In an effort to bring unity in place of what is widely perceived as chaos permeating boxing, 75 of the nation's top fight promoters and managers gathered at an unprecedented "summit meeting" today at the Meadowlands Sports Complex under the aegis of the newly created international arm of the U.S. Boxing Association.
But it soon became apparent that the divisions separating the rival factions of the U.S. boxing community are wide and deep, and the path toward unity is strewn with many obstacles.
"We have many warring camps here, and if we can pull this thing off, I am going to recommend us for the Nobel Peace Prize," said Bill Brennan, a former member of the Virginia Boxing Commission and a past president of the USBA.
Today's session marked the initial organizing effort of the USBA International to persuade the nation's major fight promoters to stage their bouts under its banner and to forgo the sanction of the World Boxing Council and the World Boxing Association, both of which have been criticized in the United States as being foreign-dominated.
Although the effort was well received by some of the promoters, it was met with a high degree of skepticism by others.
"I'm undecided about supporting it," said Don King, one of the dominant promoters in boxing. "Just because somebody goes out and forms an organization, that doesn't mean you have to join up right away."
Bob Arum, King's chief rival promoter, observed, "This will be a viable organization. It's going to take hold. King is the only person who's out to destroy it, and it's not going to work. The only reason he wants to wreck it is because he controls the WBC and the WBA."
King snapped back, "Arum used to like the WBC and the WBA. Now it seems like he can't get along with anybody."
Other promoters took a more middle-of-the-road position.
"It depends on the fighters," said Butch Lewis. "This organization will be successful when the champion fighters decide they will fight under the USBA International limelight."
Asked if that was likely to happen, Lewis said, "I don't know, but I'd say it's leaning that way."
Today's meeting, a prelude to a USBA International organizing convention next month in Reno, comes as Congress is once again considering legislation to create a federal boxing commission to regulate the sport, a measure that most of the state boxing commissions of the USBA oppose.
"The federal government is breathing down boxing's neck," said Robert Lee, deputy boxing commissioner of New Jersey and president of USBA International. "If we have any concern about boxing and the free enterprise system, we're going to have to get our house together ourselves.
"It's your fraternity, and you've got to do something about it. The federal government hasn't been able to do anything about the problems of narcotics, about the problems of aging or about the problems of poverty. The only thing they would do for boxing is appoint a bunch of political hacks to regulate it."
But despite widespread complaints among the promoters here that both the WBC and the WBA play favorites in ranking fighters and scheduling fights, there was no meeting of the minds on how the USBA International could devise a system to correct such abuses.
One man suggested that the promoters themselves should participate in the ratings process.
"That just won't work," snapped another. "Each promoter has his own vested interest. If you put three promoters on a ratings committee, they'll give their own fighters all the good ratings and leave mine out."
The group did announce its own list of world champions in each weight class: heavyweight Larry Holmes, cruiserweight S.T. Gordon, light heavyweight Michael Spinks, middleweight Marvin Hagler, junior middleweight Davey Moore, welterweight Donald Curry, junior welterweight Aaron Pryor, lightweight Ray Mancini, junior lightweight Roger Mayweather, featherweight Juan LaPorte, bantamweight Jeff Chandler and flyweight Santos Laciar.