoter with the inside track on a couple of things – 1) the chance to sign fighters to promotional contracts, since he knows he will, with little doubt at all, have the money and the activity necessary to fulfill an obligation to the fighter, and 2) the opportunity to pitch a casino with the guarantee of getting nationwide TV exposure for a pre-determined number of fights over a set period of time, which gives him a decided competitive advantage over any promoter who is NOT bringing TV
to the table.

And since the guaranteed revenue means better fighters and more available money involved, the possibility of being able to promote title fights increases. Remember, the more money available, the higher the sanctioning fee.

You see, just as long as some TV executive says “yes”, virtually anyone can have all the elements in place to become a successful promoter. But without the TV connections, none of the aforementioned components would be likely to come to pass.

Now, imagine if that network connection also “encouraged” the promoter's competitors to place their fights on that promoter's shows, or present stipulations that would almost require them to share their fighters with that promoter, as a pre-requisite to getting the television exposure. As you can probably guess, that kind of activity might have the effect of intentionally stunting competition.

It also means that the people who run television boxing are in a position to make or break promoters. Period. They can decide who makes money in the professional boxing business, and can in turn decide who will NOT be able to compete. Obviously, professional boxing constitutes interstate commerce. But there's nothing the FCC does that directly addresses network practices in the boxing business.

Now, when the network executive is actually on the payroll of, or has as mutually beneficial financial relationship with a promoter, which goes beyond that of the vendor-customer dynamic, it undoubtedly magnifies the problem.

For an instructive example of this, we present the case of USA Network, whose “Tuesday Night Fights” series was one of the most popular on cable television. Brad Jacobs (no relation to Mike), now an advisor/valet for Roy Jones, was in charge of programming boxing events for the network, which meant he was the person who awarded the lucrative boxing dates to promoters. In September of 1992 Jacobs, who had recently lost his home as a result of Hurricane Andrew, became involved in a precarious situation where he was actually hired as a “consultant” by Arthur Pelullo's Banner Promotions. It should be made clear that Jacobs took this position with Banner while at the same time engaged in the business of acting on behalf of USA Network in its boxing series.

Jacobs received as much as $3000 per show from Pelullo for a series of six events which were shown on closed circuit television from the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, in a deal that ran through February of 1993. Jacobs performed no essential function on those shows – he did not make or approve main event matches; he did not secure the casino deal; he did not procure the TV production, or supervise that production. Indeed, sometimes he did not even appear at the shows. Prior to this arrangement with Jacobs, Pelullo's organization had never promoted a USA Network show before, nor had it done any business with Jacobs.

But after the series of six shows had run its course, Pelullo's fights began to appear conspicuously often on the USA Network package. Despite having only one fighter (welterweight fringe contender Donald Stokes) under contract at the outset, Pelullo went from having no dates at all on USA to garnering close to 25% of all the network's shows over the course of the next four years – all in the midst of a highly competitive atmosphere where dozens of promoters bid for USA dates.

Whatever additional business went on between the two men is just speculation. But promoters were indeed directed to place some of their main events and semi-final matches on Pelullo cards, lest risk not being aired at all. And Pelullo got paid for individual bouts placed on other shows which involved fighters he did not have under contract – namely heavyweight Jeremy Williams. Pelullo even went so far as to approach casinos with the idea of purchasing packages of dates for USA Network boxing events, this despite the fact that output deals with one promoter appeared to be contrary to USA's “Tuesday Night Fights” policy.

During this period, Jacobs worked on behalf of Pelullo in other ways as well. In the summer of 1993, Jacobs made attempts to sell site fee deals for some of Pelullo's boxing events to casinos in Mississippi, and indeed, in the discovery materials of a lawsuit to which Jacobs was a co-defendant, filed by promoter Jimmie Wheeler in 1994 (materials I was privy to, since I was also part of the lawsuit), a letter surfaced in which Pelullo and his company had designated Jacobs as its “agent” to seek boxing opportunities for Banner Promotions on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (I had also seen the letter previous to the suit). Ultimately, Jacobs was able to steer Pelullo into a number of shows at Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis, Miss., most of which were sold to Jacobs by Pelullo for USA broadcast.

