The Square Jungle – Sept. 6, 2014

Photo by Ed Mulholland

Photo by Ed Mulholland

Lots of huzzahs – what else are some media members good for? – went up when David Berlin, newly-minted executive director of the New York State Athletic Commission, announced efforts at enrolling fighters in healthcare programs in his state. But what most boosters never mentioned was the fact that under the bloodshot eyes of the NYSAC, fighters are going to need all the medical benefits they can get.


Since Melvina Lathan took over as chairperson of the NYSAC in 2008, we have seen several bizarro events under her watch. First, there was her odd suspension of Golden Boy Promotions (for violating the Muhammad Ali Act) in 2010, which was curiously lifted the day before Golden Boy Promotions and the Barclays Center announced their exclusive partnership in Brooklyn.


Then came the outrageous shenanigans surrounding the Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito rematch in 2011, a nearly breathtaking instance of incompetence, which led to a question few bothered to ask at the time: Did Lathan knowingly allow a physically-compromised fighter to enter the ring in Madison Square Garden? And does that, in turn, mean she knowingly let a sporting event without integrity take place under her jurisdiction? (Margarito retired after his loss to Cotto, his eye a gruesome sight after only a few rounds of action that night.)


In 2012, with a nod to the Marx Brothers, perhaps, Erik Morales was allowed to take three drug tests after testing dirty for clenbuterol before his fight with Danny Garcia. Clenbuterol is on the NYSAC list of banned substances but why should that matter and why should Lathan have addressed the issue with anything more than a trite press release? Morales finally tested clean and Garcia poleaxed him in less than four rounds.


In June 2013, Lathan failed to act when Paulie Malignaggi accused judge Tom Schreck outright of corruption after the “Magic Man” dropped a decision to Adrien Broner at the Barclays Center. Malignaggi should have been fined for a baseless accusation that cast a shadow over the integrity of a sporting event overseen by the NYSAC. Even the shambolic Puerto Rico Boxing Commission knew it had to suspend Juan Manuel Lopez after he libeled referee Roberto Ramirez Sr. in 2011. In New York, however, a boxer can apparently tell the public it just witnessed a fraudulent event without ramifications.


But the biggest sin of all came last November when Magomed Abdusalamov slipped into a coma after a bout with Mike Perez at the Theater in Madison Square Garden. What happened to Abdusalamov did so under strange circumstances and the NYSAC is now under investigation by the state inspector general – a probe that has been ongoing for nearly a year. Abdusalamov, who is unable to speak, is currently undergoing rehabilitation at Helen Hayes Hospital in Haverstraw, New York. His wife has not only sued NYSAC doctors but also heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, whose company, K2 promoted the Perez-Abdusalamov bout.


Thomas Hauser broke the story down for BoxingScene last year but the New York Post ran a piece on Abdusalamov that seems to have gotten less attention yet it contains one of the most explosive quotes about the whole sad mess:


“Several officials had the authority to stop the fight, including Referee Benjy Esteves Jr., and five ringside doctors, including Dr. Barry Jordan, the Chief Medical Officer for the NYSAC, who was monitoring the bout.


But a source told The Post doctors are hesitant to call fights for fear they won’t be assigned to work future bouts.”


What does that say about the doctors assigned to fights in New York? And what does that say about the atmosphere at the NYSAC?


Incredibly, the only person held responsible in the aftermath of the Abdusalamov tragedy thus far is Matt Farrago, acting as inspector that night and head of Ring 10 in New York. A former junior middleweight ticket-seller at Madison Square Garden (then known as the Felt Forum) in the 1980s, Farrago actually advised Abdusalamov to go to the hospital.  But like something out of Kafka, Farrago became the initial scapegoat despite several likelier suspects on hand that night.


Arguments about who – if anyone – was at fault for the Abdusalamov tragedy range from sensible to the psychotic nonsense you often see on Twitter. But one of the most egregious lines of thought concerns how fighters “know the risks.” This kind of truthiness is a boxing staple but it remains no less insipid for that. What professional fighters do is take risks in a controlled environment and under the supervision of a regulatory apparatus. It is no different than any other inherently dangerous pursuit or, if you think about it, many seemingly innocuous acts. Would you board a plane if you knew the mechanics who oversaw it before takeoff were all drunk? Or if you knew the pilot was just released from Bellevue and was off his meds? In the case of Abdusalamov, the regulatory apparatus was, like many things in boxing, sadly lacking.


What makes Lathan a truly remarkable figure is the fact that even since the Abdusalamov tragedy, she has been unable to stop her reign of error. She is like Caligula or Elagabalus, except with a degree in biochemistry, a power suit and no senate around to depose her.


