The Regulation of Boxing on Tribal Lands:  Towards a Pan-Indian Boxing Commission





James Alexander

Sports Law


I.  Indian Territory: Who could stop a fight out there?

In 1895, Gentleman Jim Corbett was to fight Robert Fitzsimmons for the heavyweight championship in Dallas, Texas.[1]  The match never took place, because like many states, Texas hadn’t decided whether prizefights were legitimate business or grounds for criminal sanction.  After a protracted legal battle and a threat by the governor to call out the military to stop the match, the “shrewd impresario” William A. Brady came up with a solution, the match would be held in Indian territory, which were lands occupied by a number of different tribes that roughly form today’s Oklahoma.[2]  Who could stop a fight out there?  It turns out that the U.S. attorney general could, and he did.[3]

History runs in cycles.  Early prizefights “took place in rural, secluded locations.[4]  Urbanization brought the money and the fights to the cities.  Now, with the growth of urban sprawl, exurbia, and of course television, boxing is finding its way back to “Indian Territory.”

In 2003, it is estimated that 10% of boxing shows in the United States took place under tribal auspices.[5]  In Oklahoma itself, tribes were credited with re-invigorating the sport on the very lands where Gentleman Jim wasn’t allowed to fight.[6]  The growth of Indian casinos had a lot to do with it.  Philip Glass, the manager of the Creek Nation Gaming Center in Tulsa commented that “we’re not reinventing the wheel here…everyone knows what boxing does in the gaming industry.  It is a great lure, way more than any other kind of show we could bring here.”[7] 

Just last year in Oklahoma, Riddick Bowe started his improbable and possibly dangerous run for another title.  The fighter had just recently emerged from prison after being convicted for kidnapping.[8]  During his trial, Bowe asserted boxing-related brain damage as an affirmative defense.[9]    Not surprisingly, writers seriously questioned whether or not Bowe should be allowed to fight at all after such an admission.  The fact that the fight took place on Pottawattamie lands figured heavily into the commentary.  As one writer put it, “federal laws and how they apply to tribes are generally a gray area for most people.”[10]

In retrospect, federal law and how it applies was a grey area for most journalists, as well.  One AP story claimed that Bowe did “not need an Oklahoma boxing license for the fight on tribal land” but was “licensed to fight by the tribal boxing commission following an MRI and neurological tests by a doctor.”[11]  The same article inexplicably stated that Bowe would need the fight to be approved by the Oklahoma commission.  The legendary Bert Sugar claimed that “because he is fighting on tribal land, Bowe does not need a license from the Oklahoma Professional Boxing Commission, nor pre-fight medical testing.”[12]  For his part, a Pottawattamie spokesman flatly asserted that spectators would “enjoy a well-regulated…event.”[13] 

The regulation of boxing raises the same issues for tribes as for states, matches need fair officiating, conflicts of interests need to be avoided, boxers need health insurance and on-site doctors, and mismatches should be avoided.[14]  But because of the “grey area” in the public’s minds when it comes to regulation, tribes need something else that states don’t seem to; enforcement.  I argue that the tribes, working together, can provide that better than anyone else.  Who could stop a fight out there?  Indians.

II. Policing the Ring: How boxing is regulated

Someday they're going to write a blues song just for fighters. It will be for a slow guitar, soft trumpet and a bell.  --Sonny Liston


Almost every year, reform-minded members of Congress band together and try to do something about the souring of the “sweet science.”  However, successful interventions have been few and far between in the world of boxing.  In 1996, Congress passed the Professional Boxing Safety Act (“PBSA”), which set out a floor of minimum standards intended to standardize and improve the conduct and quality of matches.[15]  In 2000, legislators approved the Muhammad Ali Act (“Ali Act”)[16], which supplemented and amended the PBSA.  Just this year, John McCain attempted to push through a bill that would have created a U.S. Boxing Administration charged with enforcement of federal boxing law.[17]  That bill stalled, and may well never pass.

All of these efforts, perhaps like the laws governing war, have a slightly surreal sheen.  The purpose of a boxing match, like that of war, is to inflict massive physical damage on an opponent.  Regulations mandating the presence of an in-house doctor aren’t nearly as effective in protecting boxers from damage as the prohibition of the sport itself would be.[18]  In fact, the wildly diffuse nature of boxing regulation almost seems a part of the sport itself.  A sport predicated on two people beating each other, which contains no other rationale or objective, is bound to be chaotic, unpredictable, and dangerous.  Even the crowd who gathers around a bar-room brawl, however, may intervene if somebody pulls a knife.  Especially if they have money on the outcome, and gambling does have to be factored in to any realistic discussion about the future of sport.