Jacobs also engaged in similar relationships with other promoters, including Mat Tinley (most recently of America Presents), who at the time was head of Prime International Television, thus filling the “Brad Jacobs” role for Prime Network, but who also promoted shows in which boxers under his management competed. Tinley had put Jacobs on the payroll as a “consultant” for Prime Network, after which time Jacobs not only awarded a number of USA Network dates to Tinley and his “beard”, brother-in-law Joe Kutilek, but also granted all foreign sales rights for USA's “Tuesday Night Fights” series to Tinley's Prime International, reportedly for less money than another company, Miami's Spin Television, was already bringing to the table. After Jacobs became Tinley's consultant, and in a revelation that frankly had me taken aback, Pelullo confided to me that he, along with Kutilek, had control of all the Prime Network boxing dates.

Jacobs made no secret of the fact that he was the person promoters had to “pitch” to get USA Network dates. And despite his subsequent claims to being an “independent contractor”, he signed his business correspondence (all on USA
Network stationery) as “Director of Boxing Programming”. At the time he was originally approached by reporters regarding an FBI investigation into his activities, Jacobs retained legal counsel in the person of Norman Kaplan, a Los Angeles attorney also engaged in the management of fighters, among them Alex Garcia, a heavyweight who had made numerous appearances on USA (in the opinion of most experts, TOO many), some of which were on shows promoted by Pelullo.

According to a Boston Globe

report by Ron Borges, Jacobs retained Kaplan to “try and get to the bottom of this and find out who has made these kind of false accusations. The whole thing is unthinkable and outrageous. My attorney (Kaplan) is trying to find out where it's all coming from.” The ironic thing about this is that while Kaplan was supposedly investigating the accusations of conflict of interest against Jacobs, Lonnie Bradley, the former WBO middleweight champion, FOR WHOM KAPLAN PROVIDED
LEGAL REPRESENTATION, was in the midst of making a number of main event appearances on USA Network, making Kaplan's representation of Jacobs, IN AND OF ITSELF, a conflict of interest for Jacobs! No information is available as to whether Jacobs actually ever paid Kaplan for his services.

One must remember at this point that in terms of the general “boxing economy”, so to speak, the industry is very much a “zero sum gain” business. When one promoter is given a TV date, that means another promoter does NOT get one. And therefore, when one promoter GAINS, others LOSE. Under these parameters, it is easy to understand the scope of influence the television executive can wield, and how dangerous it can be when such power is abused.

Given these circumstances, the lesson to be learned here is that Jacobs, who was in a position to make some promoters successful and, just as importantly, prevent others from being successful, had also positioned himself where he was actually benefitting financially, in more than one way, from some of the “vendors” who commonly petitioned him for television dates – a clear conflict of interest, which gave the people like Pelullo, Tinley, et al, an unnatural advantage over their competitors.

Inasmuch as USA Network and Prime Network were the only real English-language outlets for a promoter to go to at the time, it created an atmosphere that was almost monopolistic, as least where it was relative to mid-level promoters, who depended so much on cable dollars to keep their operations viable.

When an actual or POTENTIAL monopolist engages in activities which are themselves illegal or which are otherwise inherently destructive of competition, it may constitute a violation of Section Two of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Even if there is no specific intent to monopolize, an entity which engages in business practices which have the effect of excluding or limiting competition, or which are even indirectly engaged in practices in which an entity is accorded an unnatural advantage which is not simply the result of some superior product or skill, can be subject to Section Two as well.

It would certainly be difficult to maintain, with a straight face, that all qualified boxing promoters were given the opportunity to compete on a level playing field, or anything close to it, given the aforementioned state of affairs.

Jacobs' relationship with Pelullo became the subject of a federal grand jury investigation into corruption in boxing; a probe which was conducted out of the Newark, N.J. offices of U.S. Attorney Joe Sierra. The investigation itself was somewhat short-lived, because it wasn't long before Sierra's office shifted its focus to a more glamorous case – that which targeted Bob Lee and the International Boxing Federation. In retrospect, I don't think there's any question they dropped the ball in the USA Network matter – something which may have borne more fruit.

Why do I bring this up? Because what I sense has been happening at ESPN over the last few years gives me the eerie feeling I'm looking at USA Network all over again.

And then some.

We referred to some of it in the previous chapter – promotional organizations created out of thin air. Promoters seeing proposals for fights turned down, only to see those fights wind up on another promoter's TV date. Fighters being “steered” to promoters who are getting multiple dates. Shows that seem to be “taken”, far in advance, even though no one seems to know which concrete matchups are filling those shows. “Strategic partnerships” with promoters who are allowed competitive advantages over others. An executive/consultant (Russell Peltz) who was allowed to run rampant, free to make side deals under the guise of being an “independent promoter”, stealing fighters, and permitted to, at will, leverage his involvement with the network for his own personal gain.

