By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
In a nasty squabble that reflects Colorado's status as a state in limbo as far as professional boxing is concerned, Denver's biggest promoter, Andy Lee, has been suspended.
It's not as if Lee had been accused of fixing fights or bamboozling boxers out of their paydays; he was suspended for six months on August 28 for relatively minor infractions of rules. And he claims that the suspension was the result of personal animosity between him and Woody Kislowski, head of the all-volunteer Colorado Boxing Alliance.
"I think a big part of this is personal and has nothing to do with boxing," says Lee. "Woody's been busting my balls for a long time now."
The blow to local boxing comes as the state is in the midst of the latest attempt by boxing enthusiasts to set up an official regulatory agency so that Colorado can comply with a recent federal law aimed at cleaning up the fight game ("The Money Punch," November 13, 1997). And because Colorado is one of only five states that lacks a state-sanctioned boxing commission, Lee's punishment was meted out by officials of the Nebraska Athletic Commission --after the Nebraskans consulted with Kislowski and other CBA members.
Kislowski insists that Lee's suspension, which followed an incident involving an unscheduled match between kickboxers, had nothing to do with their personal clashes. "The bottom line is that I have zero authority," says Kislowski. "Although the CBA's role has become more significant in recent months, it's still the Nebraska commissioners' call. Andy and I were good friends, but we're on opposite sides of the fence, and my job with the CBA is to call him when I think he's violating the rules. Andy has had a hard time accepting that feedback, direction and sometimes criticism."
Longtime CBA member Ed Walsh says Lee's suspension was not the result of one incident.
"In all fairness," says Walsh, "Andy carried the torch of boxing for years in this town. Every Denver fighter owes him a debt of gratitude. As a result, Andy had a line of credit with the CBA which we allowed to go well into overdraft. Andy didn't do anything egregious, really--he was just unwilling to go along with the program. His attitude towards the CBA ranged from cavalier to truculent, and that's why he got bumped."
But the power struggle puts Denver's immediate boxing future in jeopardy, because Lee has been responsible for an estimated 95 percent of the metro area's boxing cards since 1990.
"Andy Lee put Denver on the map as far as boxing is concerned," says Radine Tovar, wife and manager of Colorado lightweight champion Tito "TNT" Tovar of Denver. "There wouldn't even be a CBA without him. This suspension is a wake-up call, not only for Andy, but for the CBA and the fighters as well. But I'm afraid that without Andy, fights will dry up here in Denver. I can't imagine that other promoters are going to fill the void in his absence."
"If Andy wasn't under suspension," says Lawson, "I wouldn't go into Denver to promote a fight. With his suspension, I might entertain offers to come up there. Still, I'd have to think about it beforehand, because I've got enough respect for Andy not to go into an area that he's worked so hard to develop."
"I've got no problem with the CBA," continues Lawson, who promotes bouts in Colorado and Nevada. "The CBA is trying to run clean, safe shows, and in my experience, it's handled itself well and has helped stabilize boxing in this state."
While Lee is widely acknowledged as having developed the fight game in Denver, the only thing he's developed with the CBA, and Kislowski in particular, is enmity. The federal Professional Boxing Safety Act was passed in 1997 in hopes of cleaning up a sport that the bill's sponsor, Arizona Republican senator John McCain, called "the red-light district of sports." The law requires every state that wants to hold bouts to set up its own commission. Those that don't, like Colorado, which hasn't had a commission since scandal forced the dismantling of the last one in 1977, must bring in outside commissioners to sanction fights. These outside commissioners are also responsible for suspending fighters and promoters, but they often consult with local groups like the CBA before taking action. That puts the CBA at odds with promoters.
Lee's suspension comes at a time when things are looking brighter for a Colorado boxing commission. Rene Ramirez, director of the state Office of Policy and Research, previously put the price tag on a boxing commission at close to $300,000, but that scared off lawmakers from approving a commission last spring. However, after attending several fights, Ramirez says that he now sees the importance of a Colorado commission and that his original cost estimate may have been too high. He says his office will submit a revised application for a boxing commission to a legislative panel on October 15.
"Certainly, we're impressed with the CBA's commitment to providing a safe environment for the fighters and the public," says Ramirez.