A Quick Review of Legal, Regulatory, and Contractual Issues in Boxing and MMA from the Past Several Weeks
Arbitrator Sends Donaire Back to Top Rank in a Flash: Unified bantamweight titlist and pound-for-pound entrant Nonito (The Filipino Flash) Donaire, fresh off of his crushing February 19, 2011 stoppage of Fernando Montiel, found himself at the center of the latest legal battle between Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions in mid-March when he signed a multi-year promotional agreement with Golden Boy Promotions and filed a lawsuit against Top Rank seeking a declaratory judgment stating that he had no further obligations to Top Rank due to alleged breaches of contract. At the time, Top Rank felt that it still had a valid contract with Donaire and indicated that it would enforce its rights under the agreement. Sure enough, Top Rank did, and by the end of March, an arbitrator enjoined Golden Boy from promoting Donaire during the time remaining on his agreement with Top Rank. A message to all professional boxers in promotional agreements who wish to go elsewhere: Be very certain that your promotional agreement has either expired, or has been materially breached, under its terms before making any drastic moves. We’ll find out in the coming months if WBA Light Heavyweight Champion Beibut Shumenov did just that, as he recently announced that he was severing ties with his promoter, Goossen-Tutor, and is seeking a declaratory judgment in a Nevada court to support his position.
Could Solis be a Loser Again in His Own Personal Battle of Wounded Knee?: It was widely rumored after his suspect first round stoppage loss to Vitali Klitschko on March 19, 2011 that Odlanier (La Sombra) Solis had covered up a pre-existing knee injury so that he would be permitted to fight. While his handlers vociferously rejected any such notions, the controversy begs the question of what could happen if an athletic commission suspended a boxer for failure to disclose an injury? In New York, Solis could be denied a license on three separate grounds if such a finding were made elsewhere. First, the New York State Athletic Commission is empowered to deny a license to anyone for “medical reasons.” Secondly, the Commission is empowered to revoke or suspend a license (though not expressly deny one) on the grounds that a boxer “has been guilty of or attempted any fraud or misrepresentation in connection with boxing[.]” Finally, New York could simply decide to recognize another commission’s suspension and decline a license for that reason as well. In sum, if an adverse finding were to come out of Germany as to the outcome of the Solis-Klitschko fight, Solis may lose another battle or two because of his wounded knee.
Nevada Debating Bill That Will Hopefully Not Stay in Just Las Vegas: A bill was introduced in the Nevada State Legislature in late March that would attach fees to boxing tickets and funnel the money earned from same to the medical expenses for retired boxers. An amendment to the proposed bill also provides that promoters would have to carry $200,000 in catastrophic injury insurance, an increase of $150,000 from the current mandate. The proposed bill faces opposition from the Nevada State Athletic Commission, as Executive Director Keith Kizer reportedly believes that the additional fees and insurance coverage are both unrealistic and could have a chilling effect on professional boxing in Nevada. Whether the bill is successful or not, here’s hoping it will lead to renewed dialogue about how to care for boxing’s wounded warriors once their careers are over.
West Virginia Joins the MMAdness, Forest Lake Stops It: While West Virginia became the latest state to regulate MMA this past month, Forest Lake, Minnesota recently did its part to remain part of the nation’s dwindling opposition to it. Following a several day showdown that pitted Forest Lake city officials against MMA promoter Vivid MMA, an amateur mixed martial arts event scheduled for April 2, 2011 was canceled pursuant to a local ordinance that makes it a misdemeanor offense to “permit or participate in the practice or promotion of ultimate fighting.” Between the vagueness of the ordinance as to what constitutes “ultimate fighting” and the Minnesota Combative Sports Commission’s power to regulate MMA statewide, it would not surprise Standing 8 Court to ultimately see a legal challenge to the ordinance, which places Forest Lake distinctly out of sync with the rest of Minnesota.
New York Will Not Be Out of Commission After All: As first reported on “The Fight Lawyer Blog” on March 29, 2011, a provision in New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget that would have resulted in the elimination of the salary of New York State Athletic Commission Chairperson Melvina Lathan was itself eliminated from the budget. The result is that the New York Athletic Commission will not lose Lathan as its Chairperson, at least not during the upcoming budget cycle. For more on the risks of cutting Lathan’s salary and the New York State Athletic Commission’s budget as a whole, please see “The Risks of Putting New York Out of Commission” at http://www.8countnews.com/news/125/ARTICLE/3401/2011-03-06.html.