And then there's this strange manipulation of a “moral soapbox”, with the network taking a scathing position on sanctioning bodies that seems to fit with its curious endorsement of a ratings source (Ring Magazine) that outwardly accepts money from the boxing establishment, while at the same time serving as an “enabler” for the very hypocrisy they seem to castigate, by subsidizing the existence of completely illegitimate “sanctioning bodies” like the IBU and IBA.

Add to that the utilization of Teddy Atlas as a “standard-bearer” (well, you'll hear enough about him a few chapters down the line), and it's all pretty unsavory.

No state boxing commission realistically has authority over any of the activities Jacobs, Peltz, or ESPN engaged in, or may have engaged in. However, were boxing to be regulated on a national level, with an agency created to oversee the sport, or if existing law could be amended so as to provide for some level of television oversight, the questions about this kind of conduct could be dealt with.

Since television is an implied “public trust” of sorts, many activities of broadcasters can fall under the authority of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Because of the presence of pay-per-view television, the activities that go on between network and promoter, and the frequent travel of fighters from state to state, boxing also falls into the category of interstate commerce, and thus territorial or anti-competitive arrangements should be subject to anti-trust law. So should the activities of anybody, whether they be in the television end, or the boxing end, when it comes to the conflicts of interests the sport is so rife with.

Because many of the problems plaguing boxing fall not into the area of state or local jurisdiction, but federal jurisdiction, not only can a very convincing argument be made for some form of federal regulation, from a logistical perspective it's almost mandatory.

Unfortunately, I don't see it on horizon. Why? Simple. There's a man named McCain stands squarely in the way.

Stay tuned for that chapter. It's coming soon.

fightpage@totalaction.com

Copyright 2003 Total Action Inc.

Articles of 2003

The War at 154

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They're calling it the “War at 154,” though no one will confuse it with plucking evil dictators out of dirty rat holes or patrolling the rubble and dark streets of a dying city.

Still, they're hoping this fight somehow lives up to its top billing, praying a slugfest breaks out instead of 12 rounds of elevator music.

IBF champ Winky Wright (46-3, 25 K0s), versus WBA and WBC champ Shane Mosley (39-2, 35 K0s) for the undisputed junior-middleweight (or, depending on your mood, super-welterweight) championship of the world.

Finally.

It has a nice, long-overdue ring to it, a kind of “it's about damn time,” feel to it.

If you want to give credit to the right people for getting this fight done, you can start with Cory Spinks, an unlikely hero now known as the undisputed welterweight champ of the world.

If Spinks hadn't beaten Ricardo Mayorga on Dec. 13, Wright could have spent January and February snagging some sun on a St. Petersburg beach. That's because Mayorga was expected to walk through Spinks on his way to a lucrative fight with Mosley in March.

But somehow, Spinks found a way to beat Mayorga and suddenly, Mosley no longer had a March opponent and everything appeared to be ruined. Plans were shattered, promises broken, money was lost. The wife cried, the dog howled and the kids were sent to bed early.

How can this happen?

Then an idea occurred to someone important.

Hey, what about Ronald “Winky” Wright? I don't think he's got any big plans for March.

Winky, who was free in March, owes Cory a friendly slap on the back.

So what does the March 13 fight between Mosley and Wright (on HBO) at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas mean?

Just about everything if you weigh 154 and hold a world title belt.

It means Winky finally gets the big-money, big-name fight that could define his career, the fight he's been chasing since his controversial majority-decision loss to Fernando Vargas in 1999.

It means Gary Shaw, Mosley's promoter, also deserves a little pat on the back for somehow putting this fight together.

It means for the first time in 29 years, you'll only have to know one name when the bar talk turns to who the best junior-middleweight fighter in the world is.

It means Mosley better arrive at the gym early and leave late. He's not fighting the awkward banger he'd be facing in Mayorga. While Mayorga knows how to slug, Wright knows how to box.

It means Wright doesn't have to pack his passport the day he leaves for the fight. He won't have to hire an interpreter, change his currency, drive on the left side or learn how to eat and pronounce strange food. Of Wright's 49 fights, 20 have required extra paperwork and extra-long plane rides. He's fought in eight different countries and on four different continents.

