Down For The Count

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

Woody Kislowski calls the McCain bill well-intentioned, but he says it hasn't solved the problems of fighter safety and mismatched opponents that an independent Colorado boxing commission could. However, until now, the CBA's efforts to lobby for a new commission at the state level have been met with resistance at nearly every turn because of Colorado boxing's smarmy past when it had a commission.

Rex Walker of the CBA calls the House committee's decision "a great victory for Colorado boxing," but others are more cautious. Ed Walsh, a member of the CBA and former writer for Ring magazine, is a bit more hesitant. "I'm very happy," he says outside the hearing room, "but this is just a consideration right now." Unlike Walker, he doesn't think a new state boxing commission is a done deal. Walsh says he's concerned about keeping the CBA intact for now.

Kislowski adds, "When we tried to get a state commission in 1994, one lawmaker refused to vote for it because [he] said [he] didn't like the sport and that it's not safe. I just wanted to scream. I was so frustrated, because that's the best reason to have our own state commission in the first place."

The House committee was ultimately swayed by the testimony of boxers and fans who asked the committee to focus on the well-being of the boxers. And fight fans are doing plenty of moaning. An emergency medical technician observing the fights January 22 at the Great Room conveyed the basic sentiments of many disillusioned boxing fans: "It's like the state of Colorado is so pitiful that an outside commission has to come in to take care of our boxing."

After the original Colorado Athletic Commission was disbanded twenty years ago because of allegations of corruption and racism, boxing in the state was left to fend for itself. At the conclusion of the hearings in 1977, Senate president Fred Anderson said "no evidence was presented to justify continuation [of the Athletic Commission]."

The irony is that those hearings had been called for by the boxing industry itself in an effort to reform the sport. But if Colorado boxing was already in bad shape while commissioner Ed Bohn was running the show, local fans contend that it got only worse afterward.

"The boxers ended up jumping from the frying pan into the fire," Ed Walsh says. "After the commission was disbanded, the sport descended into absolute chaos. You had situations where a trainer's brother-in-law was judging a fight. You had gross mismatches. You had outright fixes. It was a period that made Colorado the laughingstock of the boxing world." The situation got so bad that after a few years the American Boxing Commission, one of the bodies that sanctions and regulates boxing in the U.S., no longer recognized many of the results from Colorado bouts.

After the state went sixteen years without a boxing commission, the CBA was formed by aficionados, most of them either fans or former fighters. The group managed to garner the support of the ABC, which authorized the CBA to act on its behalf during many Colorado bouts. This move helped bring some semblance of order back to the sport. Rex Walker insists that the CBA's number-one priority over the past four years has been to watch out for the boxers.

"If you take care of them," he says, "everything else will fall into place. Most of these kids aren't candidates for Harvard, so somebody has to protect them. For the most part, they're blacks and Hispanics who are very poor and have no financial training--very easy to exploit. It's a disgrace that we don't have more protection for their health and safety."

Walsh says the CBA "takes a lot of pride in the fact that since it has been active, every fighter who has fought in a show sanctioned by us has gotten paid." With one exception, that is. Walsh does admit to one fight in 1994 when the CBA didn't get a bond from the promoter beforehand and he skipped out, leaving the boxers empty-fisted. "But we take full responsibility for that incident," he says.

The CBA, says Walsh, feels responsible for preserving the health of the fighters, but this is often difficult. "The fight at the Great Room was a good example," he says. "These kids come up from Texas, one of which is seventeen years old, and they have absolutely no understanding of neurological damage or detached retinas. Somebody's got to make sure these kids don't get seriously hurt, because in a lot of cases, the trainers and promoters don't give a damn."

Trainer Ariel Conde seems to care more about others than about himself. According to Fight Fax magazine, Conde's career record as a professional boxer is 0-30-1. It's actually worse than that. From his home in El Paso, Conde talks about his sixteen years of boxing, during which he says he's fought in 149 bouts. His record? "Please, don't ask," he says, laughing. "I'm the lousiest fighter on the face of the planet."

As for the fighters he trains today, Chino Carona and Julian Romero Contreras, Conde feels that they have promise despite their poor showing at the Great Room--though Conde's reasoning seems a little scrambled. "I don't know what happened to them," Conde says. "I think maybe they were too cocky. Cocky because they were probably scared. For Carona, it was his first fight in the States. But they're good rookies, they looked real good when I saw them down here [in El Paso]. Most importantly, they have the dream, and they're training hard again like nothing happened. I'm advising them to go back to Mexico, sort of like a training camp where there aren't such tough guys. They didn't make much money at the fight [in Denver]. Enough to buy gloves, some headgear, maybe a month's rent--but one day they're gonna be rich. We're gonna be rich together."

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