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An Open Letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul Regarding The New York State Athletic Commission

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Dear Governor Hochul — I received several text messages earlier this month from someone I don’t know who wrote to me about a problem at the New York State Athletic Commission. Two days later, I got a telephone call about the same issue from someone I respect and know reasonably well.

These people reached out to me because, over the years, I’ve written a series of investigative reports about the New York State Athletic Commission. Sometimes the problems I write about are self-evident. Other times, people contact me regarding issues I’m unaware of in the hope that something I write will lead to positive change. On eight occasions, articles I’ve written have been honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America as the “best investigative reporting” of the year. In other words, there’s some substance to what I write.

I hope this article lands on your desk. The New York State Athletic Commission is a small state agency whose mandate pales in comparison to the job of overseeing public health, public education, mass transit, and a host of other needs. But because it’s a small agency, it can be understood and the problems within it can be fixed.

What’s happening now at the NYSAC is happening on your watch. Andrew Cuomo is gone. How you deal with this situation will be regarded by people familiar with the issues involved as a litmus test for how you govern as opposed to how you talk about governing.

First, a word about the New York State Athletic Commission, since you’re probably only vaguely familiar with it. The NYSAC is charged with regulating combat sports in the State of New York. This means boxing, mixed martial arts, and professional wrestling. You might ask why the State of New York regulates professional wrestling (which is scripted entertainment). The answer is that some NYSAC employees like to be paid a per diem salary in addition to being reimbursed by taxpayers for the cost of meals and transportation to watch Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar cavort around a wrestling ring. You could save New York taxpayers some money by ending this silly regulatory practice.

The New York State Athletic Commission falls within the jurisdiction of the New York State Department of State. This places it directly under your control.

Some capable conscientious public servants work at the NYSAC. But too often, political connections take priority over performance. This applies to some – not all – fulltime jobs at the commission as well as the selection of fight-night officials such as inspectors, referees, and judges.

On November 2, 2013, a Russian heavyweight named Magomed Abdusalamov suffered life-changing injuries in a boxing match at Madison Square Garden. Ultimately, the State of New York paid $22 million to Abdusalamov and his family to settle claims alleging substandard medical protocols and improper conduct by New York State Athletic Commission personnel that night.

The Abdusalamov case led to an investigation of the NYSAC by the Inspector General of the State of New York that began as a review of the commission’s medical practices and expanded into a broader study of its overall operation during the tenure of chairperson Melvina Lathan. The subsequent report of the Inspector General (which was released in 2016 and covered a wide range of issues, many of which were unrelated to Abdusalamov) documented numerous instances of incompetence and corruption at the NYSAC.

There have been periods of good oversight at the NYSAC, most notably during the tenure of David Berlin. In May 2014, in the wake of the Abdusalamov tragedy, Berlin was brought in to serve as executive director of the commission. He was respected throughout the boxing industry as a competent, honest, knowledgeable administrator who refused to put a political agenda ahead of properly doing his job. Most notably, Berlin sought to implement standards and accountability and curb the use of the NYSAC as a favor bank for powerful economic interests and a source of employment for unqualified job seekers with politically-well-connected friends. Berlin’s approach to his job offended your predecessor. In May 2016, he was fired. Since July 2017, Kim Sumbler (who to the best of my knowledge lives in Canada) has been the NYSAC executive director. Sumbler is more compliant in dealing with the powers that be than Berlin was.

There are two fulltime positions on the NYSAC organizational chart directly below Sumbler – director of boxing and director of mixed martial arts. In recent years, Matt Delaglio and Ed Kunkle have done a credible job of filling these roles. But on September 3, 2021, Kunkle resigned. That set up the search for a new director of mixed martial arts and brings us to the text messages and telephone call that I received earlier this month.

The first text message read, “Are you aware that the NYSAC hired Todd Anderson as the new MMA coordinator after the Commission manipulated job requirements? He would not have qualified under previous posting.”

This text was accompanied by a screen shot of a statement posted on social media by a minor sanctioning body official that read in part, “To hire a person with Zero experience as a regulator to oversee and regulate combat sports in NYS is laughable and makes this state what it was prior to 2016. I have no faith in this state, its Department of State, or Athletic Commission.”

Then I received additional texts from the original correspondent with messages like, “I do not work for the commission nor have I been in a professional setting with Sumbler. But I have witnessed her nepotism in action with her sister Jackie, and I certainly am aware she’s a long-term personal friend of Todd Anderson’s . . . I do not know Todd. I’m sure he’s a nice guy. But I find it odd that she would recruit a personal friend who resides in Canada . . . It’s all deeply disappointing and disconcerting. Hiring Todd, who does not have the regulatory experience, is questionable for the integrity of the sport in NYS . . . I reached out to you because something about this scenario doesn’t appear ethical or lawful. As a journalist, you have a voice which can be amplified.”

Then I received the telephone call that I mentioned above from someone I know and respect who also complained to me about Anderson’s appointment. At that point, I decided to do some research.

