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Old Men Talking, Young Men Fighting
Weight-juking, MMA & the Boxing Sleaze Disease
© 2013 James LaFond
I have a habit of reviewing my old work on the back end of this site in search of typos. When reviewing my coverage of the Maryland Cage Brawl [see the article below on this page], a local amateur MMA event that I covered in April 2012, I noticed a comment. The comment was from the head official for the sanctioning body that supervised the event; a man who treated me like Burt Sugar, gave me the best seat in the house, and was surely shocked 11 months later when he finally got around to reading the resulting article and saw that that little prick LaFond had stabbed him in the back!
I was ushered into this event for free and treated like a visiting dignitary, granted full access. Half of the officials and the promoter were my friends. This constitutes a conflict of interest, and not just a polar one. I have my loyalty to my friends to consider, the trust of my readers to consider, and the integrity of my craft as a writer. Sorry friends, you are outnumbered by my readers and outweighed by my craft.
I knew going in that I was about to write a comprehensive ‘warts and all’ review of an event put on and officiated by a number of friends, all of whom could easily beat my ass in any number of ways. I decided to write this piece as a scouting report for the fighters I had interviewed and the coaches who I had almost no contact with. I could not interview everyone in the 14 hours I had, and decided, that, as a coach myself, I already had their perspective locked in, so ignored them and interviewed the fighters and officials and generally spied on everybody; as nosey little pricks are want to do.
The comment by the official, who was obviously upset with me, suggested that I did not get my facts straight. He did not state what ‘facts’ I had neglected to ‘get straight’. But this is not hard to narrow down, since I only had one negative comment about the event in 16 pages of text. I praised the event in every aspect I addressed except for one. Now, I could have heaped on more praise and did not, as the piece was over long already—hell, it took this guy 11 months to read it, quite long enough I should think—and I did not want to seem like a cheerleader.
The one thing that I did not compliment the officials and promoter on was the following: Larry Brizzi, the AAMMA honcho, acted as a cage-side bouncer and decorum control nanny. He admonished drunk rednecks from cussing, and reminded others that this was ‘a family event’. This is way above and beyond the call for any athletic official in any sport.
As for the print remark I made that drew the AAMMA’s wrath I have copied it from that article and present it here in quotations…
“Listed Weights
One thing that has always bothered me about amateur fighting is the inaccurate weights reported by the announcer, who is given false weights for nearly half the fighters. This event was no different as far as reporting. The intent, however, was different, and for the better.
In boxing small ‘hard-to-move’ fighters are fed to larger fighters by their handler so that handler can get an advantageous matchup for another fighter of his he thinks will sell more tickets and hence give him more pull with the promoter. In contrast for this event, there was an actual stated attempt to match some guys with less experience against a slightly smaller fighter. The other problem is with the heavyweights and the small guys where there tends to be more size differences because of the small number of fighters at those weights.
I realize that the AAMMA does not want the crowd to think that they are arranging fights between men of different weights, but they are, and inaccurate weights should not be announced or recorded, whatever the intention. With so many ways to win and lose an MMA fight, I think the fans would appreciate knowing that one fighter was smaller than the other. Also, the fighters who give up weight should get some credit for it.
So for the weights listed below, they represent a prearranged verbal agreement to fight at or about that weight, but do not necessarily have anything to do with the fighter’s actual weight. These should be treated as approximations of the fighters’ weight.
I don’t know how these weights were fudged, but in boxing, they announce the weight of the heaviest fighter as being the weight for both. My first boxer in the ring went into his first fight at 143 against a 151 pounder, and into his second fight at 143 against a 161 pounder, and the announcer stated that they both weighed 161 on both occasions! This kid fought his whole amateur career against guys who outweighed him by 5 to 20 pounds and never got credit for it. My second boxer was matched at 161 pounds against a 186 pounder in his first and only fight.
Yeah, I’m still pissed at USA Boxing.”
Now, there is one fact I did not get straight here, and was in the process of fixing when I came across the AAMMA comment. In the story above about my boxer Dante, I did not clarify at the end of the second sentence that he was announced as 151 once and 161 on another occasion, but made it sound like he fought two 161 pounders. His first fight, the 6 and 1 kid from Hal’s Main Street Gym in Salisbury MD, that kid was 161. In his second fight, against Frank Gilbert’s wrecking machine Tony [a thicker version of Dante], Tony only weighed 151.
