Off the Mat: Legislators rescue pro boxing in Minnesota

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As the former heavyweight Scott LeDoux sees it, the professional boxing scene in Minnesota is on the cusp of a golden era. "I think it's as good as it's ever been," he says. "There are probably 11 main event fighters in the state of Minnesota right now." LeDoux, you may recall, did his part to put Minnesota on the fistic map back in the 1970s, fighting such big name heavyweights as George Foreman, Larry Holmes, and Ken Norton and, perhaps just as memorably, knocking the toupee off Howard Cosell's head on live television.

Still, LeDoux acknowledges, there is one big problem with the Minnesota fight scene these days: there aren't any damn bouts. In fact, no one has managed to stage a professional card in the Twin Cities for nearly a year. This, it turns out, is one of the lesser legacies of former Governor Jesse Ventura who eliminated the funding for the Minnesota Boxing Commission in 1999.

For a few years after the dissolution of the commission, Minnesota promoters simply hired commissioners from other states to oversee bouts, thereby assuring that the results of their cards would be sanctioned. Last year, the Association of Boxing Commissioners disallowed the practice. LeDoux, who served on the Minnesota Boxing Commission for 18 years, thinks that move was necessary to curb growing abuses. "Promoters were bringing commissioners in from Colorado and North Dakota and paying them up to 1800 bucks a show," LeDoux offers. "Of course, these commissioners would approve the matches because they wanted the money."

As a consequence, according to LeDoux, questionable decisions and horrendous mismatches became more the rule than the exception. He points out that the state's reputation among serious boxing fans suffered repeated black eyes in the wake of some highly controversial decisions involving St. Paul native and hometown favorite Matt "the Predator" Vanda. A lot of pundits regarded Vanda's 2004 points victory over journeyman Sam Garr as among the most outrageous decisions in recent history of the sport; it even made a top ten list on ESPN.com

LeDoux, who was front row for the Vanda-Garr bout, shares the dim view of the judging that night. "It was embarrassing," LeDoux says. "If we had a commission, that sort of thing wouldn't happen." LeDoux's claim will likely be put to test in the near future because, in one of the more obscure bipartisan achievements of the past legislative session, $50,000 was appropriated to re-establish the Minnesota Boxing Commission.

"I'm very excited about it," LeDoux says. "It means that Minnesota boxers will finally have a chance to fight in front of their fans again." LeDoux, who is 57 and now an Anoka County Commissioner, has sparred with a few of the state's rising prospects. He is impressed by Rochester's Rafael Butler and, of course, St. Paul phenom Jason Litzau. But he seems most enthusiastic about Joey Abell, a former amateur champion and college football player from Coon Rapids. "He's a phenomenal athlete and he can really hit," says LeDoux. "The sky's the limit."


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