First, let me address the claim of “nepotism” relating to Sumbler and her sister. Prior to joining the New York State Athletic Commission, Sumbler oversaw combat sports for the Seneca Nation of Indians Athletic Commission. Her sister (Jackie Grant) now has that job. I assume that Sumbler had some input in her sister’s selection. But that doesn’t mean it was inappropriate.

Then I turned my attention to Todd Anderson – a retired police officer who lived in Canada through the end of 2021. According to opengovca.com, Anderson was a sergeant with the Niagara Regional Police Service in Ontario. He’s also an MMA referee who has been widely criticized for his performance.

Go to Google. Type “Todd Anderson” after “exact word or phrase.” Then, after “any of these words,” type in “MMA.” Now hit search. Some of the headlines that appear are, “Dana White is critical of UFC 208 main event referee Todd Anderson” and “Dana White blasts main event referee Todd Anderson.” Scroll down and you’ll come to an article entitled “The Top 10 Worst Referees in MMA of All Time.” Anderson is #2 on the list. These lists are subjective. You could probably find an article posted somewhere that lists me as one of the ten worst boxing writers of all time. And Bellator seems comfortable with Anderson’s refereeing. But one UFC insider recently told me, “Todd Anderson is a lousy referee.”

Of course, just because someone might be lacking as a referee doesn’t mean that he, or she, isn’t a fine administrator. So next, I looked at the qualifications required by the New York State Athletic Commission to be its director of mixed martial arts.

Three years ago when the job opening was posted by the Department of State prior to Ed Kunkle’s appointment, the listing read, “MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS: Five (5) years of supervisory regulatory experience overseeing Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Three (3) years of this experience must have been in a role exercising management responsibilities over staff.”

However, when the same opening was posted by the Department of State on September 20, 2021, it read, “MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS: Five (5) years of governmental regulatory experience in a supervisory or management role. Three (3) years of this experience must have been in a role exercising management responsibilities over staff.”

In other words, it was no longer required that the five years of regulatory experience in a supervisory or management role involve “overseeing Mixed Martial Arts.” Instead, the applicant was required to demonstrate “skills with regard to composition of reports and memoranda” and “in-depth knowledge of professional and amateur Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).”

So, let’s look at Todd Anderson’s “five years of governmental regulatory experience in a supervisory or management role,” three years of which are required to have been “in a role exercising management responsibilities over staff” and also his “demonstration of skills with regard to composition of reports and memoranda.”

A well-placed source at the New York State Athletic Commission says the party line on this is, “Well, Todd was a police officer.” A police officer in Canada who doesn’t appear to have been in a supervisory or management role exercising management responsibilities over staff.

The same source says that Sumbler led the interview process that resulted in Anderson’s appointment.

In an effort to confirm that Anderson had been appointed as the NYSAC’s new director of mixed martial arts, I sent two emails to the Department of State public information officer assigned to the commission. Neither email elicited the courtesy of a response. I then sent a third email requesting interviews with Sumbler and Anderson. I hoped to speak with Sumbler, not only about Anderson but also about some of the larger issues that the NYSAC faces today. Again, there was no response.

That’s from the Andrew Cuomo school of transparency and open government.

Finally, on January 15, Newsday reported Anderson’s appointment.

I don’t know Todd Anderson. I don’t know anything about his administrative ability. I do know that two people – one of whom I respect a great deal – have concerns about his appointment.

Maybe Anderson will do a good job as director of MMA. But the process doesn’t feel right. As the source who telephoned me about his appointment said, “Todd comes from Ontario. He’s friendly with Kim Sumbler. It was clear that Kim wanted this from the start, and she chose Todd over at least one applicant who was clearly more qualified than he is. Coming to New York and fighting at Madison Square Garden or Barclays Center is the highest level of MMA in the world. And you’re putting someone with no real regulatory experience in charge.”

Governor Hochul, when you took the oath of office last August, you pledged to implement “a dramatic change in culture with accountability and no tolerance for individuals who cross the line.” That’s a direct quote.

Reporting on your January 5, 2022, State of the State address, the New York Times recounted, “Governor Hochul vowed to open a new chapter of ethical, more transparent government. The package of ethics and government reforms were meant to hold accountable elected officials in a State Capitol with a long history of graft and corruption.”

One component of good government is ensuring that taxpayers get fair value from employees who are on the public payroll. I question whether that’s happening now at the New York State Athletic Commission.

As noted above, Kim Sumbler is the NYSAC executive director. According to SeeThroughNY, her salary in 2020 was $133,896. The previous (pre-pandemic) year, it was $132,964.

The New York State Athletic Commission is located at 123 William Street in Manhattan (which as you know from your travels throughout the state, is one of New York City’s five boroughs). Sumbler lives in Ontario. Multiple sources say that, prior to the pandemic, she was seldom in the William Street office and that, after the office reopened last year, she was largely a no-show.

One of the points that the Inspector General’s 2016 report made in criticizing Melvina Lathan was that she was only in the William Street office four days a week. For Sumbler, that number might be closer to four days a month. Sumbler has said that she works at home and out of a Department of State office in Buffalo. But to be effective, an executive director should be where the action is.