So, now that I have clarified that, let me clarify the weight class issue that was apparent at the Maryland Cage Brawl in April 2012. I will then get into the whole amateur boxing corruption thing and how to keep it from spreading to MMA as promised in my hyperbolic subtitle above—I’m supposed to tease you like that Larry, I’m a writer; the striptease artist of English literature, not a streetwalking hooker that just gives it up. Those hos work for the newspaper…
The Limited Facts as Observed by Your Disloyal Friend, that Little Prick LaFond
1. While standing in the lobby talking to a referee hours before the event a fighter approached doctor David Lumsden to be weighed-in. I gathered from the conduct of the parties involved that this fighter had not been present at the weigh-in the previous day. Of course this is just an assumption, since he may have been being reweighed. In any case, I opted not to view the weigh-in and not question the officials about the policy because I do not agree with fighters weighing-in the day before a fight and did not want to start the day out arguing with Larry [the AAMMA honcho] as he stuck up for Dana White and Bob Arum and the Nevada State Athletic Commission and I was left defending HBO’s position. So I let it go. [In Larry’s recent comment about my piece he mentioned the AAMMA policy of weighing amateur MMA fighters a day ahead of time. More on this subject later.]
2. I interviewed 23 of the 28 fighters, who gave me the weights they had scaled the day before. Two of the fighters mentioned that they were fighting opponents of heavier weights, and did not mind, actually seeming to like the idea. I thought that was cool, but based on my USA Boxing experience approached Larry for a clarification. He was half seated on a table, eying me like big dog wondering if he should continue to let the family cat nibble at his dog chow. He said, after flashing me with a piercing ‘Don’t screw me on this one LaFond’ glare, “These guys are just starting out. Some have been training for years, maybe a fight or two. Others are green. There might be an effort to match a guy who is a little bigger with a guy with more experience.”
3. The big man was preaching to the choir. I was thrilled, and the fighters were cool with it. My only suspicion was that the AAMMA might follow USA Boxing protocol and just announce a weight for the matchup, and let the crowd assume that both fighters scaled that weight, when in reality they are announcing the weight scaled by the larger guy. I believe that Larry and David and the others had then, and have now, the fighters' safety and best interest at heart, and that [as evidenced by the fair matchups, with the host school’s fighters winning about half the time] there was no weight class ‘juking’ or gamesmanship being played by the matchmakers. I had and have no suspicions that AAMMA officials and Maryland State Athletic Commission suits are falsifying weights. But, I also knew, that once the ring announcer begins reporting misleading and non-specific fighter weights to the crowd that the whole organization has stepped on a slippery slope that could eventually result in fighter exploitation. Also, I’m a little guy, and if I had to fight a bigger guy I would want the credit, would want the girls in the crowd to know that I was kicking some heavy ass.
4. The ring announcer, as I had feared, announced non-specific weights [to avoid a direct lie] and the crowd was led to believe that out of 28 fighters: 2 weighed exactly 125 lbs; 2 weighed exactly 135 lbs; 2 guys weighed exactly 140 lbs; 4 guys weighed exactly 155 lbs; 4 guys weighed in at exactly 160 lbs!; 2 guys weighed in at 165 lbs; and 6 guys, 6 human males, weighed in at exactly 170 lbs—not a pound over or a pound under; 2 guys weighed in at 185 lbs; 2 guys weighed in at 205 pounds; and the two big dudes were exactly 265 lbs! Amazing. Now, I know from doing price cropping in retail food that it is very difficult to get all of your prices to end with a 9 or a 5. I don’t know why a modern computer system cannot set up a price structure that bumps results that end with a 1, or a 2, or a 3, a 6, a 7 or an 8 up or down to the next price point. But I’m thinking maybe if we had the AAMMA or the Maryland State Athletic Commission do our price cropping for us, we could eventually eradicate all of those prices that end with an unappealing last digit! Now, I am a mathematical midget. But I have a friend, in possession or a large frightening brain, who has agreed to determine for me the probability of 28 fighters weighing in at weights that do not end in a 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, or 9. He is downstairs blazing away on his computational device as I write. Drum roll please… The chances that 6 of 28 men will all scale 170 lbs is 1.28E-19, an exponential number that means.000000000000000000128%. In other words the chances that these 6 guys all weighed 170 at weigh-in time [not to mention fight time weights] is roughly ‘one-hundred-thousand trillion to one.’* So, I did not need Mister Brizzi’s statement, or the two fighter’s statements, or my coach’s intuition to know that the AAMMA-reported weights were juked. All I would have needed was the program and this large-brained dude and his calculator. I am certain that the correct fighter weights are recorded somewhere. David Lumsden weighed these guys, and he is beyond reproach. Larry and I might not trust each other, but we both trust Doc Lumsden unconditionally. After all he is the guy that grabs our left nut and says, “Now cough…”
5. Okay, all I wanted to do when I wrote the piece last year was remind the officials that are jumping the USA Boxing ship to climb aboard the HMS MMA that they should not bring the dirty habit of reporting deceptive weights to the crowd from boxing to MMA. But now, because of honest straight-fact reporting journalism, I get to pick two fights with a dozen organizations.
