THE BOXING BOARD
“The truest competition in all of sports still is two guys in a boxing ring,” observed the famed football coach and analyst John Madden in 2012. (Dave Newhouse, Before Boxing Lost Its Punch, Foreword by John Madden (ebooks 2012).)
At the writing of this sentence in 2013 ESPN.com is reporting that its panel of experts has ranked boxing as the world’s most difficult sport. Each panelist independently ranked 60 sports in terms of the following categories:
1. Nerve, defined by ESPN as the “ability to overcome fear.” For this category boxing received an 8.88 out of 10.
2. Endurance, boxing received an 8.63 per the “ability to continue to perform a skill or action for long periods of time.”
3. Power, boxing received an 8.63 per the “ability to produce strength in the shortest possible time.”
4. Durability, boxing received an 8.5 per the “ability to withstand physical punishment over a long period of time.”
5. Strength, boxing received an 8.13 per the “ability to produce force.”
6. Hand-Eye Coordination, boxing received a 7.0 per the “ability to react quickly to sensory perception.”
7. Speed, boxing received a 6.38 per the “ability to move quickly.”
8. Agility, boxing received a 6.25 per the “ability to change direction quickly.”
9. Analytic Aptitude, boxing received a 5.63 per the “ability to evaluate and react appropriately to strategic situations.”
10. Flexibility, boxing received a 4.38 per the “ability to stretch the joints across a large range of motion.”
Thus boxing received a total score of 72.4 out of 100 and a number one ranking. By contrast, Martial Arts received a total score of 63.4 and a number six ranking. Martial Arts received higher scores in Analytic Aptitude (6.88) and Flexibility (7.0).
Naturally the regulation of boxing, with the goals of safety and honesty, is part of the sport. Dealing with regulators isn’t a skill rated by the ESPN panel. There’s no rating of the skill of dealing with television networks, which may be doing the matchmaking. There’s also no rating of the skill of dealing with the relatively few but prominent reputed criminals, and some convicted, within boxing.
Effective regulation takes boxing experience but also dignity and street smarts. It takes a unique set of skills to use kid gloves with the various characters in the fight game, all the while making sure the goals of safety and honesty aren’t compromised.
In the spring of 1976 Governor Wendell Anderson appointed Jim O’Hara to the Minnesota Board of Boxing, which then regulated boxing in the state. Jim was 50 years of age. Don Riley, sports columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, applauded the appointment. Murray McLean, Jim’s former boxing manager, predicted confidently: “He won’t ask how tough is the problem, [Jim will] only say, ‘Let’s get at it.’” (McLean is quoted by Don Riley, Don Riley’s Eye Opener, St. Paul Sunday Pioneer Press, June 13, 1976.)
Shortly after Jim’s appointment there was a vacancy in the office of Executive Secretary. Jim was interested, but there was another gentleman with boxing experience at Harvard who appeared to have the inside track. Before the vote to elect the new Executive Secretary, the other candidate presented an eloquent speech on why he should be elected. When it was Jim’s turn he pointed out what was going on at a certain gym in a certain big city. “You elect me,” he said, “I’ll clean it up.”
You know Jim was grateful when he was elected. The Boxing Board was giving a shot to a local ex‑fighter from the streets when it had another excellent candidate. They say the other gentleman, who never resigned his seat, threw in the towel so Jim was effectively unopposed in the end. (It was a little awkward when the erstwhile candidates ran into each other the night of the vote at the Blue Horse Restaurant on University Avenue in the Midway District of St. Paul. Closed in 1991, the Blue Horse was a regular spot for State Legislators.)
By tradition the Executive Secretary was elected from among the incumbent Boxing Commissioners. A candidate officially threw his hat into the ring by agreeing to resign his seat if the votes were there to elect him. So the Governor appointed the Commissioners. The Commissioners then elected their paid advisor (known as Executive Secretary) from among themselves while naturally retaining the power to remove and replace.
Jim was the immediate successor of Larry McCaleb who had died July 28, 1976. McCaleb had succeeded Fay Frawley who had just retired June 15, 1976. Fawley had succeeded Jack Gibbons who had retired October 28, 1975. Gibbons had succeeded George Barton who had died May 8, 1969.
McCaleb had served four years, including his tenure as a Commissioner; Frawley, 12 years; Gibbons, 19 years; and Barton, 27 years.
