Athletic Commission Ineptitude is Killing Boxing and MMA

by Kevin Marshall   June 15, 2012 at 5:30PM  |  Views: 6,639
Athletic Commission Ineptitude is Killing Boxing and MMA photo

(Kevin Marshall's opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent those of Spike.)

If you've been living under a rock, it might surprise you to find out that there was a bit of controversy over in our sister sport and, surprisingly, it didn't involve Floyd Mayweather (who also made news recently when he complained that jail is too much like jail). Rather, it involved his public nemesis Manny Pacquiao, who found himself on the business end of a controversial split decision loss in a WBO Welterweight Title Bout against Tim Bradley. Two of the three judges appointed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission gave the fight to Bradley despite the fact that he was outstruck handily in nearly every round, with Pacquiao hitting hard twos at will while dictating the course of the fight both in terms of ring position and pacing.

As if the scores weren't maddening enough, one of them actually tried to redefine what "aggression" means; in short, that it can actually be when a guy is running away. That's either some very deep Eastern philosophy or, as Inigo Montoya once said, "you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

But the problems with judging isn't just limited to boxing, and the issue is bigger than just the judging itself.

The night before, the UFC aired an event from the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida, which saw a litany of embarrassing missteps by the Florida State Boxing Commission. We saw one referee admonish a fighter for pushing off the cage with his feet (not illegal) while another chastised Matt Grice while he had mount and told him to stay active... while he was hitting Leonard Garcia with elbows. Then there was the late stoppage in the Tim Means/Justin Salas fight, which goes beyond simple incompetence and actually puts fighters in danger.

In case you needed something more shameful, the judges in the bout between Mike Pierce and Carlos Eduardo Rocha originally submitted scorecrds that indicated a split decision, but the result was changed just days ago when the dissenting judge came forward and admitted he hadn't kept proper track of which corner the fighters were in and in his confusion scored it for the wrong fighter. The opposite happened earlier in the evening, when a unanimous decision was declared when it was actually a split decision, which was only corrected when someone else noticed the mathematical error (there's only three numbers to add!).

Oh, and at weigh-ins the night before, the UFC's Joe Silva and Burt Watson had to show them how to use a balance beam scale.

But while the Florida State Boxing Commission may seem comically inept, the Nevada State Athletic Commission hasn't been much better. This is perhaps more alarming given the frequency of fights we see in Las Vegas and the resources at their disposal. They have also seen their share of scoring controversies, including but not limited to what we saw last Saturday between Pacquiao and Bradley. But there are also the shenanigans that occur outside of fight night, like the issue of granting Therapeutic Use Exemptions (which I touched on in this space a couple weeks ago) that allow fighters to legally use testosterone injections (re: steroids) under the flimsy pretense of needing Testosterone Replacement Therapy. If the fact that this could be done doesn't make you cynical enough, in the past several months they've also had doctors who aren't endocrinologists testify outside their area of expertise on the issue. In the case of Alistair Overeem, the commission took at face value the testimony of a doctor who had been fined for selling drugs over the internet without establishing a relationship with the patient and runs a clinic called the Men's Performance Enhancement Clinic (emphasis mine). And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

With Saturday's decision being the easiest indicator of a problem, there's been more public outcry than there has been for NSAC's other gross missteps. The WBO is launching an investigation into the judging and Top Rank Promotions among others are calling for the State Attorney General's Office to investigate. They're going to have to, because despite what's clear to everybody else, the Commission itself literally refuses the address the problem. It didn't even place it on the docket for their meeting on Thursday.

Things are bad with these Commissions and they're only going to get worse unless something's done. Some more libertarian minded folk will blame it on an inherent dysfunction of government and/or defer to a socio-political philosophy that calls for an absence of government regulation at all, suggesting that the Commissions themselves be abolished. This idea, though, that combat sports industries can or should regulate themselves is a frightening proposition for anyone that follows combat sports with more than a passing interest and has some knowledge of their history. Asking promoters and promotions to appoint judges that will serve their own interests is asking for trouble, and a cynical public is suspicious enough already, with conspiracy theories being tossed around like common knowledge when bad decisions happen under the current system.

It may, then, seem as if I'm taking the easy route of simply telling people what they already know without providing any constructive suggestions for a solution. That's fair. But these organizations are necessary to maintain the integrity of MMA and boxing. The problem, though, is that they can't do it if nobody's holding them to account and insuring that they have integrity themselves.

Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images


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