- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2001

They called the legislation Congress passed last year to try to bring some changes to the chaos of boxing the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, but after a hearing yesterday on Capitol Hill to determine how it has been working, they might change the name to the Hasim Rahman Act.

The new International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Council heavyweight champion, who has been in the middle of controversy surrounding his future since he knocked out Lennox Lewis last month and became the target of a bidding war, is in Mecca on a religious pilgrimage, but his presence was felt in the Russell Building hearing room yesterday.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, held a hearing to take a look at how the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, one year after the legislation was passed, has been working.

It hasn't. Don King is still winning.

Oh, they did take some steps in the right direction last year. The Act does prevent promoters from serving as managers of fighters and prohibits promoters and managers from having conflicts of interest. It also requires standardized medical exams for fighters and other steps to improve protections for the health and welfare of fighters.

But the ugly contract dispute that took place after Rahman upset Lewis that ended with King beating out Showtime and HBO to sign the heavyweight champion and a slew of lawsuits that has followed, showed that the sport is still dominated by greed and corruption.

"The recent activity in the heavyweight divisions is potentially a circumstance whereby 'deeper pockets' and the legal system are being utilized as a sword in lieu of honorable and ethical business practices," said Dan Goossen, president of the boxing promotional company America Presents whose heavyweight, David Tua, is suing the International Boxing Federation to strip Rahman of the IBF version of the title for violating federation rules.

"Lawlessness in the contractual aspects of the sport is as egregious as I have seen in 20 years. Contracts legitimate arm's length contracts mean nothing," said Pat English, attorney for Main Events, the promotional company that is suing Rahman for failing to live up to a contract Rahman signed for his fight with Lewis that included a rematch clause the very kind of coercive practice that the Ali Act was supposed to stop.

English also introduced a deposition by Rahman given three years ago detailing how the fighter had received nearly $200,000 from King to leave his promoter, Cedric Kushner, and come with King. Rahman went back to Kushner after a brief fling with King, but the seed had been planted and Rahman recently dumped Kushner, who still has a lawsuit pending against King for that 1998 dispute in addition to his recently filed lawsuit against Rahman and King for this latest promotional battle.

"You have started the fight against the people who have brought our sport down to the level it is today," undisputed light heavyweight champion Roy Jones Jr. said at the hearing. "But events in recent days show that much more has to be done. Does the world really believe that the box-off among [John] Ruiz [the current World Boxing Association heavyweight champion], [Evander] Holyfield [the former four-time heavyweight champion] and Rahman will determine the true heavyweight champion of the world? There are many who believe that there are three or four heavyweights in the world who could beat any of the three."

Jones was referring to Don King's August boxing show in Beijing, on which Ruiz will fight Holyfield for the third time and Rahman will make his first title defense against lightly regarded Brian Nielsen.

Roy Jones isn't suing anybody. Then again, Roy Jones doesn't fight anybody, either.

McCain also referred to King's deal with Rahman, citing the story about how the promoter gave Rahman a duffel bag full of $500,000 in cash as part of a $5 million signing bonus the fighter received. He stands to earn $5 million to fight Nielsen, a former sparring partner of Rahman's, and $15 million to $30 million for his second defense, depending on the opponent the winner of Holyfield-Ruiz ($15 million), Lewis ($20 million) and 911 Mike Tyson ($30 million).

"Mr. Jones, you're a role model to young people and everyone for what is good about boxing," McCain said. "How do you feel when you hear about duffel bags full of cash being given to fighters?"

"That's part of the problem of boxing today," Jones responded. "It makes all of us look bad."

Unless, of course, you are the one with the duffel bag full of cash. Then it makes you look rich.

What came out of yesterday's hearing was a request by McCain to Greg Sirb, president of the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC), an organization consisting of state boxing commissions across the country, to come up with a proposal that would allow the ABC to act as the governing body for boxing, similar to how the NCAA runs college sports. McCain said he hopes to introduce legislation sometime this summer that would empower the ABC to oversee the sport. It is an effort to gain some federal control over boxing, but to avoid creating a new federal bureaucracy to perform the same task, as has been the call by many over the years.

Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has proposed just that, introducing legislation last week calling for a National Boxing Commission, which would oversee boxing on a national level.

Just what we need another federal agency for Don King to make look silly.

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