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Marc Ratner: From The Theater Of The Unexpected To The Boxing Hall of Fame

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By ARNE K. LANG

In 1992, Marc Ratner succeeded his close friend, the late Chuck Minker, as the Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. During his tenure, the regulatory body that he superintended came to be recognized as the paragon of state boxing commissions. This past December, Ratner learned that he had been selected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the non-participant category. He and his fellow inductees in the Class of 2016 will be formally enshrined on June 12.

Ratner will forever be associated with blood sports — boxing and now MMA – but as a sports official he has worn many hats. He has refereed football and basketball games at the high school and college levels, has operated the shot clock at UNLV basketball games for almost 35 years, and still finds time to moonlight as the commissioner of the Southern Nevada (High School) Officials Association, a post he has held since 1991.

Ratner wasn’t born in Las Vegas, but has lived here since the mid-1950s which almost qualifies him as a pioneer. To say that the city has changed during his lifetime would be a great understatement. There were four high schools in the entire county when Ratner’s parents settled here to establish their beauty and barber supply business. Today there are 32, and that doesn’t include the magnet schools without sports programs.

Ratner spent his first year of college at nascent UNLV, then known as Nevada Southern University, a place that many of the locals disparaged as Tumbleweed Tech. He played on the baseball team, batting. 400 (“two-for-five,” he elaborates, grinning sheepishly). He then transferred to the University of Nevada in Reno, a school with actual dormitories, where he majored in business administration.

Back in Las Vegas, Ratner was a player-coach on the town’s best slow-pitch softball team and took up officiating, starting with Pop Warner and high school JV games. He would eventually work three bowl games, the last of which was the Jan. 2, 2006 Cotton Bowl pitting Alabama against Texas Tech. Earlier that season, Ratner was assigned to work a Notre Dame home game (the Fighting Irish hosted BYU), his most treasured assignment as a football official. He was thrilled to be on the same field where so much history was made.

During the game, which Notre Dame won handily, the Notre Dame coach, Charlie Weis, saw fit to appraise the officiating crew. “You guys are horse****,” Weis barked at Ratner. Such is the life of a sports official for whom a thick skin is mandatory.

Ratner climbed the ladder in boxing too, starting as an inspector and then taking on the role of chief inspector. In his most memorable assignment, he was hitched to Sugar Ray Leonard and Angelo Dundee when Leonard met Marvin Hagler in their 1986 mega-fight.

That match was one of many big fights held outdoors at Caesars Palace and Ratner, in common with many others who were on the scene in those days, believes that there was a special aura to those big outdoor fights that was lost when the sport moved indoors.

Ratner never envisioned becoming the face of the boxing commission – he was quite content working as an inspector for Chuck Minker – but all that changed when Minker was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer, a disease that took his life at the age of 42. Several people applied for Minker’s post, but Ratner, who was in many ways an extension of his good friend Minker, was the logical successor.

In the memorable words of Larry Merchant, boxing is the theater of the unexpected. Ratner was in his customary seat, smack against the ring apron, when “Fan Man” intruded upon the middle fight of the Bowe-Holyfield trilogy and again at the infamous “bite fight,” another bout in which Evander Holyfield was a principal.

Barely a minute was gone in the seventh round of Bowe-Holyfield II when paraglider James Miller, forever immortalized as “Fan Man,” swooped down from the sky. He and the motorized gizmo to which he was harnessed landed on the ropes in Riddick Bowe’s corner, only to disappear into the crowd, submerged beneath a swarm of angry ringsiders beating him to a pulp. There never was a moment more surreal at a sporting event.

“My training as a sports official,” says Ratner, “taught me that whenever there is a sudden interruption, as sometimes happens when there is a disturbance in the crowd, the first order of business is to check with the timekeeper. I informed each of the judges how much time had elapsed and told them to hang tight as they may have to score the round.” (The most bizarre round in boxing history, lasting almost 24 minutes from start to finish, wasn’t easy to score. One judge gave it to Bowe, the other to Holyfield, and the third scored it a draw.)

Ratner recalls that the incident could have easily bubbled into a full-scale riot. “The unsung hero that night was Michael Buffer,” he says, recalling that Buffer had the presence of mind to take the microphone and say the right things to keep the audience calm.

The “bite fight” was actually the “bites fight” (plural). When Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear the first time, it wasn’t obvious to anyone other than referee Mills Lane who called “time out” and informed Ratner what had just transpired. “He bit him. I’m going to disqualify him,” said Lane.

Recalling the incident in a discussion with Los Angeles Times sportswriter Bill Dwyre, Ratner alluded to his background as a football official. “I know how serious it is to toss somebody,” he said. “When one of my crew comes to me and says a player should be thrown out, I slow it down, ask some more questions.”

