Representatives of more than two dozen state athletic commissions, who will gather in Washington today for the fourth annual convention of the United States Boxing Association, would like nothing better than to reestablish American control of the sport, which has been rocked by more than its share of allegations of scandal during the past year.
But most officials of the young organization, formed here four years ago to protest diminishing United States influence in the World Boxing Association, will agree that theirs is an uphill struggle.
"The USBA is a step forward, but thus far isn't even a giant step forward for boxing," said Bert Sugar, the editor and publisher of Ring magazine, one of eight persons to be honored by the association at its awards banquet Saturday.
"They're nice people, but they have a long way to go. They don't have any power. Boxing is run by two banana republic rump groups that hold their meeting in smoke-filled rooms."
Jack Davis, a vice-president of the WBC and the president of the North American Boxing Federation, said that all WBC ratings are discussed in open sessions by WBC delegates, and that if there were any favoritism or manipulation of the ratings, it would certainly be protested by delegates. He denies there is any impropriety involved in the ratings procedure.
"The power and strength and leadership of the world boxing organizations have left the United States and we would like to get it back," said Francis Walker, executive secretary of the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission and a vice president of the USBA.
"We have the vast amount of the money, most of the boxing talent and the influence of the television networks in the United States, but we don't have the power."
It was the tail end of the annual convention of the World Boxing Association at the Shoreham Hotel here four years ago that the USBA was formed. As York Van Nixon, chairman of the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission and a vice president of the USBA, recalls it, a number of delegates from state and local athletic commissions around the United States banded together in an effort to do something about the United States' waning influence in the WBA.
"We became aware that the World Boxing Association was being controlled by Latin Americans. We didn't have a chance. Our fighters, our officials and our local commissions were getting the short end of the stick."
In the four years since that initial meeting, the United States has made little, if any, headway in flexing its muscle in the world of professional boxing. Two rival organizations, the WBA and the even more powerful World Boxing Council -- both headquartered in Latin America; the WBA in Panama City and the WBC in Mexico City -- control most of the major fights, leaving little or nor clout in the hands of the local and state athletic commissions.
"They comed into town, and they ignore the local commissioners. They even bring in their own officials. They say, 'Use our officials, or you don't get to fight.' And the television networks will not buy a fight unless it has the sanction of one of those groups," said Van Nixon.
In the last year, the boxing community has been stung by a variety of charges of impropriety. A federal grand jury is looking into a number of aspects of the sport. Promoters have argued that ratings -- the scale on which fighters are evaluated for title fights -- are sometimes artificially manipulated to benefit a favorite fighter or promoter.
In an antitrust lawsuit now on trial in federal court in New York, fight promoter Teddy Brenner is asking a judge to order the dissolution of the WBC and is seeking $1 million from the organization, contending the WBC illegally suspended him -- shut him out on WBC fights -- in May 1979 in a dispute with rival promoter Don King over the promotional fights to Alexis Arguello, then the WBC's superfeatherweight champion.
U.S. District Judge Charles Metzner struck down yesterday Brenner's contention that an illegal conspiracy between King and Jose Sulaiman, WBC president, effectively barred him from the promotion of title fights. But the judge said he would permit the jury to consider the illegal suspension count.
He also said that Brenner had failed to prove that Sulaiman had manipulated WBC ratings. In testimony earlier this week, fight promoter Bob Arum, president of Top Rank Inc., said that in the past he had received preferential ratings treatment from the WBC.
"The ratings are controlled by the world boxing organizations. Whenever we wanted to get a fighter in the top 10, we would talk to Mr. Sulaiman. Invariably, he would put the fighter in the ratings," Arum testified.
But by mid-1978, Arum said, he was replaced by King as WBC's favored promoter and after that he was no longer able to get fighters rated.
On the West Coast, Ross Fields, who until April 6 had gone under the alias of Harold Smith, the president of Muhammand Ali Professional Sports Inc., told several news organizations that he knew of instances in which payments had been made to get fighters rated and the he had tapes and documents which could send several boxing figures to jail.
Fields, being charged in a lawsuit by Wells Fargo National Bank with having masterminded a $21.3 million embezzlement from the bank over a two-year period, is currently being held in Los Angeles in lieu of $400,000 bail on charges of falsifying passport information, forgery and false pretenses. He made his statements to the news organizations in a series of clandestine interviews before surrendering to federal authorities.
Robert W. Lee, the deputy commissioner of athletics for New Jersey, ratings chairman for the USBA and a vice president of the WBA, said inaction on the part of many state athletic commissions is one of the reasons for the declining United States influence in world boxing. "Many of them are operating under sunset legislation. They're being phased out of existence," Lee said.
"I feel there are many, many ills in boxing worldwide," Lee said. "The only way to combat them is to have a strong United States boxing organization that we can make strong enough so the worldwide bodies will have to sit up and take notice."