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Articles of 2006

Boxing and the Law: Mesi Licensed to Fight

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Joe Mesi’s lawyers have done what his doctors could not – paved the way for “Baby” Joe to once again enter a boxing ring.

On March 13, 2004, at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, Mesi edged out Vassiliy Jirov over ten rounds for a 94-93 decision win. Mesi cruised through the early rounds, easily outboxing “The Tiger,” but the tenacious Jirov eventually found his mark, putting Mesi down once in the ninth and twice in the tenth. The damage inflicted by Jirov was not enough to salvage a victory for the Kazakhstani, but it was enough to prompt the Nevada State Athletic Commission to place Mesi on medical suspension.

Joe Mesi, with the help of his doctors and lawyers, spent the next two years trying to get his suspension lifted. Hamlet might have blamed “the law’s delay,” but this time the delay was occasioned by Mesi himself. For many months, Mesi would not disclose his medical records, clearly reluctant to reveal the extent of his injuries. Mesi underwent five MRIs between March 17 and May 27, 2004. The first four revealed bleeding on the brain; Mesi had suffered two subdural hematomas in the Jirov fight, and he aggravated the condition when he attempted to move a dresser in early April. By May 27, the blood had been reabsorbed into the brain and the MRI was normal.

Mesi’s attorney initially acknowledged only the clean May 27 MRI, but the Nevada Commission was as dogged as Jirov, and insisted on receiving all of Mesi’s medical records before taking action on Mesi’s suspension. In August Mesi’s team finally admitted that the fighter had suffered a subdural hematoma, and by January 2005 all medicals had been provided to the Commission.

The Commission sent the matter to its Medical Advisory Board, which held a hearing on April 18, 2005. The Board unanimously recommended to the Commission that Mesi not be removed from medical suspension. On June 9, 2005, a hearing before the Commission yielded the same result. Noting that Mesi had suffered “multiple, bilateral subdural hematomas” during the Jirov fight, that “[s]ubdural hematomas are the leading cause of death in boxers” and that “[t]here was no objective data or even real-life example of a boxer who had suffered multiple subdural hematomas returning to the ring without incident,” the Commission voted unanimously not to remove Mesi from medical suspension.

Mesi could not convince the Commission that he was medically fit to box. So he turned to the courts, and, almost by mistake, received a favorable ruling. But this ruling had nothing to do with Joe Mesi’s medical condition or his medical fitness to box. The judge found merit in a legal argument that was never presented to the Commission and occupied only a single paragraph in Mesi’s 27-page brief to the Court. It was practically a throwaway – until the judge caught the ball.

The Honorable Douglas W. Herndon, District Court Judge of the Eighth Judicial District Court in Las Vegas, Nevada, in a decision dated December 19, 2005 and filed on February 14, 2006, held that the Commission “did not have jurisdiction to continue [Mesi’s] medical suspension after the date of expiration of his boxing license, that date being December 31, 2004.” He ordered the Commission “to remove [Mesi’s] license from medical suspension.” In other words, the Commission’s power to suspend Mesi’s boxing license ended when the license itself expired on December 31, 2004.

The ruling makes legal sense, but not boxing sense. Because it makes legal sense, Keith Kizer, chief legal counsel for the Nevada Commission and the man who will replace Marc Ratner as executive director in May, has stated that the Commission will not file an appeal. Judge Herndon’s decision becomes legal precedent, and it seems likely that other states will follow his reasoning.

It is a decision that could have disastrous consequences for “Baby” Joe, and far-reaching implications for the sport of boxing.

The Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996 mandates that state and tribal boxing commissions abide by the medical suspension of a boxer imposed by any other commission in the United States. The Court’s decision in the Mesi case dilutes the effectiveness of that law. Now a boxer under medical suspension simply needs to wait until his license expires; at that point the suspension will end and he will be free to apply for a license anywhere he chooses. Since boxing commissions issue licenses for a period of one year or less, that wait can be very short. In Nevada, for example, where the licensing period corresponds to the calendar year, a boxer who is suspended because he was injured in a bout, let us say, on December 10, will celebrate the new year and the end of his suspension three weeks later. With the expiration of the license, and the medical suspension with it, federal law no longer prohibits another commission from allowing the boxer to enter the squared circle.