How has Lathan been keeping busy since November 2, 2013? Here is a short list of her recent lowlights:


*One thing nearly all commissions are capable of doing is honoring suspensions from other jurisdictions. Unfortunately, the NYSAC is incapable of even that simple act. On January 30, 2014, the NYSAC allowed Rodolfo Mosquera to act as a second despite the fact that Mosquera was under suspension in California for doctoring gloves.  Not even being suspended for one of the most heinous acts possible in boxing is enough to get Melvina Lathan to stifle a yawn.

*Approving Rod Salka as a main event fighter against arguably the best junior welterweight in the world – Danny Garcia – is stupid enough but the NYSAC compounded its lower-than-low standards by allowing Edgar Santana to challenge for a fugazi world title against Lamont Peterson on the same card, apparently on the “Double Your Fun” theory of mismatches.

*But the blowout potential of the Garcia-Salka card was not the only strange thing at the Barclays Center that night. How about the fact that all three A-side performers in the co-features were Al Haymon fighters? And this was not even the worst Al Haymon parade to be seen in New York. On December 7, 2013, Haymon repped at least seven – seven! – of the eight fighters broadcast on the Showtime quadruple-header. Two other Haymon fighters were on the undercard, making for a total of nine pros managed by the same man fighting on a single night. What does the New York State Athletic Commission say about managers and fight cards under its auspices?


§209.3 Number of manager’s boxers on program.

No manager shall have more than one boxer whom he or she manages compete on any one boxing program except as otherwise directed or authorized by the commission.


Of course, Haymon, who is sometimes an “advisor” and sometimes a “manager,” likely has a loophole big enough to suit that “otherwise directed or authorized by the commission” caveat.


New York has a notoriously dysfunctional government and Albany is metonymy not only for “state capital” but also for “corruption.” Last year Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the creation of the Moreland Commission, designed to curb rampant malfeasance in New York State politics (eventually Cuomo disbanded the commission when it started to point to some of his own dealings. This laughable turnaround goes to show you just how shady things are in New York). In the late 1990s, the NYSAC was corrupt enough to bring back memories of ward bosses and Tammany Hall. When Beethavean Scottland died after taking a prolonged beating at the hands of George Khalid Jones in 2001, the fallout led to Governor George Pataki clearing a nest of cronies, political appointees and keen devotees of sporting graft. Boxing was relatively stable under Ron Scott Stevens, who served as chairman from 2003-2008, but when Melvina Lathan entered the picture, nostalgia for the wayward past took over almost immediately.


The mess at the NYSAC coincides, more or less, with the explosion of fight cards in New York City over the last few years. When Lathan had nothing to do but putz around substandard club fare at BB Kings or the Paramount, she was largely invisible. As soon as the activity level rose, however, Lathan found herself committing one gaffe after another. In boxing, mistakes are dangerous and Lathan has committed them at the expense of both fighters and taxpayers.


To make matters infinitely worse, although Lathan is a public official, she does not appear to answer to anyone. When Erik Morales finally passed his third drug test, Lathan offered little more than a statement so trite it might have been written by someone at Sunday Afternoon Boxing Blog. Before Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito faced off in 2011, Lathan held a bizarre hearing (forced by her own whacko behavior leading up to the fight) and could not speak during the entire session due to laryngitis. She is not on record at all regarding Mosquera and had nothing to say regarding the Salka/Santana fiasco.


Those obsessed with the dream of a federal body overseeing boxing should take note: the government already oversees boxing in the form of incompetent commissions staffed by fanboys, political hacks, industry lifers and people who simply do not give a damn. Some of the biggest issues associated with boxing – mismatches, judging, safety, consumer protection and PEDs – are directly overseen by commissions. If you can find someone to praise the NYSAC, it is almost guaranteed to be an insider. To booking agents, matchmakers and promoters, commissions are there to ensure paydays for all involved. Money is the closest thing to a casus belli some of these people will ever have. A few years ago, Governor Cuomo was thinking about making the position of chairperson a pro bono post. Instead, the NYSAC now has a new Executive Director and more staff than it did last year despite budgetary constraints in municipalities throughout the country in the wake of the financial collapse of 2008.


But everybody pays in boxing. Sooner or later, everybody pays, except the ones with rubber stamps at hand.


Carlos Acevedo is the editor of The Cruelest Sport and a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in Boxing Digest Magazine, Maxboxing, Boxing World Magazine and Esquina Boxeo. He is also a contributor to Remezcla and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization.