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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, today I am pleased to be joined by Senator Reid of Nevada, our distinguished majority leader, to introduce the Professional Boxing Amendments Act of 2012. This legislation is virtually identical to a measure reported by the Commerce Committee during the 111th Congress, after being approved unanimously by the Senate in 2005. Simply put, this legislation would better protect professional boxing from the fraud, corruption, and ineffective regulation that has plagued the sport for too many years, and that has devastated physically and financially many of our Nation's professional boxers.

My involvement with boxing goes back a long way, first as a fan in my youth--in what many view as the golden age of boxing in America: in the days of Joe Louis and Billy Conn and Floyd Patterson and Sugar Ray Robinson--probably the greatest boxer in history--and Kid Gavilan and Joey Giardello, the names I still remember because of the incredible acts of sportsmanship and courage and tenacity in the ring that they displayed, which made boxing one of the most popular sports in all of the United States, then with my undistinguished record as a boxer at the U.S. Naval Academy, and then over my time here in Congress, where I have been involved in legislation related to boxing since the mid-1990s.

The 19th century sportswriter Pierce Egan called the sport of boxing the ``sweet science.'' Long-time boxing reporter Jimmy Cannon called it the ``red light district of sports.'' In truth, it is both. I have always believed that at its best, professional boxing is a riveting and honorable contest of courageous and highly skilled athletes. Unfortunately, the last few decades of boxing history have--through countless examples of conflicts of interest, improper financial arrangements, and inadequate or nonexistent oversight--led most to believe that Cannon's words--that boxing is the "red light district of sports''--were more appropriate than that of Pierce Egan's words, who called it the "sweet science.''

The most recent controversy surrounding the Pacquiao-Bradley fight is the latest example of the legitimate distrust boxing fans have for the integrity of the sport. After the Pacquiao-Bradley decision was announced, understandably fans were clearly apoplectic and many commentators found the decision astonishing.

Bob Arum, the promoter of the fight--and he represented both Pacquiao and Bradley--said:

What the hell were these people watching?. ..... How can you watch a sport where you don't see any motive for any malfeasance and yet come up with a result like we came up with tonight? How do you explain it to anybody?. ..... Something like this is so outlandish, it's a death knell for the sport.

Those words came from the promoter of the fight, long-time promoter Bob Arum.

ESPN boxing analyst Dan Rafael--who scored the fight 119 to 109 for Pacquiao--called the decision an "absolute absurdity.'' And he said:

I could watch the fight 1,000 times and not find seven rounds to give to Timothy Bradley.

Additionally, following the fight, HBO's Max Kellerman--a guy I have always enjoyed--was ringside, where he said:

This is baffling, punch stat had Pacquiao landing many more punches, landing at a higher connect percentage, landing more power punches. Ringside, virtually every reporter had Pacquiao winning by a wide margin. ..... I can't understand how Bradley gets this decision. There were times in that fight where I felt a little bit embarrassed for Bradley.

Clearly, the conspiracy theories and speculation surrounding the fight are given life because there are so many questions surrounding the integrity of the sport and how it is managed in multiple jurisdictions. Professional boxing remains the only major sport in the United States that does not have a strong centralized association, league, or other regulatory body to establish and enforce uniform rules and practices. Because a powerful few benefit greatly from the current system of patchwork compliance and enforcement of Federal boxing law, a national self-regulating organization--though preferable to government oversight--is not a realistic option.

What has happened to the meaning of the word champion? There is an alphabet soup of organizations today, some of them--or many of them--based outside of the United States of America, that clearly manipulates the rankings in order to set up a fight which has a "championship'' associated with it.

Ineffective oversight of professional boxing will continue to result in scandals, controversies, unethical practices, a lack of trust in the integrity of judged outcomes and, most tragic of all, unnecessary deaths in the sport. These problems have led many in professional boxing to conclude that the only solution is an effective and accountable Federal boxing commission.

The legislation that Senator Reid and I are introducing would establish the United States Boxing Commission--the USBC or Commission--providing the much-needed oversight to ensure integrity within this profession through better reporting and disclosure, requiring that the sport avoid the conflicts of interest which cause fans to question the outcome of bouts, which hurts the sport.