To boxers who have been barred from the ring because a commission has determined that a medical condition makes getting into that ring particularly dangerous, the word goes out: Applications are being accepted. And they are being accepted by states with the softest commissions. The commission shopping that is already rampant in the sport will become more rampant. Boxers suspended by commissions with careful oversight and stringent medical standards will head to states with weak commissions and weak medical standards.

One of those boxers is Joe Mesi. Barred from boxing in the state where Judge Herndon holds court, “Baby” Joe headed to Puerto Rico for his comeback bout on April 1. The undefeated heavyweight from Buffalo is an attractive commodity. And since the almighty dollar, too often in boxing and in life, outweighs other considerations – like health and safety – it was not difficult for Mesi to find a commission to play host to the fight, and a promoter to stage the fight.

As long as the decision in the Mesi case remains law, many men will follow in Mesi’s path. Not only leading men like Mesi, but also journeymen who earn their pay as fodder for prospects who are building their skills and their records. It seems inevitable that boxers who should not be fighting will find their way into the ring, and that the number of serious injuries and ring deaths will grow.

A sport that desperately needs greater uniformity is moved in the opposite direction by the Nevada court decision. And this step backward highlights, once again, the need for reform in boxing. The hole created by Judge Herndon’s decision can only be filled by legislation. Congress can amend the Boxing Safety Act to say that a boxer who is suspended for medical reasons by a commission must be medically cleared by that same commission, and that without such clearance no commission is permitted to license the boxer. Of course, the creation of a national commission would provide a more comprehensive solution. If a national commission issued licenses to boxers, even if a license expired, the same medical considerations which prompted a boxer to be suspended in the first place would keep the commission from issuing a new license.

But there is no national commission, and Nevada has no control over the decisions of the Puerto Rico or any other commission. Nevada can only control Nevada.

The Association of Boxing Commissions has tried to fill the void. It has presented a sensible solution in the form of a directive to its member commissions. The ABC has prescribed that when a boxer’s medical suspension is terminated due to the expiration of the boxer’s license, and the boxer applies to another commission for a license, that commission is “directed to contact the boxing commission which imposed the medical suspension; determine the basis of the medical suspension; and, then, carefully consider all of the facts and circumstances attendant to the said medical suspension in deciding to grant or deny the boxer a license.”

Unfortunately, state and tribal commissions are not bound by the directives of the ABC. Tim Lueckenhoff, the organization’s president, candidly acknowledges that “the ABC has no power at all. We send out directives but it is up to the commissions as to whether they will follow them.”

In the case of “Baby” Joe, it seems doubtful that the Puerto Rico Sports and Recreation Department followed the ABC’s directive in granting Mesi a license. Marc Ratner and Keith Kizer both made it clear to Puerto Rico that Mesi was no longer on suspension in Nevada only as a result of a court decision and not because he was medically cleared to fight – and further, that the decision of the Nevada Commission was that Mesi is not fit to fight. Puerto Rico did not request from Nevada Mesi’s medical records or transcripts of the Commission hearings which contained expert testimony about Mesi’s medical condition. That fact alone reveals how “carefully” the Puerto Rico commission considered the facts and circumstances attendant to Mesi’s medical suspension.

Puerto Rico’s failure to follow the ABC’s directive will go unpunished. “As long as Puerto Rico follows their law in issuing a boxing license, we won’t do anything,” says Lueckenhoff. The ABC president is clearly frustrated by the powerlessness of his organization, calling it a “toothless tiger.” And that, of course, is the problem. There is no central body in boxing with teeth, no central body with the authority to require and enforce appropriate medical standards.

