The Savage Truth: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

By Greg Savage Jul 31, 2014

The Association of Boxing Commissions this week held its annual conference in Clearwater Beach, Fla. As I told you a couple weeks ago, it was presented with a proposal from California State Athletic Commission Executive Officer Andy Foster that would have allocated 20 percent of the ABC’s yearly revenue -- a stream he projected to be around $12,000 -- to smaller commissions to help with drug testing they would otherwise not be able to afford.

The proposal was effectively killed when the voting members tabled the discussion until next year’s conference. There was very little support in the room at the lightly attended conference.

ABC Treasurer Buddy Embanato from Louisiana made it clear he was not in favor of the proposal. He stated that 20 percent of ABC revenue per year would come to a little more than $2000 per annum, much less than Foster estimated, and that it would do very little to stem the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Embanato also told that his state does not even require any drug testing for combat sports, but if promoters want to have it done, they are free to request the commission do it, provided they foot the bill. He also went on to state that in Louisiana, they feel having no requirement to test combatants gives them cover should a fighter want to sue the state.

“They can’t sue you for not having a law,” said Embanato, relaying what he had been told by legislators in his state.

The leeriness dates back to a lawsuit that found the state of Louisiana liable in a Toughman competition after a competitor sued and won hundreds of thousands of dollars that the commission had to repay to the state.

Patrick Pannella, the executive director of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, told me he felt the proposal would do little because of the small amount of money it would set aside for tests. He said he would much rather see that money used to provide neurological and eye tests for states that do not require those already.

Yes, that’s right, folks, some states do not require those tests for licensing. Generally, the reasoning is centered on the cost. Can you see the pattern here?

A number of other commission representatives spoke about the timing of the issue and the rush to put it forward at the conference as being obstacles to its approval. Mike Mazzoulli, from the Mohegan Tribal Commission, said he thought it was a great idea in theory but wondered about how the money would be allocated.

ABC President Tim Lueckenhoff told he would have liked to have seen the measure discussed in committee a bit longer and fleshed out a bit more before it was brought to the full membership.

I spoke with Foster after his committee’s measure was tabled, and he was not very happy about it. He questioned the purpose of the ABC and wondered aloud what the purpose should be going forward.

“We’re here to hopefully do our best to ensure the sport is fair,” said Foster. “I would like to leave the sport in a better place than I found it, and making sure we do our best to create a level playing field is an important goal; it should be an important goal for the ABC, too.”

Foster raises a very good question. What is the ABC supposed to be doing and what is it actually accomplishing?

I have attended the last five conferences and I can tell you from firsthand knowledge there is a lot of information being disseminated to the members, especially medical information. I am sure it is quite helpful, but I would not characterize it as earth-shattering material.

This year, there were presentations about fighters who do not have all their limbs and the difficulties in regulating bouts with said fighters. There was also a presentation about concussions and how to look for and detect them. The gist of the presentation was they are bad, once you have one you are at greater risk for another one -- especially in the following week to 10 days -- and that there is quite a bit of ongoing research about them.

I don’t want to say these presentations are completely useless, but I’m not a doctor and I really don’t think I learned anything new from listening to them. I would hope people tasked with protecting the safety and welfare of combat sports athletes would be up-to-date on the latest concussion protocols and have the common sense to understand that fighters missing limbs would require special attention. Frankly, they should be discussing these issues with their doctors and making sure they have a handle on the bigger issues they may have to deal with in their regulator positions.

The conference also hosts a number of training seminars for officials of both boxing and mixed martial arts. They are also a way for officials from different states to network and interact with their peers from other jurisdictions. This networking seems to be the biggest benefit of the conference and, at this point, it may be the biggest benefit of the ABC as a whole.

There really is not much else the association does. Some of you may remember a few years ago the ABC tried to implement new weight classes for MMA. “Big” John McCarthy and some commissioners recommended MMA narrow some weight classes and create a number of new divisions.

Well, the Ultimate Fighting Championship and its president, Dana White, put the kibosh on that by forcefully stating that they would not be implementing the changes that were endorsed. Not surprisingly, the ABC did not push forward with its own recommendations.

In 2011, I saw a committee report its findings about amateur MMA and make recommendations on how that side of the sport should be regulated going forward. It wanted a tiered system that would protect green fighters who were just beginning their careers. It offered a change in rules that would distinguish amateur bouts from professional bouts.

A number of commissioners made it plainly clear that it was dandy that the committee had its own proposed rule set but that it could forget about getting it enacted in their states. There was no debate on the merits of the committee findings, just a “That was nice, but we’re not going to use it. Next order of business?”

It was clear that the body as a whole was impotent and has been for as long as I have been following it closely.

There has been a lot of talk about how the ABC has some more pull when it comes to boxing because the Muhammad Ali Federal Boxing Act gives it a federal mandate. Most of the talk has centered on MMA not being covered by that act. I know it is a big issue for some of the commissioners who believe MMA has skirted around the regulations set up in the Ali act, namely contractual limitations, but when you ask them about what kind of success they have had in prosecuting any of the violations they have had on the boxing side, the responses are comical. The United States Department of Justice has not even responded to most of their complaints, and they have never followed up on any of them, according to Lueckenhoff.

So what is next for the ABC?

First, there will be a change in leadership next summer, when Lueckenhoff is termed out. He will have served seven two-year terms for a total of 14 years next July. No matter whom you are discussing, after that long a time, people are going to just start tuning you out. He has also had a number of feuds with some of his fellow commissioners, and it got bad enough that last year, the membership voted to re-instate the term limits it used to have before Lueckenhoff took over. Just to make it clear, there was no underhanded maneuvering to maintain his position; he actually was the only man who wanted the job on at least a few occasions, so he kept it by forfeit.

One man who did run against him four years ago was Mazzoulli. He was one of the guys who had been feuding with Lueckenhoff, but the two have made amends and are hoping to steer the ABC in a new direction -- a direction with a more meaningful purpose. Mazzoulli announced to the membership that he would be running for president when it meets in San Diego next summer. Should he win -- and at this point he is the overwhelming favorite -- let us hope he can lead the association towards relevancy.

What would it take for the ABC to be a relevant part of combat sports? We’ll delve into that in future installments of “The Savage Truth.”

Greg Savage is the Executive Editor of and can be reached via @TheSavageTruth on Twitter.


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