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Open Scoring in Boxing: Yes or No? Part Two of a TSS Survey

Ted Sares

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48 noted

(PART TWO: M-W): We asked 48 noted boxing buffs how they felt about open scoring. Specifically we asked, “Are you in favor of open scoring whereby the scores of the judges would be revealed after each round or at one or more intervals during the fight? If so, why? If not, why not?”

The respondents are listed alphabetically. Part One (A-L) ran yesterday (Tuesday, Oct. 2). Here’s the concluding segment. A hearty thanks to all that took the time to share their thoughts.

ADEYINKA MAKINDEU.K. barrister, writer and contributor to the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Boxing. Open scoring would detract from the drama of what the final decision will be should the fight endure to the allocated distance. So entertainment wise, it is not of particular value. Neither is its value enhanced in so far as the notion that it might improve the quality of judging. After all, the idea surely is not to put pressure on a judge whose scoring appears off base to a section of the crowd, or to substitute judges mid-fight for “getting things wrong.” This is a non-issue. Instead the focus should be on determining the professional competence of judges as well as their integrity.

JOHN McKALE–prominent boxing judge: No, 100% not in favor.  The mind through the eyes of each judge should not be compromised by anything, including what the other judges may be determining.

PAUL MAGNO–author, writer and boxing official in Mexico: I don’t like open scoring. It does absolutely nothing to help the integrity of judging, but it ruins some key elements of intrigue and suspense when it comes to the fight and the announcing of a winner. If boxing is serious about judging reform, then they need to do the only thing that matters– overhaul the entire incestuous system and create more of a separation between the promoters and the selection of officials.

SCOOP MALINOWSKI—boxing writer, author, “Mr. Biofile”: Open scoring is just another system that can be corrupted and surely will be corrupted. I’d rather see former pro boxers and champions in the role as judges, but they can be corrupted too.

LARRY MERCHANT—HBO boxing commentator emeritus; 2009 IBHOF inductee: I’m opposed to open scoring because  I witnessed a couple of such experiments that fell flat. Either the winning fighter, knowing the score, coasted through the late rounds and/or the losing fighter failed to respond, accepting defeat. The drama of uncertainty works best in prize fighting.

ROBERT MLADINICHformer NYPD police detective, author and boxing writer: I am not in favor of open scoring because awaiting a close decision is much of the fun of a good, close fight. Unfortunately the judges often get it wrong, which ruins the entire experience. That does not justify the open scoring. There should just be better judges.

HARRY OTTY—author, historian, part-time boxing coach: Absolutely in favor of ‘open scoring.’ How many close fights may have had a different result if the corner that felt they were ahead knew, without doubt, that they were actually behind with a couple of rounds left in the fight? I have coached amateur boxers for over 30 years and the closed scoring sucks – corruption is also rife. The best period we had was when the computer scoring (a button-push for each punch landed – not an ideal set up) was revealed at the end of each round. If you lost the first of three you at least had the option to alter tactics. Boxers/coaches who can adapt to what is happening as a result of the known score would also be proving their skill/superiority in the ring. TACTICS! From an open and transparent perspective it may have the side effect of making all judges (promoters/governing bodies) more accountable.

MARY ANN LURIE OWEN–boxing photojournalist extraordinaire:  In 12-round title fights, scores should be announced after the 4th and 8th rounds.

JOE PASQUALE – prominent judge and recent NJ Boxing Hall of Fame inductee: As a fan, my thoughts are that this is the one sport that holds the suspense of the outcome until the third judge’s score is read by the ring announcer. Also, I have worked a few of these score progressions announced throughout the fight. The fighter with the big lead going into the later rounds just stopped engaging and coasted the last few rounds, taking the edge off a good fight with the possibility of a stoppage going into that tough 12th round.

DAVID PAYNE—U.K. boxing writer: I’m not in favor. Open scoring impacts intent of fighters and crowd reaction impacts officials.

J. RUSSELL PELTZ—venerable Philadelphia boxing promoter and 2004 IBHOF inductee: Terrible idea. A boxer with a big lead avoids contact down the stretch. Takes away suspense. Better solution is to get better judges.

ADAM POLLACK–author, publisher, and boxing official: There are pros and cons. The pro is it would allow the fighter who was behind to make adjustments and potentially fight harder, because it would make him realize that what he was doing was not as effective in the judges’ minds as he thought it was. On the other hand, it can allow one fighter to coast if he realizes he is well ahead, which can cause fights to become boring, and it eliminates the drama. When neither knows whether or not they are ahead, they fight harder, fearing the unknown. But what boxing really should do is stop using incompetent judges, and bring back the 15-round championship fight. Open scoring simply shows the fighters and the world how terrible the judging is as it is happening. It doesn’t change the fact of bad judging.

BRIAN POWERS–former fighter: Show them so the fighter knows and can turn it up if he’s behind.

JACQUIE RICHARDSON–Executive Director, Retired Boxers Foundation: I fail to see what difference that would make. Good judges will be good judges and bad judges will remain bad judges. The only positive outcome would be if the corners know, and the boxers come out and make adjustments to more convincingly win rounds. Another positive thing would be to see if the judges know what ring generalship is and the real difference between power shots and pity-pats.

CLIFF ROLD—boxing writer; founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board: I’m not in favor of open scoring of any kind/time. I think it changes the approach of fighters and those with leads have an impetus to disengage. That’s bad for the entertainment factor. The second Bell-Mormeck fight at cruiserweight soured me on it. It went from eight rounds of all-out war to a chase scene.