“Forged Fight” Results in Two Early Casualties: The lawsuit between heavyweight contender Shannon Briggs and The Empire Sports and Entertainment Company has already resulted in two casualties before the pending motion to dismiss Briggs’ complaint was even decided by the New York County Supreme Court. On March 21, 2011, it was reported that The Empire was withdrawing from the boxing business, leaving its former president, Greg Cohen, to form his own promotional company. The following day, it was reported in The Sun, a London newspaper, that Briggs announced his retirement from boxing via Twitter due, in part, to his disgust with the business of boxing. While The Empire’s hasty withdrawal from the boxing world left the boxers it had under contract in limbo as promotional free agents, Briggs’ departure from boxing marks the end of the career of one of the most explosive and charismatic heavyweights of the past 15 years. For more on the lawsuit that likely helped spark these recent events, please see “Briggs-Klitschko; A Forged Fight?” at http://www.8countnews.com/news/125/ARTICLE/3432/2011-03-12.html.
And Speaking of “Night of the Young Heavyweights” Alum Involved in Late Career Controversies: HBO’s March 16, 1995 “Night of the Young Heavyweights” was supposed to introduce the world to both the undefeated Shannon Briggs and his similarly undefeated New Zealand counterpart David Tua. At the time, Briggs was regarded as such an uber-prospect by boxing cognoscenti that HBO did even both bother profiling his opponent, Darroll (Doin’ Damage) Wilson, in its pre-fight review of the young heavyweights featured that night. However, while Tua did his part to say hello to boxing fans around the world that night by savaging future world titleholder John (The Quiet Man) Ruiz in perhaps the most explosive 19 seconds in heavyweight history, Briggs’ momentum hit a massive pothole when he was shockingly stopped by the unheralded Wilson in three rounds. Fast forward to March 2011, and Briggs and Tua were again the talk of the boxing world this past month, although this time, both for negative reasons. As noted above, Briggs tweeted his retirement from boxing just a short period of time after filing a lawsuit against his old promoters/ business partners. Meanwhile, Tua was involved in a controversy of a different kind as his latest opponent, Demetrice King, was not paid for several days following his 10-round decision loss to Tua on March 19, 2011. The origin of the dispute was reportedly confusion as to who was responsible for King’s purse and has since been resolved. Tua’s opponents going forward, however, will likely be wary of committing to a fight with him if not provided with written upfront assurances that they will be paid in a timely manner. As a side note, while Tua went the distance with King, Briggs laid waste to King in two rounds back in 2005.
Team Mayweather Fails to Weather the Defamation Storm: United States District Judge Larry Hicks recently denied Team Mayweather’s motion to dismiss the defamation suit brought by Manny Pacquiao on December 30 2009. The lawsuit, which was the result of a host of allegations concerning Pacquiao’s alleged use of performance enhancing drugs, was kept alive after Judge Hicks found that Pacquiao “sufficiently pled malice[,]” the key element in a defamation suit filed by a public figure. For Standing 8 Court’s initial thoughts and commentary on this lawsuit, please see “How Team Mayweather May be Able to Weather the Defamation Storm” at http://www.8countnews.com/news/138/ARTICLE/2192/2010-01-01.html.
Pac Man Allows Fans and Skeptics to Gobble Up His Supplements: In an apparent response to lingering questions as to Manny Pacquiao’s use of dietary supplements and/or performance enhancing drugs, Pacquiao’s conditioning coach Alex Ariza told FIghthype.com in mid-March that he would begin providing information on all of the supplements provided to Pacquiao on Team Pacquiao’s official website. Sure enough, a quick look at “Ariza’s Training & Diet” blog on the “Official Manny Pacquiao Website” reveals several postings by Ariza detailing exactly what supplements he has been providing to Pacquiao. Whether Ariza’s blog provides full disclosure will be revealed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission and the drug testing it will administer to Pacquiao in advance of, and immediately after, his May 7, 2011 bout with “Sugar” Shane Mosley. For more on drug testing in professional boxing, please see “The Rules Regarding Blood That May Put Mayweather-Pacquiao in the Crypt” at http://www.8countnews.com/news/125/ARTICLE/2169/2009-12-23.html and “Has the Mayweather-Pacquiao Drug Controversy Touched on The Cure for a Lack of Uniform Rules?” at http://www.8countnews.com/news/138/ARTICLE/2209/2010-01-07.html.