The Executive Secretary of the Boxing Board was expected to be one of the most dynamic forces within Minnesota boxing. Jim fit the bill for the next quarter century.
The office was a paid, part-time position. Eventually the state offered Jim a full-time position to do all the work that needed to be done, but he declined. He offered to get everything done while getting paid on a part-time basis, and he did.
A paid advisor didn’t cost the state an arm and a leg. When Jim got the job, the annual pay was $6,ooo, excluding benefits. He was flat-out honored to hold the post that had long been held by persons who know boxing inside out. If you figure a conservative four percent annual inflation rate, $6,000 in 1976 might be about $27,000 in 2015 dollars.
During his tenure there were a good number of world title bouts within Minnesota’s borders. These bring-it-on-events — for a world title, mind you — were huge, including:
Larry Holmes vs. Scott LeDoux, WBC Heavyweight World Championship, July 7, 1980, Metropolitan Sports Center, Bloomington. Muhammad Ali was ringside as LeDoux was stopped in the seventh. The 6,491 spectators paid $253,000, the standing Minnesota record gate, which might be about $985,338 in 2015 dollars (using a four percent annual inflation rate). “WBC” means World Boxing Council. The previous year LeDoux had faced both Ken Norton and Mike Weaver at the MET Center, drawing with Norton and getting decisioned by Weaver. LeDoux vs. Weaver was for the USBA heavyweight title. “USBA” means United States Boxing Association of which Jim was a Vice President.
Mike Evgen of St. Paul vs. Louie Lomeli of Illinois, IBO Light-Welterweight World Championship, April 9, 1992, Roy Wilkins Auditorium, St. Paul. In this inaugural title fight for this weight division, Evgen got the crown in a 12-round split decision. “IBO” means International Boxing Organization.
Will Grigsby of St. Paul vs. Carmelo Caceres of the Philippines, IBF Light-Flyweight World Championship, March 6, 1999, University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion, Minneapolis. Steel Will got the unanimous 12-round decision to retain the Light-Flyweight World Title he’d won the previous December. “IBF” means International Boxing Federation. In 1996 he’d captured the USBA Flyweight Title in a 12-rounder held in Rochester, Minnesota.
For every world title bout held in the state with a Minnesota fighter, imagine how many amateur and non-title pro bouts there are in the state. The answer is a knockdown number. With all the training and planning that goes into any match, there’s a lot of boxing going on to be sure.
With a 1934 St. Paul Diamond Champion Belt found in his desk after his passing, Jim may’ve had 70 years in the fight game. He certainly had 60. More importantly thanks to the Golden Gloves and trainers and managers like Ray Temple and Murray McLean, Jim learned to keep to the high road, which he defined as integrity. “Integrity’s all you got,” he said. “Once it’s gone, you got nothing.”
Terry Collins, writing for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, remarked: “He was the voice of reason in a sport where toughness, egos and big paychecks reign supreme. He also was legendary for settling disputes between promoters and prizefighters.” (Terry Collins, Jim O’Hara Dies; He Ran the State Boxing Board, Minneapolis Star Tribune, January 21, 2002, page B5, column 1.) In 1980 Jim helped settle a dispute between Don King and Larry Holmes when Holmes was the heavyweight champ. See Round 11, entitled Muhammad Ali.
Jim also had to be on his toes to anticipate and sidestep disputes within his own ranks, including anything physical such as when Scott LeDoux and Gary Holmgren served together on the Boxing Board. More than a fan of both Hall of Famers, Jim recognized that as big and tough as LeDoux was, LeDoux better watch himself if Holmgren gets mad. “He’s liable to whack him,” intimated Jim with the expression of a dad worried for two sons. While LeDoux was known as The Fighting Frenchman, Holmgren’s moniker was The Hammer. They’ve both been inducted into the Minnesota Boxing Hall of Fame, LeDoux in 2010 as part of its inaugural class and Holmgren in 2013.
“He was a great mediator and diplomat,” said Joe Azzone of Jim. (Azzone is quoted by Terry Collins, supra.) A past Chair of the Boxing Board and longtime leader in the Golden Gloves, Azzone knew Jim just about as well as anyone. They’d grown up together.
