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Trying to beat injuries to the punch


Five years ago at Painters Mill Theater, promoter Stuart Satosky found himself without a main event for his cable-TV boxing card.

Maryland State Athletic Commission secretary Dennis Gring notified Satosky that lightweight Julian Solis had failed a motor skills test linking numbers and letters, indicating possible neurological problems. Solis would not be permitted to fight Calvin Grove.

"It caught the TV producers from USA Network completely off guard," Satosky said. "They screamed and raved about the commission being overzealous and vowed we'd never get another TV date in Maryland. In fact, we had to wait five years before they returned."

For Gring, spokesman for the athletic commission now that 90-year-old chairman D. Chester O'Sullivan is semi-retired, it was just a matter of doing his job.

"Whenever a promoter, matchmaker or manager screams about the commission being too rigid, two names come immediately to mind -- Ernie Knox and James Morris Jones," Gring said.

Gring still keeps a copy of an Oct. 28, 1963, article in Sports Illustrated about Knox, a Baltimore heavyweight, bearing the headline, "This Death Might Kill Boxing."

The article made a strong case that the Maryland Commission had been negligent in allowing Knox's match against Wayne Bethea. Although a subsequent state investigation found no one responsible for Knox's death, it led to more stringent standards in monitoring fighters.

In 1987, Jones, a preliminary boxer, was making his professional debut on a card at Prince George's Community College. He collapsed in his corner after being stopped in the fourth round by Charles Ingram.

"It might have been the worst night of my life waiting to see if he'd recover from brain surgery," said Gring. "Fortunately, Jones pulled through, but it convinced me that you can never be too careful in trying to minimize the risks fighters take every time they step in the ring."

Most of Maryland's medical requirements for fighters are standard nationwide. Pre-fight tests include an annual general examination by a personal physician, an ophthalmological test to determine any retinal or corneal damage and to check visual acuity and peripheral vision, and a neurological exam.

If a fighter passes these tests, he is re-examined by commission doctors the day before his fight, is weighed, and undergoes the neurological test that Solis failed.

Even if found in perfect health, a fighter can be rejected for being over or under a prescribed contract weight or if his record indicates he is overmatched.

The issue of mismatches is becoming a bigger concern to the Maryland Commission because the state's number of boxing cards is increasing. Promoters sometimes scramble to find substitute fighters to keep a show intact -- the required minimum is 25 rounds -- and it can be hard to determine if a substitute will be overmatched.

"Our biggest problem is when a promoter has to substitute fighters at the last minute," Gring said. "Normally, if we're not certain about a fighter's ability, we will call other state commissions or boxing figures we respect. But there are situations you just don't have a lot of time."

On a recent show in Upper Marlboro, promising Oxon Hill middleweight Allen Watts, with a 6-1 record, was matched against late substitute Ed Rodriguez, of New York, winless in seven bouts. A hard body shot by Watts finished Rodriguez at 2:58 of the first round.

Not too long ago, it was a common practice for journeyman boxers to fight under assumed names in an attempt to disguise losing records. A passport system was instituted in most states to end this deception, but Maryland no longer requires one.

"We didn't think it was as effective as having a photo ID, preferably from a government agency," Gring said.

But that does not discourage fighters intent on pulling a scam. For a boxing card in Glen Burnie two months ago, two preliminary boxers from Philadelphia arrived for the pre-fight examination without IDs. Gring told them to they couldn't fight without them.

"They came back four or five hours later with these photo IDs that had them in the same clothes they were wearing earlier that day," Gring said with a laugh. "Naturally, we didn't let them fight that night."

Drugs also present a problem. Gring said 10 boxers who have appeared on recent Maryland shows face possible suspension for failing post-fight urine tests. They are not permitted to fight again until they are proven drug-free and attend a commission hearing.

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