By Zach Arnold | February 14, 2014
“Thank God this is over.”
You never know what you’ll hear on a hot mic at a marathon public meeting but the California State Athletic Commission has had some rather lengthy marathon sessions in the past. They would probably be well-served in the future to hold meetings every 45 days if they can budget for it because it seems as if a significant portion of each agenda gets tabled down the road for future meetings. California has more events than any other state and that, in turn, means more agenda items to address and focus on.
One of the big issues of note from Monday’s meeting was the situation regarding California events getting poached by other states. California already struggles to attract A-level events due to the state income tax and city events tax in places like Los Angeles, which discourages money marks from putting up cash for site fees to attract big events. John Carvelli, the dental HMO lobbyist who Governor Jerry Brown re-appointed to CSAC, was elected Vice Chairman. Carvelli is the Governor’s point man now at CSAC and knows the road map of Sacramento politics.
Carvelli noted that he would attempt to get meetings soon with the state’s Franchise Tax Board to explore business options that could attract bigger fights to the state of California. He specifically noted New York (primarily the Barclays Center) poaching events and that other states (like Texas) are taking a bite out of high-end show activity.
“This has taken on a great deal more significance (in) that California needs to remain competitive.”
And you couldn’t find a better example of promoters struggling with California’s regulatory machine than Brett Roberts, Southern California MMA promoter.
Roberts, who promotes events at the Commerce Casino, came armed with a laundry list of issues that he is dealing with. I don’t think the commission was prepared to hear everything he had to say but he was very passionate about his current plight.
Roberts described promoting events in California as very expensive, time-consuming, and not financially rewarding.
Roberts stated that he promotes professional MMA bouts at a price tag of $60,000 per event and that other promoters pushing amateur fights are paying CAMO $10,000 a show while using pro-fighters on marketing materials as a bait-and-switch.
Roberts railed against California giving MMA promoters the option of using a ring instead of a cage.
Roberts stated that unsanctioned events on tribal land were killing sanctioned events on a number of levels. He stated that the tribal MMA events have no insurance and that top prospects are working the outlaw events. The prospects are getting hurt and there’s no coverage of medical bills. It makes promoting much harder with fighters on the sidelines. Roberts noted that insurance costs are going up for promoters in the state and that a reason for it is due to so many fighters having broken hands. Each fighter with a broken hand is a $500 hit and Roberts says a major reason for this is because so many of the fighters are having poorly-qualified individuals wrapping hands improperly. Roberts stated that he uses two associates of Juanito Ibarra and when those associates do the hand-wraps, those fighters are not breaking their hands. However, when others are doing hand-wraps, there are multiple broken hands.
Roberts also noted that many pro-MMA fighters do not use an established manager and instead he often has to deal with multiple individuals when negotiating with fighters and that those individuals each claim to be managers. He wants better enforcement of licensure when it comes to who can claim to be a manager, who isn’t, and how to address promoter concerns when it comes to marketplace confusion.
Is there a standard philosophy on suspensions?
One of the issues promoters have to deal with in California is booking shows around fighters who are cleared versus those who are medically suspended or suspended due to detrimental conduct. And when it comes to enforce of such suspensions, will everyone be treated the same or will there be different standards?
Take for example the case of boxing manager & trainer Rodrigo Mosquera. You can read a summary on Mosquera and his suspension right here. He got suspended last November for allegedly altering boxing gloves for a fighter. The news publicly broke about the suspension on December 13th, the same day as a Golden Boy event at Fantasy Springs. Mosquera applied for a seconds license at that Golden Boy show and got it despite the suspension. A month later, he was back in action as a second/manager for Gary Russell Jr. at the Golden Boy show in Brooklyn. Both fights were on TV. Mosquera clearly worked events after the California suspension and no one in New York or Golden Boy’s inner circle pulled Mosquera off his appearances.
So, Mosquera’s first defense was an appeal before the Brooklyn fight by claiming that CSAC had not properly notified him of the suspension. And then came Monday’s meeting in Los Angeles where he got suspended in full.
MMA fighter and King of the Cage veteran Tony Lopez, on the other hand, managed to receive different treatment from CSAC despite the fact that he, too, fought in another state before his appearance at Monday’s meeting in Los Angeles.
Lopez was labeled the worst person in MMA by Middle Easy after he put an opponent in a choke hold, took his time in letting go of the hold, and then punched the fighter. For that, Lopez was suspended for the remainder of his California license (around four months) and was told he would have to reapply for a new license.
Lopez would fight in Alaska in January before appearing in front of the commission on Monday. Andy Foster opened the proceedings with this comment:
“I would like to make the recommendation that the commission accept the fine and accept the license application of Mr. Tony Lopez. Mr. Lopez has been in contact with the office. I’ve been in contact with Mr. Lopez. He’s been extremely cooperative. He served his time. He’s paid the fine and it’s my recommendation to this commission because of his cooperative behavior that we accept his application and remove him from the national suspension list.”
Lopez responded in kind.
“I really apologize for my previous actions and I would like to say in front of you guys right now that will never happen again. It was unbecoming of me and I took it to a level that it should have never been took to and I can assure you that it will never happen again.”
He was granted a new California MMA license.
