WASHINGTON - With the controversial outcome of this month's WBO welterweight title fight in Las Vegas only the most recent black eye on boxing, key senators on Monday revived a bill to create a federal body to oversee the sport.
The proposed U.S. Boxing Commission would oversee all professional matches, license judges and referees, and appoint ones to work championship fights. It also would license boxers, promoters and managers and would have the power to revoke licenses for unethical or illegal conduct or to protect fighters.
"This bill would better protect professional boxing from the fraud, corruption and ineffective regulation that has plagued the sport for too many years," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who joined with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to sponsor the bill. McCain and Reid are longtime boxing fans who have sat side-by-side at some of the biggest fights in Las Vegas. McCain boxed at the Naval Academy, and Reid is a former middleweight boxer.
Bills they have pushed to create a federal boxing body have advanced in the Senate in recent years but never completed passage.
Monday's resuscitated proposal to regulate the sport drew immediate criticism by Nevada boxing interests, one who called the proposal Draconian and another who told the federal government to stay out of boxing.
MCCAIN VOICES CONCERNS
McCain said in a speech Monday the disputed June 9 title fight between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley is propelling the new push for federal boxing legislation.
Bradley was declared the winner in a split decision at the MGM Grand Garden to the astonishment of many who attended or watched it on pay per view.
Two judges, Duane Ford and C.J. Ross, had Bradley winning 115-113, while the third judge, Jerry Roth, gave the decision to Pacquiao by the same score. Most ringside observers had Pacquiao winning handily, and the Filipino fighter dominated in the punch statistics.
"The Pacquiao-Bradley fight is the latest example of the legitimate distrust boxing fans have for the integrity of the sport," McCain said. "After the Pacquiao-Bradley decision was announced, fans were clearly apoplectic, and many commentators found the decision astonishing."
Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said Reid and McCain "have worked on this legislation for many years, and they will continue to do so."
Reid last week endorsed calls by fight promoter Bob Arum for Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to look into the fight's scoring.
Reid said he does not believe the Pacquiao-Bradley fight reflects poorly on the Nevada Athletic Commission, which he called "the best boxing organization in the country supervised by the state." He said a federal boxing body could be modeled on Nevada's regulations.
Reid, who is a longtime friend of Ford's, told Fox News last week he did not believe there was anything nefarious in how the fight was judged. It was just "a bad day for a couple of judges."
CRITICISM FROM NEVADA
Arum, chairman of Top Rank and a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, said while he is glad to see interest from Capitol Hill, he has some concerns about the 51-page bill in its initial form.
"It's Draconian," Arum said. "It will over-regulate, and it's unnecessary to examine every check, every contract. But this is a reaction to what happened in Nevada during the Pacquiao-Bradley fight.
"The reason Harry and McCain introduced the bill is because they're upset with boxing."
Skip Avansino, chairman of the NAC, said Monday he had not had a chance to review the bill. But he wasn't sure a federal boxing commission would cure any perceived ills.
"From the perspective of Nevada, a federal boxing commission wouldn't necessarily add a new level of regulation that we don't already execute in our own state," Avansino said. "I have great respect for Senators Reid and McCain, and the federal government certainly has the right to look into this matter if they wish. This isn't the first time this has been proposed."
Cameron Dunkin, who manages Bradley, said the federal government needs to stay out of boxing.
"It would be an absolute nightmare," Dunkin said. "It would be the worst thing for boxing. It would be a lot of political hacks playing God. You're going to have people who know nothing about boxing making policy? It's insanity."
Arum, who promotes both Pacquiao and Bradley, said that if states like Nevada did their jobs, there wouldn't be a need for federal commissions.
"The reality is people have lost confidence in the commissions," Arum said. "People are upset with Nevada."
Dunkin said he is tired of hearing all the conspiracy theorists claiming the fight was fixed and boxing is a corrupt sport.
"There's nothing that's corrupt," he said. "People watch some movie from 1940 with Humphrey Bogart, and they think they're an expert on boxing. What we need to do is police ourselves, sit down with all the (state) commissions and work together to make things better."
Stephens Washington Bureau writer Peter Urban contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC. Contact Review-Journal reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913.