ABC Democracy in Action

By Robert Ecksel on August 27, 2013
ABC Democracy in Action
Bullets whizzed past him and bombs exploded overhead, but he kept his cool under fire.

Power struggles and personal biases aside, the ABC, whatever its limitations, acts as a bulwark to keep the sport’s worst offenders in check…

Democracy is messy. We see it in Washington, DC. We see it in San Antonio.

I was recently in Texas for the Golden Boy/Showtime tripleheader headlined by Andre Berto vs. Jesus Soto Karass. On the Monday following the fights, the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) held elections at its annual meeting at the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio. In part because Matt Podgorski was making a presentation of the Pod Index to the ABC, in part because I was in Texas, at the discretion of its current president, Tim Lueckenhoff, I was asked to attend as an observer.

There’s little I like less than conventions (unless one considers awards dinners). Groupthink and self-interest masquerading as common good is not my cup of tea. But the ABC convention, however staid on the surface, was lively in the extreme.

The ABC represents the 50 states in the U.S., in addition to Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, and scores of Tribal Lands. Native American commissions now play a large part in boxing, and as a result, about a quarter of the people in the second floor ballroom were Native American. That might have seemed strange in Ketchum, Idaho, but no one in San Antonio would have blinked.

There was an anarchic but vital quality to the goings-on. There was dissent related to the presidency. And two speakers, one was Native American and the other was Pennsylvania commissioner Greg Serb, alluded to racial unease within the ABC.

Interestingly, Nevada and New York State, boxing’s two powerhouses, appeared to have sent no commissioners to San Antonio. I was disappointed but not surprised. It seemed, in too many ways to count, so representative of boxing.

When fight fans take the time to look at and/or discuss boxing’s power structure, they focus on promoters and sanctioning bodies, and rightfully so. They grease the wheels that keep boxing on the move. But just as there are three branches of government, the executive, the legislative, and the judicial, there are three branches of boxing, and the third branch is the commissions. That there was a power struggle going on wasn’t surprising. What was surprising was that it was so transparent.

Wanting to get a better handle on what I witnessed in San Antonio, I spoke with Tim Lueckenhoff, who was just reelected to another term.

“I was kind of embarrassed,” the longtime president of the ABC told me, “because we had several new members who had never been to a meeting before and they got to witness, like you say, democracy. And I hope people understood that basically what was going on, there was a small group of people who had communicated with me weeks in advance that they felt I had been in the position too long and they wanted me to step aside. During this whole process I kept asking them if I’d done something wrong please tell me what it is. And the answer all along was, ‘You’ve been there too long.’ Well, that was not acceptable to me and I was not going to lay down. You saw it happen. I had a lot of supporters. There were some who didn’t support me. But in the end more did than didn’t. I was embarrassed for those new members because that’s not what our group is about. It’s not about fighting over who should lead the organization. It’s about regulating in the same manner and administering rules in the same manner. It’s not about fighting over who’s president and who’s not.”

The meeting did get overheated. But there was something genuine in the back-and-forth, especially when compared to the backstabbing artificiality to which I’ve grown accustomed.

“The people who wanted to get rid of me were passionate,” continued Lueckenhoff.  “They’re good friends of mine and they flat-out told me ‘we appreciate what you’ve done, but it’s time for some new blood.’ And I agree. It’s great to have that opinion. And yet there were others who felt if it’s not broke, why change? I talked with a couple of new people there and I told them I was kind of embarrassed with what was going on, and they were all, ‘We’ve been involved in government before. We’ve seen this before. It’s no big deal. We figured out what was going on.’

“That made me feel a little better.”

Although Lueckenhoff generously detailed his position over the phone, during that phase of the meeting he kept a low profile. Bullets whizzed past him and bombs exploded overhead, but he kept his cool under fire.

“We’re all passionate about what we do,” he said. “Everyone in that room is passionate about the sports we regulate, whether it’s boxing or MMA. But as you could see when those people got up and talked, most of them talked from the heart. That’s what’s great about our organization.”

Because the ABC pretty much flies beneath the radar, I asked Tim Lueckenhoff what the organization does and why he believes it is important.

“The state commissions are in place to regulate the sport in a fair manner, more or less. They’re there to protect the health, safety and welfare of the fighter. In this profession, and others, if you let people have a free run to regulate themselves it will be a total disaster, in my opinion of course. Unfortunately promoters are there to build fighters to a certain level to get a certain payday, and if there were no regulations they’d probably get to that level a lot faster because they’d rubber stamp every fight they could without thinking about the health and safety of the opponent basically. I think it’s important that there’s not just one central authority telling a promoter you can’t do this, and that’s why state commissions have to step in. Most of them base their decisions upon common sense. It’s not politically motivated. It’s about thinking through what might happen if you approve certain fights.”

Unless membership is obligatory, which in the ABC it is not, it’s up to the commissions to decide if they want to participate. With that in mind I asked about Nevada and New York and their desire to keep themselves apart.