“Are you sure (you want to disqualify him),” he asked Lane. When informed by ring physician Edwin Homansky that Holyfield was fit to continue and that his corner wanted the fight continue, they allowed the bout to resume. But Mills Lane wasn’t going to tolerate any more bites and Tyson wasn’t done chomping.

Imagine the brouhaha that would have ensued if Tyson had gone on to win the fight. Ratner would have been raked over the coals for second-guessing the referee.

In hindsight, the situation was handled smartly and, typical of Ratner, he gives all the credit to Mills Lane. Marc isn’t the sort to pat himself on the back. Indeed, he concedes that he may have erred when he didn’t send the combatants back to their dressing rooms when Fan Man crashed the Bowe-Holyfield fight. It was the first Saturday of November and there was a chill in the air.

Ratner’s 14-year run as the head of the boxing commission ended in May of 2006 when he left to join Ultimate Fighting Championship, the company founded by the Fertitta brothers, Lorenzo and Frank, second-generation Las Vegas casino moguls, and their longtime friend Dana White. Ratner’s hiring, wrote Kevin Iole,  “is a sign to the establishment that the company is for real and that mixed martial arts is about to enter the mainstream.”

In his post as Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs, Ratner was charged with breaking down the legal barriers that made MMA verboten in many jurisdictions. Today the sport is legal everywhere in North America with the exception of New York where an MMA bill has passed the Senate seven consecutive years only to die before reaching the floor of the Assembly. (There’s little doubt that the politicians that sabotaged the bills were beholden to union leaders. The Nevada Culinary Union, which is under the umbrella of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, a national organization, has been at loggerheads with the Fertitta brothers for more than a decade.)

The UFC has staged events in places where there was no regulatory body. It was left to Ratner to supervise the weigh-in, hire all the officials, make certain that an ambulance was at the ready, and so forth. Basically he reprised the role that he had with the boxing commission. As MMA has become a global phenomenon, finding local officials to work the UFC cards has become less problematic.

In the last 12 months alone, the UFC has staged shows in Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines, Poland, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Ireland, Scotland, England, and Australia. In a world geography trivia test, Marc Ratner would knock the socks off anyone from his old neighborhood.

The Las Vegas headquarters of the UFC will soon have a new address. The massive complex, which will consolidate all of their facilities in one location, will include a training center staffed by specialists in various branches of physical therapy and sports medicine. No boxing promotion company ever operated on the scale of the UFC whose operation resembles that of a National Football League team.

When Ratner learned that he had been selected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, he was overwhelmed with emotion. Gerry Cooney, among many others, reached out to congratulate him, as did retired NBA referee Joey Crawford and retired NFL official Jerry Markbreit, Marc’s favorite football “zebra.” There is a camaraderie among sports officials that transcends the sport with which they are identified.

When Ratner served on the boxing commission, he was obligated to sit on the dais at press conferences and say a few words into the microphone. He never said more than a few words, deflecting the spotlight to the boxers. IBHOF inductees are encouraged to keep their acceptance speeches short, ideally no more than eight minutes. There is scant chance that Marc will run over and whatever he says will be heartfelt.

 

 

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 281: The Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia Show

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Over the years bouts between old foes such as Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia tend to be surprising.

Yes, both are only 25 but have known each other for many years.

When undisputed super lightweight champion Haney (31-0, 15 KOs) steps into the prize ring at Barclays Center to meet challenger Garcia (24-1, 20 KOs) on Saturday, April 20, fans will be witnessing the continuation of a feud that began more than a decade ago.

And though the champion is a heavy favorite, familiarity is Garcia’s best weapon heading into their fight on the Golden Boy Promotions card that will be shown on PPV.COM with Jim Lampley and friends. DAZN pay-per-view is also streaming the card.

In many ways Haney and Garcia have ventured down the same path. From amateur sensations to fighting in Mexico while teens to asking for the biggest challenges available.

“Whichever version of Ryan shows up on April 20, I will be ready for him. Ryan Garcia is just another opponent to me,” said Haney who holds the WBC super lightweight title after his win over Regis Prograis.

The first time I saw Haney as a pro he battled the dangerous Mexican contender Juan Carlos Burgos at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula. It was an impressive performance against a fighter who fought three times for a world title.

Haney was 19 at the time.

My first look at Garcia as a pro was in his first bout in the U.S. when he met Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Cruz at the Exchange in downtown Los Angeles. The Boricua looked at Garcia and tried intimidating him with stares, taunts and the usual patter. During the fight both swung and missed until the second round when Garcia zeroed in and took him out.