Joe Mesi, back in boxing trunks after two years of fighting his battles in a suit and tie,  came out a winner in his comeback fight, and, more important, came out with a few lumps but no serious injuries. He pitched an eight-round shutout of Ron Bellamy, who entered the fight sporting a 14-4-4 record, with three losses in a row, two by knockout. Although Mesi had a more difficult time than expected, the distance fight allowed Mesi to shake off some of the ring rust that had accumulated during his long absence from the squared circle. Still, Bellamy was not the fighter to offer Mesi a true test in the ring, and probably not the fighter to test Mesi’s medical condition.

Stephan Johnson, who may have sustained bleeding on the brain in a TKO loss to Fitz Vanderpool on April 14, 1999 (a CAT scan was inconclusive), returned to the ring and won his next two fights. But on November 20, 1999, he was knocked out in the tenth round by Paul Vaden, and died fifteen days later from the brain injury he suffered in the fight.

Marc Ratner is concerned, noting “we’re in uncharted waters.” Mesi waded into those waters on April 1 on the island of Puerto Rico. As he pushes deeper out to sea, Mesi and his medical condition will face harder tests.

When Joe Mesi received a favorable decision from Judge Herndon, did he really win? On that question, the verdict is not yet in.

Articles of 2006

Peter/Toney Ii: Peter Has The Brutal Punch

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Samuel Peter claims he has dynamites in my two hands?

Heavyweight contenders Samuel “The Nigerian Nightmare” Peter and James Lights Out? Toney get it on a second time this Saturday from the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Fla. (Showtime).

The hard-slugging Peter, unlike Toney, is one of those strong, silent types notorious for letting their fists to the talking one the opening bell sounds, but the Nigeria Nightmare is as confident as ever and determined to turn Lights Out’s lights out for good.

I have got dynamites in my two hands,? said Peter, according the Lagos, Nigeria Vanguard, and I will crush James Toney once and for all. The Toney camp made the mistake of their lives by protesting and seeking a rematch. I am ready to teach him a bitter lesson.?

Sam Peter walked away with the W for Peter/Toney I at the Staples Center in LA last September, but it was by disputed split decision a verdict so disputed, there was even a dispute about the dispute which forced the WBC’s hand into mandating Saturday’s rematch.

Samuel Peter is the biggest thing to hit African boxing since Ghanaian superstar Azumah Nelson rocked the feather and junior welterweight divisions. The President of the Nigeria Boxing Board of Control, Prince Olaide Adeboye, admitted, according to allAfrica.com, We are rooting for Samuel Peter, of course. He is one boy we believe in to bring back the country’s lost glory in professional boxing. I am personally making arrangement to be at the ringside to see him fight Toney again. I was at the first fight in Los Angeles in September.

Peter has the brutal punch, and to me he was the clear winner of the first fight. But the WBC Board of Governors, of which I am a member, voted 21-10 for a rematch. There was nothing those of us Africans on the board could do in the circumstances. But I believe Peter will confirm he is better than Toney and will then go ahead to meet the champion and claim the belt for Nigeria and Africa.?

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Articles of 2006

The Sweet Science P4P Rankings for Asia

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There are claims that boxing is dying. Hogwash. The heavyweight division isn’t the only division in boxing and 2007 promises to be a banner year in boxing; especially for boxers hailing from Asia.

While Asia isn’t Vegas or Atlantic City, it is a region packed of diamonds in the rough; undiscovered gems and potential superstars who wait for their moment in the sun.

The Sweet Science P4P Rankings – Asia

1) Manny Pacquiao – There’s no way to dispute Pacquiao is the best fighter in Asia, if not all of boxing. He’s exciting, he wins with Je Ne Sais Quois and is definitely “the man” in boxing.

2) Pongsaklek Wonjongkam – Although his competition leaves much to be desired, his longevity and skills are undeniable. He is currently Thailand’s only world champion and is undefeated in ten years. Need I say more?

3) Chris John – A victory over Juan Manuel Marquez, however controversial, shows he belongs at the top of the heap. He easily outpointed Renan Acosta to close out 2006 and should have no trouble defending against Jose Rojas in February. A fight with Pacquiao would not be a good move on his part but a rematch with Marquez would not hurt – especially if he defeats the Mexican again.