If enacted, the commission would administer Federal boxing law and coordinate with other Federal regulatory agencies to ensure that this law is enforced, oversee all professional boxing matches in the United States, and work with the boxing industry and local commissions to improve the safety, integrity, and professionalism of professional boxing in the United States.

More specifically, this legislation would require that all referees and judges participating in a championship or a professional bout lasting 10 rounds or more be fully registered and licensed by the commission. Further, while a sanctioning organization could provide a list of judges and referees deemed qualified, only the boxing commission will appoint the judges and referees participating in these matches.

Additionally, the commission would license boxers, promoters, managers, and sanctioning organizations. The commission would have the authority to revoke such a license for violations of Federal boxing law, to stop unethical or illegal conduct, to protect the health and safety of a boxer or if the revocation is otherwise in the public interest.

The Professional Boxing Amendments Act would strengthen existing Federal boxing law by improving the basic health and safety standards for professional boxers, establishing a centralized medical registry to be used by local commissions to protect boxers, reducing the arbitrary practices of sanctioning organizations, and enhancing the uniformity and basic standards for professional boxing contracts. Most importantly, this legislation would establish a Federal regulatory entity to oversee professional boxing and set basic uniform standards for certain aspects of the sport.

Thankfully, current law--which we passed in the 1990s--has already improved some aspects of the state of professional boxing. However, like me, many others remain concerned the sport continues to be at serious risk. In 2003, the Government Accountability Office spent more than 6 months studying 10 of the country's busiest State and tribal boxing commissions. Government auditors found that many of these commissions do not comply with Federal boxing law, and that there is a disturbing lack of enforcement by both Federal and State officials.

It is important to state clearly and plainly for the record that the purpose of the commission created by this bill is not to interfere with the daily operations of State and tribal boxing commissions. Instead, it would work in consultation with local commissions, and it would only exercise its authority when reasonable grounds exist for such intervention. In fact, this bill states explicitly that it would not prohibit any boxing commission from exercising any of its powers, duties, or functions with respect to the regulation or supervision of professional boxing to the extent consistent with the provisions of Federal boxing law.

With respect to costs associated with this legislation, the pricetag for this legislation should not fall on the shoulders of the American taxpayer, especially during a time of crushing debt and deficits. As such, to recover the costs, the bill authorizes the commission to assess fees on promoters, sanctioning organizations, and boxers, ensuring that boxers pay the smallest portion of what is, in fact, collected.

Let there be no doubt, however, of the very basic and pressing need in professional boxing for a Federal boxing commission. The establishment of the USBC would address that need. The problems that have plagued the sport of professional boxing for many years continue to undermine the credibility of this sport in the eyes of the public and, more importantly, compromise the safety of boxers. This bill provides an effective approach to curbing these problems.

I take a back seat to no one in my desire for smaller government and less regulation. It is a crying need today, not only for the integrity of the sport but the health of boxers. We are finding more and more, especially in the sport of professional football lately, the effect of blows to the head. Anyone who has had the honor of knowing Muhammad Ali, as I have over the years, recognizes that this is a very brutal sport. There is no doubt that if in professional football blows to the head can be damaging to one's health, clearly it can be in the sport of boxing. I regret to tell my colleagues that there are not sufficient protections for the safety of the boxers engaged in the sport today.

The Pacquiao-Bradley fight is only the latest example, and its outrage is spread because of the size of the fight. Unfortunately, over the years, there have been a series of fights--some of them I will add for the Record at the appropriate time--where the wrong decision has been announced.

This is a great sport. It has given an opportunity, for young men particularly, to rise from the depths of poverty to pinnacles of greatness in the sport--and wealth beyond their imagining at the time they entered the sport. So we need to protect these people. We need to give them a fair and legitimate playing field in which to compete.

I urge the support of my colleagues and again thank my friend the majority leader, Senator Harry Reid, who was a boxer of great skill and ability himself in his younger days. Some of those traits he has displayed very prominently here on the floor of the Senate, and I respect him greatly.


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