Using street smarts, Jim could read people. There wasn’t any point in bluffing or lying because he could tell if you were. “I always thought Jim was the wisest guy I ever met,” commented referee Denny Nelson. “He knew how to handle people.” (Nelson is quoted by Jim Wells, Jim O’Hara, 76, Boxing Official, St. Paul Pioneer Press, January 19, 2002, Obituaries, City Edition.) In an email dated January 9, 2013, Nelson assigned Jim a top ranking for his work with the Boxing Board. “Over the years I have worked with six executive secretaries of the Minnesota boxing commission,” wrote Nelson. “No one could handle the job like Jim.”
A globetrotter in his third-man capacity, Denny has refereed many a world championship bout. His son Mark Nelson, also a globetrotter, is his equal as a fight handler. You can say that again that Jim thought the world of these two. He knew the boxing ref may well have the toughest officiating responsibility in all of sports. Others have long held this view. (Harold Valan, Fight Referee Harold Valan Calls His Job Toughest of Pro Sports Officials, The Ring, August 1974, 12.)
Not unlike a first-rate referee, Jim protected boxers who might otherwise have been severely injured or who might even have lost their lives in the ring. Safety was his mantra: “Nobody’s going to die on my watch [from lack of safety precautions].” He knew boxing history and what was possible. For example, in 1915 John Simmer, 19 years of age, died in an unregulated bout at Matt Dietsch’s hall in St. Paul. The match was allowed to continue in the fifth round even though Simmer was groggy and defenseless. After he hit the canvas he was allowed to remain there unconscious for 30 minutes before medical aid was sought. (Clay Moyle, Billy Miske: The St. Paul Thunderbolt 18-19 (Win By KO Publications 2011).)
Jim was accustomed to the periodic, if inevitable, wrath of promoters and professional fighters. He appreciated they were businessmen who naturally advocated in all forums available to them. Nonetheless, his immovable recommendation to the Boxing Board was that it err, if at all, on the side of protecting the fighters, even if the fighters sincerely believed they didn’t need protection. If a proposed bout didn’t add up in the safety-first view of the Boxing Board, the bout wasn’t approved.
Jim was called every name in the book, as you can imagine, during his 60 years in the busted-nose fraternity, perhaps none more vehemently than during his 25 years as the face of the Boxing Board.
If the other parties were open to his help, he offered assistance wherever he could. Tom Powers, columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, said it best:
O’Hara, as much a part of the fabric of St. Paul as the cathedral or the capitol building, worked with promoters, handlers and fighters, always gently steering them in the right direction. He could tell them where to get proper health insurance as easily as he could recommend a qualified referee.
(Tom Powers, Boxing Lost a Friend with O’Hara’s Passing, St. Paul Pioneer Press, January 23, 2002, page D1, column 2.)
Jim advocated before the State Legislature for the budget necessary to maintain safety and honesty in Minnesota boxing. A comparison he liked to draw, when he appeared before a legislative committee, was the cost of incarcerating an individual in prison versus the cost of assuring a positive activity for Minnesota’s youth.
His vision was to fill the boxing gyms with young people who, through boxing, learn goal-setting and discipline which leads to self-control and ultimately good citizenship. From personal experience he knew that boxing can provide a way out of a potential life of trouble – not so much from the purse that a bout might bring but from the discipline gained. “Kids want discipline,” said Jim. “They really respond to it in the gym.”
Terry Collins of the Minneapolis Star Tribune put it this way: “His goal was to recruit community leaders to help youngsters in the Golden Gloves program stay in the ring, in school and out of trouble. He also was instrumental in establishing a boxing program at Stillwater prison.” (Terry Collins, supra.)
Jim believed that if boxing went unregulated, safety would be compromised, which was unacceptable, and unethical influences from outside the state could threaten the honesty that Minnesota boxing had stood for since the days of George Barton. Jim believed that without safety and honesty, boxing would cease to be a positive alternative for youth and would become a joke.
In 2012 this writer had the opportunity to talk to a 58-year-old ex-fighter living on the streets of Anchorage, Alaska. He'd been a bare-knuckle fighter for too many years. His is a cautionary tale for the guardians of the sport of boxing. In his youth, in the early 1970s, he boxed in the Golden Gloves. When his record reached 13 and 0 as an amateur welterweight (147 lbs. max.), he was approached by a guy claiming to represent a big city manager.
The fellow told the prospect that as a pro he’d be expected to carry opponents in the ring from time to time and then asked: “After you carry five rounds, what will you do when you’re told to lie down?”