Boxing may seem anarchic, but it is false to assume that there is no regulation.[19]  Boxing is regulated at a number of levels, both public and private.  As noted above, the federal government, through the PBSA and Ali Act, has legislated professional boxing.  State and tribal boxing commissions enforce their own standards, which must be at least as strict as the standards of the federal government.  Additionally, these state and tribal boxing commissions have formed a quasi-governmental non-profit, the Association of Boxing Commissions (“ABC”), which serves as a debating society but is also explicitly recognized in federal legislation and attempts to influence the public regulatory direction of the sport.  There are also the three major private boxing federations that compete with each other for ticket sales, but also rank their fighters and sanction fights.  Finally, some fighters are pushing for a union, which would create a new source of governance through a collective bargaining agreement.

            A fixed reference point helps us understand multiple levels of regulation.  That is one reason that this paper deals specifically with the regulation of professional boxing on tribal lands.  This is not merely an academic exercise, however, because professional boxing on tribal lands has grown steadily along with pugilism’s eternal brother-in-arms, betting.

            All federal boxing laws apply to tribal lands.  Like states, tribes operate with limited sovereignty.  This sovereignty often shields them from state-level regulations while exposing them to most federal legislation.  Tribes often have little legal relation to each other at all, a situation which institutionalizes a lack of pan-Indian solidarity.  My focus on tribal lands leads me to the major proposal of this paper, which is that a Pan-Indian Boxing Commission should be established based on the general principles of the model pan-tribal organization, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fishing Commission.  Unlike the ABC, this commission should be focused on not just the promotion but also the enforcement of the principles embodied in the Ali Act.  And unlike the proposed U.S. Boxing Commission, an Indian commission would not extend the reach of the federal government onto tribal lands, but would channel tribal resources towards self-governance and the creation of Pan-Indian institutions dedicated towards that goal.

A.  Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996: Helping the Fighter.

Boxing as an official bureaucracy hates boxers. – Gerald Early

            The genesis of comprehensive federal boxing regulation came with the passage of the Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996.[20]  The Act was intended “to improve and expand the system of safety precautions that protects the welfare of professional boxers; and to assist state boxing commissioners to provide proper oversight for the professional boxing industry in the United States.”[21]  In other words, the federal government assumed responsibility for raising the standards governing professional boxing, with an eye towards the “welfare” of the fighters themselves.[22]  However, the Act maintained for the commissions the responsibility of “oversight.” 

            Substantively, The PBSA addressed itself principally to the safety and health of the fighter.   The Act mandates a specific list of safety standards.  First, there must be a pre-fight physical examination.[23]  Second, the sponsoring venue must provide both an ambulance and medical personnel in case of emergency.[24]  Third, a physician must be present to treat the fighters.[25]  And fourth, the sponsors must provide health insurance for boxers.[26]

            While fighter safety and health was the central concern of the PBSA, it also addressed the integrity of the sport and the need for standardization.  The Act provides that individual commissions are to provide the structure and oversight necessary to give life to the higher standards embodied in the Act.  The Act requires a registration system.[27]  The PBSA specifies that boxers must register with the boxing commission in their state of domicile, or at least in some state with a boxing commission.[28]  Furthermore, they must receive identification cards.[29]

            However much the individual commissions’ role in implementation and oversight was strengthened by the PBSA, the investigation and prosecution of violations was handed over to the U.S. Attorney General in the state where the match took place.

B. “Ali Act” of 2000: Fixing the Business of Boxing.

When we started, it was based on lies.  It's changing now.  There are no secrets in the business.  You've got to come with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  It's becoming very confusing.  –Don King[30]


The Ali Act was enacted “to reform unfair and anti-competitive practices in the professional boxing industry.”[31]  Substantively, the Act set standards regulating contract standards, the ranking of fighters, the disclosure of financial information, and potential conflicts of interest.[32]

The Ali Act mandates that the ABC develop and approve guidelines for “minimum contractual provisions” within two years.[33]  The Congress sought to eradicate overly broad contracts between boxers and promoters.  The statute bans coercive contracts and attempts to prevent promoters from gaining “monopolies” over championships by creating “mandatory challenges.”[34]  The ABC is also charged with developing and approving “objective and consistent written criteria for the ranking of boxers.”  Sanctioning organizations must provide a written explanation of ranking criteria along with an individual analysis to both the ABC and the boxer being ranked.[35]

The statute mandates that sanctioning organizations and promoters disclose financial information to boxing commissioners.[36]  Judges and referees must also disclose compensation.[37]  The Ali Act also intervenes to prevent potential conflicts of interests, promoters are not allowed to have any financial interest in the management of a boxer.[38]

