Potential showdown between WBA and ABC over bribery for ratings, writes Kurt Emhoff
THE month of July saw the WBA facing claims on two fronts of taking bribes from promoters in exchange for rating their fighters.
First, in an amended complaint of a lawsuit filed by heavyweight Manual Charr against promoter Don King, Charr’s counsel added the WBA as a defendant and accused King of paying WBA President Gilberto Mendoza bribes for ratings through a third-party company called Sports Consulting Services, LLC (SCS), in which Mendoza’s son Alfredo and another unnamed WBA employee had ownership interests.
A week later, two articles appeared (by Sean Nam of Boxing Scene and Alan Dawson of Insider, respectively) detailing how promoter Greg Cohen had admitted in sworn testimony (in a civil suit with one of his promotional company’s investors) to making payments to certain “consultants” in order to “lobby” the WBA on behalf of his fighters. One of the consultants he named was SCS, the other was matchmaker Ricardo Rizzo. Both articles also named Zailuby Cuba, the WBA’s social media manager (according to her LinkedIn account), as another ownership partner in SCS.
Payment for ratings is certainly not new to the sport. In 1977, Don King’s United States Boxing Championship tournament was cancelled by the television network, in part, due to allegations of King paying off The Ring magazine to falsify fighter records and rank certain undeserving fighters who had entered the tournament. In 1983, Bob Arum gave an interview to The Ring in which he admitted to paying the WBA bribes through a “bagman”, promoter Pepe Cordero, in order to get Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini a shot at the lightweight title. In 2000, IBF President Bob Lee was found guilty of taking bribes for ratings and sentenced to 22 months in prison. The IBF was forced by the judge in that case to undergo supervision by a monitor from the US federal government for the next four years.
Yet despite these scandals, The Ring, the WBA and the IBF continue to rate fighters and hand out championship belts to the present day. The absence of an overarching central governing body to discipline rogue sanctioning bodies has always been a major weakness of the sport.
What’s different about the present situation is that the US Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) is contemplating withdrawing recognition of the WBA in the US. The ABC President, Mike Mazzuli, told Yahoo! Sports writer Kevin Iole, “If these allegations against the WBA are proven true, the ABC will take action and will not welcome the WBA in the United States.”
It is not unprecedented for a national commission to refuse to recognise a major sanctioning body. The Japanese Boxing Commission (JBC) did not fully recognise either the WBO or the IBF from their inceptions in the 1980s, until finally relenting in 2013. The JBC did not permit Japanese “world champions” of the WBC or WBA to “unify” with an IBF or WBO until 2011 – and even then, if the belt-holder won the WBO or IBF title, they had to give it up before defending it.
The irony of all of this is that the ABC is now what the WBA used to be – a national association of US boxing commissions. From 1920-1962 – the National Boxing Association (NBA), the precursor to the WBA, was very similar to the ABC. The NBA was an association of nearly all of the US boxing commissions at a time when commissions were much more activist and authoritative. They would suspend fighters for breaking contracts, missing weight, being convicted of crimes (for example, Rocky Graziano and Muhammad Ali) and associating with shady characters (for example, Sonny Liston and Primo Carnera).
The biggest problem with the NBA was comity. Boxers suspended in one state would simply hop to another and fight, with the new state not honouring the decision of the suspending state. This was often the case when prominent fighters and big money fights were involved.
The NBA was famously never joined by the State of New York’s boxing commission, which remained independent due to its stature and influence in the sport. Those two separate entities often did not respect each other’s suspensions when prominent fighters were involved.
Since the inception of the ABC in 1986, and the advent of a new US federal laws in on boxer safety in the 1990s, cooperation between states over suspensions has vastly improved. However, it’s far from perfect. For example, in 2019, there was a lack of comity between the Nevada and Arizona commissions over Nevada suspending Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr for purposely avoiding VADA drug testers at his Las Vegas gym. Arizona did not respect the Nevada suspension and agreed to a scheduled fight for him. After some legal wrangling, Chavez Jnr prevailed, so Arizona allowed him to face Daniel Jacobs in Phoenix. Both commissions subsequently suspended Chavez Jnr indefinitely.
Which leads us to a big question in 2022. Namely, how much power does the ABC really have? Meaning, if a big name WBA belt-holder (say, Leo Santa Cruz) with big connections (like PBC and Showtime) wants to defend his title in the US, will the ABC members have solidarity and ban the WBA from sanctioning the fight anywhere in the country?
Mazzulli told Boxing News that there has been a positive response to his statement to Iole from other US commissioners and he’d have their backing if it came to it. But he also added that he hopes it doesn’t get to that point. Traditionally, the ABC has been a group that has not necessarily been activist. Former ABC President Tim Lueckenhoff once expressed frustration that the organisation was often scolded by the media for not taking action and that the ABC had no power and was a “toothless tiger”.
Mazzulli is adamant that if the allegations against the WBA are proven to be true, the ABC will not be passive. He stated that he’d “be down in Washington [DC] lobbying to do something about it. I’m not a guy who sits back and blames the Federal Government [for ignoring problems in boxing]. I’m a guy that’s going to require action and push for action.”
Mazzulli added: “We’re monitoring the situation. I’ve spoken with the board of directors [of the ABC]. It’s something that’s concerning and we’re going to see where it leads. I’ve spoken to a representative of the WBA and they’ve assured me that what was stated did not occur. But we’re monitoring it.”
This is definitely a situation to monitor as the WBA could also be subject to criminal charges of racketeering, similar to the IBF in the late 1990s. These are difficult days for the WBA, especially as they plan to move their headquarters back to the US from Panama.