*We should have applied some variables, like the fact that these fighters were selected for their proximity to the 170 pound mark and were presumably trying to come in at around 170 pounds. But, even if we whack most of the 19 zeros off of this result we have huge negative odds-of-occurrence. Let’s just say that the chances of Larry and I defeating Mark Hunt and Roy Nelson in a tag team bar fight are somewhat better…
A Brief History of Boxing Sleaze
This is the totality of my experience with weight-juking in amateur boxing.
Dante was a tough, 143 pound, hard-punching boxer/kick-boxer, wrestler; who, if he fought today would be in MMA. This was in the mid 1990s. I trained him and took him to a gym run by a promoter. The trainer I handed him off to was a former top ten guy who was a better coach than I. I continued to work with Dante, being assigned tasks by his new coach.
Duz [my old sparring partner] and I went to go see Dante in his first fight. I thought he was being pushed in too soon. Then I saw that his opponent was a 161 pounder trained by Hal, a superb coach. Not only was Dante giving away 18 pounds, but was going against a guy with 6 wins in 7 fights. I looked at the floor, not even wanting to watch as the fight began. Then I heard Duz yell and get up. When I looked up Duz was pumping his first in the air yelling robotically, “Kill him!” and I saw Dante eating jabs, walking through them, and then knocking the better boxer out of the ring with wild reaching hooks and uppercuts.
After the fight I talked to Hal who told me that he had gotten this easy fight for his guy, and that my guy’s hard head and freakish athleticism had exposed the fact that his kid had not been doing his roadwork. He pointed out that since my fighter only sold 2 tickets, and did not fill tables with family and friends [his dad was in prison, mom out of town, etc.] that the manager/promoter that controlled his destiny would continue to overmatch him against fighters from other gyms who sold more tickets. He then gave me some coaching tips specifically for Dante’s body type. Hal was a good guy.
The fact is, local promoters of pro fights are lucky to break even. But local amateur shows are very lucrative as the promoters do not have to pay the fighters, and the fighters actually get roped into selling tickets for the promoter.
The next time Dante had a fight scheduled he had the flu. I held the mitts for him early that day and he could only hit them for a minute before coughing up goo. The kid was on his own at 18, working two fulltime jobs and training. I approached the manager/promoter and he told me he would talk to Dante. Dante came back and told me the manager had talked him into fighting. I talked to the trainer, a good guy, and he made sure he threw in the towel as soon as Dante made it through the first round, against Tony, a bigger version of himself headed to a successful amateur and pro career. The only thing that separated Dante and Tony was 7 pounds and Dante’s corrupt manager, and Tony’s morally responsible one, Frank Gilbert.
I talked to his trainer who admitted that Dante had been ‘thrown to the wolves’ on one hand, so that his boss could arrange an easy fight on the other hand for his glass-jawed lightweight, Shane, who had a lot of friends and a big supportive family that bought tables worth of seats. He promised to steer Dante into kickboxing where he had connections, and did so with some success. But kickboxing was dying out in this area. Dante was a former state wrestling champion that had enough ability to be a top ten pro boxer or kick-boxer, and could have been, if the times were right, a featherweight MMA champion. Throughout his career, spanning about a dozen fights, his true weight was never announced to those who saw him fight.
For more details about Dante, see Banno’s Boys on the Harm City page.