“I’d knock out my opponent,” he replied.
“Wrong answer,” was the judgment. “You’ll never make it as a pro.”
If there’s no verifying that story, there’s no malarkey in El Caballo Blanco, the protagonist in Christopher McDougall’s acclaimed book Born to Run. Before getting into running Caballo, who was born in 1954, did time in the fight game’s underworld:
He was born Michael Randall Hickman, son of a Marine Corps gunnery sergeant whose postings moved the family up and down the West Coast. ***
After high school, Mike went off to Humboldt State to study Eastern religions and Native American history. To pay tuition, he began fighting in backroom smokers, billing himself as the Gypsy Cowboy. Because he was fearless about walking into gyms that rarely saw a white face, much less a vegetarian white face spouting off about universal harmony and wheatgrass juice, the Cowboy soon had all the action he could handle. Small-time Mexican promoters loved to pull him aside and whisper deals in his ear.
“Oye, compay,” they’d say. “Listen up, my friend. We’re going to start a chisme, a little whisper, that you’re a top amateur from back east. The gringos are gonna love it, man. Every gabacho in the house is going to bet their kids on you.”
The Gypsy Cowboy shrugged. “Fine by me.”
“Just dance around so you don’t get slaughtered till the fourth,” they’d warn him — or the third, or the seventh, whichever round the fix had been set for. The Cowboy could hold his own against gigantic black heavyweights by dodging and clinching up until it was time for him to hit the canvas, but against the speedy Latino middleweights, he had to fight for his life. “Man, sometimes they had to haul my bleeding butt out of there,” he’d say. But even after leaving school, he stuck with it. “I just wandered the country fighting. Taking dives, winning some, losing but really winning others, mostly putting on good shows and learning how to fight and not get hurt.”
(Christopher McDougall, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Ever Seen, Chapter 32 (Alfred A. Knopf 2009), Kindle Edition.)
Growing up in an era when St. Paul was known for its corruption, Jim was taught to have no tolerance for it. See Round 4, entitled The O’Hara Name & St. Paul. Dirty pool turned his stomach. He could tell if a fighter was carrying the other, and he could tell when someone took a dive.
Fixed matches are impossible to prove unless you get a confession, and even then you may be faced with conflicting testimony. But everyone knew he could read a fight and size up what was going on, and thus he helped deter the few bad apples who might have tried to come to Minnesota to play their games.
With candor and humor, Jim acknowledged the pressure to present the boxing audience with a good show. But, directed at the fighters, he warned: “I carried Timberjack Wagner and they carried me out of the ring.” (Don Riley’s Eye Opener, St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 7, 1976.) In October 1953 the 6-foot-3 Wagner, in his professional debut no less, defeated Jim by TKO in the sixth. See Round 7, entitled Boxing Record.
A sobering reminder of how criminals may extend into boxing, if unchecked by state boxing commissions, is the 1930-1935 story of the 268-lb., 6-foot-5 and 1/2 Primo Carnera. He was propped up as the world heavyweight champion, a scam on him as well as the public. (Paul Gallico, Pity the Poor Giant (1938). Gallico was a founder of the Golden Gloves. His essay on Carnera is included in George Kimball and John Schulian, At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing (Library of America 2011), Kindle Edition.)
Carnera had skills mind you. In September 1932 he fought a 10-rounder at the St. Paul Auditorium against 6-foot-4 Art Lasky, the local favorite out of Potts Gym in Minneapolis, who you know with Jimmy Potts in his corner held nothing back. Mike Gibbons, the face of legitimacy for Minnesota contenders, was the ref. The verdict was left to the sportswriters, who presumably guarded their independent judgment. Carnera got the newspaper decision. In the midst of the Great Depression, four thousand paid to see an honest fight between giants.
The need to be on the lookout for the shakedown and violence was embedded in Jim’s memory. One of his mentors was promoter Jack Raleigh. Jim felt Raleigh’s pain and anger when Raleigh’s restaurant in Wisconsin was visited by professional thugs with axes and sledgehammers after Raleigh had rebuffed a demand for a piece of the gate of his Kid Gavilan vs. Del Flanigan promotion. With 9,434 in attendance at the St. Paul Auditorium in April 1957, Flanigan got the 10-round decision while Raleigh got the uninsured loss. About five years earlier Jim’s closest brother Mike, a heavyweight, died by the gun following a street fight. See Chapter 3, entitled The Unspeakable.