Garcia had just turned 18, the legal age to fight in California.

Both fighters did not have the Olympics credentials that lead to fame. But their talent has allowed them to fight through the dense smoke that is professional boxing.

Haney has defeated numerous world champions such as Prograis, Vasyl Lomachenko and George Kambosos Jr., while Garcia has stopped champions Javier Fortuna and Luke Campbell.

As amateurs, Garcia and Haney battled six times with each winning three.

“They know each other very well,” said Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions. “Ryan is going to beat Devin Haney.”

Haney has a buttery-smooth style with one of the best jabs in boxing. He’s very adept at keeping distance and not allowing anyone to fight him inside. His reflexes are outstanding, yet he seldom fights inside. That’s his weakness.

Garcia fights tall and has superb hand speed and a lightning quick left hook. Though his defense lacks tightness his ability to rip off three-punch combinations in a blink of an eye pauses opponents from bullying their way inside.

“These guys always just look at me and look at me like I don’t know how to box,” said Garcia on social media. “Why was I one of the best fighters in the amateurs. Why was I a 15-time National champion…why did I beat everyone I came across.”

Haney is a strong favorite by oddsmakers to defeat Garcia. But you can never tell when it comes to fighters that know each other well and are athletically gifted.

When Sergio Mora challenged Vernon Forrest he was a big underdog. When Tim Bradley fought Manny Pacquiao the first time, he was also the underdog. And when Andy Ruiz met Anthony Joshua few gave him a chance.

Haney and Garcia have history in the ring. It should be an interesting battle.

PPV.COM

Jim Lampley will be leading the broadcast on PPV.COM for the Haney-Garcia card at Barclays and texting with fans on the card live. He will be accompanied by journalists Lance Pugmire, Dan Conobbio and former champion Chris Algieri.

The PPV.COM broadcast begins at 5 p.m. PT. and is available in Canada and the USA.

Other News

MMA stars Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal will be holding a media day event on Friday, April 19, at NOVO at L.A. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Diaz and Masvidal will be boxing against each other in a grudge match on June 1 at the KIA Forum in Inglewood, Calif. The two MMA stars met five years at UFC 244 with Masvidal winning by TKO over Diaz due to cuts.

This is a grudge match, but under boxing rules.

Fight card in Commerce, Calif.

360 Promotions returns to Commerce Casino on Saturday April 20 with undefeated super lightweight Cain Sandoval leading the charge.

Sandoval (12-0) faces Angel Rebollar (8-3) in the main event that will be shown live on UFC Fight Pass. Also on the card are two female events including hot prospect Lupe Medina (5-0) versus Sabrina Persona (3-1) in a minimumweight clash.

Doors open at 4 p.m.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Heavyweight Merry-Go-Round

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Boxing Odds and Ends: The Heavyweight Merry-Go-Round

There were few surprises when co-promoters Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren and their benefactor HE Turki Alalshikh held a press conference in London this past Monday to unveil the undercard for the Beterbiev-Bivol show at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on June 1. Most of the match-ups had already been leaked.

For die-hard boxing fans, Beterbiev-Bivol is such an enticing fight that it really doesn’t need an attractive undercard. Two undefeated light heavyweights will meet with all four relevant belts on the line in a contest where the oddsmakers straddled the fence. It’s a genuine “pick-‘em” fight based on the only barometer that matters, the prevailing odds.

But Beterbiev-Bivol has been noosed to a splendid undercard, a striking contrast to Saturday’s Haney-Garcia $69.99 (U.S.) pay-per-view in Brooklyn, an event where the undercard, in the words of pseudonymous boxing writer Chris Williams, is an absolute dumpster fire.

The two heavyweight fights that will bleed into Beterbiev-Bivol, Hrgovic vs. Dubois and Wilder vs. Zhang, would have been stand-alone main events before the incursion of Saudi money.

Hrgovic-Dubois

Filip Hrgovic (17-0, 13 KOs) and Daniel Dubois (20-2, 19 KOs) fought on the same card in Riyadh this past December. Hrgovic, the Croatian, was fed a softie in the form of Australia’s Mark De Mori who he dismissed in the opening round. Dubois, a Londoner, rebounded from his loss to Oleksandr Usyk with a 10th-round stoppage of corpulent Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller.

There’s an outside chance that Hrgovic vs. Dubois may be sanctioned by the IBF for the world heavyweight title.

The May 18 showdown between Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury has a rematch clause. The IBF is next in line in the rotation system for a unified heavyweight champion and the organization has made it plain that the winner of Usyk-Fury must fulfill his IBF mandatory before an intervening bout.