Or phrased differently, how many agency heads in your administration lead from their home in Canada? And what exactly does Kim Sumbler do five days a week?

There are also instances where hourly payments to NYSAC employees should be reviewed.

Angela Gagliardi is the assistant chief medical officer for the New York State Athletic Commission. Sources say that, prior to the pandemic, Dr. Gagliardi (listed by SeeThroughNY as an hourly employee) worked from home and came into the office one day a week. Her responsibilities included coordinating medical matters for the commission in addition to attending weigh-ins and fights. In 2019, her salary, as listed by SeeThroughNY, was $185,875.

In 2020 (the first year of the pandemic when there were virtually no fights in New York), the state paid Dr. Gagliardi $168,980. She was listed by SeeThroughNY as an hourly employee at a pay rate of $78 per hour. This means that, in theory, Dr. Gagliardi worked 2,166 hours in 2020 (42 hours per week).

What did Dr. Gagliardi do to occupy her time for 2,166 hours?

In February 2020, she communicated with close to one hundred NYSAC personnel regarding the manner in which they should rent vehicles while traveling on official NYSAC business. You might ask why New York taxpayers were paying a doctor an hourly rate to do this and whether it could have been done by Kim Sumbler or an office administrator as part of their duties.

Dr. Gagliardi also contacted commission employees (including non-medical and per diem personnel) on a monthly basis in 2020 about the administrative requirement that all NYSAC business be transacted on Department of State servers rather than private email accounts and instructed them to send at least one email each month on their Department of State email account to keep their account active.

In addition, on November 2, 2020, and again on November 6, 2020, Dr. Gagliardi sent emails to the “NYSAC team” stating that she was “assisting with Veterans Day activity” and encouraging veterans and their families to “share a bio, pictures and/or personal stories related to their vast experiences.”

Was Kim Sumbler so busy that New York taxpayers had to pay Dr. Gagliardi to do this?

We’re living in an era of fiscal challenges. The NYSAC should be run accordingly.

To give you another example of a practice that troubles me; it’s an open secret that fighters’ purses are sometimes under-reported to the New York State Athletic Commission, which enables these fighters and others (who receive a percentage of the fighter’s purse) to escape the full state and city taxes that should be paid. One former NYSAC employee told me, “I recall discussing it with Kim and it being on her radar. I don’t think there was much interest in pursuing it above her.” The rationale for allowing this practice is that, if big-name fighters have to pay all legally-mandated taxes, they won’t fight in New York.

That’s an interesting approach to government. We’re going to let a group of people who make millions of dollars for a night’s work under-report their income so they (along with some other vested economic interests) can make more money. Try putting that idea in your next State of the State message and see how it’s received by health-care workers and others who are having trouble making ends meet and pay taxes on their full salary.

Administratively, the New York State Athletic Commission is in chaos. As one insider said bluntly, “It’s a horribly run administrative nightmare with zero accountability.”

Some administrative errors at the commission are embarrassing but not harmful. For example, on January 13, 2022, Kim Sumbler sent a notice to all NYSAC per diem employees regarding a mandatory training session. Several dead people were on the recipient list, one of whom (Dr. Sheryl Wulkan) died last August.

Other administrative errors are more dangerous.

One of the last UFC events in New York before the pandemic began was held in Rochester. Three fighters on that card (Austin Hubbard, Charles Olivera, and Antonio Carlos Junior) were allowed to compete even though they weren’t licensed to fight in New York. Three weeks later, a boxer with a bullet in his head (Marcus McDaniel) fought at Madison Square Garden without a New York license.

Fighters who have been suspended slip through the cracks and compete in New York while still on suspension. Edgar Soghomonyan was placed on indefinite medical suspension pending neuro-clearance after a second-round defeat in a “Rage in the Cage” MMA bout on October 9, 2021. Twenty-nine days later, he fought in New York in a “Holiday Havoc” MMA contest without his suspension having been lifted.

On January 3 of this year, the NYSAC issued an MMA ID for a mixed martial arts combatant who was sixteen years old. That’s two years beneath the legal age for professional combat in New York. If that young man were badly hurt in a fight, I’m sure you’d be concerned since you’re a compassionate woman. And being a practical woman, you’d note the prospect of a litigation settlement rivaling the $22 million that was paid to Magomed Abdusalamov and his family.

You might ask the powers that be at the NYSAC how these things happen. You’re more likely to get a call back from them than I am.

The home page on the New York State Athletic Commission website proclaims, “The Commission is committed to health, safety, and integrity with standardized protocols at ringside, enhanced medical screening procedures and strong, effective leadership.”

That’s a bad joke.

The commission has a medical advisory board. But the board has met only three times since June 2017. In each instance, its business consisted largely of approving the minutes of the board’s previous meeting and the appointment and reappointment of NYSAC physicians. Policy wasn’t discussed in any meaningful way.

Nitin Sethi (a neurologist whose primary practice is affiliated with Weill Cornell Medicine) is the NYSAC’s chief medical officer. Dr. Sethi devotes an enormous amount of time and energy to his parttime position with the commission. He’s a valuable asset to the NYSAC and has been steadfast in his commitment to protecting the health and safety of fighters (which, for too many in combat sports, is little more than a rhetorical device). But Dr. Sethi has been limited in what he can accomplish at the NYSAC because of the attitude that the commission overlords have toward medical issues.