C.  State and Tribal Boxing Commissions: Where the Action’s At.

I'm not Mother Teresa. But I'm also not Charles Manson. – Mike Tyson to the Nevada State Boxing Commission.[39]


            At the core of American governance of boxing is that “there is no inherent [individual] right to engage in or promote the public exhibition of boxing or wrestling,”[40] it is the states that permit boxing or wrestling.  Likewise, it is the states that permit, license, and tax professional fights.[41]  The duty fell to states initially because states have the responsibility of creating and enforcing most criminal law.  Early in American boxing history, the dominant question for legislatures and courts was not how to administer boxing, but whether to allow it in contraception to accepted criminal and tort law principles.[42]  From a state’s point of view, this arrangement may be quite satisfactory, but “the mobility of the boxing industry makes it immune from effective state regulation.”[43]  It is quite possible to do what Gentleman Jim Corbett and his promoter attempted in 1895, hopping from jurisdiction to jurisdiction in search of weaker regulation.  Economic trends may accelerate this, as income from television coverage reduces the importance of gate receipts.[44]  If the television revenues are a considerable enough slice of the pie, there is no need to have the fight in a well-regulated Las Vegas hotel.[45] 

A low-balling promoter may choose a state with regulations but little or no bureaucracy. You could, for example, go to Michigan.  There will be fewer “fancies” at the gate, but fewer boxing bureaucrats, too.  Michigan is a state currently going through a radical reorganization of its boxing governance in order to avoid being the venue of least repute.[46]  The legislature is on the verge of establishing its first boxing commission.[47]  Boxing commissions are generally composed of political appointees charged with promulgating rules, investigating violations, and enforcing the standards laid out in the state and federal statutory scheme.  In Michigan, the standards have been quite low.  The state demanded only $1,000 in medical insurance coverage, “which barely covers an ambulance ride.”[48]  Michigan fell short in many other areas, and had a reputation for atrocious scoring decisions due to a lack of formal requirements for officials.[49]  Even with the creation of a commission, Michigan has a tall hill to climb.  As one author argued, “perhaps the biggest problem is that those chosen to oversee the sport and run the commissions are often not fit for their jobs.”[50]

Most states now have boxing regulation and a boxing commission.  So do many tribes, although the record indicates that some states were willing to fight tribes for authority.  In the early 1990’s, the state of California attempted to assert its jurisdiction over the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians by attacking the tribe’s legal authority to host professional boxing matches.[51]  There was no allegation that the 29 Palms Band were poorly enforcing their own regulations, but rather that the state insisted that professional boxing was supposed to be administered by the state.[52]  The core of California’s legal argument was that boxing was essentially criminal in nature and is therefore subject to state control.[53]  The tribe replied that boxing regulations no longer had any criminal character, as the sport had been de-criminalized by the California legislature in 1924.[54]  In any event, the statute allowed military, scholastic, and recreational matches to proceed without any oversight from the state commission at all.[55]  This was a classic example of Indians fighting for the power to determine their own economic destiny in contradiction of a state’s perceived self-interest.[56]  The tribe won in District Court, and the appeal was rendered moot by the U.S. Congress, which decided that tribes are allowed to set up their own commissions, so long as their rules meet or exceed those of the state that surrounds them.[57]

The federal endorsement of tribal commissions did not end all controversy.  A similar storm erupted between the Miccosukee tribe and the state of Florida.  In that case, the Miccosukee  charged that the state was threatening fight referees with adverse employment actions if they participated in the oversight of matches on tribal land.  Because the tribe was unable to show any specific harm, this charge was dismissed at summary judgment.[58]  The Miccosukee were able, however, to prevent the state from scraping revenue off from the top of tribal matches through taxation.[59] 

In what must have been the most dramatic manifestation of conflict between the states and tribes, the Yakima tribe did not wait to file a claim, but quite simply and effectively booted Washington state regulators from their land.[60] 

III.  Enforcement:  What Enforcement?

The combined directives of the PBSA and Ali Act may be the worst-enforced federal laws on the books.  There are three channels through which violations of federal boxing regulations could be adjudicated.  First, the U.S. Attorney General can bring a claim in federal district court.  Second, the chief law enforcement officer of a particular state could seek to enjoin matches, enforce compliance, and seek fines.  Finally, an individual boxer who suffered economic injury can bring a civil action in federal or state court and recover damages.[61]  In 2004, ABC president Tim Lueckhenoff testified before the Senate Sub-committee on Consumer Affairs, Foreign Comemerce, and Tourism that his organization “is not aware of any such court actions ever having been brought by the U.S. Attorney, the chief law enforcement officer of a state, or a boxer.”[62]  This American tradition has continued into 2005.[63]  He goes on to add that “it is not known if the problem is the non-reporting of violations by the boxers or others for fear of reprisal by unethical promoters and/or sanctioning organizations, the non-detection of violations by the respective boxing commissions, the non-involvement of law enforcement, or otherwise.”[64]