Weighty issues for fighters
One of the worst nightmares for promoters is when fighters don’t make weight. The traditional routine is to make weight 24 hours before a fight.
And Dr. VanBuren Ross Lemons, the Sacramento-based doctor on the California State Athletic Commission, wants to change the rule on the books regarding fighters weighing in 24 hours before a fight. Dr. Lemons classifies Rule 297 as “the most dangerous rule in our rulebooks.”
Dr. Lemons says that there are major concerns regarding severe weight cuts by fighters in regards to the dehydration-hydration cycle that is taking place.
“Rehydrating quickly may also be dangerous.”
Dr. Lemons is concerned that the current weigh-in process is creating a dangerous environment for fighters in regards to suffering traumatic brain injury. He wants to see a flexible weigh-in rule where fighters could weigh-in up to a week before a fight. Martha Shen-Urquidez countered by stating that fighters like Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. would do a severe cut ahead of time and then show up way over the contracted weight at fight time. Dr. Christopher Giza backed up Dr. Lemons’ concerns on the current weigh-in rules.
Internal battles amongst doctors working for the commission
The individuals responsible for helping protect fighters on the health & safety front are fighting with each other politically.
One of the main battles is over the concept of using non-trained physicians at fighting events when there is a shortage of regular doctors. Andy Foster believes that pairing a non-trained physician with a “seasoned” doctor at events is appropriate when there is a shortage. Dr. Lemons agreed with Andy’s position of recruiting more doctors.
Amongst many of the veteran doctors, the idea of using non-trained physicians at fight shows is not popular at all. Some of the doctors have told the commission that they would rather work alone and get paid double than work alongside a non-trained physician.
Andy Foster said that is a shortage of doctors, especially in Northern California, and mentioned that he had Dr. Lemons attend an ESPN Friday Night Fights show last Summer in Sacramento at Thunder Valley because there was only one doctor available to work the show.
In response to using non-trained physicians alongside trained doctors, the Executive Officer didn’t mince words.
“I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and I understand there’s complaints but I have to look after the best interests of this commission and not after the best interests of… trying to keep a fiefdom on the ringside medicine.”
Of testosterone & transgender policies
As if you don’t have enough to worry about as a promoter in California, it’s an even bigger challenge when it comes to booking fighters and knowing whether or not you can invest money in promoting them if they also happen to be drug users. One suspension can render a promoter helpless financially.
When it comes to the issue of testosterone permission slips in combat sports, you can thank the UFC for booking such high profile users in main event slots and not punishing the users. Which is why Dana White intimidating members of the MMA press in Las Vegas and challenging them to name specific fighters who are drug users is such a cowardly stunt. How can writers know exactly which fighters are using testosterone and which ones have permission to use it on UFC self-regulated overseas events or events in states where such information isn’t disclosed?
This whole scam started with Chael Sonnen and his doctor Dr. Mark Czarnecki when he got caught in California. Dr. Lemons was on the CSAC board at the time and the Sonnen deal was a huge embarrassment. We know how the UFC has treated Sonnen since that incident.
Over the past week, we posted the text of the proposed transgender & testosterone policies being issued by the California State Athletic Commission. The testosterone policy is the one that has generated a lot of conversation.
When the Association of Ringside Physicians released a one-paragraph statement coming out against Therapeutic Use Exemptions for testosterone usage in combat sports, most of the commissions were not… moved… by the statement. Two doctors who signed that statement were Dr. Paul Wallace and Dr. Eddie Ayoub, the top two doctors that CSAC uses in Southern California.
Martha Shen-Urquidez, lawyer/political fixer for Andy Foster on the CSAC board, allegedly called up a doctor at ARP about their statement.
“They support TUE committees and TUE policies which rarely grants exemptions.”
She then stated: “perhaps they should issue a clarification of their consensus statement because I think it causes a lot of confusion across the country.”
An ARP representative, on background, responded to the claim by saying, “how silly.”
Dr. Lemons passionately defended his new testosterone policy.
“Our TUE exemption continues to be confused.”
He said his mission is to decrease athletes using testosterone and “we do not want athletes using supplemental testosterone” and that granting testosterone exemptions would preventing doctors from assisting athletes in doping. Dr. Lemons further added that there is room in the policy to make sure that exemptions are not granted retroactively.
“We are dedicated to limiting testosterone cheating to the best of our ability and this TUE is an important weapon in that struggle. Testosterone cheating is a significant problem in our sports and it’s not something that is easy to completely eliminate…”
Andy Foster supported Dr. Lemons’ proposal.
“This commission needs to inform the public one more time that this is not being done for cheaters.”
Any proposed policies by the California State Athletic Commission will head over to the Office of Administrative Law where the public can comment on such proposals for up to 45 days. Any negative or critical comments must then be addressed at future CSAC meetings by the commission.
There is over $5.5 million dollars in the current boxing pension fund account. There is around $700,000 in the neurological fund account.
Once again, Martha Shen-Urquidez continued pushing legal boundaries of the Brown Act by using a “legal sub-committee” to act in a role as a pseudo third lawyer for the commission (Attorney General’s office & DCA lawyers advise CSAC) while refusing to disclose anything from the publicly-listed agenda item under the guise/excuse that anything she has to say will be saved for closed session only.