The most glaring medical deficiency at the New York State Athletic Commission is the lack of understanding and resolve with regard to the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs. Illegal PED use is not a victimless crime. It results in fighters being hit in the head harder than would otherwise be the case and thus sustaining more short-term and long-term brain damage. It’s one of the reasons that fighters die.

The NYSAC’s drug-testing program is fundamentally flawed. The commission takes a pre-fight urine sample from each fighter on fight night. For championship bouts, a post-fight urine sample is also taken. In today’s world of micro-dosing, having fighters urinate into a cup on fight night does not constitute a serious PED-testing program. Also, Quest Diagnostics (where the NYSAC sends urine samples) is not accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

The New York State Athletic Commission has an outdated prohibited-drug list and refuses to incorporate the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited list by reference or separately list the substances banned by WADA. Thus, erythropoietin (EPO), blood-doping, and meldonium – each of which is banned by every credible jurisdiction outside of New York – are not banned by the NYSAC.

Victor Conte is one of the most knowledgeable people in the world with regard to illegal performance enhancing drugs. Google him if you don’t know who he is. He spent four months in prison in 2005 as an outgrowth of his work with various high-profile athletes. He’s now a forceful advocate for clean sport.

“I find it to be absolutely crazy,” Conte says, “that the NYSAC does not test for EPO. In my opinion, EPO is the most powerful drug that boxers can use to enhance their performance and the most dangerous and damaging to the health of both the opponent and the fighters themselves.”

If there’s a reason other than stupidity that EPO isn’t on the list of banned substances for combat sports in New York, I don’t know what it is.

Let me quote something I wrote in 2019 about medical practices at the NYSAC.

“What precisely should a commission inspector do if a fighter collapses in the dressing room after a fight? Calling a doctor would be a good start. Okay. How should the inspector call a doctor? Does the inspector leave the fighter unattended while he (or she) runs to ringside to look for a commission doctor? That could take a long time. Does the inspector telephone 911? Probably not since, pursuant to NYSAC regulations, there should already be paramedics and an ambulance on site. Does the inspector telephone someone at a designated number? I’ve spoken with numerous inspectors and other ‘back of the house’ NYSAC personnel. If there’s a protocol in place, they don’t know about it.”

In response to this criticism, on February 18, 2020, the NYSAC approved a 32-page “Medical Emergency Action Plan” that was sent to all commission employees. The plan, one lawyer said at the time, is “a plaintiffs’ lawyer’s dream.” It has two flow charts that look like they were pieced together by a pre-school toddler sticking colored rectangles on a magnetic board and is deficient in myriad ways.

Among other things, the plan contains the statement, “Staff Contact List/Emergency Contacts. For each event, a list of NYSAC staff working the event with cell phone numbers will be distributed. Emergency contact information for venue management, EMS and the promoters will also be included.”

Two years later, this emergency contact information is still not being distributed to inspectors on fight night.

Sloppy administration.

I might add here that, on fight nights, the NYSAC also endangers its own personnel by not following its mandated COVID protocols. At a recent fight card at Madison Square Garden, dozens of commission personnel were crammed into a small room at the start of the evening. Social distancing was impossible. Numerous commission personnel, including Sumbler, were unmasked for extended periods of time. One person who was there complained afterward that James Vosswinkel (a NYSAC commissioner and physician) “was walking around with his mouth and nose uncovered and his mask dangling from one ear.”

Many of the commission’s per diem employees are poorly trained. It doesn’t help for an inspector (some of whom are excellent public servants) to watch a fighter’s hands being wrapped in the dressing room before a fight if the inspector doesn’t know what to look for (which most NYSAC inspectors don’t).

Inspectors whose performance is clearly substandard have been allowed to stay on the job too long. Sometimes this is because they’re well-connected politically. Other times, it’s because those in an oversight role haven’t noticed, simply don’t care, or are afraid of unwarranted litigation if the employee is terminated

There are some good referees and judges at the New York State Athletic Commission and also some bad ones.

No referee gets everything right. But when a referee makes a mistake, there should be constructive follow-up by the commission, both with the referee and in the form of an acknowledgement to the aggrieved fighter and the public. This doesn’t happen.

As for the judging; I’ve been at fights in New York when the crowd favorite has been awarded a decision that was so unfair that the crowd actually booed. Fight fans want their fighter to win, but they also have a sense of fairness.

In one instance, a judge’s scorecard was so off the mark that, after the fourth round, a deputy commissioner was dispatched to ask him if he was confused as to which fighter was which. That was hard to confuse, since the cards filled out by judges after each round clearly designate a “red” and “blue” corner. The judge denied that he had confused the fighters. Asked for comment on the judge’s scorecard after the fight, a spokesperson for the NYSAC responded, “We have no comment.”

A fighter spends years toiling in pursuit of a dream. And it can be taken away in seconds by an incompetent or corrupt judge.

