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The political & regulatory headwinds for both Nevada & California athletic commissions

By Zach Arnold | February 19, 2014

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A couple of weeks ago when officials in California were summoned to a John McCarthy meeting in San Luis Obispo (Arroyo Grande), one of the hot topics discussed amongst officials was the current state of Nevada’s athletic commission with Keith Kizer out of the picture. The belief is that there are internal political factions fighting with each other over the power in Las Vegas but what we publicly know paints a different picture. Francisco Aguilar, a Democrat and lawyer for Andre Agassi, has emerged as the dominant voice for NSAC. Aguilar was appointed by Governor Brian Sandoval, a moderate establishment Republican who understands the value of Sig Rogich as Nevada’s top political fixer. If there is any fighting amongst various players, it is contained in one nexus and amongst shared interests. In other words, the influence of Rogich & Lorenzo Fertitta is not vanishing. The next meeting for Nevada’s commission is on Thursday the 27th. A new Executive Director will be selected soon. The decision will be made behind closed doors but there will be a dog-and-pony show for “public interviews” with candidates. Nobody is better at putting on a political dog-and-pony show than Sig Rogich.

And the reality is that Nevada will need an Executive Director soon with big shows coming up. There will be some changes soon on various policy fronts, including drug testing. When Keith Kizer & Skip Avansino were touting “enhanced” drug testing for both Josh Barnett & Travis Browne last December at a cost of $20,000 for the UFC to pick up, nobody publicly was sure what exactly constituted “enhanced” drug testing. As Gabriel Montoya recently wrote, there’s good reason nobody really knows what is going on. Brent Brookhouse was the first to claim/report that Nevada didn’t use Carbon Isotope Ratio drug testing to detect synthetic testosterone usage. It also turns out that Tim Bradley will be undergoing VADA drug testing for his fight with Manny Pacquiao.

What kind of drug testing will there be for other Nevada events? On March 8th, Canelo Alvarez will be fighting Alfredo Angulo at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. On the undercard, boxer Francisco Vargas is scheduled to fight. The trainer for Vargas? Rodrigo Mosquera, the man whose suspension in California was upheld at the CSAC February 10th Los Angeles meeting. Mosquera was suspended for having a fighter on an All Star Boxing spot show in Quiet Cannon last September using altered Cleto Reyes gloves. The gloves were confiscated and sent to Sacramento. Mosquera appealed his suspension and lost.

However, Mosquera had been suspended last November and still managed to appear for a Golden Boy show last month at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. California has an issue right now with other… less reputable… states not honoring their national boxing suspensions.

How Mosquera was able to get away with working two shows while under suspension is a story that is revealing in what the current political & management situation that California’s athletic commission is dealing with now.

A sad spectacle in Los Angeles

The Youtube video of the California State Athletic Commission meeting in Los Angeles on February 10th was revealing in a lot of ways. While some are under the impression that Nevada is in a political free-for-all, the real political games are happening with California’s commission. There are multiple factions who are vying for power and influence. There are also people who are falling on their swords who shouldn’t have to be.

If you start at around the 90 minute mark of the Feb. 10th meeting video, you’ll see the appeals process for Rodrigo Mosquera. And when it came to the testimony on behalf of the State, it was an embarrassment for the lawyer representative and for those who were interviewed.

The Mosquera story, which we’ve covered in detail, went like this:

Now, some points that need to be addressed:

  1. In past years, it had been acceptable protocol that fighters could bring their own gloves for all fights except title fights, where they wear gloves given by a promoter. It was stated at the CSAC meeting that the opposite is true.
  2. The commission did not show evidence of Mosquera himself altering the gloves. Was it his responsibility for letting a fighter use altered gloves? Yes it was. He’s a veteran trainer. His story is that the altered gloves were bought from a store and the fighter wore them as they were packaged. Hard to believe gloves would be altered in such a way in packaging, but the state didn’t prove that Mosquera himself did the deed.
  3. Mark Relyea, working as the supervising inspector, is watching what is going on in the ring. There are other athletic inspectors who are watching the locker rooms and other areas in a venue.
  4. There is no doubt that volunteer inspector Robert Judge and MMA inspector Chris Crail were put in an unenviable position here because it is the responsibility of the inspectors to catch altered/skinned gloves, not the referees. At the CSAC hearing, Lou Moret said he had never seen gloves altered the way they were ever in his career.
  5. Mark Relyea stated that the problem with the altered gloves slipping through the cracks is that there were only four inspectors at the show (he, Joe Borrielli, Robert Judge, Chris Crail). Mark Relyea isn’t the one making the booking assignments in terms of how many athletic inspectors are working each show. The reason there are fewer inspectors working shows is due to budgetary concerns.