“There was a commissioner from Nevada there,” Lueckenhoff pointed out. “He was actually at the weekend training seminar. He was not able to stay. I don’t know whether his state would fund him to come or not, but he was one of the commissioners who felt I had been there too long. Obviously he’s entitled to his opinion. I think that Nevada in the last few years had made changes specifically with a couple things that they never even mentioned to the ABC. The first one would be increasing the female boxing rounds to a maximum of three minutes. There was no consultation with the ABC. They also lowered the glove weight. There was no consultation with the ABC. That’s fine that they do those things, but we’re all supposed to be a group that does these things together and it would be nice if Nevada came to the ABC and said, ‘We’re thinking about doing this. Can we all get aboard?’And I guarantee you everybody would have said, ‘Heck yeah,’ because we all want to be the same. Those are just two examples that they want to do their own thing and don’t want to be part of the group, and I think that’s really sad.

“The only person who was ever active from New York was Ron Scott Stevens for the three of four years he was there. Part of that time, Melvina’s been to one meeting. Nobody from the New York Commission has been there more than twice. We went to New York in 1996, to Canastota—no members of the New York Commission came to be part of the meeting. I think part of it is budget. Melvina was not going to pay her way to come out. And the other part is I think they’re just kind of disinterested to be honest. But you’re right. Those Commissions need to be part of our group. And you heard me say, ‘If you don’t want to be part of our group that’s fine, but we shouldn’t tear our group apart because they don’t want to be members.’ I think Melvina is unsure how long she’ll be there. She’s in a situation where her job could end with the next gubernatorial election. Melvina and Keith could both be out of a job tomorrow.”

Before letting Tim Lueckenhoff go, I asked him to address the undercurrent between the state and Native American commissions. I expected him to hem and haw, but he got right to the point.

“I think we still have some commissions who are not supportive of the Native American commissions, and I’ve always tried to work to bring those two groups together,” he said. “The Federal law gives Native American tribes the right to have their own athletic commissions and be equal and I think we need to bring those groups in with us, as well as the other state commissioners that are kind of on the fringe, and try to work together. We can’t alienate one another, because state commissions or tribal commissions can thumb their nose at the ABC and go and do whatever they damn well please—and there’s nothing we can do about it. So we’ve got to work together and put aside our personal differences, any biases we have. I’ve tried to bring as many Native American commissions into the ABC as I can, simply because I think if they’re in the ABC and see us all interact together they’re going to regulate in the same manner and try to do the best they can.”

Ours is an imperfect sport operating in an imperfect world. Power struggles and personal biases aside, the ABC, whatever its limitations, acts as a bulwark to keep the sport’s worst offenders in check. That’s a positive to some and a negative to others. But unless credible alternatives are introduced, something other than pie in the sky, we should work with what we have. Its replacement, assuming a replacement could be found, might be substantially worse.

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  1. bikermike 06:19pm, 04/21/2014

    That Tommy Morrison got to be a licensed Professional Fighter..at the end…ditto with Jerry Quarry…and Bobby Chacon..and a plethora of non named fighters…..shows that all of
    the commissions are not really for the sport…but for the money….regardless of safety for the contestants

  2. bikermike 06:15pm, 04/21/2014

    see….like a lot of things in the past….it is not so dificult to blow up what structure ...flawed or otherwise…that is there now…..but what do you replace it with…

    Boxing got rid of gangsters…sort of….but we have…in place…kind warm , compassionate ..fair and care giving promoters….say ...like don king and bob arum…..instead of gangsters raking in the bucks…it is promoters…..and Fighters are still selling pencils when they’re done

  3. Robert Ecksel 09:32am, 08/28/2013

    Not specifically. However hands-on some of the commissioners may be, they are government employees, in effect bureaucrats, who are not as a rule known for rocking the boat. None of them are getting rich doing what they’re doing. But they are definitely impassioned. My impression (and it’s only an impression) is that they want what’s best for boxing—can the same be said for big time promoters and sanctioning bodies?—but most of them know less about boxing’s history than we do. To talk to them about eight divisions and 15-round fights would be the same as talking Greek. That puts them at a serious disadvantage. Still, if they can keep the wolves from boxing’s door, and keep any boxers from dying in combat, they’re doing something for the betterment of the sport.

  4. The Fight Film Collector 08:58am, 08/28/2013

    Thanks for this account, Robert.  Did you witness, or hear of any proposals in your conversations regarding this conference that would actually facilitate changes to boxing’s status quo?

  5. Clarence George 02:04pm, 08/27/2013

    Ha!  Very funny indeed, FFC, and you should expand your proposal into a full-length article.

    I approve of both the objective and the method employed.  Don’t hold with meetings myself—too much woman’s nattering and not enough beating the recalcitrant about the head and shoulders with a baseball bat.  Do them good; put some hair on their chest.

  6. The Fight Film Collector 12:47pm, 08/27/2013

    And for several minutes, the chairman, a short and portly man wielding a baseball bat, circled the table of ABC members, expounding on boxing’s glorious past, its heroes, its epic battles, and its history.  The members all listened and nodded in agreement.  All but one.  Stopping behind this individual, the portly man raised his baseball bat, and brought it down over and over again on the defiant member’s head proclaiming,  “One . . . champion . . . for . . . each . . . division . . . One . . . champion . . . for . . . each . . . division . . . “

  7. Mike Schmidt 11:05am, 08/27/2013

    Very very interesting read. Of course some commish have, shall we say, more reputation than others in a negative sense and I wonder how they address those callouts.—do they address them at all?? The group would make the perfect jump in foray to Senator McCain’s failed but tried effort of a legislated National Commish—ah well, one can only try. Nice article fearless Editor.

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