FREDERICK ROMANO–former ESPN researcher and author:  My general feeling is I don’t believe it is necessary. It cuts both ways. Knowing a fight is dead even going into the last round could lead to some supreme efforts. It also might result in over-caution. However, I would like to hear from the fighters themselves as to whether they are in favor of it. Would they find it beneficial from a strategic standpoint? If they do, maybe we need to depart from tradition. I think what might be more important is that we improve the quality of judging. With quality judging the need for open scoring is mitigated. Also, using five judges for championship bouts might be helpful to reduce the potential impact of corruption and would overcome even two poor scorecards, saving some bouts from the wrong result.

DANA ROSENBLATT–former world middleweight champion; inspirational speaker: I am not in favor of open scoring. Although potential corruption is shrouded in part by allowing scoring to be done in a way that no one knows until the fight is over, I am not in favor of it. Instead, how about mandating that judges for all boxing matches are selected exclusively by the state boxing commissions of the states where the matches take place and not the promoters? I think this would make a difference.

LEE SAMUELS–veteran Top Rank publicist: We wouldn’t change it. There is always suspense how a fight is being scored. And in today’s world of Twitter, the top ringside writers tweet how they are scoring – that is good enough for me and for the fans who are watching.

TED SARES–TSS writer: In general, I dislike the concept but I’d be willing to see how allowing the scores to be read at the end of three rounds in ten-round fights and at the end of four in 12-round fights would work out—on a six-month trial basis.

ICEMAN JOHN SCULLY—former boxer, trainer, commentator, he’s done it all: There is no way open scoring should be allowed. It would kill all the potential for great drama in the sport of boxing. If it were implemented, it would backfire catastrophically.

MICHAEL SILVER–author, historian: I think it warrants an experiment for several months and in all fights to see how open scoring affects the fighters, corner men and fans in the arena. Mixed feelings about it but worth a try and then evaluate.

ALLAN SWYER–documentary filmmaker, writer, and producer of the acclaimed El Boxeo:Remember Oscar dancing away rounds because he knew he was far ahead in points? We’ll see far more of that kind of behavior with open scoring. My answer is a resounding NO!

DONALD L. TRELLA–prominent boxing judge: I am not a proponent of open scoring. I think part of the excitement that is generated by boxing is the announcement of the winner at the end of the fight. Everyone is on edge and anxious to hear the scores. There are also many ways a fighter can use open scoring to their advantage and diminish the action. For example, if a fighter is way ahead after seven rounds and has a shutout going, what’s the benefit of mixing it up the rest of the way? The fighter in the lead could just dance and stay out of the fray for the remaining five rounds leading to a very boring bout. Another example might be where a fighter is injured by an accidental foul. After four rounds are completed and he knows he’s ahead, he may say he can’t continue due to the injury and win the fight knowing what the score is after 4 rounds. What if a judge realizes he is wide compared to the other judges, does he start to score rounds differently to bring his or her scoring more in line with the other two judges? Very little upside… lots of down side. I actually could go on and on with a lot of examples.

GARY “DIGITAL” WILLIAMSthe voice of “Boxing on the Beltway”: I am totally against open scoring.  This takes the excitement of wondering what the final judge’s score will be.  Back in April of 1999, there was the Triple Jeopardy card in DC where they tried three types of open scoring — announcing the score after four rounds, after six rounds and after every round.  Mark Johnson’s bout was the one tried after every round.  After the bout, Mark told me that he knew after about eight rounds that he was well ahead on points so he just coasted to the win. Fans did not get a chance to see his true greatness. Open scoring just does not work on any level.

BEAU WILLIFORD–former trainer and the glue of boxing in Cajun Country:  I favor open scoring either way. I think open scoring would provide better boxing matches!

PETER WOOD–former fighter, writer,author: I’m all for the transparency of open scoring, but it wouldn’t work the way we would like. A boxing match’s emotionally-charged environment can be dangerous—and VERY dangerous to a judge who doesn’t score a round like the crowd wants it to be scored. The masses are asses and judges would be too easily influenced and swayed for their own safety

OBSERVATIONS:

Those opposed to Open Scoring overwhelmed those for it by a margin of 40-9. Jim Lampley said he was against it because it kills suspense for fans, places fighters at risk if they fall behind and then take risks not warranted by their abilities, while conversely encouraging a leading fighter to take fewer risks — and risk is at the heart of the sport. Larry Merchant added that he had witnessed a couple of such experiments that fell flat. Either the winning fighter, knowing the score, coasted through the late rounds and/or the losing fighter failed to respond, accepting defeat. The drama of uncertainty works best in prize fighting. J. Russell Peltz, in common with several other respondents, said a better solution is to get better judges. Another frequently-heard comment was pinpointed colorfully by Peter Wood: “A boxing match’s emotionally-charged environment can be dangerous—and VERY dangerous to a judge who doesn’t score a round like the crowd wants it to be scored.” And Steve Farhood summed things up nicely by stating, “..it places undue pressure on the judges and eliminates one of the most dramatic moments in boxing–when the ring announcer reads the final scores in a close fight.”

Some of those in favor, such as Bill Caplan and Mary Ann Owen, favored the WBC plan of open scoring during intervals, rather than after every round. And others thought there would be value in trying it for a trial period.

Ted Sares is one of the oldest active power lifters and is the oldest Strongman competitor in the United States. He recently won the Maine State Championship in his class. He is a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame.

