Fighters enter swinging at hearing Senate committee told sport needs regulation


WASHINGTON -- High-powered promoters Bob Arum and Don King were conspicuous by their absence yesterday at a Senate subcommittee hearing into corruption in professional boxing.

But three fighters spoke passionately in support of a bill sponsored by Sen. William Roth, R-Del., to establish a federal commission to create uniform boxing regulations. Each state now makes its own rules.

The proposed U.S. Boxing Commission -- which would not be supported by taxpayers -- would have the goal of detering the exploitation of fighters and would require the standardized record-keeping and medical supervision of the sport.

Leading the appeal for boxing reforms at the hearing were middleweight contender Dave Tiberi, whose controversial split-decision loss to International Boxing Federation champion James Toney in Atlantic City, N.J., on Feb. 8 triggered the congressional probe, World Boxing Association cruiserweight champion Bobby Czyz and IBF Intercontinental cruiserweight king James Pritchard.

Their complaints were joined by those of heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, who wasn't at the hearing but had given a deposition attacking the current rating system of fighters in 17 weight divisions, and the excessive sanctioning fees imposed by the World Boxing Council, WBA and IBF.

Pritchard -- who now books his own matches -- labeled his three former managers "bloodsuckers. They're just like mosquitoes. It's the same with most promoters. King wanted me to give him 50 percent of my earnings. I was smart enough not to sign with him."

Czyz said "there is more honesty and decency among street thieves than fight managers and promoters today."

Holyfield was assessed $590,000 by the so-called "alphabet-soup" organizations in sanctioning fees for his most recent title defense against Larry Holmes in June.

"Usually," Holyfield said via deposition, "they charge 3 percent or a maximum of $150,000, but the WBC and [chairman] Jose Sulaiman make up their own rules. If you don't pay the fee, they strip you of your title."

Tiberi insists he was denied a world title by a conspiracy of New Jersey commissioners and out-of-state judges in losing to Toney.

"I had a dream of becoming a champion," Tiberi said. "I accomplished that, and they took it away. The N.J. commission, IBF president [Bob Lee] and the promoter [Arum] all acted as if nothing happened. Lee told me he didn't even watch the fight. But millions of people who watched on TV saw me get robbed."

Ultimately, Tiberi, 28, was offered a rematch with the purse growing to $200,000, but rejected it as a matter of principal.

While Toney's tainted victory over Tiberi prompted the Senate probe, Sen. Roth said, even more disturbing "was our staff's preliminary findings regarding the general state of corruption in boxing. Exploitation of boxers through onerous and one-sided contracts, lack of health insurance and pension plans, conflicts of interest among managers and promoters, as well as mismatches, payoffs and organized crime influence."

Roth and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., handled most of the witnesses at the first hearings into boxing since the 1960s.

King's name was mentioned time and again in testimony. The flamboyant promoter was criticized for his close ties with Sulaiman and for using his influence to control state commissions.

Today -- the last day of the two-day hearing -- the chairmen of boxing's three top organizations, the so-called alphabet-soup groups, are scheduled to testify.

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