The Money Punch

Local boxing aficionados are so desperate for a revived state boxing commission that one of them, Dr. Russell Simpson, even attempted to recruit his friend Liz Romer, the governor's daughter, to deliver a message to the governor beseeching him to appoint a commissioner by executive order. But despite the unorthodox efforts of the volunteer members of the Colorado Boxing Alliance (CBA), the governor has all but ignored them. And although federal law requires that each state have a boxing commission, the Colorado Legislature has voted against setting one up, citing the hefty price tag attached to it by state regulators.

As a result, Colorado remains one of only five states without a boxing commission, leading some local boxing officials to call it an "outlaw state" open to such abuses as permitting unqualified pugs or overmatched youngsters to fight for unscrupulous promoters. The state hasn't had a boxing commission since 1977, when legislators killed it amid allegations of corruption and racism.

A bill calling for the creation of a new commission was pushed by the CBA during last spring's legislative session. The proposal made it all the way to the House Appropriations Committee before it was killed.

"Our efforts have turned into a total dead end," says the CBA's Rex Walker. "It looked good until the regulators got ahold of it. They said we needed $266,000 to run a commission, when in fact we've been operating on about $7,000 annually. It's a typical case of a bureaucrat creating something totally unnecessary for the sake of creating a bureaucracy."

CBA lobbyist Diane Rees (whose salary is paid by a CBA volunteer) says she tried to sway the Appropriations Committee by suggesting that the commission's budget could be partially funded by taxes on fight tickets or pay-per-view receipts. But in the end, neither option trimmed the budget enough for the committee's liking. "The legislators see a need for a commission," says Rees, "but not at a quarter of a million dollars."

The official responsible for the proposed commission budget is Rene Ramirez, director of the Office of Policy and Research for the Department of Regulatory Agencies, the same department that housed the original Colorado boxing commission.

And Ramirez defends his work. "The budget was arrived at after looking at New Mexico and Arizona, two other states of comparable size and geographic location," says Ramirez. "But I also studied the demise of the commission in '77. If we were going to set up a new commission, we'd have to make sure it provided the public and the industry strict assurances that we'd have people making sure every aspect passed regulatory muster. I figured that it would be more frugal to do a good job up front."

But CBA members say that Ramirez did too thorough of a job. In his proposed budget, Ramirez included funding for a full-time director, clerk, investigator and accountant. "He even budgeted $8,000 for four quarterly meetings," says Woody Kislowski of the CBA. "What does he think we're getting served? Lobster? The CBA is meeting at Old Chicago this week, and we'll probably spend a hundred bucks on pizza."

Kislowski adds that many of the positions Ramirez wanted to fill with full-time staff were completely unnecessary. "He said we needed an investigator to do background checks and so on and so forth. There's no need," he says. "All we have to do is call Fight Facts and they'll send us all the information we need. There's just not enough activity here to warrant a budget like that. Rene is an honest and sincere guy, but he has no idea what's going on with boxing in Colorado."

And some CBA members say that the current practice of importing commissioners from other states to supervise Colorado bouts creates the same problem. "The danger with bringing in people from out of state is a lack of familiarity with the local characters," says Ed Walsh of the CBA. "If you've got a commissioner who's from Colorado, people aren't going to try and pull anything over on him. And if they do, he can nip it in the bud. Familiarity and stability will lead to safety [of the boxers], which has always been our biggest concern."

Colorado hasn't had a state-run boxing commission since legislators "sunsetted" what was then called the State Athletic Commission because of alleged financial misconduct and accusations that the head of the commission was racially biased against black and Hispanic boxers. The sport took a nosedive in Colorado, but a new federal law pressuring every state to have its own commission in an attempt to clean up the sport created a sense of urgency among local fighters and promoters. Unable to sell legislators on the idea of a state-run commission, Colorado promoters have been forced to bring in commissioners from other states, which raises the hackles of not only local boxing officials but also some lawmakers who don't like the federally ordered intrusion into state affairs.

Perhaps because of the out-of-state sanctioning, which produces a crazy quilt of conflicting rules and standards, the fight game in Colorado has languished. Even the presence of Denver-based heavyweight promoter America Presents, which is bankrolled by cable tycoon Bill Daniels and features big-name fighters like Olympic super welterweight champ David Reid, hasn't resulted in more high-quality bouts in Colorado.

"Any state worth its own weight needs its own commission," says Dan Goossen, chief operating officer of America Presents, which relocated to Colorado this year. "You can't rely on out-of-state officials to look out for the best interests of Colorado."

Goossen says that of the approximately forty bouts his company will promote next year, only one of them is slated for Colorado. He attributes this to the lack of a commission. "Having a Colorado commission is just like the Nuggets and the Pepsi Center," Goossen says. "Certain things have to be done in order to get a high-level team."

But the only thing that's high-level about Colorado boxing at this point is the price tag affixed to its commission. "Money is the biggest problem for Colorado," says Greg Sirb, the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-based president of the Association of Boxing Commissions. "We have fifty pro fights in Pennsylvania, and our budget is about $225,000. Colorado has ten fights, and their budget [would be] bigger than ours. Even Nevada doesn't spend over $300,000."

Other states with comparable boxing activity have budgets that make the one proposed for Colorado seem lavish. Arizona holds 37 annual events with a $60,000 budget, while Nebraska hosts 34 fights with a budget of $55,000. Montana has 15 events annually with a paltry budget of $15,000. CBA officials say that they proposed a working budget of $36,544 for 18 events. The State of Colorado's estimate, almost $230,000 higher, knocked them out of the ring.

After the boxing bill was K.O.'d by lawmakers, members of the CBA looked to Governor Romer. However, repeated attempts to get through to him have failed. "We've sent letters, we've made calls and got no answer," says Walker. "It's been like throwing them down a sinkhole."

That's when CBA member Russell Simpson tried to trade on his friendship with Romer's daughter to get through to the governor. "Liz Romer is a good friend of the family," says Simpson. "I approached her with the idea that she might be able to talk to her father on our behalf, but she felt that the burden was really upon us. But I haven't given up on the idea of getting hold of the governor personally."

Matt Sugar, Romer's deputy press secretary, insists that Romer has seen only one letter from the boxing community--despite the dozen sent. But Sugar says that even if the governor were to appoint a boxing commissioner, it wouldn't solve the problem. "Theoretically, the governor could set up a boxing commission, but without legislative authority, it would have no bite," says Sugar. "The only thing different would be the name."

It's also unclear whether that solution would satisfy the new federal law. But the CBA is convinced that it would. "All we need is a guy with some state sanction," says Walsh. "We can fund ourselves."

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