The DOJ has maintained that cases aren’t being referred to it by federal law enforcement authorities.[65] Furthermore, violations under the PBSA and Ali Act are only misdemeanors.  The DOJ generally applies its resources to prosecuting felonies.[66]  Judging by the record, a typical fighter won’t bring an individual claim, for whatever reason.  Indeed, “the only groups in a position to find violations of the Ali Act” are state and tribal boxing commissions.[67]  If that is so, how are the boxing commissions doing?  Not great.

            In 2001, the General Accounting Office (“GAO”) was asked to evaluate the state of boxing regulation.  Congress instructed them to do the following:

1)    Identify fundamental elements considered important to protect professional boxers and enhance the integrity of the sport.[68]

2)    Assess the extent to which provisions of the PBSA and Ali Act cover these elements and determine whether selected state and tribal boxing commissions have documentation indicating compliance with the Act’s provisions.[69]

3)    Determine whether selected states and tribes have provisions that cover additional elements.

4)    Identify federal actions taken under the Acts.[70]


While the PBSA and Ali Act do not demand that commissions document their compliance, the GAO review is still instructive.  All of the state and tribal commissions could document compliance at least 75% of the time with provisions that require prefight medical exams, disclosure of amounts paid to promoters, and registration of boxers.[71]  Only two of the ten could document their compliance with the conflict of interest provisions.  Tellingly, the conflict of interest prohibitions on commission representatives were as poorly enforced as those covering promoters.[72]

            Overall, the state of Texas, along with the Micosukee and Mohegan tribes were able to most thoroughly document their compliance with federal law.[73]  The GAO report concludes by stating that “although our review was limited to eight state and two tribal boxing commissions, the uneven documentation of compliance we found with the acts provisions to protect the health, safety, and economic well-being of professional boxers does not provide adequate assurance that professional boxers are receiving the minimum protections established in federal law.”[74]  Anecdotal evidence supports this conclusion.[75]

Enforcement Proposals

            Senator John McCain has proposed the establishment an United States Boxing Administration (“USBA”).  He proposes the USBA as a federal enforcement body, headed by a political appointee, which could bring regularity to the sport.  In his words,

The primary function of the USBA would be to protect the health, safety, and general interests of boxers. More specifically, the USBA would, among other things, administer federal boxing laws and coordinate with other federal regulatory agencies to ensure that these laws are enforced, oversee all professional boxing matches in the United States, and work with the boxing industry and local commissions to improve the status and standards of the sport.  The USBA would license boxers, promoters, managers, and sanctioning organizations, and would have the authority to revoke or suspend such licenses in the event of a violation of federal boxing laws.[76]


Devin Burstein has proposed another solution to the problem of enforcement.  He suggests that the Senate Commerce Committee establish another committee, the Ali Act Enforcement Committee (“AAEC”) solely engaged in the enforcement of the Ali Act.[77]  The committee members would be nominated by the President and confirmed by the Commerce Committee for two-year terms.[78]  Burstein proposes that the number of AAEC members should be determined by calculating the number of people needed to enforce federal regulations in a calendar year.[79]  Burstein estimates that six qualified AAEC members “could effectively monitor” documentation for the 820 matches held each year.  This scheme would require minimal legislative change and funding could be covered by collected fines and federal dollars.  This proposal does not, however, contemplate the enforcement of the PBSA by this body.

IV.  Towards a Pan-Indian Boxing Commission

            Before Senate hearings on John McCain’s proposed U.S. Boxing Administration, journalist Dennis Taylor wondered:

What if Ali wins?  What if the creeps and crooks became answerable to a higher authority?  What if there were one champion per weight division, and one list of contenders?  What if fighters were ranked according to merit, not political clout?  What if the champ fought the No. 1 contender?  What if fighters received support from people who could help them retire healthy, with a pension, and a blueprint for a future beyond boxing?[80]


Muhammed Ali is the most powerful voice for enforcement in the eyes of the public.  During Congressional testimony, his wife Lonnie read his statement because Parkinson’s has rendered Ali’s sharp tongue dull.  In what may be the understatement of the year, Ali commented that “there are still disturbing indications that federal, state, and tribal enforcement of boxing laws has been spotty and in some respects, non-existent.[81]  He cited the 2003 GAO report as evidence.