4) Hozumi Hasegawa – Hidden away in Japan, Hasegawa is a sharp punching southpaw who put former champion Veeraphol Sahaprom to sleep. He recently bested Genaro Garcia and his herky-jerky style will give fits to any one who steps in the ring with him.

5) Masomori Tokuyama – Tokuyama has never shied away from a good fight and although he only fought once in 2006 (UD12 Jose Navarro), he ledger shows wins over Katsushige Kawashima (twice), Gerry Penalosa (twice) and In Jin Chi (twice). A fight with Hozumi Hasegawa is a distinct possibility in 2007.

6) Nobuo Nashiro – With only seven fights under his belt he took on WBA champion Martin Castillo – and defeated him. Although he’s only fought a total of nine fights, nearly all have been against quality opposition. A victory in a rematch with Castillo would cement his claim as the king of the 115-pound division.

7) Yukata Niida – This light-hitting minimumweight defended his title twice in 2006, winning a technical decision against unbeaten Eriberto Gejon (Tech Win 10) and the other on points over Ronald Barrera (W 12). Scheduled to meet Katsunari Takayama early next year – the best has yet to come for this WBA belt holder.

8) In Jin Chi – Won back the title he lost to Takashi Koshimoto in January from Rudolfo Lopez. While there’s little uncertainty to his skills, at thirty-three, 2007 may provide some insight as to just how much he has left.

9) Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai –Sor Nonthachai is an exciting, top-shelf fighter with an iron chin. Has no trouble making mincemeat of mid-level opposition and deserves a title shot in 2007. Time is running out.

10) Rey Bautista – He’s young, relatively inexperienced in big-time boxing, but will continue to shine in 2007. One of the better prospects in boxing, he should snag a title in 2007.

Asian Fighters Ranked in Ring Magazine

Pound for Pound:

Manny Pacquiao (Philippines): #2

Jr. Lightweight

Manny Pacquiao (Philippines): #1
Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai: #9

Featherweight

Chris John (Indonesia) #1
In Jin Chi (Korea) #3
Takashi Koshimoto (Japan) #5
Hioyuki Enoki (Japan) #7

Jr. Featherweight

Somsak Sithchatchawal (Thailand) #4

Bantamweight

Hozumi Hasegawa (Japan) #2
Veeraphol Sahaprom (Japan) #3
Ratanachai Sor Vorapin (Thailand) #6
Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym (Thailand) #10

Jr. Bantamweight

Nobuo Nashiro (Japan) #1
Katsushige Kawashima (Japan) #7
Pramuansak Phosuwan (Thailand) #10

Flyweight

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (Thailand) #1
Takefumi Sakata (Japan) #7
Daisuke Naito (Japan) #10

Jr. Flyweight

Koki Kameda (Japan) #1

Minimumweight

Yukata Naiida (Japan) #2
Eagle Kyowa (Japan/Thai) #4
Katsunari Takayama (Japan) #5
Rodel Mayol (Philippines) #7

Boxing in Thailand

There’s no shortage of boxers in Thailand. With a huge pool of Muay Thai fighters to draw from and several talented amateur boxing prospects turning pro after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Thailand seems destined to remain a boxing powerhouse in Asia.

The country is known for having tough, determined and disciplined fighters who give their all whenever the step in to the ring. However, consistently losing while fighting abroad and padding their records with no-hopers has done nothing to enhance their reputation.

Whether because of a lack of marketability, a lack of funds or their unwillingness to travel abroad, the vast majority of boxers from Thailand remain a mystery to fans in the west. If anything though, the boxing scene involving Thai fighters will be active. In fact, it’s one of the most active in the world; since 2000, the number of fights has nearly doubled in the country.

