By Zach Arnold | October 22, 2013
To read all CSAC-related articles, dating back to May 2012, CLICK HERE.
Keith Kizer may not welcome John McCarthy any time soon to the state of Nevada, but the state with the largest combat sports event schedule in the country is rapidly consolidating power behind the Godfather of MMA referees.
A year has passed since Andy Foster transitioned from Georgia’s athletic commission to his perch in Sacramento as the Executive Officer of the California State Athletic Commission. It has been a challenging year, one in which he feels he is making significant progress. It depends on which side of the aisle you ask in terms of a viewpoint. If you’re a hardcore MMA industry person, you like what he is up to. If you’re in the boxing industry, you think his tenure so far is mind-boggling. If you’re a veteran athletic inspector, you’re inclined to hate the man. If you’re a promoter, you like that he’s trying to save you some money but hate the fact that you’re getting skeletal athletic inspector & official crews to work shows.
A lot of volunteers and newbies are being thrown into the fire by working shows with limited training. Rather than continuing the training of athletic inspectors to learn how to calculate box offices correctly (you can thank Che Guevara for that mess), Andy has brought on state employees to attend shows and handle the box offices despite those individuals not having any sort of fight experience. Give Andy Foster credit — he knows that an athletic commission can be messy but as long as the finances are in order, the politicians will stick with him for a little while.
Right now, there are two major issues with the California State Athletic Commission. The first issue is what to do about the five million dollars in the bank account for the boxer’s pension fund. We recently reviewed the problems with the pension fund and why this is a story that every boxer who has ever fought in California should be paying attention to. The second issue, and much more volatile politically, has to do with the officials & athletic inspectors Andy Foster is booking for shows and how that booking process is taking place. If you are running a big show in the state, chances are that your sheet will be filled with bookings a couple of months in advance. If you are running a smaller show, you may have booking issues as close as a couple of days before an event. It is a chaotic process that doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Highlighting the further chaos that encompasses the politics of combat sports in California is the fact that the adults in charge of regulation come from the MMA scene. Boxing is king in California and remains the top revenue driver. And yet people in boxing remain stunned & puzzled why the regulatory scene is being controlled entirely by those who are from Mixed Martial Arts. It was Andy Foster who booked Gwen Adair, Carla Caiz, and Marty Denkin to judge the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. vs. Bryan Vera fight three weeks ago. JCC was gifted a terrible unanimous decision in a fight Vera won or got a draw in. Instead of getting rid of Adair (who has previously sued the state for discrimination in order to keep her judging gig) & Denkin, no one was punished by Sacramento because they didn’t see anything wrong with what happened.
Three weeks after the JCC/Vera fight, Marty Denkin resumed his duties as a judge by working the main event of a boxing card in Ontario this past weekend.
Right now, there are five people who are basically running or influencing the show as far as what is happening with who is involved in regulating the California combat sports scene.
Excluding Consumer Affairs, which has enormous influence, there are five individuals who are basically in power right now:
- Andy Foster (the Executive Officer)
- Big John McCarthy (dean of MMA referees and whose gym is where the inspectors & officials go to for training)
- Jack Reiss (friend of BJM and the number one boxing referee in California)
- Mark Relyea (Andy’s number one athletic inspector in Southern California who was with the LA County Sheriff’s office for decades)
- Martha Shen-Urquidez (CSAC commission member who is a lawyer that has close ties to John McCarthy from LAPD days, and previously with the LA Housing Authority)
It is this nexus of LAPD & Southern California firefighters whose political power continues to grow. How inspectors & officials who are on the outside-looking-in view the state of affairs is quite different than those who are in the inner circle.
The political in-fighting amongst officials over representation
It is important to note that the legal protections for officials who work for California’s commission are different than the legal protections for athletic inspectors. Officials are licensees, meaning they are independent contractors and do not wield power. They work at the pleasure of the athletic commission. Athletic inspectors, on the other hand, are considered intermittent state employees. Any form of discrimination against an athletic inspector, as is the case with veteran mentor & inspector Dwayne Woodard, is grounds for legal action.
In other words, if you’re a boxing referee who is considered past your prime, the commission can ditch you at any time. If you’re an athletic inspector who is competent, over the age of 40, and gets discriminated by the front office, you can rightfully sue. In the case of female boxing judge Gwen Adair, the reason she (as an official) has been successful in keeping her gig is because she sued the state for sex/race discrimination and rather than fight in court, the state of California settled with her.
Adair knows how to play the political & legal game. Most officials do not. Whether it’s due to lack of knowledge or lack of courage, they will not fight because the hurdles they face require discipline for a long-term battle.
Recently, there was an attempt to unionize the athletic inspectors. Certain inspectors asked veteran hands to help them with the process for setting up a union shop. When the veterans, who are in no way political animals, helped provide the information… all of a sudden they were thrown under the bus by the inspectors who asked for their help in the first place. The end result is that the veteran hands were left holding the bag when they weren’t the instigators. Despite having legal protections, the athletic inspectors are not unionizing.
For the officials (doctors, referees, judges, timekeepers), there is no union. For many years, there has been a powerless “association” in name only. The so-called leader of this association is Raul Caiz Jr. His father, Sr., and Carla work many boxing shows alongside Marty & Jackie Denkin. The West Covina clan. Junior Caiz has claimed to be the front man for his officials association and pushed himself as someone who would represent the officials if there was trouble.