Major sports leagues such as the NFL and NBA acknowledge it when an official makes a mistake. These acknowledgments don’t undermine the officiating. They reaffirm the integrity of the officiating process and the commitment of the supervising authority to getting things right.

Kim Sumbler was named acting executive director of the New York State Athletic Commission in July 2017. Soon after that, her appointment became permanent. She has had almost five years to put her imprint on the commission and, for almost five years, I’ve tried to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Sumbler has proven to be an adept political player. That’s a good skill to have. The question is whether she has utilized this skill to make the commission better. Let’s look at another case study

On November 1, 2019, Kelvin Gastelum weighed in for a UFC-244 match to be contested at Madison Square Garden against Darren Till. The contract weight was 186 pounds. It was widely known in the MMA community that Gastelum had been having trouble making weight. Before stepping on the scale, he stripped down completely naked and a towel was lifted in front of him to shield his genitals from public view. Then, to everyone’s surprise, his weight was announced as 184 pounds. That was a full two pounds under the contract weight. But – and this is an elephant-sized “but” – video of the weigh-in shows Gastelum resting his elbow on his coach, Rafael Cordeiro, as he stood on the scale. And the NYSAC officials conducting the weigh-in missed it.

You might ask, “How did NYSAC allow this to happen?”

In answering that question, I’ll start by noting that weigh-ins for major fights in New York City are usually overseen by deputy commissioners Robert Orlando and George Ward. Orlando and Ward are retired New York City corrections officers. Each man has been with the commission for decades and knows all the tricks. But while on site and readying for the Gastelum-Till weigh-in, Orlando and Ward were advised by Sumbler that they were being replaced at the scales by two less experienced commission employees who had been brought to New York City from upstate. When one of the deputy commissioners asked why they were being replaced, he was told “because I said so.”

You’re a smart woman, Governor Hochul. Put the pieces together on that one.

There’s also a leadership void at the NYSAC at the commissioner level.

The New York State Athletic Commission has five commissioners who, in theory, are charged with making policy for the commission. But the commissioners rarely, if ever, discuss issues of importance. In some instances, they aren’t even aware of them.

Lino Garcia is the most recently appointed commissioner. On June 7, 2021, the New York State Senate approved more than fifty last-minute nominations by Governor Cuomo to various state agency boards and commissions without serious discussion or debate. Garcia was among them. He’s president of a company called Unanimo Sports Media and has extensive experience in sports marketing. Nothing on his resume indicates expertise with regard to the issues facing the combat sports industry today. And one might ask whether his day job poses a conflict of interest.

My understanding (which the Department of State won’t confirm or deny) is that the other four commissioners are serving on a holdover basis. In other words, their terms have expired and, unless reappointed, they’ll stay on until replaced. One of these commissioners (a man of considerable past accomplishment) has significant cognitive deficits due to the ravages of old age. Another has little interest in boxing or mixed martial arts but accepted the position at the urging of a colleague. By and large, they don’t understand combat sports from a business or competitive point of view.

Let me ask you a question, Governor Hochul. Before I started writing, I went to law school at Columbia, clerked for a federal judge, and spent five years as a litigator on Wall Street with a law firm called Cravath Swaine & Moore. I’m politically aware and largely in agreement with you on the issues that the State of New York faces today. I’m pretty smart. Would you hire me to run your gubernatorial campaign? Of course, not. Why not? Because I don’t have any experience running political campaigns.

So why do you have five commissioners at the NYSAC who, as a group, are largely uninformed about the inner workings of combat sports? They might be fans. They might be honest, intelligent, hard-working individuals (although one of them, as noted, has serious cognitive issues). But how can they possibly make and evaluate the implementation of NYSAC policy when they don’t have expertise in the industry they’re charged with regulating?

The people you appoint as commissioners will say a lot about your commitment to good government.

Governor Hochul, in your August 24 speech, you promised “a dramatic change in culture, with accountability and no tolerance for individuals who cross the line.” You also declared, “You’ll find me to be direct, straight-talking, and decisive.”

The New York State Athletic Commission represents an opportunity for you to prove the truth of those words. We’re not talking about radical political change or big spending. In fact, the reforms I’m talking about will save the state money. We’re talking about competent administration, the implementation of standards and accountability, addressing legitimate health and safety concerns, upholding existing laws, and applying common sense. These are not big lifts.

In 2016, I wrote, “The NYSAC is broken. It can be fixed if Governor Cuomo is more interested in getting it to function properly than in using it as a vehicle for granting political favors and repaying political debts. It’s not hard to do the job right if conscientious, hard-working men and women who understand the sport and business of boxing are pressed into service at every level. Political observers should watch the New York State Athletic Commission closely. Not because they care about combat sports; most of them don’t. But because it offers an easily understood case study on how Andrew Cuomo governs. Either Andrew Cuomo is serious about good government or he isn’t.”

Now it’s your turn. You might say, “Well, I need to make certain accommodations and put certain people in important positions at the NYSAC and allow certain dicey things to happen to get the campaign contributions and power I need to do good works on a broader scale. That’s the way politics works.”

Or you might take a different view.