            Yet that GAO report provides evidence that tribal commissions were doing better than the states.  I am not suggesting that is necessarily true across the board, because only two tribes were audited by the GAO.  Nevertheless, it is interesting because the presupposition in public and private governance of boxing has been that Indian tribal lands might serve as an “escape hatch” for nefarious promoters in a “race to the bottom.”[82]  While both state and tribal commissions are subject to federal boxing laws, the PBSA embodies a not-so-novel paternalism on the part of the federal government.  On the one hand, the federal government explicitly allows the Indian commissions to regulate the sport, and on the other hand  it mandates that a tribe’s standards be “at least” as high as those of the surrounding states.  Based on preliminary data from the GAO, we may well wonder if the Act should not be amended to mandate that states have standards “at least as restrictive” as the tribes that they surround.  After all, the federal government has already set a regulatory floor.  There is no legitimate justification, beyond concerns that tribes do not have enough resources to effectively enforce standards, that would explain why state regulators are assumed to do a better job.

            This paternalistic attitude has been manifested by the ABC as well.  Tribal commissions, because they were legitimated late in the game, suffer a kind of preliminary probation that state commissions historically have not.  In order to be accepted to the ABC now, a tribe must first pay for an ABC representative to come to tribal land for three match evaluations.[83]  This has made some tribes bristle, and one tribal leader told me that these preliminary inspections were principally a function of mainstream distrust of the “lazy, ignorant savage.”  Now that professional matches on tribal lands and under tribal auspices are dominating some markets, the ABC has made a big pitch to tribal commissions.[84]  Still, many tribes resist the temptation.

            There are several possible explanations for why tribal authorities may be expected to do a better job than state authorities at regulating boxing.  Firstly, boxing on tribal lands, by and large, is an adjunct to the casino business.  Big fights bring in big money.  If people don’t trust the fight, they’re not going to trust  the games.  Whatever minimal savings a tribe could skim off by shirking enforcement could expose the tribe to massive losses in gambling revenue.  Secondly, tribes have a lot of experience, both on an individual and institutional level, in dealing with federal regulation.  Thirdly, more so than the states, tribes are constantly called to prove their ability to manage their own affairs, and generally recognize that sovereignty’s borders are susceptible to federal push and pull.   Finally, some have speculated that tribal “warrior” traditions demand that fighters be respected and protected.[85]  That is a kind of broad cultural judgment that escapes the author’s field of knowledge.

            But no matter how effective a tribe’s enforcement of federal law, and no matter how strong the impetus to get it right, Indians still suffer from the perception that boxing matches on tribal lands are a “gray area.”  Additionally self-policing always raises the spectre of sweetheart deals and private corruption.  Some kind of larger enforcement body would benefit Indians and boxers alike.  Considering the enforcement record of the federal government and the likelihood that Senator McCain’s bill may be stopped dead in its tracks, the tribes should look for their own solutions.  For my money, the most promising model lies in the rejuvenated salmon-rich Columbia River Basin.

CRITFC:  The Model

            For many centuries, the Yakama, Umatilla, Nez Perce, and Warms Springs tribes of the Pacific Northwest built their food supply and culture on salmon supplied by the Columbia River.  During the 19th and 20th centuries, the stock of salmon declined due to the growth of fisheries and the construction of dams for hydroelectric power.  In response, the tribes formed an inter-tribal body, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) to “ensure coordinated and progressive management of tribal fisheries, to offer a unified voice in the overall management of fishery resources, and to protect treaty rights through the exercise of tribal sovereignty.[86]  The commission operates with a one-tribe, one-vote structure and included members of tribal wildlife commissions as well as lawyers, biologists, and public relations specialists.[87]

            In 1994, the tribes ratified the Wy-Kan-Ush-Mi Wa-Kish-Wit (“Spirit of the Salmon”) plan.  The plan “addresses the requirements of tribal treaties, the Endangered Species Act, and other federal and state laws protecting salmon and salmon habitat.”[88] CRITFC has had numerous successes in preserving and maintaining the salmon population for many reasons, including non-structural reasons such as dedication and competence.  But for our purposes, the CRITFC is suggestive because it enforces complex layers of regulation.  The CRITFC enforcement department was created in 1983 to “regulate treaty fisheries, enforce federal and state laws, secure cultural resources, and protect fishers.[89]  This enforcement has the added, universal benefit of more consistent monitoring and enforcement of fishing regulations.  These regulations had been used in the past as ammunition “in turf wars between tribal, state, and federal agencies.[90]

Pan-Indian Boxing Commission: Ideas and Possibilities

The Harvard Project on American Indian Development drew two important lessons from this experiment in the Pacific Northwest:

1)  Inter-tribal governmental organizations enable tribes to pool technical resources, exploit tribal comparative advantages, and create a single powerful voice in public policy formation.  The most successful inter-tribal organizations have goals and objectives that are shared by their member tribes and possess clearly defined decision making processes.


