By Matt Richardson
Photos by Ed Mulholland
When Melvina Lathan became chairperson of the New York State Athletic Commission in July 2008, boxing fans took a deep breath. After all, it was less than a decade before when the commission seemed to be a wasteland of incompetent political appointees. Boxing was poorly regulated in the State and was in disarray when Ron Scott Stevens was appointed as the chairperson of the NYSAC in June 2003. Stevens, however, a boxing veteran, got boxing back on track in New York. He more than doubled the amount of shows in the State from 17 events the year prior to his arrival to around 40 cards per year when he left. He regulated competently and professionally.
So it was with understandable apprehension when Lathan took over, despite her extensive experience in the sport (both as a professional boxing judge and commissioner).
It was unknown what direction the sport would move in New York with a changing of the guard: Would boxing regress to the state of incompetence it had experienced prior to the administration of Stevens or would it move forward with momentum that he had established? “The state of the sport is awesome,” Lathan told FightNews in an exclusive interview last week. Five years into her reign, Lathan is positive and excited about boxing in New York and confident of how it has been regulated during her time as chairperson.
“I think it’s absolutely vibrant,” she continued. “With the number of shows and the quality of shows, the quality of the competition, the addition of new venues…we just couldn’t get better venues and better fights. It’s just awesome!”
One of the new venues Lathan discussed is the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn. Boxing debuted in this location October 20, 2012 with high-profile cards scheduled to return during March and April. Additionally, Golden Boy Promotions has an exclusive deal with Barclays to host regular, high-profile cards at the site.
“We haven’t had that in a long time,” Lathan said. “But what it is is competition! Good, old-fashioned, healthy competition. And with competition comes crowds. I have to compliment Golden Boy because they did what they said they were going to do. They said that they were going to come in and try to work with some of the resident promoters and they’ve kind of done that. They’ve reached out to promoters and they’ve gotten some of their guys to put them on their fight cards. And you’ve got to give them the compliment when they do something they say they’re going to do like that. I think that’s also been healthy.”
Putting any concerns of fans to rest, boxing has remained strong with approximately 37 cards held in New York State during 2012.
“These numbers are incredible,” Lathan said. “Never before have we had these kinds of numbers so early in the year. I thought we did something last year where we had about 12 in January but this is incredible. It’s a lot of boxing. And it really takes an incredible staff to cover an incredible amount of work to make these shows function.”
However, with any jurisdiction overseeing those many shows, not everything is guaranteed to run smoothly. Or run at all, for that matter.
In December 2011 Lathan was criticized by many in the boxing community for the commission’s eleventh hour approach to licensing Antonio Margarito for his rematch with Miguel Cotto. At issue was a damaged eye Margarito had endured in previous contests and whether he would be medically approved to box. The fight, at an already sold-out Madison Square Garden, was nearly nixed just days before the fighters entered the ring as Margarito had to fly into New York from Mexico to take an exam.
He was ultimately approved to fight but lost the bout a few nights later.
“It was an incident, I guess,” Lathan said, electing not to elaborate. “I guess I was always taught we don’t move backwards, we move forwards. We learn from everything that we do and we just keep moving.”
Around one year later the commission had to deal with another notorious issue when living legend Erik Morales failed a drug test before his rematch with junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia but was allowed to fight anyway.
Morales was predictably stopped in lopsided fashion when the fight went off but the precedent it may have set by allowing him to box in lieu of the failed tests is controversial.
Again, Lathan elected to keep her comments brief on the incident, choosing instead to issue the following statement to FightNews:
“The commission believes that competition testing for P.E.D.s and doping (such as the type performed by USADA – U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and WADA – World Anti-Doping Agency) is beneficial to curtail illicit athlete doping. While the commission isn’t a party to the contracts between the boxers and USADA/WADA, it is our understanding that these organizations are committed to sharing any adverse findings with us when the results are available. When confirmed doping results are presented to us, it is our policy to review for appropriate action which may include: denial of licensure (thereby preventing the match from occurring), suspension, revocation, imposition of fines and/or forfeiture of a purse. It’s important to note that before seeking to impose any sanctions, NYSAC carefully reviews the available data and information before issuing an appropriate response.”
Lathan does admit, however, that P.E.D. use in boxing is an issue.
“Yeah, drugging is a problem. It shouldn’t be. We’re still working on and it we’re going to be working on it until we get it right. Apparently, it’s all of sports from what I’m hearing in the news, not just boxing,” she said.
“The one thing about this commission, the other wonderful thing,” she said, “is that our medical department has always been the front-runner in all things medical as far as boxing is concerned. And I think we remain there in that position. We are constantly working and striving to insure that we have the best medical team possible. So we are actively working on this drug issue, once again.”
Keeping that forward momentum continuing, Lathan said she is eager for what the future holds for both the sport and the commission.
“I’m excited about the direction that the commission is going in,” she said. “For the first time ever we’re going to branch out and do something different.”
“I have a newsletter that I started a couple of years ago but didn’t have the time to keep it up,” Lathan explained. “But we’re getting it back on point again and it’s called the ‘Unanimous Decision.’ I’m excited about that. That should be posted in May. It’s going to be a link on our website (http://www.dos.ny.gov/athletic/index.html). The website itself is being updated. We’re doing a lot of nice things with the website. A first of a series of articles will start to appear by April 1st if not before. We’re picking a lot of articles, people and subjects in boxing.”
“We’re also planning a gallery of sorts of boxing art and photography that’s going to be open to the public and boxing fans and people in the community,” she continued. “I have been given an approved space here at the commission that I will use as a gallery and have an opening for the public to come and see what we have to make the commission friendly to the community and to people and to boxing fans that wish to know us.”
“Finally, I’m looking to have a week where we can have a tribute to our sport; sort of like a boxing history week,” explained Lathan. “I’ve also been working with a group of people in different boroughs trying to have a program that would serve the local young people in boxing/education/work skills program that could benefit all the boxers. What do they do when they don’t fight anymore and they don’t have a vocation? This will hopefully work for some of these young guys.”
There’s a lot going on in boxing in New York. And dealing with all of the nooks and crannies and characters on a daily basis can be draining. Still, despite it all, despite the circus that boxing can often be, Lathan has a bright outlook.
“I just enjoy everything about the sport, especially when things go right,” she said, laughing. “Everything is a pleasure. Everything is pleasant. I have kind of, a serious maternal instinct here so I take it all to heart.”
“But I love the increase in the number of shows and promoters throughout the State and the interaction with the boxing community,” she concluded. “I love being able to work with diverse and intergenerational boxing crews. And I also enjoy the opportunity to take a stand for the importance of good, old fashioned competition, that spirit of athleticism and camaraderie – only in boxing!”
E-mail the author at BoxingWriter@AOL.com or follow him @MRichardson713