Welterweight champion of the world 1951-1954, Kid Gavilan is ranked number 61 on the Bert Sugar list of the top 100 fighters of all time. (Bert Randolph Sugar, Boxing’s Greatest Fighters 207 (The Lyons Press 2006).) Del Flanigan was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 2003.
They say Kid Gavilan had no choice but to work with managers controlled by the Mafia, which promised financial backing and title fights. The head was New York mobster Frankie Carbo (John Paul Carbo, born 1904, Lower East Side). Known as the “underworld commissioner,” Carbo controlled the lightweight, welterweight and middleweight titles for 20 years until his arrest in 1959. (David Remnick, King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero, Chapter 3 (Vintage Books 1999), Kindle Edition.)
One day a State of Minnesota employee made an appointment with Jim. She said she was writing his job description and wanted help.
“Write this down,” Jim offered. “When it happens, I know what to do.”
“I’m serious,” she replied.
“So am I,” said Jim.
Jim’s point was that just as the boxer enters the ring with a fight plan, you obviously plan. But when the unanticipated happens, as it surely will, the executive officer of the Boxing Board must have the experience and street smarts needed.
In 1980 when Larry Holmes fought Scott LeDoux in Minnesota, television personality Howard Cosell did the live broadcast. One of the best sportscasters of all time, Cosell loved boxing. You could tell from the post-fight interviews that he thought it’d been a good fight, including in terms of its end in the seventh after it became one-sided. But then on November 26, 1982 after Holmes was allowed to pop Randall “Tex” Cobb the entire 15-round distance in their infamous mismatch, Cosell walked away disgusted. With over three decades in boxing, he’d decided he’d called his last pro fight.
Cosell no longer had faith in the ability of boxing commissions to work with promoters to avoid the mismatch and, as a fail-safe, stop a fight when it’s become uncompetitive. “Uncompetitive” means a fighter is unable or unwilling to protect himself. Wearing his hat as a boxing official Jim believed a bout may need to be stopped even where (a) the fighter and his corner want the fight to continue, (b) the fighter can take a punch, and (c) theoretically the fighter could still win by KO. “Fantasyland” is what Jim called (c). Whether a contest has become uncompetitive is a judgment call based on the combined experience of the boxing officials regulating the fight.
Jim had long put his money where his mouth was. In 1949 he’d bowed out of an exhibition match with Joe Louis even though any show with arguably the greatest heavyweight of all time would’ve helped his resume. See Round 10, entitled Joe Louis.
Love him or hate him, Cosell believed he had to take a stand. While Holmes delivered the undisputed best jab in the business and Cobb made his case for being the undisputed king of toughness, the performance of the ref and other officials was disputable. They’d done nothing but watch 15 lopsided rounds 13 days after the Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini vs. Deuk-Koo Kim bout. Kim died from that lightweight championship fight, which had gone into the 14th. After November 1982 the WBC limited all title contests to 12 rounds and Jim advocated for a 10-round limit.
If he ever measured his words, Cosell threw away the yardstick when he later said:
Professional boxing is no longer worthy of civilized society. It’s run by self-serving crooks, who are called promoters…. Except for the fighters, you’re talking about human scum…. Professional boxing is utterly immoral. It’s not capable of reformation. I now favor the abolition of professional boxing. You’ll never clean it up. Mud can never be clean.
(Howard Cosell quoted in Joyce Carol Oates, On Boxing (HarperCollins e-books 2006), Kindle Edition (contains various essays by Oates).)
For Jim who was the model promoter? He was fortunate to have been close to several in his formative years in the game. There’s Emmett Weller, inducted into the Minnesota Boxing Hall of Fame in its second year. Weller cared more about the fighters than himself. The list of exemplars in the promotion side of boxing also includes Jim’s good friends and mentors Billy Colbert, Lou Katz, Spike McCarthy, Murray McLean, Jack Raleigh, Ben Sternberg, and Mike Thomas.
With a clear vision for safety and honesty at every level of boxing, Jim strove to keep the sport moving forward after that fateful November in 1982. Minnesota became known as the sissy state, as Jim put it, because of its emphasis on safety, including its standing eight count as of 1978 and its requiring amateurs to wear head gear as of 1983. Jim advocated that no bout in the world should be sanctioned beyond 10 rounds.