The Sweet Science P4P Rankings – Thailand – August 2006

1) Pongsaklek Wonjongkam
2) Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym
3) Somsak Sithchatchawal
4) Wandee Singwancha
5) Sirimongkol Singwancha
6) Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai
7) Veeraphol Sahaprom
8) Pramuansak Phosuwan
9) Terdsak Jandaeng
10) Oleydong Sithamerchai

Current Sweet Science P4P Rankings – Thailand

1) Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (Flyweight) – Definitely the top dog in Thailand

2) Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai (Super Lightweight) – He’s a seasoned fighter who has proven himself in the big-time. He’s one Thai who can fight outside of Asia. He has an abundance of skills and one-punch power. His overall ability and ease in dispatching anyone other than championship caliber get him the runners-up spot.

3) Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym (Super Bantamweight) – After losing to Vladimir Sidorenko he’s bounced back. He’s young, he can punch, but the former interim champion needs to prove himself against a name fighter.

4) Somsak Sithchatchawal (Super Bantamweight) – Was his win over Monshipour a fluke or was Celestino Caballero just that good? Did Sithchatchawal catch Monshipour at the right time and can he rebound from the devastating loss? The jury is still out.

5) Wandee Singwancha (Flyweight) – He doesn’t have much of a punch which will be his downfall in the end. He can box, as was evidenced in his recent victory over Juanito Rubillar, but this won’t be enough. He can no longer make the Jr. Flyweight limit and with no punch he’ll have a hard time competing against the “big boys.” Although he’s now rated second by the WBC, he doesn’t deserve to be.

5) Sirimongkol Singwancha (Super Lightweight) – Get this guy a fight. He’s better than Jose Armando Santa Cruz and would have beat up Inada had the fight taken place. He’ll fight anyone but his biggest obstacle is staying motivated fighting tomato cans in Thailand. Like many Thais, he needs a fight against a name opponent.
6) Wandee Singwancha (Flyweight) – He doesn’t have much of a punch which will be his downfall in the end. He can box, as was evidenced in his recent victory over Juanito Rubillar, but this won’t be enough. He can no longer make the Jr. Flyweight limit and with no punch he’ll have a hard time competing against the “big boys.” Although he’s now rated second by the WBC, he doesn’t deserve to be.

7) Pramuansak Phosuwan (Super Flyweight) – A genuine tough guy. Always calm and focused no matter how heated the battle. But at thirty-eight, he’ll be in trouble should he fight one of the division’s elite.
8) Veeraphol Sahaprom (Bantamweight) – Will be lucky to get another crack at the title. Although he has a puncher’s chance of winning a belt, that’s about all he has left at this point. A third shot at Hasegawa is unlikely.

9) Oleydong Sithamerchai (Minimumweight) – He’s fought better than the usual opponents faced by Thais at his level and he moves up one spot with the departure of Terdsak Jandaeng. He lacks the punch and is in the wrong division to become a superstar. He’ll need to defeat a name opponent to convince me.

10) Saenghiran Lookbanyai / Napapol Kittisakchokchai (Super Bantamweight) – These two square-off in early March, supposedly to see who deserves a shot at Israel Vasquez. Kittisakchokchai has the edge in experience but some feel Lookbanyai has the edge in heart and is the favorite.

Neither has defeated a top twenty fighter and yet are ranked number one and two respectively in the WBC’s world.

In Kittisakchokchoi’s lone shot at the big-time, he was TKO’d in 10 by Oscar Larios. His dreadful performance against Larios and lack of quality opposition leads me to believe Saenghiran might have more of a shot at beating him than some suspect. Regardless, neither of them lasts longer than six rounds with Israel Vasquez.