 Photo: Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker battle to a controversial draw in San Antonio.

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The ESPN special ‘42 to 1’ Opened a Portal Back Into a Special Time For Me

Bernard Fernandez

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ESPN

There are moments in life when you feel as if you somehow have been transported back to an event or an occasion that always will hold special meaning to the time traveler.

Watching ESPN’s latest entry in its “30 for 30” documentary series, 42 to 1, was like that for me. Not that the 50-minute special, directed by Ben Houser and Jeremy Schaap, broke new ground or revealed much, if anything, I didn’t already know. In fact, there was much behind-the-scenes stuff that might have been included and maybe even should have been, had the documentarians had more time to tell the familiar story of James “Buster” Douglas’ epic upset of seemingly invincible heavyweight champion Mike Tyson on Feb. 11, 1990. But this particular stroll down memory lane is especially significant to me because, well, I was there. It wasn’t the best prizefight or sporting event I ever covered live and in person, but it was the most compelling because it was arguably the biggest upset not only in boxing history, but maybe ever in the sports world. Being courtside for Villanova’s shocker over Georgetown and Patrick Ewing in the 1985 NCAA championship basketball game pales by comparison.

“Forty-two to one stands right at the top,” veteran Las Vegas oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro, who is an instrumental figure in the actual lead-up to Tyson-Douglas and throughout the documentary, said of the seemingly one-sided matchups he has made betting lines for during his long career and did not go as expected. “There’s nothing even close to it. I’m tired of hearing about the `Miracle on Ice’ (the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, loaded with college kids, shocking the veteran Soviet Union squad in the semifinals en route to the gold medal in Lake Placid, N.Y.). Yes, we understand it was a big upset . But you know what? (The U.S.) was only a 3 to 1 underdog as opposed to a 42 to 1 favorite (Tyson). I think it’s a little bit different.

“Forty-two to one? I’d lay 50 to one you’ll never see it again.”

Nobody with the possible exception of Douglas and a few fellow dreamers in his support crew thought that it might be possible for the often-unmotivated, frequently out-of-shape heavyweight from Columbus, Ohio, to cash the lottery ticket he had been given only because Tyson needed to fight somebody before he moved on to a scheduled June 1990 pairing with Evander Holyfield that both parties already had agreed to.

“Buster Douglas is a dog,” Tyson’s promoter, Don King, had dismissively said, not even attempting to throw a positive comment toward the designated victim who surely was about to become Iron Mike’s 38th victim. “He’s always been a quitter. Buster Douglas has a history of quitting. He quit with Tony Tucker in 1987. Really, that’s why I chose him.”

ESPN sports anchor Charley Steiner, on the evening the presumed massacre was to take place (which was actually the following day in Tokyo, 14 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time), advised viewers that “Tonight’s heavyweight championship fight might be best titled `30 seconds over Tokyo.’”

So why had I arrived in the Land of the Rising Sun eight full days before the first punch was thrown in earnest? Because my paper, the Philadelphia Daily News, was years away from having its travel budget slashed to the bone and because our then-executive sports editor, Mike Rathet, believed that there are certain athletes who were of such high interest that doing stories about them off TV simply would not suffice. Mike had dispatched another PDN writer, my colleague Elmer Smith, to Tokyo to report on Tyson’s perfunctory second-round TKO of pudgy challenger Tony Tubbs on March 21, 1988. I figured my trip to Japan would end on a similarly quick and emphatic note, but then the beauty of sports is that nothing is ever absolutely certain.

The day before I headed to the airport, I attended, but did not cover, a fight card in Atlantic City where other reporters, including Robert Seltzer, my counterpart at the Philadelphia Inquirer, asked why the PDN was spending so much money to send me halfway around the world to witness a fight that seemed a foregone conclusion. “Because Tyson is Tyson,” I replied, “and we want to be there if the mother of all upsets occurs.”

In retrospect, maybe the mother of all upsets wasn’t as long of a long shot as might have appeared at first glance. Tyson’s personal life was unraveling; his marriage to actress Robin Givens was on the rocks, he had fired capable trainer Kevin Rooney nearly two years earlier and instead would have the Bobbsey twins, Aaron Snowell and Jay Bright, working his corner. He also, an inside source had advised several media members, was shuttling Japanese hookers in and out of his hotel suite at night as if they were a relay team passing the baton at an X-rated track meet. In a story authored by Eric Raskin for Playboy a couple of years ago, I was quoted as saying that, if sex really does sap a boxer’s strength in the weeks before a bout, it was amazing that Tyson had enough energy to crawl into the ring before the opening bell.

Meanwhile, Douglas – whose potential never had been questioned, only his commitment to push himself in training – was in the best condition of his career, and his mind was right, too, having dedicated the victory he dared to believe he could get to his late mother, Lula Pearl Douglas, who had passed away less than three weeks earlier.

It was a jumble of circumstances that would have stamped Douglas as far less likely to have his butt kicked, had all information been available to the public. In addition to his litany of personal woes, an arrogant Tyson had made the same mistake that often brings down the luminously gifted. He figured he could just show up and win because, well, hadn’t he always done that?

During a TV interview prior to squaring off against Douglas, a clearly bored Tyson dropped broad hints that he had not exactly punished himself into peak condition.

Q: Do you always go into the ring feeling like you’re invincible?

A: Yeah.

Q: Let’s get to Buster. What’s you biggest concern going into this fight?