So . . . Governor Hochul . . . Will it be business as usual at the New York State Athletic Commission or do you plan to fix this?

I’ll be happy to discuss these issues further with a member of your staff if you’d like.

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – Broken Dreams: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. In 2019, he was selected for boxing’s highest honor – induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

 

Thomas Hauser is the author of 52 books. In 2005, he was honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America, which bestowed the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism upon him. He was the first Internet writer ever to receive that award. In 2019, Hauser was chosen for boxing's highest honor: induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Lennox Lewis has observed, “A hundred years from now, if people want to learn about boxing in this era, they’ll read Thomas Hauser.”

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In a One-Sided Beatdown, Batyr Jukembayev TKOs Shopworn Ivan Redkach

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In a One-Sided Beatdown, Batyr Jukembayev TKOs Shopworn Ivan Redkach

The noted trainer Brian “BoMac” McIntyre had two fighters on tonight’s ProBox card in Plant City, Florida, and brought along the ace of his stable, Terence Crawford, to provide moral support.

The main event, contested at 140 pounds, had an Eastern European flavor pitting Kazakhstan’s Batyr Jukembayev against LA-based Ukrainian Ivan Redkach. Jukembayev, Crawford’s stablemate, needed no moral support as Redkach fought a survivor’s fight for as long as it lasted. A 33-year-old southpaw, the Kazkh won every second of the fight until the mismatch was halted at the 2:18 mark of round five.

It was the fifth straight win for Jukembayev (23-1, 17 KOs) whose only defeat was inflicted by Subriel Matias, the current holder of the IBF world title at 140. Redkach (24-7-1) was stopped for the fourth time including a fight with Regis Prograis where he succumbed to a phantom low blow. Now 38 years old, he should not be allowed to fight again. His showing tonight bore stark evidence that he is completely shot.

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a 10-round junior lightweight affair, Jonhatan Cardoso, a 25-year-old Brazilian, advanced to 17-1 (15) with a split decision over LA’s Adam “Bluenose” Lopez. This figured to be a fan-friendly fight and didn’t disappoint. Both fighters threw punches in bunches although Lopez’s workrate declined in the late rounds.

Lopez, now 17-6-1, is better than his record. His first five losses came against opponents who were collectively 109-6 at the time that he fought them. The son of the late Hector Lopez, an Olympic silver medalist for Mexico and a three-time world title challenger, “Bluenose” doesn’t have a signature win, but has a signature moment. He knocked Oscar Valdez down hard in their first of two meetings, a fight he took on 1-day notice when Valdez’s original opponent was scratched after coming in 11 pounds overweight. As a pro he has limitations, but is a high-octane fighter who rarely has a bad fight.

Two of the judges favored Cardoso. Their tallies were 99-91 and 96-94. The dissenter favored Lopez 97-93. The scores were all over the map, but the right guy wn.

Also

In the TV opener, Omaha-bred junior welterweight Charles Harris Jr scored a unanimous 6-round decision over Oceanside, California’s Kyle Erwin. The judges had it 58-56 and 59-55 twice.

A protégé of “BoMac,” Harris Jr., who began his pro career in Mexico at age 16, improved to 9-1 (7). It was the second pro loss for Erwin (7-2) whose lone prior defeat was the result of a cut.

In an unrelated matter, today (May 22) was the day that Ryan Garcia’s B-sample would be opened and analyzed. So we were all led to believe.

Confoundingly, it appears that opening the urine specimen and testing the contents aren’t performed on the same day. Dan Rafael enlightened us. “Will take a few days for results but certainly possible it could stretch into early next week due to weekend and holiday,” Rafael tweeted today on his Fight Freaks Unite platform.

Why wasn’t this made known beforehand so that fight journalists could plan their day accordingly? I place the blame on the New York State Athletic Commission.

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Oleksandr Usyk from a Historical Perspective 

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Oleksandr Usyk flipped the heavyweight division onto its head this past Saturday night in the Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, travelling a long way from home to seal his greatest victory. Usyk, small by modern heavyweight standards, towers over most men at 6’3″ and 220lbs and sporting a reach that lineal champions Ezzard Charles or Joe Walcott would have killed for. Things have changed though, and in the middle rounds of his war with Tyson Fury, Usyk suddenly appeared tiny. Fury, a giant at around 6’8” and over 260lbs seems a heavyweight for this century. Usyk, a journeyman in the most ancient sense of the word, feels like a throwback to a more savage time. His greatest achievements have taken place on foreign soil. The last time he boxed at home was almost a decade ago and given the situation in Ukraine and given Usyk’s 37 years, it is unlikely he will ever box there again.

Usyk took chances in the seventh and especially the eighth to take charge of a fight that seemed to be slipping away from him. In the vertigo inducing ninth, it was he, not Fury who appeared the giant. Usyk draped the Englishman over the ropes like so much fresh meat and tenderised him to within an inch of unconsciousness, the sheer hugeness of Fury perhaps preventing a referee’s intervention on behalf of his opponent, and not for the first time. Against both Deontay Wilder (the first fight) and Otto Wallin, a more squeamish official would have stepped in and stopped the fight, and here, too, there was a case. If Usyk seems a throwback, then Fury has been refereed like one, spared stoppages likely to be inflicted upon his peers, he was allowed once again to continue boxing, as Joe Louis was against Max Schmeling, or Jack Dempsey was against Luis Pirpo. But with Fury buckled at the knees, Usyk seemed the true heavy man in the ring.

