Punches After the Bell
Pacquiao’s Hoops Debut Highlights a Possible Grey Area as to Contractual Prohibitions on Dangerous Activities: Usually known for making headlines as one of the best professional boxers on the planet, Manny (Pac Man) Pacquiao instead made headlines after making his professional basketball debut a month before his November 23, 2014 decision victory of Chris Algieri for the WBO Welterweight Title. On October 20, 2014, Pacquiao started for the KIA Sorrento team of the Philippine Basketball Association, but only played for seven minutes before sitting after two turnovers. While Pacquiao’s basketball debut was both fruitless (though his team won) and harmless, it nonetheless exposed a potential grey area in the prohibition against dangerous activities that is found in many athletic contracts. Such provisions are generally designed to ban athletes from participating in activities that could potentially impede their ability to participate in their chosen sport, such as motorcycling or sky diving or, with boxers, participating in a mixed martial arts contest prior to a scheduled boxing match. But could basketball be considered a dangerous activity that would be subject to such a provision? Paul George of the Indiana Pacers certainly showed that in rare circumstances, basketball certainly can be dangerous, as demonstrated by the horrific broken leg he sustained in a pre-NBA season Team USA scrimmage. The injury likely cost George his season, but whether a court would ever find that a boxer breached a dangerous activities provision in his contract by participating in a professional basketball game prior to a fight is an open question. Either way, one would not expect Pacquiao to engage in any such extra-curricular activity in advance of his recently signed super-fight with Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
Rourke. Hill, and Wright Push Boxing’s Age Limit to Its Extremes: Actor Mickey Rourke, whose limited professional boxing career had previously ended in 1994 with Rourke possessing a 6-0 (4) record, “returned” to the ring in Russia back in November and allegedly scored a second round stoppage over the hapless Elliott Seymour. While the bout did not take place under the auspices of any American athletic commission, and was also later alleged to have been fixed altogether (indeed, it does not appear on Rourke’s professional record), the fact that Rourke was even potentially permitted to return to the ring for a bout at age 62 would have caused an uproar in the United States. Real or not, Rourke’s foray is not the first, and probably won’t be the last, for aged boxers looking to get around the more stringent rules of many U.S. commissions. Indeed, in recent years, such notable boxers as Evander Holyfield, James Toney, and Roy Jones, Jr. have prolonged their careers by fighting overseas and outside of the glare of U.S. media and athletic commissions.
Not all elder boxers feel the need to take their show on the road, however. Indeed, it was recently announced that former long-time light heavyweight champion Virgil (Quicksilver) Hill, now 51-years-old and having not fought since 2007, will return to the ring for a farewell fight in his native North Dakota. While once an elite professional and only a year or so older than the active and just recently deposed light heavyweight champion Bernard (The Alien) Hopkins, it is still an open question whether this fight should be sanctioned, given Hill’s age and nearly 8 years of inactivity. Contrarily, similar questions need not immediately be posed as to the continued campaign of 50-year-old journeyman heavyweight “Bronco” Billy Wright, who despite his age, is on a 17 bout win streak, with 13 of those wins coming by way of knockout. Wright will be fighting on March 17, 2015 on a card in Arizona. While one would expect Wright to have little to offer at this stage of his career against elite heavyweights, his winning streak would likely give any number of athletic commissions all they needed to sanction his bouts despite his advanced age.
Recent Lawsuits Provide Little Further Clarification of What Formally Constitutes Sustainable Allegation of an Ali Act Violation: Back in November 2014, former WBC heavyweight champion Oleg Maskaev had his lawsuit against former promoter Dennis Rappaport thrown out after a judge found that his claims under the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act were untimely. Maskaev alleged that Rappaport violated the financial disclosure requirements of the Act by failing to disclose to him a $500,000 promotional fee he received when he helped put together Maskaev’s 2006 with Hasim (The Rock) Rahman, and that he violated provisions against an individual acting as both a manager and promoter by allowing Rappaport’s wife to act as his manager. These issues were not ruled upon on their merits by the Court because of the untimeliness of the Complaint. A similarly non-insightful resolution of an Ali Act claim took place back in August 2014, when boxing promoter Main Events dropped its lawsuit against light heavyweight champion Adonis (Superman) Stevenson, his advisor Al Haymon, Golden Boy Promotions, and others for interfering in their efforts to make a bout between their light heavyweight titleholder, Sergei Kovalev, and Stevenson. Main Events’ complaint made several allegations of Ali Act violations as well and could have potentially served to shine a light into the oft-questioned practices of Haymon, who adroitly walks the line between manager and promoter in his advisor role to some 150 professional boxers. Most recently, super-middleweight champion Andre Ward resolved his various legal matters with former promoter Goossen Promotions, which were also strewn with purported Ali Act violations as to financial disclosures, and signed with Jay Z’s Roc Nation Boxing this past month. These recent resolutions of Ali Act-tied lawsuits continue to leave the legal end of the professional boxing world with little certainty as to how a court would rule on Ali Act claims based on financial disclosures and questionable manager/promoter relationships in the event that they proceeded to either a summary judgment or trial on the merits. Nonetheless, the mere presence of the Ali Act on the books, as well the regulations of many athletic commissions, provide ample notice of claims one’s boxer can assert in the event that a contractual dispute arises with his promoter or manager. A learned manager or promoter should act in compliance with all applicable rules and regulations accordingly.