Down For The Count

Colorado boxing continues to take a beating--for now.

An hour before Frank Martinez's first professional boxing match, his uncle is chain-smoking cigarettes while his mother, Irene, paces among the gathering crowd at the Great Room in LoDo on January 22, her fight program rolled tightly in her fist. But if these two could see the fighter their Frankie, a 115-pound eighteen-year-old, is matched up against, they would most definitely relax.

Martinez's opponent, Chino Carona, has been brought to the Great Room with one other fighter from El Paso, Texas, by trainer Ariel Conde. These fighters could be in better hands. Conde is a notorious pugilist who has been banned for life in two states--one of which is Colorado--for medical reasons. The highlight of Conde's own career was a draw, according to official records, and he's had to fight under aliases to continue getting in the ring. Even as a trainer, Conde looks a little wobbly, leading some observers to believe that he's been drinking. But Conde isn't drunk on booze--he's punch-drunk.

Another El Paso fighter (handled by a pal of Conde's) goes down seconds into the first round to the displeasure of the crowd of about 250, many of whom are screaming "Get up!" After officials get the ring cleared, Frankie Martinez bounces into the ring for his debut.

Martinez, who according to his family has won three Golden Gloves in as many years, looks sharp as he throws warm-up punches. Carona looks like a kid who got yanked out of third-period gym class. The bouncers prowling the room have biceps bigger than Carona's legs.

The bell rings and the two young boxers circle each other uneasily as Martinez's family hollers encouragement. Carona throws the first punch, after doing everything short of sending a written warning, and Martinez ducks out of the way easily, looking a little surprised by the punch's lack of intensity or accuracy. The crowd groans. Martinez, still cautious, continues to scope out his opponent while bobbing away from a few more of Carona's halfhearted shots. A yell from Irene Martinez finally seems to wake Frankie up, and he obediently plunges through Carona's nonexistent defense. A few punches later, Carona is down and the Martinezes are on their feet. Carona barely manages to get to his knees before the referee's count reaches ten, handing Frankie Martinez his first pro victory. Frankie, following form, climbs the ropes in his corner and waves to his family, but the look on his face betrays the fact that he knows this was too easy.

Carona, his head hanging in defeat, slips out of the ring, while a scantily clad card girl (on leave from a strip joint) teeters around the ring in three-inch heels trying to distract the crowd from the poor performances so far. At the bar, a couple of guys are betting on whether the next fight will even see the second round.

Ricky Norez, yet another El Paso fighter handled by Conde's pal, goes down before the first round is over, suggesting that Conde's bad luck in the ring might be rubbing off. After the fight, referee Woody Kislowski, substituting for the scheduled official, comes over to the ropes to get a drink of water and chat with the judges at ringside. One of the judges laughs and says, "I should have brought my daughter tonight. She could've won a couple fights."

Kislowski, aside from filling in for referees, is also a member of the Colorado Boxing Alliance (CBA), a nonprofit organization formed four years ago to try to revive Colorado professional boxing, the reputation and quality of which, insiders assert, has declined steadily since the state's boxing commission was abolished in the Seventies. A bill sparked by the alliance's effort to re-create a state boxing commission was brought before the Colorado House's State Affairs Committee and passed 12-1 on January 28. The measure has a ways to go before it becomes law, but at least it made it past the first round.

Colorado legislators KO'd the fifty-year-old Colorado Athletic Commission by unanimous decision in 1977. However, a recently passed federal law is putting pressure on lawmakers to revive the state commission. The controversial law has aroused a new sense of urgency among local boxing devotees.

Arizona senator John McCain sponsored the federal legislation in an effort to make what he called "the red light district of sports" a safer and "more honorable" industry. The law makes it illegal to hold an officially sanctioned professional boxing bout without the presence of a state boxing commission. This means that Colorado, along with the four other states that don't have boxing commissions, is now compelled to bring in commissioners from other states to oversee its fights.

This federal intrusion raises the hackles of those involved in Colorado boxing. They complain that such a makeshift system creates inconsistent rules, since each state's boxing commission has different regulations. Some of Colorado's lawmakers are upset about what they see as an unconstitutional foray into state affairs by the federal government.

McCain aide Paul Feeney admits that the new federal law doesn't address uniformity, but he calls it a first step in the right direction. "If there is any profession that cries out for public oversight, it's boxing," he says. "We're not trying to impose bureaucracy on the people of Colorado. We're just trying to stop up some of the bigger gaps in the sport."

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