No wonder no one over here knows who Winky Wright is.

Finally, this fight means that with the right money and for the right reasons, two guys in the same weight class holding different world titles, can come to an understanding that meeting inside the ring to decide who is the real champion makes all the sense in the world.

The sad thing is, it took an upset by another fighter in a different weight class – Spinks – to finally make it happen.

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Articles of 2003

KILL THE BILL Volume 7 — ANOTHER REFORMER WHO NEEDS TO BE REFORMED

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The 99th Round

Earlier this month, in response to what he, and others, considered an excessive amount of “pork” in the latest energy bill, John McCain told his Senate colleagues, “The outbreak of Washington trichinosis will be so severe, we will be forced to have a field office for the Centers for Disease Control right next to the Capitol.”

In a recent Associated Press wire story, McCain was described as “an avid critic of spending for lawmakers' pet projects.”

One of the great curiosities of McCain's campaign to slip through Congress his own pet project, the expensive ($36 million over five years), ineffectual, and perhaps unconstitutional Professional Boxing Amendments Act (to federalize control of boxing) has been his outright refusal to include television entities – by far the most powerful and influential forces in the sport – among those which would fall under regulatory jurisdiction.

Critics have cried foul – and they've had a point. If networks are going to control the balance of power, define the major 'players', put fighters under contract, and in some cases actually assume the 'de facto' role of a promoter, they are receiving unequal and unfair protection vis-a-vis the promoters in boxing who are actually required to be licensed and regulated.

However, McCain has been resolute about maintaining this protection, avoiding all opportunities to adjust or amend the bill to accommodate the reality of the industry, not to mention Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who had previously introduced legislation that would provide some oversight of networks when they play a promotional role. McCain has been nothing short of combative on occasion, “calling out” Reid in press conferences, and in correspondence he has leaked to the public.

Why is McCain so stubborn? Part of the reason lies in a mode of political operation that has become imbedded in the man itself, despite countless “spins” to the contrary.

What is common knowledge inside the Beltway, but not necessarily among average boxing fans, is that while McCain has carefully crafted an image as a reformer railing against special interests, he has developed a talent that is much more acute, as one of the very best in the business at feeding from the corporate trough.

He has been slick enough to parlay his coziness with corporate interests into political capital, resulting in lots of money coming his way for campaigns. And his public relations apparatus, which has included many highly-cooperative writers, both in and out of sports, has enabled him to avoid having to discuss the considerable influence special interest groups have had on the drafting and development of McCain's boxing bill – the same types of groups he would purport to be thwarting in the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (otherwise known as McCain-Feingold), which, at the end of the day, amounts to little more than a rather brazen attempt to protect his own incumbency and that of other elected officials.

Campaign finance records available through the website OpenSecrets.org indicate that, for example, during 1999, the third-highest contributor to what, at the time, was McCain's insurgent run at the Republican presidential nomination was Viacom ($47,750), which controls a number of TV outlets, including Showtime, which has a major investment in boxing.

The top eight corporate contributors to McCain's “Straight Talk America” political action committee from 1997-2002 included three companies that would be affected, one way or another, by the way McCain's bill was shaped – Viacom, AT&T (which controlled cable outlets and sold pay-per-view boxing events), and AOL Time Warner (which owns HBO, boxing's most powerful single entity).

And as for McCain's last U.S. Senate campaign, waged in 1998, the list of his top fifty corporate donors is replete with entities who have a substantial stake in boxing, and which have a “special interest” in avoiding the regulatory blanket – Viacom (3rd – $55,250), AT&T (4th – $51,563), NBC/General Electric (20th – $19,500), Fox/News Corp. (22nd – $19,050), Time Warner (T43rd – $12,000), and Univision (T43rd – $12,000), not to mention Anheuser-Busch (5th -$51,563), a company in which McCain has considerable financial interests, both individually (he has reported at least a half-million dollars in debentures) and through his family (which controls the largest distributorship in Arizona), and which over the past two decades has been boxing most prominent sponsor, with nearly all of that advertising delivered through television.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which McCain chairs and under whose domain the boxing bill falls, is heavily courted by companies with interests in the sport. For the six-year cycle between 1995-2000, the top committee-related contributors to committee members include: AT&T ($369,960), Time-Warner ($249,585), Viacom ($167,654), the Walt Disney Company, which owns ESPN ($147,758), and the National Cable Television Association ($129,101).

Noted boxing promoters like Don King, Bob Arum, Cedric Kushner, Main Events, Duva Boxing, Gary Shaw or DiBella Entertainment do not appear on that list; apparently there was not enough in the way of donations to rise in McCain's pecking order.

Despite his well-cultivated “reformer” image, McCain has time and again demonstrated that he is a creature of corporate America and a bedfellow of corporate lobbyists. His leveraging efforts have been particularly remarkable, and he's utilized his position on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee – first as the ranking Republican and now as chair – to extract hundreds of thousands of dollars from corporations he has regulatory power over.

McCain, who through his campaign finance measure is regarded by many First Amendment advocates as no friend of free speech, is notorious for freezing out consumer groups who would like to present their cases to his committee but who have not lavished him with campaign donations. According to a February 2000 story in the New York Press, representatives of corporations – the lion's share of which are directly tied to McCain's campaign war chests – out-number such consumer-interest groups by a 10-to-1 margin when it comes to appearances at committee hearings.

The causative links between campaign donations and special favors have become a McCain trademark. In 1999, after McCain-authored legislation to allow satellite TV companies to carry local programming in each market, which had previously been prohibited, was approved by his committee, one of the players who stood to experience a resulting windfall – EchoStar Communications – held a huge fund-raiser for McCain's presidential campaign.

During the 2000 primary season, as word came down that McCain was pressuring the Federal Communications Commission to act on a license transfer in favor of Paxson Communications, a company that had, to that date, “coordinated” $20,000 in contributions for his run at the nomination and treated him to many free flights on its corporate jet, his then-opponent, George W. Bush, was moved to remark, “I think somebody who makes campaign financing an issue has got to be consistent and walk the walk.”

Of course, one understands McCain's pattern of behavior more vividly upon an examination into his central role in the infamous “Keating Five” scandal, one of history's most naked examples of politicians exerting special levels of influence for the sake of large campaign contributors.

Charles Keating Jr., who owned the Lincoln Savings & Loan Association and was a major presence in Arizona, was under investigation by authorities – specifically the Federal Home Loan Bank Board – for making investments of such a speculative nature that they put at risk the government-insured money of depositors. Keating took issue with the premise of the investigation, and wanted the regulators off his back. He had, between 1982 and 1987, stuffed the campaign coffers of five United States Senators – John Glenn of Ohio, Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, Alan Cranston of California, Don Riegle of Michigan, and McCain – to the tune of $1.4 million.

At the same time, McCain family members, including his wife and father-in-law, were the chief investors in the Fountain Square Shopping Center, controlled and managed by Keating, with a stake estimated at $359,000. McCain and his family were also frequent vacation guests of Keating – traveling at Keating's expense on Keating's private jet to the resort Keating owned at Cat Cay in the Bahamas – at least nine times in all. Surely there were interests to protect on more than one front.

Although he later claimed to be very reluctant in doing so, McCain nonetheless couldn't resist in joining with his four Senate colleagues in April of 1987 to pressure regulators to end their investigation of Keating, which had been ongoing for two years. The regulators later testified that they felt intimidated by McCain's group, which was tagged the “Keating Five”.

To illustrate the justification of the investigation, the S&L controlled by McCain's friend Keating busted out, ruining thousands of investors and costing taxpayers $3.4 billion in bailouts, the worst hit in the entire saving and loan scandal.

There was also more than one call within his home state of Arizona for McCain to resign.

During this particular period in his career, McCain was hardly interested in raising the issue of campaign finance reform. In fact, quite the contrary – he resisted it at every turn and resisted others who made an effort in that direction. According to a December 8, 1987 story in the Phoenix Gazette

, “So why has Sen. McCain, R-Ariz., gone to unprecedented lengths to block reform of the Senate campaign finance system? Why does he oppose letting this important matter even come to a vote? Perhaps it's because he is a prime beneficiary of the special interest funding of congressional elections. McCain raised over $2.5 million for his 1986 election . . . more than $760,000 of his campaign funds came from political action committee (PACs) . . . especially disturbing are the contributions to McCain's campaign coffers from PACs outside of Arizona.”

And McCain simply embarrassed himself when his family's investment deals with Keating were uncovered. In September of 1989, as he was questioned about them by the Arizona Republic, he called the reporter “a liar” and denounced his efforts as “irresponsible journalism”. When pressed later, he told the same reporter, “That's the spouse's involvement, you idiot.”

In ultimately protecting one of their own, the Senate Select Committee on Ethics asserted McCain broke no laws, but did say this about the man who is now the self-professed “champion of campaign finance reform”:

“Mr. Keating, his associates, and his friends contributed $56,000 for Senator McCain's two House races in 1982 and 1984, and $54,000 for his 1986 Senate race. Mr. Keating also provided his corporate plane and/or arranged for payment for the use of commercial or private aircraft on several occasions for travel by Senator McCain and his family, for which Senator McCain ultimately provided reimbursement when called upon to do so. Mr. Keating also allowed Senator McCain and his family to vacation with Mr. Keating and his family, at a home provided by Mr. Keating in the Bahamas, in each of the calendar years 1983 through 1986……..”

According to a Time magazine story in December of 1999, ” He (McCain) denounces big-spending special interests and yet accepts flights on corporate jets; he puts the speaker of the Arizona house of representatives on his campaign payroll despite a flurry of ethics charges around him; he neglects to recuse himself from debates about measures that would affect his family beer business.”

Yet the writers, Nancy Gibbs and John F. Dickerson, insist, “But a funny thing happened on the way to his deathbed conversion (to campaign reformer): he really reformed.”

McCain's posture toward television interests in the process of crafting the boxing bill would strongly suggest otherwise.

On a personal note, as I reviewed some of the material for this story, my mind regressed to a couple of years ago, as I was compiling the investigative report “A Commission Run Amok”, which dealt with the Florida State Athletic Commission.

At the time, Mike Scionti, the commission's former executive director, was awaiting a hearing on ethics charges. He had been embroiled in a firestorm of controversy that eventually led to his firing by Governor Jeb Bush, over what was considered to be highly improper conduct while in office. A non-profit organization – a charity for youth – that the commission had established and Scionti had spearheaded, accepted a large donation from promoter Don King, after which Scionti had sought to change a commission regulation about promotional contracts that would have benefited King.

There was no evidence that any money went into Scionti's pocket directly, or that it went to furthering any personal agenda of Scionti's – public relations-related or otherwise.
Meanwhile, McCain had gone to bat, more aggressively and, by all accounts, with a much heavier hand, on behalf of entities that plowed money into his election campaigns and to political action committees that were designed to promote McCain's political objectives – in many respects creating a higher public profile for the senator, which has in turn spawned media coverage, book sales, and even more political donations.

And I'm saying to myself, isn't what McCain has done more devoid of an ethical foundation than what Scionti did? And are there not 500 others engaged in the same ballgame as McCain – albeit not as skillfully – on Capitol Hill?

The stories you hear about boxing people pale by comparison. If state boxing regulators conducted business in the same manner as McCain has conducted his business in Congress, would I not have been able to write about twenty “Operation Cleanup” books by now?

And given those parameters, at what price would we be placing the sport into the hands of politicians like him?

As one writer put it, “The John McCain of old should be thankful that his political fate wasn't determined by John McCain the reformer.”

I would suggest McCain's nothing more than an old dog who could care less about learning new tricks.

fightpage@totalaction.com

Copyright 2003 Total Action Inc.

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Articles of 2003

The Highs and Lows.

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In a few days we'll be turning the page on 2003 and looking ahead to another year that is bound to be eventful- they almost always are.

But before we go full speed ahead to 2004, let's look back on what we've witnessed the past 12 months in the game of boxing.

And what we've found out is that sometimes the sports highlights, were also it's lowlights. Oftentimes, they were one in the same.

HIGHLIGHT: Vitali Klitschko's valiant performance against Lennox Lewis.

Coming in as a late replacement for Kirk Johnson, Klitschko would give the heavyweight champion all he could handle for six rounds before the fight was halted because of a grotesque cut over his left eye. In fighting so well and bravely against Lewis, he not only changed the perception of himself, but off his whole fighting family. The Klitschko name had been redeemed.

LOWLIGHT: Lennox Lewis's behavior with HBO's Larry Merchant after that fight.

Lewis has been a very respectable and representative champion during his reign. But he acted like a downright brat in his post-fight interview with Larry Merchant on live television. When confronted with the truth, he tried to hijack the interview by yanking the microphone away from Merchant, who had to hold on for dear life. During the bout he looked like a fading fighter on a bad night. Afterwords, he looked like an infant in need of a timeout.

HIGHLIGHT: Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward complete their thrilling trilogy. 