The best guess is that the Usyk-Fury winner will relinquish the IBF belt. If so, Hrgovic and Dubois may fight for the vacant title although a more likely scenario is that the organization will keep the title vacant so that the winner can fight Anthony Joshua.

Wilder-Zhang

The match between Deontay Wilder (43-3-1, 42 KOs) and Zhilei Zhang (26-2-1, 21 KOs) is a true crossroads fight as both Wilder, 38, and Zhang, who turns 41 in May, are nearing the end of the road and the loser (unless it’s a close and entertaining fight) will be relegated to the rank of a has-been. In fact, Wilder has hinted that this may be his final rodeo.

Both are coming off a loss to Joseph Parker.

Wilder last fought on the card that included Hrgovic and Dubois and was roundly out-pointed by a man he was expected to beat. It’s a quick turnaround for Zhang who opposed Parker on March 8 and lost a majority decision.

Other Fights

Either of two other fights may steal the show on the June 1 event.

Raymond Ford (15-0-1, 8 KOs) meets Nick Ball (19-0-1, 11 KOs) in a 12-round featherweight contest. New Jersey’s Ford will be defending the WBA world title he won with a come-from-behind, 12th-round stoppage of Otabek Kholmatov in an early contender for Fight of the Year. Liverpool’s “Wrecking” Ball, a relentless five-foot-two sparkplug, had to settle for a draw in his title fight with Rey Vargas despite winning the late rounds and scoring two knockdowns.

Hamzah Sheeraz (19-0, 15 KOs) meets fellow unbeaten Austin “Ammo” Williams (16-0, 11 KOs) in a 12-round middleweight match. East London’s Sheeraz, the son of a former professional cricket player, is unknown in the U.S. although he trained for his recent fights at the Ten Goose Boxing Gym in California. Riding a skein of 13 straight knockouts, he has a date with WBO title-holder Janibek Alimkhanuly if he can get over this hurdle.

The Forgotten Heavyweight

“Unbeaten for seven years, the man nobody wants to fight,” intoned ring announcer Michael Buffer by way of introduction. Buffer was referencing Michael Hunter who stood across the ring from his opponent Artem Suslenkov.

This scene played out this past Saturday in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. It was Hunter’s second fight in three weeks. On March 23, he scored a fifth-round stoppage of a 46-year-old meatball at a show in Zapopan, Mexico.

The second-generation “Bounty Hunter,” whose only defeat prior to last weekend came in a 12-rounder with Oleksandr Usyk, has been spinning his wheels since TKOing the otherwise undefeated Martin Bakole on the road in London in 2018. Two fights against hapless opponents on low-budget cards in Mexico and a couple of one-round bouts for the Las Vegas Hustle, an entry in the fledgling and largely invisible Professional Combat League, are the sum total of his activity, aside from sparring, in the last two-and-a-half years.

Hunter’s chances of getting another big-money fight took a tumble in Tashkent where he lost a unanimous decision in a dull affair to the unexceptional Suslenkov who was appearing in his first 10-round fight. The scores of the judges were not announced.

You won’t find this fight listed on boxrec. As Jake Donovan notes, the popular website will not recognize a fight conducted under the auspices of a rogue commission. (Another fight you won’t find on boxrec for the same reason is Nico Ali Walsh’s 6-round split decision over the 9-2-1 Frenchman, Noel Lafargue, in the African nation of Guinea on Dec. 16, 2023. You can find it on YouTube, but according to boxrec, boxing’s official record-keeper, it never happened.)

Anderson-Merhy Redux

The only thing missing from this past Saturday’s match in Corpus Christi, Texas, between Jared Anderson and Ryad Merhy was the ghost of Robert Valsberg.

Valsberg, aka Roger Vaisburg, was the French referee who disqualified Ingemar Johansson for not trying in his match with LA’s Ed Sanders in the finals of the heavyweight competition at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Valsberg tossed Johansson out of the ring after two rounds and Johansson was denied the silver medal. The Swede redeemed himself after turning pro, needless to say, when he demolished Floyd Patterson in the first of their three meetings.

Merhy was credited with throwing only 144 punches, landing 34, over the course of the 10 rounds. Those dismal figures yet struck many onlookers as too high. (This reporter has always insisted that the widely-quoted CompuBox numbers should be considered approximations.)

Whatever the true number, it was a disgraceful performance by Merhy who actually showed himself to have very fast hands on the few occasions when he did throw a punch. With apologies to Delfine Persoon, a spunky lightweight, U.S. boxing promoters should think twice before inviting another Belgian boxer to our shores.

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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