Mister Handsome
Years later I was training at Tony’s spot, where he was coached by Mister Frank. I saw this big good looking muscle guy walk in to train for an upcoming fight, only a week off. Frank and Jimmy [Frank’s trainer and cut man] wanted nothing to do with prepping another club’s fighter for a fight when that fighter should not be fighting. This guy could not box a lick; was a year away from any serious combat.
At the time Frank was mentoring me to take an upcoming coaching gig, and I was a registered USA Boxing coach. Jimmy looked at me and smirked, and Frank nodded, “He’s yours James.”
So there I was, with one session to prepare a fighter I didn’t know to fight at a Southern Maryland venue. I quizzed the novice about his situation before deciding on a course of action. The only thing I was worried about was him getting hurt. If, he had already fallen under the spell of a manager/promoter who had appealed to his sense of manhood and loyalty, than me trying to discourage him from fighting before he was ready would only make him more vulnerable in the ring.
After a quick interview I discovered that what I had on my hands was a ticket salesmen that was about to be martyred for his trouble. Mister Handsome had been lifting weights at a health spa when he was approached by a slick-talking promoter, who I knew, and knew well that I could sway nobody from a course of action that this silver-tongued fellow had talked them into. Mister Handsome was told he could be a successful boxer [He was too old to be a boxer, being almost 30 and never having fought.] and was seduced into fighting on this promoter’s fight card a month off and a two hour drive away. All he had to do was sell a table worth of tickets. In fact, the fighter bought the tickets up front! He would have to resell them.
The promoter had already collected his $300. Only one of the promised training sessions had materialized as the promoter was ‘real busy’. But, the ‘fighter’ ‘was a natural’, ‘in great shape’. He had been told that he ‘would do fine’. Mister Handsome, a fool but not an idiot, desperately wanted some tooling up before fight time, with his girl and his family and friends coming to watch and all. So, the promoter had called in a favor and gotten Mister Frank to agree to let the ‘fighter’ use his gym. Frank was not, however, going to compromise his reputation as a fielder of well-trained and gym-seasoned fighters by ‘stamping his name’ on this ‘fighter’.
I attempted to teach the jab and harness Mister Handsome’s pronounced flinch reflex into a clinching gambit, hoping this would permit him to survive. I have no idea who even worked his corner. I did get a ringside report by a disgusted friend who told me that Mister Handsome’s performance was ‘cringewrothy’ and nearly landed him in the hospital. I do not know if there was any weight-juking involved.
The point of this story is that the money to be made in amateur fighting leads to the abuse of young, naïve and loyal fighters. Weight-juking, as in Dante’s case, and the case below, is one of the tools used by these corrupt officials.
Now, Noel Smith is a good decent guy who I know will not use fighters to make money against their own interest. However, Noel is a Maryland MMA pioneer. He is being followed into this business, as I write, by the scumbag promoter who managed Dante 18 years ago; the same promoter who had steroids being shot in his gym, and was taking his prize 15-year old heavyweight to bars and getting him drunk between fights. When a well-meaning sanctioning body like the AAMMA permits weight-juking in order to save a little face and not give the impression of unfair contests, they open the door for snakes like that man to slither in and ruin young fighters to line their pockets.
Inside the Ropes, Excerpt from ‘The Clinch’
In 2002 I was coaching a new team recently started by a Gojo Ryu Karate instructor who was also a USA Boxing official. I had one man in his prime: a 29-year-old novice, who had been an excellent athlete in other sports and wished to try boxing. His nickname was Chief. Chief was 6’ 1” and 161 pounds.
I had been working with Chief for two weeks when I discovered that he had a left rotator cuff issue and would have to be retrained as a southpaw if he was to compete with this injury. The very day that I discovered this, the manager told me that he had a fight lined up for Chief at Mister Mack Lewis’ Eager Street gym.
All of these boxing guys know each other, and my manager was new, so the old hands preyed on him and his fighters; which primarily consisted of verbal arm-twisting sessions designed to facilitate unfair matchups that would favor the fighters from the establishment gyms.
I tried three different tactics to stop the fight; I talked to the manager, to the fighter, to the fighter’s girl, all to no avail. The fight would go on, at Mister Mack’s place, against Mister Mack’s fighter. After the manager left the gym I told Chief, “Okay, he appealed to your manhood and you already invited your friends and you can’t lose face, so you have to fight. He says you are fighting a novice one-hundred and sixty pounder, which means you are fighting an inexperienced light-heavy—and seriously, Mister Mack is a local legend and every judge there worships him. You will be in his gym and you will lose the decision. Forget the knockout dreams because we haven’t trained your two [straight rear hand], three [hook] or four [uppercut] at all and the fight is next week. We are just going to train double-jab and clinch.”
