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Published: Friday, 7/16/2004

Inspector general faults oversight of 'toughman' events

BY JAMES DREW
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
'Toughman' contests such as this one held in Toledo last year were not regulated properly, a state investigation found. 'Toughman' contests such as this one held in Toledo last year were not regulated properly, a state investigation found.
MORRISON / BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

40 participants had more amateur boxing wins than allowed

COLUMBUS - A state agency failed to regulate "toughman" contests in Ohio by allowing at least one pro boxer and several experienced amateurs to fight people who jumped into the ring off the street, Ohio's anti-corruption watchdog said yesterday.

Inspector General Tom Charles said of the Ohio Athletic Commission: "The inconsistent oversight by the staff and its agents created an environment ripe for contestant injuries. Allowing a trained, experienced boxer to enter the ring against a contestant from the audience is a recipe for disaster."

The inspector general's office said it was unaware of any deaths or serious injuries over the past two years at the Ohio contests, which commonly are held in sports arenas and feature separate men and women bouts. Contestants in headgear and 16-ounce gloves square off in three one-minute rounds.

The state Athletic Commission is in charge of regulating boxing, wrestling, kickboxing, karate, and toughman contests to "protect the safety of the fight participants."

Ohio's administrative code states: "Contestants shall not have any previous professional boxing experience and shall not have over five sanctioned amateur wins in the last five years."

The inspector general's investigation found that the athletic commission in 2003 allowed 40 participants, including three in Toledo, to compete in toughman contests with more amateur boxing wins than the rules allow.

"Other fighters were permitted to compete without reporting their boxing record or even signing their applications," Mr. Charles said.

Jason Gurzynski, who won the Toledo toughman championship in the light heavyweight division in 1999 and 2001, said he has never fought a sanctioned amateur boxing bout.

But he said he has fought against a "handful" of opponents whom he knew had competed in Golden Gloves.

"It didn't bother me. It's better when you beat them," said Mr. Gurzynski, 27.

But Mr. Gurzynski said the athletic commission needs to increase its screening of people who want to compete.

"You can't wait until two hours before the fight to let these people sign up and for the athletic commission to screen them. I have seen people slip through the cracks," he said.

The investigation started after a Cleveland television station aired a story May 4 in which Forrest "The Meat Cleaver" Petz of Cleveland said he had an 11-0 record in pro boxing matches and had competed in 13 toughman contests.

The inspector general discovered that Mr. Petz also was the middleweight division champion at a December, 2003, event held in Youngstown.

Paul Amodio, who was executive director of the athletic commission until his retirement last week, told the inspector general that his office kept a spreadsheet of contestants and distributed the records to inspectors - who are chosen by the commission but paid by promoters.

Inspectors are in charge of licensing fighters at the toughman contests and until recently, they relied on what the contestants told them, Mr. Charles said.

Mr. Petz was allowed to compete at a toughman contest last April after marking "no" on an application which asked whether he had amateur fighting experience and any championship wins.

A month earlier, Mr. Petz filled out an application in which he said he had an amateur boxing record of 10-3, said Joe Montgomery, a deputy inspector general.

Mr. Montgomery said the athletic commission's inspectors should use laptop computers to check the backgrounds of people who want to take part in toughman contests.

Mr. Amodio, who is recuperating from a heart attack, could not be reached for comment. Dennis Berg, the commission's interim executive director on loan from the state Lottery Commission, didn't return a message seeking comment.

The inspector general has recommended that the athletic commission provide training to judges, timekeepers, inspectors, and referees at toughman contests to ensure that the rules are followed. The commission has 60 days to respond in writing.

Contact James Drew at:

jdrew@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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