A: I got no concerns.

Q: What do you think Buster’s …

A: I don’t have any idea what he’s thinking. I don’t care. I’m a champion, you know what I mean?

So prohibitive a favorite was Tyson to continue his reign of terror that almost every sports book in Las Vegas didn’t bother to post a line. That’s where Vaccaro came in, unwittingly setting the stage and the now-legendary numbers for the title of the ESPN documentary.

“Well, almost none,” Vaccaro said after an unseen voice mentions that every other sports book was taking a pass on Tyson-Douglas. “I did. Let me set the stage for you. In 1990, the biggest star in sports was Mike Tyson. `Iron Mike’ was a knockout machine. In 37 fights he’d never been on the canvas. Never hurt, never challenged. Nobody thought James `Buster’ Douglas would be any different. No one thought Buster could win.

“Back then I was at The Mirage and I decided we would take action on the fight. The favorite? Tyson, of course. The underdog, Douglas. The odds? Forty-two to one.”

That where the steadily rising line stopped, in any case.

“Well, naturally everybody thought, including myself, that Tyson couldn’t lose the fight,” Vaccaro pointed out later in the program. “So the opening odds were set at 27 to 1. But I kept raising the odds to maybe get a bet  on James `Buster’ Douglas. From 32 to 1 to 37 to 1, but we still couldn’t get anyone to bet on the underdog until we got to the pinnacle – 42 to 1.”

Even then, most of the bets that did come in were from well-heeled types who figured they’d put up a lot to get a little on what seemed to be a sure thing.

“We got a thousand, $1,500 here and there on Douglas,” Vaccaro continued. “But, you know, we actually took about 10 bets on Mike Tyson at 42 to 1, meaning you’d have to bet $42,000 to win $1,000. One gentleman put up over $160,000 on one bet to win, like, $4,000. It was incredible.”

Here’s guessing that guy was looking for a tall building with a roof from which he could jump off after Douglas methodically beat up and finally stopped Tyson in the 10th round. The only time a window of opportunity opened for the soon-to-be former champ was when he connected with a ripping right uppercut that dropped Douglas for a nine count in round eight. Tyson supporters to this day insist that referee Octavio Meyran was slow with his count , but Douglas was looking straight at Meyran and knew he could get up before the toll reached 10. He then demonstrated he wasn’t as hurt as he might have appeared by again seizing the upper hand with a dominant ninth round.

Alas, the mountaintop Douglas had just scaled proved to be a slippery slope. He had slain the most fearsome beast in the heavyweight jungle, all right, a feat that would bring him a $24 million payday for his first title defense, which came on Oct. 25, 1990, at The Mirage, against Holyfield. But the determined, in-shape Douglas had again slipped back into the shadows by then, and when he weighed in at a jiggly 246 pounds against Holyfield, 14½ more than he had for Tyson, there was a mad rush toward the betting windows by attendees hoping to get a hefty wager down on Holyfield before the odds shifted. The race belonged to the swift as Holyfield delivered a beautiful counter right to win by knockout in the third round.

At 58, Buster Douglas appears to be fat and happy these days. You can live a pretty good life if you are intent on making a $24 million windfall last, and the fighter previously known for wasted potential still is riding the high surf generated by one magical performance. He now serves as a boxing instructor to young kids in the same Columbus gym where his late father, a tough middleweight named Billy “Dynamite” Douglas, first dreamed of making his son into the world titlist he never got to be himself. It is a success story with only one undeniably positive chapter, but that sometimes is more than other people ever get a whiff at when the book of their lives is written.

I came back from Tokyo with the kind of memories that aren’t easily erased. One of my sons received my souvenir program; he now lives out of state and I don’t see him as often as I would like. I hope he held onto it because I suspect it might be worth something now.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

Editor’s Note: ESPN’s “42 to 1” premiered Tuesday evening, Dec. 11, at 9:00 PM EST. The next showings are scheduled for 2:00 AM Wednesday morning, Dec. 12, on ESPN2, Sunday, Dec. 16, at 5 PM on ESPN2, and Sunday, Dec. 16, at 9:00 PM on ESPN. All times Eastern.

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Three Punch Combo: My Odd Choice for Upset of the Year and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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year 2018 Mwakinyo

THREE PUNCH COMBO: On Saturday night, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (50-1-2, 34 KO’s) makes his 168-pound debut when he faces Rocky Fielding (27-1, 15 KO’s) at Madison Square Garden in New York. Fielding is a substantial underdog and most experts would be surprised if Fielding was even remotely competitive.

Given that he is such a big underdog, Fielding would seemingly be a lock for Upset of the Year if he were to win. But a much bigger upset, albeit in not a high profile fight, occurred earlier this year.

Sam Eggington was added to the Amir Khan-Samuel Vargas card on September 8th  to simply get in some work. Two weeks later, he was slated to face Brandon Rios on a big stage on the Joshua-Povetkin undercard. The opponent chosen for Eggington’s tune-up was little known Hassan Mwakinyo of Tanzania.

Mwakinyo (pictured) entered the bout with a record of 11-2 with 7 knockouts. All but one of his fights had taken place in Africa and he hadn’t defeated anyone of note. He had one knockout loss to a 5-6-5 fighter and his other loss was by wide decision when he traveled to Moscow to face undefeated prospect Lendrush Akopian. Now, Mwakinyo was traveling on late notice to Eggington’s backyard in the UK to face a fighter who was 23-4, had won several regional belts, and had never been stopped.

