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Boxing Commissions Hope to Heal a Bruised Sport

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MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - As tribal boxing commissions become more prominent in
regulating this often beleaguered sport, many are hoping they will help to
heal its battered image.

Indian casinos are providing venues for growing number of boxing cards. In
2003, the Association of Boxing Commissions received reports of 36 shows, a
full set of matches, directly regulated by tribal authorities, and a far
larger number may have taken place at California Indian casinos, which did
not report separately. It's a reasonable guess that at least 10 percent of
last year's 856 boxing shows took place under tribal auspices, and the
national total was the highest in a decade.

As a direct result, the Association of Boxing Commissions, the national
organization of state and tribal regulators of the sport, is pushing for an
increased role for tribal commissions. (As sovereign government bodies, the
tribal commissions have all the powers of a state commission, such as
ordering medical suspensions of fighters that will be observed throughout
the United States.) The ABC has doubled the number of tribal members in the
last two years and is actively bringing their delegates into its

"We voted in four new (tribal) members in our meeting in Miami two years
ago," said Tim Lueckenhoff, president of the ABC. "Our goal is to get one
elected to office next session." Joanna Aguilar, a representative of the
Pueblo of Santa Ana Boxing Commission, is already serving as Secretary of
the ABC Board as an interim appointee, said Lueckenhoff, and Billy Cypress,
chairman of the Miccosukee Athletic Commission, is the Region 2 ABC
regional director.

Tribes who are not ABC members are also stepping up their programs. The
Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif., will host a boxing card
April 17 that will be internationally televised by NBC Sports and Telemundo
of Mexico. The Budweiser Boxing Series will also include a card in Yakima,
Wash., as another of its five broadcasts. The Pechanga boxing commission is
not an ABC member, but the Yakama Nation Athletic Commission is one of the
Association's new additions.

The other new members are the Southern Ute Indian Boxing Commission, the
Pueblo of Santa Ana Athletic Commission and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw
Indians Boxing Commission. They joined the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal
Nation Athletic Commission, the Miccosukee Athletic Commission, the Mohegan
Tribe Department of Athletic Regulation and the Oneida Indian Nation
Athletic Commission. The Pueblo of San Juan was a member but dropped out.

Lueckenhoff said that none of the California tribes were represented on the
ABC, although the state commission was. "We would like to have them," he

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The influx of tribal leadership comes as boxing faces one of its periodic
scandals. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Federal Bureau of
Investigation is actively following tips alleging fight fixing or
deliberately arranged mismatches by one of the largest fight promoters in
Las Vegas, the Top Rank company owned by Bob Arum. No indictments have
resulted, but several boxing figures have acknowledged that they are being
investigated. According to the L.A. Times, FBI agents served search
warrants on Arum's headquarters Jan. 6, confiscating 100 boxes of

None of the reports have cited fights at Indian casinos, however. A
spokesman for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which has an active
and growing boxing schedule, emphasized that casinos have a major economic
stake in keeping their fight programs free of scandal. Referring to their
range of gaming activities, he said, "The public has to be confident that
our games are fair."

Lueckenhoff added that the investigations hadn't had great impact yet
because no charges had been brought.

Professional boxing also suffers from occasional personal disasters in the
ring, when a fighter suffers a serious or even fatal injury. Tribal casinos
have not escaped these tragedies. In early March a former Peruvian national
champion, Luis Villalta, 35, died after losing consciousness in the
aftermath of a title bout at the Seminole Tribe of Florida Coconut Creek
Casino. Lueckenhoff said that the tribal commission had provided the full
range of medical support.

"Everything was in place," he said of the emergency response. "They had
insurance and an ambulance was already on site."

Although the fatalities often cause an outcry, Lueckenhoff noted, "the
purpose of the sport is to hit someone in the head, hoping for a knockout.
So there are going to be injuries."

Another complaint against boxing is that rank and file prize-fighters often
end their careers with physical impairments and little in the way of
disability support. Periodic attempts have been made to provide a pension
fund, but some now look to the tribal commissions for leadership, citing
the traditional Native respect for the individual warrior. Whatever
transpires, the sport of boxing and the tribes will clearly be part of each
other's future.