The ugly big picture

And that leads to the double whammy happening in California. The trainers know the score and so do the fighters. You have a shortage of properly trained inspectors. It’s the worst combination to have. Mark Relyea testified that the athletic inspectors working the All Star Boxing show should have caught the altered gloves but they did not. Why did two inspectors missed the altered gloves? If they were properly trained for boxing duties, they would have caught the gloves.

The Athletic Commission should be apologizing to the athletic inspectors for letting them down and dropping the ball. It’s hypocritical and easy for those on the commission and in the front office to shift the blame on the grunts. Why? Because all you hear about now is how CSAC is heavily invested in fighter safety. Actions speak louder than words and right now the situation on the ground is a mess.

Mark Relyea fell on the sword for Andy Foster at the Los Angeles meeting by apologizing to the commission for the inspectors missing the altered gloves. Andy was noticeably quiet while Mark was saying mea culpa. Remember, two months ago, Andy Foster presented Mark Relyea with an award at a Sacramento CSAC meeting for being the best athletic inspector in the state of California. This award presentation was three months after the Rodrigo Mosquera incident happened. Two months after that award presentation, Mark Relyea is the one doing the apologizing and not Sacramento?

There was finger wagging at the Los Angeles meeting about how dangerous the Mosquera situation was. Well, yes, it is dangerous and the way these situations occur is when you have a shortage of properly trained athletic inspectors. That responsibility falls on the shoulders of the commission. When the focus is largely on MMA and not boxing, you can’t be surprised when people in the boxing industry are looking to bend and break the rules in a dangerous fashion. There’s a reason the sport is legally classified as ultrahazardous.

This is straight-up negligence.

The wrong people are taking the blame

California has a political problem on this front. In 2009, Antonio Margarito got busted for illegal hand-wraps. And Che Guevara from the front office didn’t catch them. It was Shane Mosley’s trainer, Naazim Richardson, who caught the hand wraps and alerted Chief Athletic Inspector Dean Lohuis. And when it came time for Margarito’s hearing in front of the commission, Attorney General office lawyer Karen Chappelle and Che Guevera created a situation where Lohuis and Bray were scapegoated. They got scapegoated and Che Guevara got a job promotion as the new Chief Athletic Inspector.

Five years later and nobody has learned anything. There was gross regulatory negligence in the Margarito 2009 matter and there was gross negligence in the Mosquera 2013 matter.

Which brings us to Spencer Walker, the Department of Consumer Affairs attorney who has really asserted himself as a boss now at recent CSAC meetings. Being a boss means taking responsibility for the actions of others at the commission. If there are further Mosquera-type incidents in the future, does he want to be associated with the actions of the athletic commission that could put his prime Sacramento lawyer gig at risk? Does he trust Andy Foster enough to put the future of his career in his hands?

Right now, there’s a lot of political soul-searching being done in Sacramento and Los Angeles. After the Rodrigo Mosquera incident happened last September, we recommended that Sacramento give Mark Relyea a job promotion and make him the Chief Athletic Inspector for CSAC. Give he man the tools he needs to hire/fire inspectors and to get the proper assistance for correctly training inspectors in doing their job. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like for Mark Relyea to get thrown under the bus and apologize in front of commissioners who have created working conditions for him that can kindly be classified as substandard. Combat sports is an industry full of grown men who will hurt or kill each other if not properly supervised. Regulating combat sports requires the right people with the right tools to make sure health & safety comes first. Mark Relyea doesn’t need to fall on anyone’s sword over that. The commission hasn’t properly given him or other lead athletic inspectors the tools to do the job with 100% efficiency.

Blaming licensees and athletic inspectors for not being able to make up for a lack of leadership at the top is simply inexcusable. Now we have a real test for the Athletic Commission. Are they willing to step up and respond to the challenges on the ground or are they going to allow further incidents to take place while throwing the wrong individuals under the bus?

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