He was brave enough to say “No” to Muhammad Ali fighting in Las Vegas and smart enough to say “Yes” to bringing Jerry Tarkanian to UNLV.
That alone qualifies Sig Rogich for a spot in the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame. But Rogich did so much more for sports in the city, primarily helping to adopt regulations to make boxing safer and help raise the profile of championship fights on the Strip.
“I always felt the safety of the fighters was paramount,” said Rogich, the longtime public relations and advertising executive who is best known for his role in politics and campaigns.
“I thought our credibility as a commission was at stake if we didn’t implement the things we did to make boxing safer.”
While Rogich served on the Nevada Athletic Commission from 1974 to 1986, rounds were reduced from 15 to 12 for title fights, a fourth rope was added to help keep fighters inside the ring, the mandatory standing eight count was eliminated, guidelines for taping the hands of fighters were implemented, and a licensed physician was required at ringside for every fight.
“I wanted us to have the best referees and judges,” said Rogich, who brought in Jerry Roth to judge fights and Richard Steele to referee. “I thought they would add to our credibility as a commission, and they did.”
But Rogich wished he could have kept Ali out of the ring at Caesars Palace on Oct. 2, 1980, when Ali, well past his prime, fought Larry Holmes. Rogich had watched Ali train and wasn’t convinced he was in good enough shape to fight Holmes. He had Ali get checked out at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and when Ali was given a clean bill of health, only then did Rogich allowed the fight to take place.
It was a one-sided bout, Holmes whipping up on Ali and finally getting a 10th-round technical knockout when Ali’s trainer, Angelo Dundee, had the fight stopped after the 10th round.
Two months later, Ali returned to Las Vegas, looking to get licensed for a fight against Trevor Berbick. Rogich, still chairman of the commission, wasn’t going to be fooled twice.
But he faced a public relations nightmare if he rejected Ali’s request
“There must have been 50 newspaper guys and media there that day,” Rogich said. “I was friends with Ali, and I didn’t want to embarrass him by saying no. The hearing was going badly for him, to be honest. So I called for a recess, went to the bathroom, and Gene Kilroy, who was Ali’s business manager then, walked in. I said to him, ‘Gene, I don’t think we can give Muhammad a license. But I don’t want to hurt him and have to turn him down.’ And Gene said, ‘What do you have in mind?’ And I said, ‘If you withdraw your request for the license, we’ll strike it from the agenda and there won’t be a need for a vote, because, honestly, I don’t think the votes are there.’
“So we go back to the room, and the meeting starts back up. Gene asks to address the commission, so I call him up to the microphone, and he says, ‘We respectfully withdraw our request for a license,’ and I immediately approved it, banged the gavel down and we were out of there.”
On Dec. 11, 1981, Ali met Berbick in the Bahamas in what would be his final fight. He lost, finishing his career 56-5 with 37 knockouts.
As diplomatic as Rogich was in turning down Ali, he was equally persistent in convincing Tarkanian to leave Long Beach State to come to UNLV in 1973.
“I think I called Jerry and (wife) Lois 60 straight days,” said Rogich, who was part of a booster group that included Davey Pearl, Bill “Wildcat” Morris, Wayne Pearson and Ted Jacobs. “I really believed Jerry was the right person to coach UNLV. His teams played up-tempo. He could recruit, and he was a winner, going back to his JC days at Pasadena City.
“The key was convincing Lois. But eventually she agreed, and the rest is history. It proved my intuition was right about Tark.”
Rogich said he’s not sure he deserves to be honored by a sports hall of fame but appreciates the recognition.
“It’s a wonderful honor, one I never expected,” he said. “I love sports, and to have contributed to making us the fight capital of the world is something I’m proud of.”
Contact Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow on Twitter: @stevecarprj