We drilled the clinch—including how to double overhook and turn the opponent away from the ref to buy more time—with Jon Erwin, a founding member of Team Ground Control, and headed off to The Hood a week later.
Chief’s opponent had been training for five months and weighed in at 186. Since this is amateur boxing, and therefore free of corruption, he and Chief were both announced as weighing 186! The officials even permitted the other fighter to wear hand wraps instead of the roll of gauze and requisite eight inches of tape that my man had. This meant he had a denser fist packed into that glove; more ‘pennies stuffed in his sock’ so-to-speak. Mister Mack was too old by this time to mount the ring apron so former welterweight titlist Vincent Pettway worked the opposite corner.
The crowd of 300 locals was insane, Chief had brought nine friends from PG County who proceeded to scream advice such as “Kill the N…” as the manager screamed at me to start screaming instructions [against USA Boxing rules at the time]. It was a terrible fight. Not a punch was landed over three two-minute rounds by either fighter. My man won the clinches though. It’s a shame the judges were not Greco-Roman wrestling enthusiasts. Chief avoided the KO and lost the decision. Of such situations are records built.
Mister Mack was a really nice guy and was quite kind to me. The one thing that I will never forget about the fight was Vince on the ring apron during rounds [against the rules] holding his arms up as if declaring a field goal on Sunday afternoon. Maybe one day I will learn the significance of this. I really did wish at the time that Vince’s fighter would try to read these cryptic signals so that Chief could hit him while he was distracted. But no such luck would be ours.
Unfortunately, the sleazy nature of the situation disgusted Chief enough that he decided that he had tasted enough of the sweet science, which seemed nothing more than a sour sport.
What Amateur Fighters & Coaches Can do to Combat Weight-juking
1. Fighters, simply insist that your weight be read to the audience along with your name. None of this “Joe and Jake fighting at 170 pounds”, but the same way you hear it for pro fights; you at your weight and him at his weight.
2. Coaches, watch your fighter’s match weigh-in, and insist, in front of the athletic commission official, that the fighters be announced each under their own weight.
It is really that simple. Look, half of the honchos in MMA are guys that came over from boxing. Fans, fighters and coaches need to put pressure on amateur organizations to announce weights like the pro ranks do, if we are going to prevent the boxing sleaze disease from spreading to MMA.
The 24 Hour Weigh-in Sham
One aspect of the pro fight game that I passionately believe should not be replicated in the amateur ranks is the 24-hour weigh-in. I believe all fighters should make weight the day of, like they did in the old days. That amateur fighters would be exposed to the same dangers posed by this professional policy of 24-hour advance weigh-ins is reprehensible. Weigh-in politics, economics, and health concerns are a far bigger subject than weight-juking and will require another article to tackle it.
So, Mister AAMMA, this little back-stabbing prick of a writer is going to be back with an article taking you, and every combat sports honcho up to Dana White, to task for putting your fighters at risk through the use of 24-hour weigh-ins.
Stay-tuned Sifu.
PS: Listen Big Guy, I now you could snap my neck in an instant, and understand your frustration. You’ve got a hell of a job on your hands, and probably don’t appreciate me complicating it. But really, picking a writing fight with me makes about as much sense as me stepping in the Octagon and thinking I’m going to win.
Gladiatorial Combat Sets
modern combat
The Punching Bag
let the world fend for itself
menthol rampage
masculine axis
advent america
songs of aryas
time & cosmos
the fighting edge
the combat space
song of the secret gardener
america the brutal
solo boxing
logic of steel
the sunset saga complete
thriving in bad places
blue eyed daughter of zeus
z-pill forever
broken dance
within leviathan’s craw
under the god of things
fiction anthology one
winter of a fighting life
the gods of boxing
the year the world took the z-pill
the first boxers
dark, distant futures
your trojan whorse
orphan nation
logic of force
by the wine dark sea
son of a lesser god
honor among men
the greatest lie ever sold
barbarism versus civilization
the lesser angels of our nature
the greatest boxer
when you're food
taboo you
night city
into leviathan’s maw
book of nightmares
on the overton railroad
on combat
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