Can UFC’s Acquisition of Strikeforce Create Trust Issues with the U.S. Government?: The UFC made another substantial step towards assuring its continued supremacy on the U.S. MMA scene in early March when it acquired rival promoter Strikeforce. After UFC’s announcement of the merger, internet chat boards were abuzz about its implications. At least some of those chat boards also hosted debate as to whether UFC’s acquisition raises any anti-trust concerns. While it may be premature to suggest UFC has an actual monopoly on the promotion of MMA in the United States, the Clayton Anti-Trust Act makes it illegal to partake in mergers and acquisitions that substantially reduce market competition. In the event that MMA becomes a priority for the U.S. government, therefore, an anti-trust claim may be one way they can endeavor to go after the UFC. Given the proliferation of MMA promoters throughout the country and the nation’s increasing appetite for MMA, however, such a claim would likely face a difficult battle in court.
Morals Clause Alert Turns Out to be False Alarm in Germany: In late March, a German court overturned the assault conviction of WBO Light Heavyweight Champion Jurgen Brahmer on appeal citing a lack of evidence. The reversal means that Brahmer will not be facing a 16 month prison term any longer for purportedly hitting a woman during a bar fight, and clears him to focus solely on his upcoming title May 21 title defense against Nathan Cleverly. It also means that his management and promotional teams need not spend any more time reviewing any morals clauses or tolling provisions that might have in their respective agreements to evaluate how to protect their interests during, or as a result of, Brahmer’s incarceration. For more on the use of morals clauses and tolling provisions in boxing contracts, please see “Throwing Stones When Living With a Glass Jaw?” at http://www.8countnews.com/news/138/ARTICLE/1872/2009-08-31.html and “Toll Road Back to Ghost Town?” at http://www.8countnews.com/news/138/ARTICLE/1968/2009-10-05.html.
Nevada Believes Silva Took a Leak on Their Drug Testing Protocols: UFC light heavyweight contender Thiago Silva is scheduled to appear at a suspension hearing before the Nevada State Athletic Commission on April 7, 2011 after allegedly submitting a urine sample “inconsistent with human urine” following his January 1, 2011 victory over Brandon Vera at UFC 125. Silva has not yet been suspended, and has 20 days after his receipt of any complaint to answer same. If it turns out that the urine actually came from a rooster and not Silva, Standing 8 Court will consider his actions a step backward in the battle to stop comparisons between MMA and cockfighting.
Reverse Sanctioned Offenses Alert in Germany: Back in January, the British Boxing Board of Control (the “BBBC”) advised that it would not approve WBA Heavyweight Champion David (The Hayemaker) Haye’s mandatory challenger Ruslan Chagaev for a license due to his history of hepatitis B. Not satisfied with the BBBC’s decision and its implications, Chagaev’s promoter, Klaus-Peter Kohl, is now threatening the WBA with a lawsuit if it does not compel the bout to take place. Kohl notes that Chagaev participated in a sanctioned WBA eliminator and paid the fees for same in support of his position, but fails to acknowledge the weight that the BBBC’s decision may have placed on the WBA’s own decision making process since the eliminator.
Did Jose Canseco Find a Way to Scandalize a Second Sport?: In 2005, would be Hall-of-Fame baseball player Jose Canseco sent shockwaves through Major League Baseball with his tell-all account of steroid use in professional baseball. He now may have found a way to scandalize the next sport he decided to try out, celebrity boxing. It was widely reported in late March that Canseco quietly sent his twin brother, Ozzie, to participate in a celebrity boxing match at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida in place of him. Canseco purportedly denied the allegations in a telephone call with the New York Post and placed the blame squarely on the card’s promoter, Damon Feldman. He allegedly stated that Feldman tried to pawn off Ozzie Canseco as Jose at the last minute, though Ozzie himself was a former professional ball player and thus worthy of being a celebrity boxer in his own right. If Canseco told the truth to the New York Post, it would not be the biggest surprise, as Feldman recently pleaded no contest to fight fixing and promoting fights without a license in Pennsylvania.
Follow Paul Stuart Haberman, Esq. on Twitter at @Standing8Court. This article is also available on http://www.8countnews.com.