Eggington was a lock-solid favorite. Some sportsbooks had Eggington at minus -10000 (100 to 1) at fight time while others had him a little lower. There are no sure things in boxing but this fight was as close to a sure thing as there was in the eyes of the sportsbooks.

Eggington got off to a good start in round one and seemed to be on his way to the expected dominant knockout win. But with ten seconds remaining in the round, Mwakinyo clipped him with a counter left hook. Eggington sagged back into the ropes and was visibly hurt. Mwakinyo teed off on Eggington for the final few seconds in the round before the bell rang.

Mwakinyo hurt Eggington with a counter right to open the second round and battered Eggington around the ring, landing countless clean punches to Eggington’s jaw. About a minute into the round, with Eggington eating so many clean punches, the referee was forced to jump in and stop the fight.

End of the year lists tend to focus on high profile fights and fighters, but that should not always be the case. As far as Upset of the Year in 2018, there was no bigger shocker in my opinion than when little known last minute opponent Hassan Mwakinyo defeated Sam Eggington.

IBHOF Voting Process – Transparency and Changes Are Needed

This past week, the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY released its 2019 class. Each year, three fighters are elected in the Modern category. This year’s honorees are Donald Curry, Julian Jackson and James “Buddy” McGirt.

The selections have sparked plenty of debate. And I think it is finally time for the IBHOF to not only become more transparent in the voting process but to also make some long needed changes.

Only the IBHOF views the final ballots and is aware of the final tallies. Right or wrong, this has led to rumors about what it really takes for someone to get elected in the IBHOF. I don’t buy into the rumors myself but I think it is time for them to get squashed once and for all.

My suggestion is simple. The IBHOF should have a livestream of them opening the ballots and tallying the votes. Read the name of the person who submitted the ballot and who they voted for. This is not meant to open the voter to any critique but to make sure their ballot is tallied correctly. And it also lets everyone know the exact results. That would put to an end any rumors about the voting process.

Also, changes are needed to the voting process. For one, why set the number at three for the Modern category every year? There needs to be a percentage threshold, say 65% of the vote, for someone to qualify for induction. Whoever hits that number each year is elected whether it is one, five, ten, etc.

Second, for whatever reason it seems voters tend to favor fighters in the Modern category who fought often on American television and somewhat ignore those whose careers were fought off US television. With streaming today, this issue could go away over time but right now needs to be addressed.

My suggestion would be to break up the fighters on the ballot by the decade they primarily fought and then to list certain statistics of each fighter as a side by side comparison. Stats would consist of some of the following: career record, world titles won, number of successful title defenses, number of champions defeated, number of Hall of Famers defeated and other relevant stats.

I’m certain that some voters already look at these stats, but I’m not sure this is always the case. By putting these measurable statistics on the ballot, it at least gives each voter something to think about (and maybe could cause them to do further research) before filling out the ballot. And that may give more consideration to fighters who weren’t seen as often on US television.

It is time for the IBHOF to make some badly needed changes to the voting process. Doing so will ensure the credibility of the IBHOF for years to come.

Under The Radar Fight

There will be plenty of live boxing on streaming services this coming week. ESPN+ has cards on Friday and Saturday. And, of course, there is the big card on Saturday evening on DAZN headlined by Canelo Alvarez. With so many fights on the docket, there is bound to be at least one solid fight slipping deep under the radar.

Stashed deep on the undercard of Alvarez-Fielding, Sadam Ali (26-2, 14 KO’s) returns to the welterweight division to face veteran Mauricio Herrera (24-7, 7 KO’s). Ali is only a year removed from his biggest win when he won a 154-pound title belt against the legendary Miguel Cotto. However, Ali is coming of a devastating knockout loss in his first defense against Jaime Munguia in May. In that fight, Ali showed a lot of courage but absorbed a tremendous beating before the fight was stopped in round four.

So how much did Munguia take out of Ali? And is going back to 147 going to provide resurgence in Ali’s career? We should know more after his contest with Herrera.

Herrera last fought in August of 2017 when he won a majority ten round decision over Jesus Soto Karass. That fight was a war and Herrera proved in winning that he still had something in the tank.

Ali is a boxer puncher who has a penchant to mix it up with his opposition. Herrera was once a technician but as he has gotten older has been more willing to exchange with his opponents. Given the styles, I see a very entertaining fight. Ali is more talented but, as I alluded to, there are questions as to exactly what he has left in his tank following the beating he suffered at the hands of Munguia.

This is an interesting, well matched welterweight crossroads fight and I am very intrigued to see how it plays out.

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The Hauser Report: USADA, VADA, and the State Athletic Commissions

Thomas Hauser

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USADA, VADA & State Athletic Commissions

On September 7 of this year, I posted an investigative report on this website entitled “1,501 Tests, One Reported Positive? What’s Going On with USADA and Boxing?”

The article was based on data taken from USADA’s own website in addition to interviews with state athletic commission personnel and experts in the field of performance enhancing drugs. It raised troubling questions regarding the role that USADA plays in boxing today.

USADA has been testing professional boxers for performance enhancing drugs since 2010. As of September 6, 2018, its website stated that it had administered 1,501 tests on 128 professional boxers through August 22 of this year. Yet in all these years, USADA had reported only one adverse finding regarding a professional boxer to a governing state athletic commission.