In historical terms, Usyk is not a small heavyweight. He would have dwarfed “The Galveston Giant” Jack Johnson in the ring and loomed large over “Big” George Foreman. Usyk has every attribute necessary to make an unpleasant evening for Joe Louis, but it should be noted that while his footwork and speed and technical excellence would be the source of the discomfort, his excess of height and reach are the wildcards. Usyk would seem two to three weight classes bigger than Rocky Marciano, mainly because he is, and the towering Sonny Liston would look up. Circus strongman Jess Willard and the mob-sponsored Primo Carnera would both look down on Usyk – but not by that much. Usyk would stand eye to eye with Muhammad Ali but prime-for-prime he would outweigh him by ten pounds, as he would Larry Holmes. We must skip Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield and reach all the way into the Lennox Lewis era before we find men from history that truly out-size Usyk on a consistent basis.

Size, as Usyk has proven, is far from everything. Big by historical standards, he is small by modern standards. What else is now true in the wake of the seismic fistic events of Saturday night? Firstly, Usyk is unquestionably ranked the #1 heavyweight in the world. Of this, there can be no dispute. Accounting for his two wonderful defeats of another “super” heavyweight, Anthony Joshua, he is 3-0 against the rest of the top five and sitting unassailably at the head of the heavyweight table. More, and I have been surprised to see it disputed in some corners, Usyk is now almost as equally unassailably the pound-for-pound number one. The only fighter breathing the same air as Usyk right now is Naoya Inoue. Inoue has been operating at or near the highest level for longer, but the level of his opposition has not been as rarefied. Comparing the first phase opposition defeated by Naoya to the murderer’s row of cruiserweights that Usyk ran into during the Super Six series can lead to only one conclusion. Although Naoya’s busy, weight-class-bursting style has topped him out for most of the past two to three years, only one of these men has consistently been beating bigger, taller, longer opposition at the highest level, and that is Usyk. It is not a matter of opinion – he is the smallest man in my heavyweight top ten.

01 – Oleksandr Usyk

02 – Anthony Joshua

03 – Joseph Parker

04 – Tyson Fury

05 – Filip Hrgovic

06 – Zhilei Zhang

07 – Agit Kabayel

08 – Daneil Dubois

09 – Martin Bakole

10 – Joe Joyce

Usyk lives among giants now and where there is parity of height (Kabayel) he is the lighter man by 15 pounds. This is not true of Naoya, who despite his weight-hopping, still manages to run into fighters of the same height and of shorter reach. The opposition argument is narrow, but the relative size opposition is not and there is no pound-for-pound credential more significant than that of consistently out-fighting bigger men. Usyk has done so and will continue to do so for as long as he fights. There is simply no smaller man in his class.

Not since the heyday of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield has a lineal heavyweight champion consistently fought bigger men and not since Mike’s hype-infused prime has a heavyweight menaced the number one pound-for-pound spot. Usyk has not enjoyed anything like the same machine support as Mike did; indeed, he has laboured in the shadow of more prominent men until such time as he thrashed them. He is a true manifestation of pound-for-pound glory in the unlimited class. Where does this leave him in terms of all-time standing?

I am reluctant to rate active fighters for reasons that are obvious enough; Usyk could be pole-axed in three by an irate Fury in a December rematch and all this ink is for naught. But what I am willing to do is play let’s pretend and imagine Usyk as retired and consider his place in heavyweight history now.

Usyk’s raw numbers are low-grade at just 22-0 with 14 knockouts. Worse, most of this was built in the cruiserweight division and not the heavyweight division. Against men weighing in as heavyweights, Uysk is essentially 7-0, and only 3-0 against ranked opposition. On the other hand, one of these victories came against Daniel Dubois, now ranked, and the 3-0 was posted against Tyson Fury, generally held to be the best or second-best heavyweight in the world, and Anthony Joshua, ranked behind only Fury at the time of his first fight with Usyk. So, when he stepped up, he stepped up to tackle the best in the world and has become lineal as a result. It’s a hard ledger to wrestle with, but fortunately we have a career that is comparable in the shape of Gene Tunney.

Tunney, a career light-heavyweight, earned a heavyweight legacy built of essentially one man: Jack Dempsey. Past-prime and inactive, Dempsey was ripped apart by Tunney in their legendary first fight and did better in a losing effort against the genius “Fighting Marine” in a rematch, much like Joshua did against Usyk. Tunney then boxed the limited but game Tom Heeney and retired. The rest of his heavyweight career was spent beating great middleweights like Harry Greb and limited losing-streak gatekeepers like Charley Weinert and Martin Burke. One thing that must be noted is that Tunney is matching men who are smaller than Usyk’s cruiserweight opposition to his heavyweight credit. Men like Mairis Briedis and Murat Gassiev would have been big men in Tunney’s era, but they aren’t counted towards heavyweight legacy for the Ukrainian – either would constitute Tunney’s second-best heavyweight scalp, I think. Tunney’s wider resume does not necessarily include fighters who compare that favourably even to Dereck Chisora or Chaz Witherspoon, the men who make up Usyk’s second layer of opposition.