Since Andy Foster has taken over in California, the relationship between Foster and Junior Caiz is nonexistent. They hate each other. Sacramento has zero respect for Junior Caiz. He can’t even get the commission to put topics on future CSAC meeting agendas. Hell, there is no video or audio available of any of the California State Athletic Commission meetings for the public to view since Andy Foster has taken over. If you aren’t in attendance at the meetings in Los Angeles, you don’t know what is happening with commission affairs.
With Junior Caiz having no political juice left in California, the officials who used to care about what Caiz promised them don’t care any more. It has left a power vacuum. Ever since Andy Foster has taken over the duties of booking officials & inspectors for shows, the haphazard manner of booking has led to many officials & inspectors calling him up on the phone and asking what is going on. It’s led to a barrage of politicking that has not stopped. Rather than put an end to it, the Executive Officer has let the situation fester and boil over. There is stress on athletic inspectors & officials who are getting last-minute bookings or getting moved around from various cards on short notice.
Here comes the cavalry for Andy Foster
With Junior Caiz neutered, here comes Big John McCarthy to the table.
The Godfather of MMA referees sent out a letter to officials a couple of days ago asking if they would be interested in forming a new association. Here is the text of that letter. After you read the letter, I will give you a glimpse into what the reaction has been so far to the letter.
(Please read the attached letter and let us know if you wish to be a part this.)
Greetings Fellow Officials
This letter is to inform and invite ALL State of California licensed referees, judges, timekeepers and ringside physicians to become part of something new that will be beneficial to the combative sports industry in California, it’s fighters, officials, inspectors, promoters, and fans alike.
California is the busiest state in the US for combative sports. We host more boxing and MMA than many other states combined.
We were recently approached by members of our current Commission to unite ALL Officials (both Boxing and MMA) and open a productive line of communication between the officials, the Executive Officer, the Board of Commissioners and inspectors.
CCSOA (California Combative Sports Officials Association) is our new association. In addition to the items mentioned above, this newly formed association will also work with the Commission to set up training for officials, official evaluations, remedial training when necessary, a mentor program to help newer officials improve their skills and take on more challenging assignments. Also, we have been asked to work on criteria and duties for an “official emeritus” status by which some of our more senior members can be transitioned to more appropriate functions.
Again, we need to unite. It is not practical to have more than one association representing us. In fact, it is counter productive and will only serve to keep us segregated. Therefore, I am asking all members of the CBOA who would like to join us to send me an email with a letter attached, stating that they are hereby resigning from the CBOA.
The current members who make up the CSAC are very progressive. We need to come together like the CSAC has, and realize that our primary concerns should always be what is best for the fighters, what is best for the fans, and what is best for the sports of Boxing and MMA.
I hope you join me and the other officials here in the State of California who will be working hard to make some long lasting positive changes. More information will be forthcoming.
The attack on Junior Caiz is commencing. And, so far, the reaction from officials has been split.
There are many officials, especially up North, who don’t think much of Junior Caiz and are happy that a strong personality like McCarthy is stepping up to help out. It would be fair to say that the floor for support on this front is about 60%, at minimum.
However, there is a vocal amount of officials who are not buying into this letter at all and see it as a political trap. Given how close Andy Foster & John McCarthy are, their critics view this attempt of forming an association (with Martha Shen-Urquidez’s blessing) as essentially the fox guarding the hen house. In other words, this new association would be a way to keep an eye on ‘the children’ that are not behaving. One critic, on background, labeled this as an attempt to establish Andy Foster as the “good cop” with McCarthy & Martha as the “bad cops.”
Realistically, it’s also a situation where Andy Foster could simply tell officials who call him up on the phone to go call John McCarthy and air their grievances to him about what problems they have, knowing that John is a strong personality and won’t put up with much whining. In other words, John would be Andy’s enforcer, ombudsman, and trainer all rolled into one.
Finally, take note of the “official emeritus” line in John McCarthy’s letter. This is a nice way of saying that such an association, which does not carry the power of an official union, would nonetheless push aside any officials who the front office or the inner circle deem to be too old or not up to standard. You can’t pull that off with the athletic inspectors because of the state laws on the books. With an association made up of independent contractors who are licensees, however, that power is weakened in terms of legal recourse if you get iced out politically.
Take note of the phrase “we have been asked to work.” Unions or associations or trade organizations are generally groups in which they are independent from ownership. The letter is transparent in stating that this association would not be independent.
Bottom line? The political power for Andy Foster’s inner circle of John McCarthy, Jack Reiss, Mark Relyea, and Martha Shen-Urquidez is solidifying. A line has been drawn in the sand. You’re either with us politically or you’re against us. If you didn’t think the honeymoon was over between the athletic inspectors & officials with Andy Foster, now you have plenty of reason to believe the honeymoon is over.
Their critics who are most vocal now will have to put up or shut up with both time & money if they want to fight and, given the track record of the grunts who work shows, they are the first to wave the white flag. They will run away as fast as Jeremy Lappen did when Andy Foster challenged him about CAMO’s delegation and the fees they imposed on participants while regulating amateur MMA in the state. The political calculation is that the officials who have a problem will not mount enough of a fight and, so far, Sacramento has been entirely right about this.
The politics of the California combat sports regulatory scene just got a lot messier. You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Will any of the officials have the guts to put up resistance? History says no.