By way of comparison, Dr. Margaret Goodman (president of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, which is widely regarded as the most credible testing organization in professional boxing) reported that close to four percent of the tests for illegal performance enhancing drugs conducted by VADA come back positive. Using the four-percent benchmark, one would have expected that 60 of the 1,501 tests conducted by USADA would have yielded a positive result.

Virtually all of USADA’s tests were administered in conjunction with fights in which companies controlled by Al Haymon had a vested financial interest. The most common venues for the fights in question were Nevada, California, and New York.

What has happened since then?

First, USADA has now conceded to multiple third parties (who request that their names not be mentioned in this article) that there was more than one positive test result but that USADA chose to adjudicate these matters internally without reporting the positive test result to the opposing fighter’s camp or state athletic commission that had oversight responsibility with regard to a given fight.

This is consistent with many of USADA’s contracts, which purport to allow it to adjudicate positive test results without notice to persons and entities with a legitimate interest in the outcome of these tests. However, it runs contrary to the rule in many states that, in the event of a positive drug test, judgments regarding mitigating circumstances must be left to the governing state athletic commission.

As recently as November 23 of this year, Bob Bennett (executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission) stated unequivocally that the NSAC must be notified of any adverse findings related to PED tests in and out of competition and that the NSAC has jurisdiction over all adverse findings for PED’s.

It should also be noted that it appears as though every positive test result adjudicated internally by USADA with regard to a professional boxer was adjudicated in favor of the boxer, since there have been no reported adverse findings other than the acknowledgement, after the news leaked on the internet, that Erik Morales tested positive for clenbutereol in 2012.

Second, and equally significant, it appears as though USADA – for the time being at least – has stopped testing professional boxers for performance enhancing drugs.

According to postings on the USADA website (updated through December 7), the most recent tests conducted on professional boxers by USADA were administered to Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter, who fought each other at Barclay’s Center on September 8, one day after this writer’s investigative report was posted.

In other words, a company that tested more than fifteen hundred professional boxers over the course of eight years appears to have suddenly stopped testing professional boxers.
In recent years, USADA has charged in excess of $30,000 for drug testing for each fight. The amount was $150,000 for Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao. Multiply these numbers by more than 1,500 tests and it’s a lot of money to walk away from. Did USADA decide that the spotlight was getting too bright?

The Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) doesn’t catch all of boxing’s drug cheats any more than the Internal Revenue Service catches all tax cheats. But it catches some of them.
On September 20, 2018, it was announced that a test for performance enhancing drugs conducted on Manuel Charr by VADA had come back positive for epitrenbolone and drostanolone (banned anabolic steroids).

On September 27, it was revealed that a test administered to Billy Joe Saunders by VADA had come back positive for oxilofrine (a banned stimulant).

In other words, VADA reported more positive tests for banned PEDs to supervising state athletic commissions in eight days than USADA has reported in eight years.

Given the fact that USADA charges roughly twice the amount for PED testing that VADA charges, one might ask why anyone in professional boxing would test with USADA. Unless a “get-out-of-jail-free” card comes with the test results.

Andy Foster is executive officer of the California State Athletic Commission. In recent years, he has evinced an admirable commitment to the health and safety of fighters and the integrity of boxing.

Multiple sources say that Foster has made it clear to promoters that he is uncomfortable with the pattern of USADA’s reported test results for boxing and would prefer that promoters use VADA or another reliable testing agency until the issue is resolved. On December 5, Foster told this writer, “It’s the weirdest thing. USADA has reported lots of positive test results for MMA but none for boxing. When it comes to boxing, I feel much more comfortable with VADA.”

The recent PED controversy involving Canelo Alvarez is also instructive.

Alvarez was scheduled to fight a lucrative rematch against Gennady Golovkin in Las Vegas on May 5, 2018. But on March 5, it was revealed that urine samples taken from Canelo by VADA on February 17 and February 20 had tested positive for clenbuterol. Alvarez said that the positive tests were the result of his having inadvertently eaten contaminated meat. But the Golovkin camp refused to let the matter rest and pressed the issue with the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

A March 15 letter sent on behalf of Golovkin to the NSAC and VADA demanded that the commission hold Alvarez to a standard of strict liability insofar as the presence of clenbuterol in his system was concerned. The letter also asked that the NSAC conduct an investigation and hold a full hearing with regard to possible performance enhancing drug use by Canelo.
On March 20, Golovkin raised the ante further when he met with reporters and declared, “I’m a clean athlete. After the first fight, I knew he was not clean. It’s not Mexican meat. Canelo is cheating. They’re using these drugs and everybody is just trying to pretend it’s not happening.”

On March 23, the Nevada State Athletic Commission announced that Alvarez had been temporarily suspended as a consequence of the two positive tests and that the matter would be finally adjudicated at an April 10 commission meeting. On April 3, Canelo announced that he was withdrawing from the fight. Then, on April 18, the NSAC voted unanimously to approve a settlement agreed to by Alvarez that called for Canelo to be suspended for six months retroactive to the date (February 17) of his first positive test for clenbuterol. There was no admission of wrongdoing on Canelo’s part. But there was an acknowledgement that clenbuterol had been present in his system.

On May 15, Alvarez signed up for a full year of VADA testing and paid the $50,000 cost out of his own pocket. His rematch against Golovkin was rescheduled for September 15 and Canelo emerged with a majority-decision triumph.

So let’s look at what happened. A positive test result was properly reported. There was a sanction. Alvarez then came back, tested clean twenty times in an enhanced VADA program, and beat Golovkin.

