Justice Takes a Swing at the Boxing Biz

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Taking to heart the boxing motto that you should lead with your strongest punch, a group of federal prosecutors is trying to use the RICO anti-racketeering statute to shake up the International Boxing Federation as if it were the Gambino crime family. Monday, several New Jersey U.S. attorneys filed a civil suit against the IBF — the only major sanctioning body based in the U.S. — seeking the appointment of a monitor to oversee the restructuring of the organization. The impetus: Earlier this month, four top officials from the IBF were indicted on racketeering charges, including taking payoffs to rank lower-tier boxers and squeezing unreasonably large sanctioning fees out of fighters. Prosecutors argue that something needs to be done to restore credibility to the sport following a run of fights demonstrating questionable judging (see: Holyfield-Lewis I) and questionable taste (Tyson and the sucker munch).

Anyone who gets the job can't be a lightweight. While the government has made similar moves to rid groups such as the Teamsters of corruption, few industries are as unwieldy as boxing. Critics say that the gaggle of international sanctioning bodies (IBF, WBC, WBO, WBA) that have arisen in the past few decades have created an environment where fighters and promoters can bribe their way up the rankings ladders and accountability has disappeared. While some believe that the sport's powers have become too big and decentralized to regulate, prosecutors hope they can prove another old boxing adage: The bigger they are...