Z "The Dream" Gorres, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a November 2009 fight at Mandalay Bay's House of Blues that left him partially paralyzed, rang up medical expenses of nearly $600,000 during two months of intensive care at University Medical Center.
Because the health insurance the 27-year-old father of four carried into the ring covered only $50,000 of the bill, taxpayers were left to pick up most of the tab run up at Southern Nevada's county hospital.
On Monday, the Assembly Judiciary Committee held a hearing on legislation that would increase the required amount of health insurance on fighters when they're competing in Nevada. The committee heard televised testimony from the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas, where a law professor from the Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; a former UNLV student; and the university's former boxing coach spoke on behalf of the battered boxer bill.
The legislation, introduced by Assemblyman Harvey J. Munford, D-Las Vegas, has as its centerpiece a proposed fund to help pay for injuries to retired fighters and mixed martial arts contestants.
Munford's proposal would raise an existing surcharge on tickets to live professional fights from $1 to $2 per ticket for fights that gross more than $500,000. It would raise per-ticket fees from 50 cents to $1 for fights grossing less than $500,000.
Testifying on behalf of an amendment proposed by Assemblyman Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, law school professor Robert Correales said some money from the increased surcharge would be used to increase the health insurance for boxers fighting in Nevada to $200,000.
While battered boxers and health insurance would receive funding out of the fees, so would organizations that promote amateur contests, which is done now through the current surcharge.
Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, testified against the bill, arguing that it is unrealistic.
He said it would be practically impossible to prove that retired boxers who were suffering from assorted conditions were hurt in Nevada.
"They fight all over the world," he said.
Both former UNLV boxing coach Frank Slaughter and Boyd Law School graduate Jayme Martinez said it was important that boxers have more health insurance so that if they get badly hurt, taxpayers don't have to pick up the bill.
Under the current situation, boxing promoters pay a premium of about $3,100 for health insurance to cover a 10-bout boxing card with 20 fighters. Mixed martial arts promoters pay a $6,300 premium for the same number of bouts and fighters. Each fighter can get up to $50,000 each to pay for injuries under those insurance plans. There is a $500 deductible.
Injuries such as those suffered by Gorres, Kizer said, almost never happen.
From 1995 to 2005, 10 fighters sustained career-ending brain injuries in Nevada, with two boxers, Leavander Johnson and Martin Sanchez Jr., both dying from subdural hematomas, the same brain injury Gorres sustained.
Because of federal privacy laws, Correales said UMC officials are unable to release the medical records of fighters to whom they gave care. "I know there's a lot more than 10 who have been badly hurt," he said after the hearing.
According to a spokeswoman for Cole Insurance in Dallas, a firm that has written insurance for fights in Las Vegas, it is unknown how much it would cost to have the coverage jump to $200,000 per fighter.
"It would be way more," she said. "But we'd have to calculate it."
Kizer said increased costs can only hurt the chances of bringing more fights to Las Vegas. He did say, however, that the athletic commission favors coverage for catastrophic injuries. He said he does not believe that the increased surcharge could cover injuries to retired boxers, increased health insurance and promotion of amateur fights.
Pat Lundvall, chairwoman of the Nevada Athletic Commission, told the Review-Journal in 2010 that she envisioned a monetary pool for catastrophic injuries being funded through a small percentage of both ticket sales and pay-per-view sales in Nevada.
"We still got time to put this together," Correales said, adding that it may be wise for committee members to talk more about a pool for catastrophes rather than increased insurance coverage for everybody who enters the ring.
Segerblom said he and Munford will discuss the proposed bill with the athletic commission before any legislative action is taken.
Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.