Gatti and Ward had a lot to live up to when they met for the third time this past June. And live up to it they did, in a fight with momentum shifts and a constantly changing ebb-and-flow. Gatti would overcome a damaged right hand to win a hard-fought ten round decision. It was a fitting conclusion to one of the games great rivalries and the career of Ward, who called it a day on a proud career.

LOWLIGHT: There will be no more Gatti-Ward in the future.

Which may actually be a good thing, because I'm not sure they could handle anymore of each other. But boxing will miss this rivalry.

HIGHLIGHT: Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley rematch.

It's always good for the business of boxing when 'the Golden Boy' engages in a mega-fight. The interest is high- even among the usually apathetic general media- boxing becomes the showcase event in the world of sports and everyone involved: from the fighters, to the promoters, the pay-per-view outlets and casino's make money.

LOWLIGHT: De La Hoya's and Arum's reaction to the decision in that fight.

It's one thing to think that you won a close fight, it's even acceptable to complain about the decision. But the manner in which both Oscar and his promoter cast aspersions on the judges and Nevada State Athletic Commission, were low blows of the Andrew Golota variety. Luckily for them, they were only given light slaps on the wrists for their irresponsible and incendiary comments.

But the bottom line is they both hurt the sport with their allegations and the fact that more than one media outlet ran with their quotes, further hurt boxing's reputation.

HIGHLIGHT: Roy Jones makes history

In defeating John Ruiz for the WBA heavyweight belt, Jones became the first middleweight in over a hundred years to win a heavyweight crown. This fight also did very well, registering over 500,000 pay-per-view buys, which is always a good sign for the industry.

LOWLIGHT: Jones' indecisiveness after that win.

Jones had all the momentum in the world after his win over Ruiz, but instead of capitalizing on it, he tried to pinch pennies with Evander Holyfield, threw out astronomical numbers for a fight with Mike Tyson( which is a loooong ways from ever happening) and then had to settle for a rather non-descript fight back at light heavyweight against Antonio Tarver.

HIGHLIGHT- Toney turns the 'Lights Out' on Holyfield

James Toney had seemingly been in exile since his embarrassing loss to Roy Jones in 1994. But he came back strong in 2003 with wins over Vassiliy Jirov and then a stoppage of Evander Holyfield, which stamped his entrance into the heavyweight division. The game can always use a few good big men and who cares if that comes in the form of former middleweights like Toney and Jones.

LOWLIGHTS: Holyfield isn't retiring.

'The Real Deal' maintained that he wouldn't retire till he won the undisputed title or got his hat handed to him. Well, after this bout it was evident that the former wasn't happening and the latter did. But like most other great fighters, they are the last to know when it's time to call it a day.

HIGHLIGHT: 'Pac Man' gobbles up Barrera.

It's always shocking and uplifting when a fighter bursts onto the scene and elevates himself the way Manny Pacquiao did against Marco Antonio Barrera this past November. Barrera, had universal acclaim as one of the sports premiere pound-for-pound performers. Pacquiao, while a respected fighter, was thought to be just a notable opponent for Barrera.

Instead, Barrera would get blitzed by the all-out, frenetic attack of the Filipino. Barrera would be simply overwhelmed by the punches of Pacquiao and his corner would have to rescue him from the onslaught of the southpaw in the eleventh round.

LOWLIGHT: Murad Muhammad allegedly gobbles up Pacquiao.

This was mentioned prominently on the HBO broadcast that out of the $700,000 license fee given to Pacquiao's promoter, Murad Muhammad, only about $300,000 had gone to the fighter. And that was before the money was cut up in various ways.

Once source close to the situation tells me that after all was said and done, Pacquiao, wound up with about $80,000. It looks like he may have taken a worse beating than the one he gave out.

HIGHLIGHT: Johnny Tapia comes out of a coma in January.

You gotta hand it to Tapia, most guys take standing eight counts, this little guy takes mandatory flat lines, this is about the third or fourth time he's been close to dead only to come off the canvas. Once again after another relapse in drugs, he would be in an intensive care unit battling for his life. As friends, family and loved ones surrounded him, he would beat the odds once again to walk out of the hospital and fight again.

LOWLIGHTS: Tapia reportedly overdoses in December.

Tapia swears that he did not overdose, but rather took some cold medication that he had an allergic reaction to. Uh, ok, sure, whatever you guys say. But do they have to insult everyone's intelligence, here? Isn't it time that Tapia got some real help for his problems?

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