Now suppose hypothetically that Alvarez had been tested by USADA, not VADA. Suppose USADA advised the Canelo camp of his positive test for clenbuterol and was told, “Canelo says he never used clenbuterol. It must have come from contaminated beef.” And suppose further that USADA said, “That sounds like a reasonable explanation. We’ll adjudicate this internally and give the fighter an inadvertent use waiver. There’s no need to report it to the Golovkin camp and Nevada State Athletic Commission and bring the fight down.”

That would have avoided interfering with a major promotion. But it would also have overlooked the presence of an illegal performance enhancing drug in a fighter’s system.
Unfortunately, some jurisdictions still don’t understand the implications inherent in the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs. Others would rather pay lip service to the issue than deal forcefully with it. And there are significant loopholes in some testing protocols.

Jermall Charlo and Jermell Charlo are two of the most talented fighters in boxing today. Jermall is the World Boxing Council “interim” middleweight champion. Jermell holds the WBC 154-pound belt. As such, the Charlos are subject to the World Boxing Council Clean Boxing Program which requires them to keep VADA apprised of their whereabouts, be reachable by telephone at all times, and be subject to spot testing for performance enhancing drugs at any time.

On November 1, 2018, VADA collection officers went to pick up blood and urine samples from Jermall and Jermell Charlo at their respective homes and were told that neither brother was at home nor would they be at the gym that day. Neither brother picked up his phone at the contact number given to VADA when he was called. And no one could (or would) tell the collection officers where Jermall and Jermell Charlo were.

This is known in drug-testing as a “missed test” or “unsuccessful collection attempt.”
As per the terms of the World Boxing Council Clean Boxing Program, VADA immediately notified the WBC, the Association of Boxing Commissions, and Al Haymon (who represents the Charlos). Because the Charlos are scheduled to fight in separate bouts at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on December 22, VADA also notified Kim Sumbler (executive director of the New York State Athletic Commission) Nitin Sethi (the commission’s chief medical officer), and Tom Brown (who is promoting the December 22 fights).

The WBC Clean Boxing Program is an important initiative. The sanctioning body deserves credit for setting up a PED-testing program with protocols pursuant to which missed tests and positive test results are reported to the governing state athletic commission and other appropriate parties. But the WBC program allows for two missed tests within a one-year period without the imposition of a significant penalty (such as a fighter being stripped of his title).

On November 28, the WBC issued a statement that read in part, “Every single fighter who is enrolled in the WBC Clean Boxing Program is responsible for his acts. It is important for the WBC to clarify that both Charlos have been tested in the past and that the infraction they are facing is a missed test which has been acknowledged and they will be responsible to pay the corresponding fine. It is very simple. If you are chosen for testing and are not available for the collector to test you, you will be incurring a missed test penalty. It is of extreme importance that every fighter updates their whereabouts forms with VADA at all times.”

The WBC declined to reveal the amount of the fine imposed on the Charlos. But in a November 29 email, Alberto Leon (chief legal counsel for the WBC) advised, “In general, for a first whereabouts failure, the fine is limited to the actual costs of collection incurred which so far have fluctuated between $750 and $950 depending on the location of the collection effort.”
In today’s world of microdosing, many illegal PEDs leave an athlete’s system within twenty-four hours. The unfortunate message sent by the WBC regarding the Charlos is, hypothetically speaking, if a fighter takes an illegal performance enhancing drug and, by chance, VADA shows up to test him while the drug is still in his system, the fighter can simply “miss” his test and pay a small fine.

But the matter didn’t end there. On November 27, Jermall Charlo tweeted, “Missed the Test not Failed you idiots. It’s Random and wbc program or Whoever they are Randomly chose a day we were out of town doing promotional stuff on Fox for the Next fight. Get ya facts straight. I like I said Haters must Hate it’s the job.”

As previously noted, the Charlos are scheduled to fight at Barclays Center on December 22. The New York State Athletic Commission acknowledges having been advised of the missed tests but initially maintained in a November 30 email that “The VADA and WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] programs are separate from the New York State Athletic Commission’s Rules & Regulations.”

In other words, according to the New York State Athletic Commission, the missed tests were a matter for the WBC, not the NYSAC, to resolve. That was a ludicrous position and, three days later, the commission backtracked, saying, “The NYSAC is indeed investigating this matter fully and takes it very seriously. We are undertaking specific actions as part of this investigation and are in regular contact with the promoter, the combatants involved, and their seconds.”

These “specific actions” are said to include additional tests administered to the Charlos at the direction of the NYSAC. That’s a case of too little too late given the transitory nature of performance enhancing drugs in a fighter’s system.

The NYSAC should have acted on the Charlos’ situation in early November. Then, if it felt that a remedy similar to Nevada’s handling of Canelo Alvarez was warranted, the December 22 fight card could have been reconfigured. At this late date, no one expects the NYSAC to interfere with the card.

But let’s follow up with a few questions in response to Jermall Charlo’s tweet. Questions that the New York State Athletic Commission should ask at a hearing with Jermall and Jermell Charlo under oath.

Where were the Charlos doing their out-of-town promotional work for Fox? Presumably, there’s a record of their travel. What, specifically, was the promotional work? Who did they meet with? Why didn’t they answer their phones when the VADA collection officers attempted to reach them? VADA could have sent collection officers to collect blood and urine samples in whatever city the Charlos were in. Jermall and Jermell Charlo might be totally innocent of any wrongdoing. But suppose it turns out that they weren’t out of town that day? That would be a problem, wouldn’t it?”