Honorable Mention: Wethya Sakmuangklang, Denkaosan Kaovichit, Devid Lookmahanak, Nethra Sasiprapa, Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo, Pornsawan Kratingdaenggym

Thai Fighters Ranked in Ring Magazine

Pongsaklek Wonjongkam: #1 Flyweight
Pramuansak Phosuwan: #10 Jr. Bantamweight
Veeraphol Sahaprom: #3 Bantamweight
Ratanachai Sor Vorapin: #6 Bantamweight
Poonsawat Kratingdaenggym: #10 Bantamweight
Somsak Sithchatchawal: #3 Jr. Featherweight
Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai: #9 Lightweight

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Articles of 2006

Iceman Stops Tito Ortiz Win Streak

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LAS VEGAS—UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck “Iceman” Liddell’s fists proved too much for Huntington Beach’s Tito Ortiz who was stopped in the third round before a sold out crowd at the MGM Garden Arena on Saturday.

The punching machine Liddell (20-3, 13 KOs) repeated his victory in UFC 66 over the much-improved grappler Ortiz who has improved his punching and blocking. Ortiz was trying to avenge his loss of April 2004.

Despite all the new weapons displayed by Ortiz it wasn’t enough as Liddell pummeled the former champion and retained his title with a technical knockout at 3:59 of the third round. Referee Mario Yamasaki stopped the bout.

“This was the most satisfying victory of my career,” said Liddell, 36, of Santa Barbara. “Tito came back real tough.”

Ortiz (15-5, 8 KOs), a former wrestler, worked on his boxing technique knowing he would need it against the former boxer Liddell. But Liddell’s experience allowed him to find the right moment to pounce on Ortiz.

“I had him hurt, I just kept throwing punches,” said Liddell who also knocked down Ortiz in the first round with a left hook.

Ortiz was gracious in defeat.

“Chuck is the best fighter Pound for Pound in the (mixed martial arts) world,” said Ortiz, 31, who suffered a gash on the side of his left eye from a punch. “I’m disgusted by myself. I let my fans down.”

Other bouts

Underdog Keith Jardine (12-3-1) knocked out Forrest Griffin (13-4) at 4:41 of the first round in their light heavyweight showdown. A right uppercut followed by a left hook wobbled Griffin who was sent to the floor by a barrage of punches. On the ground Jardine landed right after right until referee John McCarthy stopped the fight for a technical knockout.

“I couldn’t believe he was hurt,” said Jardine about Griffin who is known for his resiliency. “I was so nervous coming into this fight, but now I know I belong here.”

Canada’s Jason McDonald (18-7) choked out Chris Leben (15-3) in a middleweight bout that was up for grabs. Though Leben seemed to control the fight with stunning left hands, once the fight went to the ground McDonald managed a chokehold at 4:03 of the second round. Referee Steve Mazagatti saw Leben was unconscious and stopped the fight.

Former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski (12-5) caught Brazil’s Mario Cruz (2-2) with a sneak right hand while both were tangled on the ground. Then the Belarusian pummeled Cruz until referee Herb Dean stopped the fight at 3:15 of the first round.

Third season winner of the Ultimate Fighter television reality season Michael Bisping (12-0) of Great Britain won by technical knockout over Eric Shafer (9-2-2) at 4:29 of the first round. A knee knocked Shafer groggy then Bisping knocked him to the ground and pounded him. Referee Mario Yamasaki stopped the bludgeoning.

Thiago Alves (16-4) caught Peru’s Tony De Souza (15-5) with a knee as he attempted to dive for his legs in a welterweight contest. After that it was pretty much over as Alves pummeled De Souza at 1:10 of the second round forcing referee John McCarthy to halt the bout.

Gabriel Gonzago (7-1) proved too strong for Carmelo Marrero (6-1) in a heavyweight bout. At 3:22 of the first round Gonzago of Massachusetts manipulated his way into arm bar forcing Pennsylvania’s Marrero to tap out.

Japan’s Yushin Okami (19-3) pounded Georgia’s Rory Singer (11-6) into submission at 4:03 of the third round of a middleweight bout. Okami seemed the more-rounded fighter with effective kicks to the head and more accurate punching.

Christian Wellisch (8-2) jumped to a quick start with an accurate left hook that rattled Australia’s Anthony Perosh (5-3) in a heavyweight bout. During the first round it seemed the Sacramento fighter might end the fight but the Aussie hung tough. Wellisch won by unanimous decision.

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