2)  By developing credible technical expertise, tribes and inter-tribal organizations not only embrace their ability to create and manage first-rate programs, but they also garner the respect of outsiders.  From this position of strength, tribes can defend and advance their sovereignty most effectively.[91]


These two lessons should be employed in creating a Pan-Indian Boxing Commission (“PIBC”).  Tribes that currently have boxing commissions, along with those tribes that want to form their own commissions, should lay the groundwork for an inter-tribal organization that would serve as both policy advocate and enforcement body for participating commissions.  This body could be conceived of as an “Indian ABC with teeth” or an “Indian USBA,” but I think it should be formulated more like a CRITFC for boxing.  Most importantly, a Pan-Indian Boxing Commission should have a “Plan” or Constitution, as CRITFC does, which lays out the goals and objectives shared by the member tribes.  That founding document would embody the tribes’ recognition that the current federal enforcement scheme is failing, manifest a desire to enforce existing federal law, but also seek to use Indian resources and technical expertise to accomplish the task.  As with CRITFC, the founding document would give member tribes each a vote in making major policy decisions. 

Participating tribes would send current or past boxing commissioners to serve as representatives.  These representatives could cast votes on behalf of the individual tribes while simultaneously serving on the various committees which would supervise the administration of the Commission.  In addition, these representatives would provide individual tribes with a line of communication to PIBC, and serve to introduce tribal proposals and motions for consideration. 

I would propose a rotating committee structure, whereby member tribes would serve one or two year terms on different committees.  First, an Enforcement Committee should be established.  This Committee would publish standards, regulate conflicts, perform inspections, and sanction tribes for non-compliance.  In addition, this committee could refer violations to the DOJ if that were found to be desirable.  Second, a policy committee could be established to control the direction of PIBC and provide original research and analysis to law-makers and the general public.  Third, a financial committee should handle the collection of fees, fines, and solicit money and grants from relevant federal agencies and Congress itself.  Fourth, a Professional Committee should be established which ensures that all doctors and referees hired by any tribe are both experienced and skilled.  Finally, the PIBC should have a Public Relations Committee which advises a full-time PR staff on how to communicate the work of the Commission.

Like CRITFC, the PIBC would have a professional staff of lawyers, enforcement investigators, and public relations people.  The lawyers could be charged principally with review of Ali Act compliance, much along the lines of what Devin Burstein proposed for the AAEC.  Investigators would consist of Indian and non-Indian employees of the Commission with experience in monitoring the requirements of the PBSA.  These investigators could be hired by the Commission or even be funded by the DOJ in the same way that CRITFC investigators work for the Fish and Wildlife Service.  Finally, a professional public relations staff would work with the PIBC to communicate the Commission’s work to the general public. 

These are the broad strokes that could outline a plan for greater tribal influence on the sport and business of boxing.  Whether or not they are realistic depends on the opinion of the tribes.  But then that is the point.

V.  Conclusion

It's just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.

--Muhammad Ali.

            There are many ideas floating around about how to fix boxing, and in particular about how to enforce federal standards.  It is with considerable trepidation that I have advanced another.  Yet the almost unavoidable conclusion of studying the governance of boxing on tribal lands is that tribes need to do better than states at enforcement.  The public’s understandable lack of knowledge about how tribes enforce federal boxing laws is dangerous.  Simply put, tribes need to erase the “grey area” when it comes to enforcement of the standards embodied in the PBSA and Ali Act.  In fact, there are indications that tribes already understand this perfectly well.  There are also indications that tribes are already outperforming some of their state-level peers.

            I can understand the argument that McCain’s proposal, with the input of the already established ABC, provides grounds for hope.  Yet there is no guarantee of McCain’s bill passing, and the ABC itself will continue to be dominated by state commissions for many years to come.  The Pan-Indian enforcement model for boxing is attractive because it confronts the idea of Indians as “junior partners” head-on by institutionalizing the knowledge, experience, and resources of the tribes themselves towards a common goal.  What’s more, it does it in a way that leaves the tribes free and clear of state-level paternalism and interference.  It might make Muhammad Ali-who understands the value of both protecting boxers and people’s self-determination-rather proud.  Finally, it could improve the sport.  Obviously, a Pan-Indian Boxing Commission would not solve the problem of promoters seeking dark corners in which to stage shows.  On the other hand, it would provide a bulwark against the race to the bottom.  With an expanding slice of the boxing market, tribes can make a real impact in the way the states regulate the sport.  The sport itself is in bad shape, and should admit it.  Willie Pastrano once got asked by a concerned ring doctor if he knew where he was.  He answered, “You’re damn right I do.  I’m in Madison Square Garden getting the shit knocked out of me.”  Boxing is stuck in Madison Square Garden, too.  And it is getting hit pretty hard.  The feds have had their chance, boxers need an Indian cavalry.