If the Holmes-Cobb bout was a low point in boxing, countless dedicated men and women labored on. For his part Jim served the sport another 19 years. What kept him going? You couldn’t say it was the money or power or honors.
A successful businessman, he could’ve retired comfortably in 1989, for example, when Kitty (his wife) retired from Control Data. It wasn't power over mighty warriors and their handlers that kept him going. Nor was it trying to match George Barton's 27 years as Boxing Commissioner.
Put it this way: a poor, uneducated street kid with a German name, James J. Ehrich, had thrown in his lot with belters. It was only natural to keep going.
You'd be right to say the sport energized the man who came to be known as Jim O'Hara. But it wasn't just his love of sport and his ability to see art in the sweet science. With his own life being one of redemption, he was energized with hope that he might make a positive difference in the lives of individuals as others had for him.
So he continued to answer the bell, and there wasn’t a part of being on the Boxing Board team that he didn’t love. He particularly enjoyed working with the many dedicated Boxing Commissioners, including Fred Allen, Joe Azzone, Howard Bennett, Dave Bloomberg, Nick Castillo, Jerry Coughlin, Erwin Dauphin, Danny Davis, Harry Davis, Robert Dolan, Gary Erikson, Donny Evans, James Farelli, Pete Filippi, Patrick Foslien, Val Goodman, Wally Holm, Gary Holmgren, Arthur Holstein, John Kelly, Judy Klammer, Stan Kowalski, Scott LeDoux, Vern Landreville, Robert Mack, JoAnn McCauley, Tom Mosby, Richard H. Plunkett, Robert Powers, George Reiter, Richard Schaak, Billy Schmidt, Les Sellnow, Robert Thompson, James Trembley, Clem Tucker, and Dan Wall.
One of the best parts of the job for Jim was interacting with kids of all ages, including spectators. Amid the managed chaos of a boxing show, he joked with youngsters, especially when he saw a clear opening. One evening in the 1990s Boxing Commissioner Dan Wall brought his son, Nolan, to the fights. Nolan was 12 or 13. When one of the matches was about to be cancelled due to a boxer’s failure to show in time, Jim marched up to Nolan and said: “What size shoe did you say you wear? Great! We have a pair that will fit and the trainers will get you fixed up with trunks and gloves so you can fill in.”
“Nolan was quite relieved when Jim cracked a smile and gave him a wink,” Nolan’s dad recalled in 2012.
In January 1985 State Representative Phyllis Kahn of Minneapolis was the chief sponsor of a bill to make boxing a crime in Minnesota. Known as H.F. No. 198, her bill read as follows:
Subdivision 1. BOXING, SPARRING, AND KICK BOXING. It is unlawful for a person, partnership, or corporation to advertise, operate, maintain, attend, promote, or aid in advertising, operating, maintaining, or promoting a boxing contest, match, or exhibition. “Boxing” includes sparring and kick boxing but does not include full contact karate.
Subdivision 2. PENALTY. A violation of subdivision 1 is a misdemeanor.
You know Jim brought the fight to anyone who even thought about criminalizing boxing in Minnesota. He debated Representative Kahn, including at least one session broadcast on the radio. In March 1985 he testified before her committee at the State Capitol, not far from where he grew up. Here are notes he made in preparing his remarks:
WHAT DOES AMATEUR BOXING DO FOR THE YOUTH OF AMERICA?
It gives them Confidence, Pride, and Self-Respect.
It is an in-between time — between boy and manhood.
It is not to build professional fighters.
What more can a young person ask for in these troubled times?
Mothers tell me that their kids are on alcohol and drugs.
What can they do? They are lost.
It is because the kids are lost, not the mothers.
We can only have so many:
Hockey Stars, 6-foot-2.
Football Stars, 240 lbs.
Basketball Stars, 6-foot-8.
Baseball Stars, over 6 feet.
What does a kid 100 to 120 pounds do? He watches and eats his heart out. They are the ones that take to pot to make themselves feel big.
There is trouble ahead for the youth of America if they even consider Banning Boxing.
Look at all the great boxers of the past. The records of their achievements will be looked at like they were illegal.
