“The Rone Incident”

By Ted Sares on October 30, 2011
“The Rone Incident”
A fighter who had lost 26 straight fights was allowed to tempt fate in the ring (Ecksel)

Maybe someday some boxing commissioner in some obscure state will say, “Hey hold on a minute. This one reminds me of the ‘Rone Incident’...”

The Circumstances

On July 18, 2003, Bradley Rone a 5’10” 259-pound heavyweight met Billy Zumbrun in Cedar City, Utah. Rone was fighting on short notice in order to collect the $800 winner’s purse which Rone needed to buy airfare back to Ohio to attend and help pay for the funeral of his mother who had died of heart failure the day before back in Cincinnati.

Rone fought Zumbrun less than a month earlier (on June 30) with Zumbrun having won an uneventful UD over six rounds. The two had become friends. It then developed that Zumbrun, who was scheduled in one of the featured bouts in Cedar City, needed an opponent. As fate would have it, a despondent and broke Rone found the financial opportunity he was looking for. He quickly volunteered for the fight with Billy in Utah, after which he planned to fly to Ohio in time to make arrangements for his mother’s burial.

Four years earlier (June 3, 1999 to be exact), a 215-pound Rone beat one Kevin Rosier in a four-round bout in Michigan. Thereafter, he would go winless in his next 29 fights losing his last 26 in a row. However, despite meeting top opposition, Rone managed to go the distance some 23 times and racked up a large number of grueling rounds.

Going into the Zumbrun fight, Rone’s record was a dismal 7-43 but his penchant for survival meant he fought a lot of rounds against a lot of very tough hombres, and that undoubtedly took a heavy toll on him perhaps even rendering him shopworn. In one stretch, he fought the likes of Cliff Couser, Jorge Luis Gonzalez, Kelvin Davis, Maurice Harris, Siarhei Lyakhovich, Willie Chapman, Orlin Norris, Sinan Sam, DaVarryl Williamson, Robert Davis, Danny Eaton and Adolpho Washington. He bookmarked this stretch upfront with fights against the likes of Fres Oquendo and against Javier Mora, Dale Crowe, Chauncey Welliver, and Eric Kirkland toward the finish. Rone had been banned from boxing in Nevada, but the former sparring partner of both Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield fought several times in California, as well as in Idaho and Texas.

The Fight

The first round was totally non-eventful and the two clinched near the end of the round. Zumbrun tapped Rone and the referee separated the two as the round ended. Rone took a step towards his corner and then suddenly collapsed. Ring doctors quickly came to his aid, and he was immediately taken to Valley View Medical Center where he was declared dead apparently of a massive heart attack.

In a tragic twist of fate, Rone’s body was flown home in the cargo section of a plane and buried alongside his mother in a double funeral in Ohio. Brad left a girlfriend and two children behind and was also survived by nine siblings. Reportedly, the Utah Athletic Commission refused to forward Rone’s $800 purse to his family, so the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation stepped in and donated the money for Rone’s body to be shipped back home.

It’s not for me to say whether a commission may have made some mistakes. That’s for the courts to sort out. In this connection, his family members say he had no business stepping into that ring, even though he was licensed as a boxer by the Utah Department of Commerce’s Athletic Commission, which had regulated the fight.

The Suit

In a wrongful-death suit filed against the event organizers and the state of Utah, Rone’s sister, Celeste Moss, said athletic commission officials broke several of their own rules in allowing Rone to fight.  Among the rules allegedly broken were the fact that Rone had lost more than six consecutive fights, did not have an exam conducted by a physician, and no written certification was provided by a doctor saying Rone was fit to compete, despite being visibly overweight.

The case was appealed to the State Supreme Court which affirmed the district court’s order dismissing Moss’ claims against the Athletic Commission. Under governmental immunity in Utah law, there are narrow exceptions in which a person must prove gross negligence or blatant disregard for safety. The high court found that Moss failed to show that.

Perhaps despondency over his mother’s death, worry about money, his poor physical condition, and a possible congenital heart condition had coalesced to end his life. What is not debatable, however, is that a fighter who had lost 26 straight fights was allowed to tempt fate when he stepped in the ring on short notice under terribly tragic and dangerous circumstances.

Hopefully, this incident will find traction as the “Rone Incident” which will serve as a red flag to prevent other such tragedies from occurring under similar circumstances. Maybe someday some boxing commissioner in some obscure state will say, “Hey hold on a minute. This one reminds me of the ‘Rone Incident.’ This guy is way out of shape and has lost too many fights in a row. I’ll vote to ban it.”

Be on the lookout for the author’s next book titled “Shattered” due out soon.

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  1. Mike Lander 04:57pm, 07/14/2014

    I met Brad when he fought in Wendover NV. I was working at a casino that put the fights on with Top Rank. I was talking to Brad on the days prior to the fight and he told me he was the only sparring partner that Mike Tyson could never knock out. He was a nice guy who was quick to laugh.

  2. John Wilkinson 02:19am, 08/24/2013

    Yeah. That is some sad -tape-

  3. Missing my brother!!! 05:15pm, 12/12/2011

    Thanks to everyone the commented on this article. It still feels as if it was only yesterday. My brother still gets much love and respect. RIP MY BROTHER!!!

  4. raxman 08:07am, 11/03/2011

    that’s some nice writing Ted. i’m not sure how i feel about this story. of course only an idiot wouldn’t want the sport, or any sport for that matter, to protect its athletes - even from themselves. but i do have a concern that there are doctors and others out there who want to ban combat sport altogether so we must tread carefully when talking reform and not give these zealots the wrong sort of foothold - this is a sad story, sadder still if rules were not adhered to such as those pertaining to consecutive losses that exist for one reason, but lets also keep in mind the thing that makes the sport we love so riveting, that which allows those of us who truly understand it to say, “hey anyone who gets in the ring has my respect” is that despite the inherent danger and with the knowledge they could die, these guys step up anyway. they make the choice to do so. now, its important here that we realise its not for us to decide if that risk is worth the reward or more so we don’t try to explain or mitigate that choice by saying the fighter was desperate.

  5. BoxAnne 10:20am, 11/02/2011

    Well, thank god for Teddy Atlas, at least.

    And here’s to Commissions everywhere paying attention.

  6. TEX HASSLER 03:45pm, 10/31/2011

    It is sad to say, but you do not have to dig too deep into boxing to find some really bad and tragic things. No boxing commission in the entire United States should have allowed this man to fight any more. Thanks Mr. Sares for reminding us about the things that desperately need reforming in boxing.

  7. The Welshman 11:51am, 10/31/2011

    Such a powerful and moving video, R.I.P. Brad Rone and respect to all journeymen.

  8. The Thresher 08:32am, 10/31/2011

    I think I just might, Pug. It’s kind of my niche.

  9. pugknows 08:28am, 10/31/2011

    That video is chilling. I am glad to see you are doing your reform articles. I bet you do more of these than any boxing writer out there.

  10. dollar bond 06:58am, 10/31/2011

    Man, that is some sober stuff.

  11. "Old Yank" Schneider 04:38am, 10/31/2011

    Fighter safety should always come first.

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