The point is, Tunney was made a legend for defeating a champion. Both Fury and Joshua were active, physically enormous fighters that Usyk simply unmanned with a type of genius Gene Tunney would have stood to applaud. Tunney appended to his light-heavyweight career the important part of a heavyweight career – the part where you fight and beat the champion, and it has made him a stalwart of heavyweight history. This, Usyk too has achieved, but I have been more impressed with Usyk’s summit than Tunney’s. To be direct: Usyk should rate higher at heavyweight than Tunney.

What that means is that the top twenty at heavyweight is the minimum Usyk can expect from history’s eye should he retire undefeated. In such a case, I would place Usyk in this sort of company:

18 – Ezzard Charles

19 – Oleksandr Usyk

20 – Jersey Joe Walcott

21 – James J Corbett

22 – Peter Jackson

23 – Ken Norton

24 – Max Schmeling

25 – Vitali Klitschko

26 – Riddick Bowe

27 – Gene Tunney

Also illustrative of a point is Tunney’s career pre-heavyweight. Tunney, every bit as brilliant as Usyk in the ring (although notably smaller, and successful against notably smaller opposition), laced up his gloves on close to ninety occasions and his level of competition dwarfs that of Usyk. That is no indictment. All it really means is that Usyk isn’t among the thirty greatest fighters ever to have drawn breath, like Tunney is. He can join an enormous and star-studded cast that includes Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins and Carlos Monzon in that. I do think, though, that Oleksandr Usyk’s career, were it to end tomorrow, could be readily compared to that of Evander Holyfield and that means that an unbeaten Usyk, lineal cruiserweight and heavyweight champion of the world, current pound-for-pound king, is within spitting distance of a list that captures the fifty greatest fighters in history.

56 – Ruben Olivares

57 – Wilfredo Gomez

58 – Vicente Saldivar

59 – Oleksandr Usyk

60 – Evander Holyfield

61 – Ted Kid Lewis

62 – Lou Ambers

63 – Rocky Marciano

64 – Abe Attell

65 – Manuel Ortiz

A retired Naoya Inoue would join him in the top seventy, I think, and a retired Bud Crawford the top ninety.

Boxing is dead, haven’t you heard?

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Another Victory for Ukraine as Berinchyk Upsets Navarrete in San Diego

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Whether it was inspiration or perspiration, Ukraine’s Denys Berinchyk motored past Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete by split decision to become the WBO lightweight world titlist on Saturday.

Just hours after his fellow countryman Oleksandr Usyk became undisputed heavyweight world champion, Berinchyk joined the club.

“This is a great night for all people of Ukraine,” Berinchyk said.

The undefeated Ukrainian Berinchyk (19-0, 9 KOs) gutted out a win over Navarrete (38-2-1, 31 KOs) who was attempting to join Mexico’s four-division world champion club in San Diego. The lanky fighter known as “Vaquero” fell a little short.

Through all 12 rounds neither fighter was able to dominate and neither was able to score a knockdown. Just when it seemed one fighter gathered enough momentum, the other fighter would rally.

A butt caused a slight cut on Navarrete in the 10th round. That seemed to ignite anger from the Mexican fighter and he powered through the Ukrainian fighter the next two rounds.

In the final round Berinchyk bore down and slugged it out with the Mexican fighter as both relied on their weapons of choice. For most of the night Navarrete scored with long-range uppercuts and Berinchyk scored with overhand rights.

After 12 rounds two judges scored it 115-113, 116-112 for Berinchyk and one 116-112 for Navarrete. Ukraine gained its third world titlist in one a week. Berinchyk joins Usyk and Vasyl Lomachenko as world titlists.

“He’s a very tough guy,” said Berinchyk of Navarrete.

Welterweights

A battle between undefeated welterweights saw Brian Norman (26-0, 20 KOs) knock out Giovany Santillan (32-1, 17 KOs) in the 10th round to become the interim WBO titlist.

For nine rounds both welterweights engaged in brutal inside warfare as each tried to beat the sense out of each other.

Norman worked the body early as Santillan targeted the head. Neither fought more than two inches from each other.

The younger Norman, 23, connected with a right cross during an exchange that wobbled Santillan in the eighth round. From that point on the Georgia fighter began setting up for his power shots. Finally, in the 10th round, uppercuts dropped Santillan twice. In the second knockdown Santillan went down hard as referee Ray Corona stopped the fight immediately at 1:33 of the 10th round.

Other Bouts

Heavyweight Richard Torrez (10-0, 10 KOs) knocked out Brandon Moore (14-1) in the fifth round for a regional title.

Lightweight Alan Garcia (10-0) defeated Wilfredo Flores (10-3-1) by decision after eight.

Photo credit: German Villasenor

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