((James Alexander is a third year law student at Northeastern University in Boston. He can be reached for comment at . This paper was written for Sports Law class. ))


[1] Sammons, Jeffrey T., Beyond the Ring: The Role of Boxing In American Society 20 (University of Illinois Press 1988)

[2] See id. at 21

[3] Id.

[4] See id. at 6.

[5] Jim Adams, Boxing Commissions hope to heal a bruised sport, Indian Country, April 1, 2004, available at <>

[6] Tulsa paper, in 2003, “eighteen of the last twenty-six boxing matches have either been held on Indian land or in conjunction with tribes.”

[7] Tulsa World

[8] Associated Press, Former Champ Bowe Released From Prison, May 18, 2004

[9] Bowe Begins Training for Fight, Citizen Pottawattamie Nation News, 2003, available at <>

[10] Jeff Latzke, Riddick Bowe-The Comeback,, August 21, 2004, available at <>

[11] Id.

[12]   Bert Randolph Sugar, Sr.,  Sugar ‘n Spice:  The Return of Riddick Bowe

[13] Bowe Begins Training for Fight, Citizen Pottawattamie Nation News, 2003, available at <>

[14] It is not quite this simple.  The most thorough investigation into the kinds of regulation that boxing requires to protect the sport, the boxers, and the public interest yields a list of fifteen fundamental needs: (medical examinations, monitoring of training injuries, health and life insurance, presence of appropriate medical personnel and equipment, enforcement of suspension for injuries, pension plans, full disclosure of purses and payments, minimum uniform contractual terms between boxers and promoters, prohibitions on conflicts of interest, registration and training for judges and referees, prevention of sanctioning organization influence in selection of judges, establishment of uniform scoring rules, reviews of sanctioning organizations’ rankings, and knowledge requirements for commission officials) General Accounting Office Report 03-699, Professional Boxing:  Issues Related to the Protection of Boxers’ Health, Safety, and Economic Interests 7-10, July, 2003.  Available at <>

[15] 15 U.S.C. 6301 et seq

[16] Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, Pub L. 106-210, 114 Stat. 321 (2000)

[17] McCain’s summary of his proposed amendment is at his Senatorial campaign website, available at <>

[18] The abolition of boxing is preached even by its fans, writer Gerald Early describes a sleepless night of prayer that failed to save fighter Benny Kid Paret, it was then that he felt prizefighting should be banned, “not because it was brutal…not even because it was absurd…but because it was so uncaring.”  Gerald Early, Three Notes Towards a Cultural Definition of Prizefighting, in Reading the Fights 31 (Oates and Halpern, eds., 1988)  The American Medical Association has long supported a ban on boxing, even though individual doctors administer aid before, during, and after matches.  See Deborah L. Shelton, Pulling No Punches, (September 20, 1999), available at <>

[19] The best practice-oriented guide to boxing regulation can be found in Jeffrey S. Fried, The Sweet Science, Legally Speaking, 14 J. Legal Aspects Sport 75 (2004).

[20] 15 U.S.C. § 6301 et seq

[21] April R. Anderson, Comment, The Punch That Landed: The Professional Safety act of 1996, 9 Marq. Sports L.J. 191, 201 (1998)

[22] The focus on the boxers themselves was unfortunately a novelty, in 1981 Gerald Early acidly stated that “boxing as an official bureaucracy hates boxers.”  See Three Notes, supra note 18, at 31.

[23] 15 U.S.C § 6304(1)

[24] 15 U.S.C § 6304(2)

[25] 15 U.S.C § 6304(3)

[26] 15 U.S.C § 6304(4)

[27] 15 U.S.C § 6305

[28] 15 U.S.C § 6305(b)(1)

[29] 15 U.S.C § 6305(b)(2)

[30] Quote available at <>

[31] Devin J. Burstein, Note, The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act:  Its Problems and Remedies, Including the Possibility of a United States Boxing Administration, 21 Cardozo Arts & Ent. L.J. 433

[32] Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, Pub L. 106-210, 114 Stat. 321 (2000)

[33] 15 U.S.C. § 6307(a)

[34] 15 U.S.C. § 6307(b)

[35] 15 U.S.C. § 6307(c)

[36] 15 U.S.C. § 6307(d)

[37] 15 U.S.C. § 6307(f) and (h)

[38] 15 U.S.C. § 6307(e)

[39] Quote available at <>

[40] 27A Am. Jur. 2d Entertainment and Sports Law § 39

[41] Id. 

