- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

If boxing is to be saved, then next month's Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson heavyweight championship fight may have to be the debacle that many expect it will be. If changes are going to come to the governing of the sport, then Lewis vs. 911 Mike may have to collapse into the chaos that oddsmakers believe is at least a 4-1 shot of happening.

How about that one, boys and girls? The worst thing that could happen to boxing is if Lewis-Tyson comes off without a hitch.

On Capitol Hill yesterday, senators held a hearing on proposed amendments to the Professional Boxing Safety Act and the Muhammad Ali Act both reforms passed by Congress to increase controls over the renegade sport that would create a federal boxing office known as the United States Boxing Administration. The administration would, among other things, create stricter safety standards for fighters and demand more substantial financial disclosures from promoters and sanctioning organizations.

This would be a major step in boxing reform because, although state boxing commissions would still exist, for the first time there would be some federal oversight of the sport, which many believe is long overdue. And this is not the only proposal in Congress calling for federal involvement. Nevada Sen. Harry Reid (D) has a bill that calls for the creation of a National Boxing Commission.

There might have been a library full of such efforts in the past, all of which failed for lack of interest because, after all, this is boxing and no one in Congress, save for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and a few others, cares about boxing.

But if something happens in Memphis on June 8 such as an early 911 Mike meltdown, followed by a disqualification and more than a million angry pay-per-view buyers ready to file lawsuits and write to Congress well, then I think the time may be ripe for some real boxing reform and federal controls.

"It could be the impetus," McCain said. "But that would be bad for the sport."

Not necessarily. For Lewis-911 Mike to come to a successful conclusion after the sleazy way the process unfolded over the past few months would be to reward the corrupt process and bury any chance of real reform. But if it is a disaster, then the cries for change would be the loudest they have ever been.

The future of boxing may rely on Lewis-911 Mike. Its influence could be felt for years to come. Consider yesterday's hearing chaired by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) on the proposed amendments. The witnesses included Muhammad Ali, light heavyweight champion Roy Jones Jr. and Lennox Lewis' trainer, Emanuel Steward.

But the star of the hearing was 911 Mike, and he wasn't even there at least not physically. But in nearly every testimony given or every debate that took place, sooner or later it got around to 911 Mike.

Former HBO boxing boss Lou DiBella, now a boxing adviser: "When the Nevada State Athletic Commission correctly denied Tyson his boxing license, commissioners addressed Tyson's unwillingness to face his personal demons and his inability to control his behavior. They sought not only to protect boxing from Mike Tyson but also to protect Mike Tyson from himself. It only took a matter of hours from the Nevada decision for other state athletic commissions to throw reciprocity out the window and to align with greedy local politicians to provide Mr. Tyson with a venue. Tennessee and the other states that attempted to lure Lewis-Tyson should be ashamed."

(By the way, no one from the illustrious D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission was in attendance at this hometown hearing for a bill that could have serious implications for boxing commissions. I guess they still must be out looking for financial backers for Lewis-911 Mike.)

Boxing historian and author Bert Sugar: "Mike Tyson was turned down in one state, and within hours other states were standing in line to get him. It just isn't working this way. Boxing is legalized assault, and the only thing that elevates it to a sport are its rules and regulations, and Mike Tyson abides by none of those."

Steward admitted that part of his training with Lewis is to ready him to expect the worse from 911 Mike in the ring.

"I'm preparing him to be able to do some things," Steward said, not elaborating about what that exactly would be.

Roy Jones? He testified about how everyone was picking on him in boxing. (They should consider passing another act in Congress: the Roy Jones Should Fight Somebody Act.)

Ali's wife, Lonnie, speaking for her husband, testified in favor of the changes, calling for the "creation of a national oversight body federally mandated supervision is the only way to enhance the integrity of the sport and restore public confidence."

But to begin to restore public confidence, the integrity of the sport may have to hit rock bottom. The last-minute vestiges of any such integrity may have to be chewed up and spit out in Memphis.


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