Meanwhile, after Jarrett Hurd knocked out Jason Welborn on the undercard of Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury at Staples Center on December 1, Jermell Charlo climbed into the ring to challenge Hurd. The two men jawed back and forth with Hurd saying, “Answer the phone. I got the date.”

“My phone is always on,” Charlo responded.

Except when a VADA collection officer calls.

As noted earlier, virtually all of the tests that USADA has administered with regard to professional boxing have been in conjunction with fights in which companies controlled by Al Haymon had a vested financial interest. Haymon is known for looking after his fighters’ best financial interests. But he has a fiduciary duty to all of the fighters he represents, not just the A-side fighters. This fiduciary duty should include taking all reasonable steps to ensure that none of his fighters are put in the ring to face opponents who have increased their punching power through the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs.

Like the Charlos, Errol Spence is an Al Haymon fighter. He’s also deservedly near the top of most pound-for-pound lists.

According to postings on the USADA website, Errol Spence has been tested 35 times by USADA. Did any of these tests come back positive? Were there any “missed” tests? Did USADA ever give Spence a therapeutic use exemption or inadvertent use waiver?

One person who’d like to know the answer to these questions is Victor Conte.

Conte was first known to sports fans as the mastermind behind the BALCO scandal. In recent years, he has been a positive force for education and reform and now works with athletes as a conditioner and nutritionist at a facility in San Carlos, California, known as SNAC (an acronym for Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning).

In late-October, Conte agreed to help Mikey Garcia prepare for a scheduled March 16, 2019, fight against Errol Spence. But he made it a precondition to his involvement that both Garcia and Spence enroll in VADA.

“So far,” Conte says, “Mikey has been willing to enroll, and Errol has been dragging his feet. Now I’m told that Errol and Al Haymon will agree to ten weeks of testing starting on January 5th. Ten weeks of VADA testing is better than none. But why the wait?”

“It’s common knowledge,” Conte continues, “that the benefit an athlete retains from using certain performance enhancing drugs carries over for months. In fact, you don’t perform at your best when you’re actually on the drugs. You get maximum benefit after the use stops. It all depends on what an athlete was taking, how much he was taking, how long he was taking, and when he cycled off. So my question is, ‘If Errol Spence and Al Haymon aren’t hiding anything, why couldn’t VADA testing have started in November?'”

“And there’s another point I’d like to make about Errol,” Conte continues. “When a person uses testosterone, part of it converts to dihydrotestosterone and the rest converts to estrogen. And when that happens, it can cause the tissue around the nipples to swell. Technically, the condition is called gynecomastia. Some people who use testosterone get gynecomastia. Others don’t. It depends on one’s genetic disposition. Body-builders treat the condition by using Tamoxifen or Arimidex to shrink the tissue.”

And what does that have to do with Spence?

“I was in Las Vegas on September 15 and went to something called the Boxing Fan Expo,” Conte answers. “Errol was there. I got within a few feet of him. He was wearing a white shirt, and I saw what I believe were signs of gynecomastia. If you’ve seen a fighter in the past without gynecomastia and then you see him with it, it causes suspicion. Errol is a hell of a fighter. I have no reason to not like him and I’m not saying that Errol is using anything inappropriate. But I’m suspicious, and Errol knows it.”

At present, many state athletic commissions are reluctant to push hard on the issue of performance enhancing drugs because they fear that doing so will lead promoters to take big fights to other jurisdictions. But illegal PED use is analogous to fighting with loaded gloves. In each instance, the aim is to gain a competitive advantage and inflict more physical damage on an opponent by cheating. Everyone in boxing who lets this issue slide is complicit.

It’s ridiculous to think that Margaret Goodman and VADA can put a thumb in the dike and stop the flow of illegal performance enhancing drugs in boxing. Accomplishing this end will take a concerted effort by state athletic commission officials, sanctioning body officials, promoters, managers, fighters, members of the media, and law enforcement authorities.
Meanwhile, as an interim step, the New York, California, and Nevada state athletic commissions should ask USADA for the following:

(1) Copies of all contracts entered into by USADA for the testing of any professional boxer in conjunction with any fight that has taken place in their jurisdiction since January 1, 2016.

(2) Copies of all test results (complete test results, not just summaries) and all other documents that embody the results of tests conducted pursuant to these contracts.

(3) Copies of all documents that relate to instances, if any, where USADA, pursuant to these contracts, adjudicated issues that arose in conjunction with a positive test for one or more substances that are prohibited under the WADA code.

(4) Copies of all documents that relate to any instance where, pursuant to these contracts, USADA departed from World Anti-Doping Agency standards in adjusting the permissible level of any drug that might be found, or was found, in a professional boxer.

To help evaluate this data, USADA should also be asked with regard to all fights that have taken place in each respective state since January 1, 2016:

(1) On how many occasions has the “A” sample of a professional boxer tested by USADA come back positive for a substance that is prohibited under the WADA code?

(2) On how many occasions has a professional boxer “missed” a test?

USADA is skating on thin ice when it comes to boxing. An exploration of its conduct here might provide a window onto its testing of other athletes. For example, United States Olympic athletes.

If a government entity with subpoena power decides to seriously investigate, the implications could extend far beyond boxing. Maybe USADA will test clean. Maybe not.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His next book – Protect Yourself At All Times – was published by the University of Arkansas Press this past autumn. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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