[42] Beyond the Ring, Ch. 1

[43] April R. Anderson, Comment, The Punch That Landed: The Professional Safety act of 1996, 9 Marq. Sports L.J. 191, 193 (1998)

[44] Id, at 193

[45] Nevada has one of the better state commissions.

[46] See David Mayo, Boxing Legislature [sic] Long overdue in Michigan, Grand Rapids Press, October 2, 2004. 2004 WL 85973066.

[47] Michigan has an embryonic boxing bureaucracy in its Department of Labor and Growth, but if falls well short of being a real boxing commission.  See David Mayo, Can Michigan Boxing Get off the Deck?, International Brotherhood of Prize Fighters, July 17, 2004, available at <>

[48] David Mayo, Boxing, supra note 43.

[49] Id.

[50] Devin J. Burstein, Note, The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act:  Its Problems and Remedies, Including the Possibility of a United States Boxing Administration, 21 Cardozo Arts & Ent. L.J. 433, 445.

[51] Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians v. Wilson, 156 F.3d 1239

[52] Id., at 1239

[53] Congress has stated that “States or Territories listed…shall have jurisdiction over offenses committed by or against Indians in the areas of Indian country listed opposite the name of the State or Territory to the same extent that such State or Territory has jurisdiction over offenses committed elsewhere within the State or Territory, and the criminal laws of such State or Territory shall have the same force and effect within such Indian country as they have elsewhere within the State or Territory”  This includes California. 18 U.S.C. § 1162, 28 U.S.C. § 1360

[54] See Brief of Plaintiff and Apellee, 1996 WL 33470081 at 9

[55] Id., at 5.

[56] Fights over gambling revenue would be another example of politically volatile disputes within the state and between states and tribes, see e.g. Panzer v. Doyle, 271 Wis.2d 295, 680 N.W.2d 666, 2004 WI 52 (Wisconsin State Constitution bars governor from negotiating gaming compact with tribes)

[57] 15 U.S.C. § 6312(b)

[58] Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida v. Florida State Athletic Com'n
226 F.3d 1226, 14 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 1144

[59] Id., 1145.

[60] Barry Druxman, It’s just not the same fighting in a state with a small commission, available at <>

[61] Tim Lueckenhoff, Senate Testimony, available at <>

[62] Id.

[63] There is exactly one case available on Westlaw, brought by boxer Antwun Echols, which was dismissed at summary judgment.  See Echols v. Pellulo and Banner Promotions, Inc.,

 2003 WL 21340274 (2003)

[64] Tim Lueckenhoff, Senate Testimony, available at <>

[65] General Accounting Office Report 03-699, Professional Boxing:  Issues Related to the Protection of Boxers’ Health, Safety, and Economic Interests 5, July, 2003.  Available at <>

[66] Id.

[67] Devin J. Burstein, Note, The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act:  Its Problems and Remedies, Including the Possibility of a United States Boxing Administration, 21 Cardozo Arts & Ent. L.J. 433, 461

[68] See fundamental elements supra, note 14.

[69] General Accounting Office Report 03-699, Professional Boxing:  Issues Related to the Protection of Boxers’ Health, Safety, and Economic Interests 5, July, 2003.  Available at <>

[70] As indicated above, there were none.  Id. 

[71] Id., at 4-5.

[72] Id., at 31.

[73] Id.

[74] Id., at 17.

[75] Researching this paper, the author has not encountered a single source arguing that there was any assurance that the federal protections are being enforced.

[76] John McCain, Symposium, A Fighting Chance for Professional boxing, 15 Stan. L. & Pol'y Rev. 7.

[77] Devin J. Burstein, Note, The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act:  Its Problems and Remedies, Including the Possibility of a United States Boxing Administration, 21 Cardozo Arts & Ent. L.J. 433

[78] Id., at 487

[79] Id.

[80] Dennis Taylor, Ali Trying to Make Boxing Great Again, Monterey County-Herald, September 21, 2004.  Available at <>

[81] Muhammad Ali, House Testimony, 2004.  Available at <>

[82] See, e.g., Barry Druxman, It’s just not the same fighting in a state with a small commission, available at <>

[83] ABC application materials are posted on their website, <>

[84] Jim Adams, Boxing Commissions hope to heal a bruised sport, Indian Country, April 1, 2004, available at <>

[85] Id. 

[86] Information available at <>

[87] Id.

[88] See <>

[89] “What is CRITFC?,” available at <>

[90] Commentary of Harvard Project on American Indian Development,  Honoring Nations, 2002 Honoree, available at <>

[91] Id.