I ask you, Phyllis, have you ever been at the Radisson Hotel, the St. Paul Athletic Club, or the Decathlon Club in Bloomington, and watched these youth, boys and girls — yes girls — at a boxing event? The cream of Twin Cities society was in attendance and watched a splendid sporting event — not a brutal, savage, out-of-control bout that people are led to believe.
In the end the politicians didn’t outlaw boxing.
If Jim hated corruption and could read people, he was as shocked and disappointed as anyone when his friend Bob Lee, Sr., Founder and President of the International Boxing Federation, fell from grace.
Lee's fall occurred in 1999. The previous year Jim had said: "It's always been a pleasure to work with Bobby Lee. He always has run a fair and honest organization, and I'm very happy to be associated with him." (Special Award to Jim O'Hara Deserving One, 13 (No. 1) IBF/USBA Reporter, 5 (December 1998)).
So Jim believed in Lee and the IBF, the only sanctioning body run by African Americans. Based in Lee's home state of New Jersey, which he saw as the boxing capital of the world, Lee sought to make a difference but lost his reputation fighting corruption charges. A jury found him guilty of money laundering and tax evasion, while he maintained he'd been set up by white promoters and broadcast executives. At sentencing the Judge told Lee to blame himself for abuse of power. (Ronald Smothers, BOXING: I.B.F. Supervision Ends; Founder Gets 22 Months, The New York Times, February 15, 2001.)
While the IBF and New Jersey dealt with scandal, Minnesota deregulated. Effective July 2001 Governor Jesse Ventura and the State Legislature abolished the Boxing Board without replacement. They said thanks but no thanks to the board which, with its predecessors, had provided 86 years of due diligence in regulating matches and exhibitions.
The Minnesota State Athletic Commission served from 1915 to 1973, and the Minnesota State Boxing Commission served from 1973 to 1975. The first body was lead by George Barton, Mike Gibbons, and Jack Gibbons. The second body was lead by Jack Gibbons. The Minnesota Board of Boxing, lead by Jack Gibbons and Jim, served from 1975 to 2001.
With the goal of shrinking government, the politicians couldn’t stomach the Boxing Board’s $80,000 annual budget. In 1999 State Representative Dan McElroy of Burnsville summed up the mentality that would carry the day: “It’s like somebody said to me, if you can’t abolish the Board of Boxing, what hope is there for controlling the size of government? We don’t have a state soccer board or a state wrestling board.” (Mike Mosedale, Down for the Count: Minnesota’s Boxing Commission Gets Socked in the Kisser, October 6, 1999, www.citypages.com/1999-10-06/books/down-for-the-count/full/.)
If you figure a conservative four percent annual inflation rate, $80,000 in 1999 might be about $150,000 in 2015 dollars.
While lobbying against the deregulation of boxing, Jim had one arm tied behind his back, what with heart disease and bladder cancer. When he passed in January 2002 at the age of 76, he believed Minnesota’s laissez-faire experiment in the boxing arena would be short-lived. The French Bomber, as Jim was known to call Scott LeDoux, vowed to educate politicians on the genuine need for a Minnesota body with rule-making authority devoted to serving the fistic community.
In 2002 and 2003 LeDoux did his advance work for the lobbying campaign ahead. As reported in USA Today in December 2003, one of his concerns was with the toughman fights that had become popular:
"There is no commission to stop this kind of thing, so it’s being done all the time,” he said. “Somebody is going to get killed with these toughman contests. They train for four weeks in the gym and then go out and get their butts kicked."
(Minnesota Boxing Great Seeks Return of State Commission, USATODAY.com, posted December 26, 2003 7:17 PM.)
In 2006 the politicians demonstrated their agreement with Scott LeDoux by reinstituting oversight by Minnesotans. LeDoux, with 18 years’ experience on the Boxing Board, was appointed by Governor Tim Pawlenty to head the new body.
Sadly, Lou Gehrig’s disease would become LeDoux’s foe. The illness took him in August 2011. He was 62. (Dennis Hevesi, Scott LeDoux, 62, Gritty Heavyweight Boxing Contender, The New York Times, August 13, 2011, page D7 (New York Edition).)
No longer can you share a laugh with Jim O’Hara or Scott LeDoux in the flesh. These appointed rule enforcers aren’t visible. But they and Joe Azzone along with so many other men and women of integrity are present in the ideals of safety and honesty within Minnesota boxing.
Copyright 2012-2015 by Steven T. O’Hara. All rights reserved.