|Here's the transcript from Show 55 of Outside The Lines - On the Ropes
Announcer - April 15, 2001.
Bob Ley, host - Once, he fought for the big money.
Unidentified Male - The former WBA heavyweight champion of the world, Greg Page.
Ley - Now, he's fighting for his life.
James Doolin, Page's Trainer - I begged him. I said, "Greg, let me stop the fight. Let me stop the fight."
Ley - His dreams of a comeback stilled on the canvas.
Unidentified Male - One of the fighters got hurt. We need a life supply.
Ley - A tragedy as old as the sport, which was supposed to never happen again.
Today, on Outside The Lines - Will boxing ever be safer?
Announcer - Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance. Joining us from ESPN Studios, Bob Ley.
Ley - His name was Darrin Morris, a super middleweight. And, by January, he had climbed in the WBO world rankings from seventh to fifth, all without a victory in over a year. This was all the more remarkable since, last October, he's been dead.
Welcome to the singular world of boxing, best captured in the telling phrase attributed to a leading promoter - "Yesterday, I was lying. Today, I'm telling the truth."
There are many more boxers fighting not for their next million, but their next rent payment, boxers targeted by two recent federal laws designed to protect both their personal safety and their business interests, boxers such as one-time heavyweight champion, Greg Page, who stepped between the ropes last month, trying to recapture a taste of his former glory.
Despite those federal laws and a national database of suspended and injured boxers and an alliance of state athletic commissions, despite the age-old recognition, this sport needs fixing, the story of the end of Greg Page's career is a reminder that some things may never change.
By the end of this fight, Greg Page's title dreams will be gone. A generation ago, Greg Page would have schooled Robert Davis.
Unidentified Male - It's been all Robert Davis. Greg Page has nothing in the tank right now.
Ley - Seventeen years ago, his gaudy collection of boxing jewelry included the WBA heavyweight championship belt.
Unidentified Male - I hate to see this on you. I really do. Greg Page is 41 years old. This is the worst kind of fight for him at this point - a sustained beating.
Ley - Rather than adding to his career total of 58 victories, on this June night last year, Page lost more than a fight.
Unidentified Male - If his quest is strictly to have gotten another title shot, it became painfully clear tonight that that is not going to happen any way, shape or form.
Ley - But he did fight again, March 9, in a roadhouse, captured not on network TV, but grainy home video. Page entered the ring in search of the Kentucky State heavyweight championship, fighting for $1,500.
Doolin - We were desperate for a fight.
Terry O'Brien, Boxing promoter - We never thought that he would take it.
Patricia Love, Page's fiance - But for the past six months, nobody called to offer his a fight -- nobody.
Ley - So when this offer arrived, even from the very fringes of the sport, Greg Page jumped.
Guy McFadden, General Manager, Peel's Palace - And in the first round, he rocked Dales' world.
Ley - But, his opponent, Dale Crowe, had a hometown crowd behind him at a nightclub where another fated heavyweight champ, Michael Dokes, left several years ago with a loss and a broken jaw. That was a scratch compared to what happened to Page with 10 seconds left in the 10th and final round.
Doolin - He got hit with this left hand he'd been getting hit with all night. And he fell on Dale. And Dale just shoved him off of him.
Love - That was it.
Ley - As Crow's celebrated, Page's corner then huddled over their fighter.
Love - He had a little bit of froth in his lips, like he was foaming at the mouth.
Doolin - Where's the oxygen? Where's the stretcher? Where's the ambulance?
Ley - There were none. No one called 911 for nine minutes.
Dispatcher - Erlanger 911.
Unidentified Male - I need a squad. The guy looks like he's unconscious. He's in bad shape. And I don't know why nobody's called before, but this guy's not looking good at all.
McFadden - He was leaned up against the ropes for awhile. And then he went over and laid their motionless.
Dr. Manuel Mediodia, Ringside Director - He looked OK. And I then remarked to my friends, "It looks like he's going to be all right."
Love - Oh yes. Great guy. Greg was laying in a coma and he said he's fine.
O'Brien - The doctor said he didn't need oxygen. He wasn't going to call an ambulance right off.
Mediodia - That was a stupid thing I said.
Dispatcher - Erlanger 911.
Unidentified Male - We need an ambulance here as soon as possible.
Mediodia - The most I got was - This guy had a concussion.
Unidentified Male - Tell that squad to step it up.
Dispatcher - OK.
Unidentified Male - I got 'em. Tell him to step it up. This place is -- it's mass chaos up here.
Nancy Black, Kentucky Athletic Commission - Yes, there was a lot of things done wrong that evening.
Ley - At first, Page was transported to a hospital without a trauma unit. He was transferred. And two hours after he fell to the canvas, he underwent emergency surgery.
Love - They had to cut into him. They had to take his skull out. His brain is still swollen. He's had a couple of strokes in the process. He does have some paralysis.
Ley - For three weeks, Page remained in intensive care at University Hospital in Cincinnati.
Black - Sir, these are laws in Kentucky.
Ley - While in response to his case, the Kentucky Athletic Commission began actively enforcing its rules.
Black - I need to know about oxygen.
Unidentified Male - They're going to have to clean that. There's blood splatters and everything else.
Unidentified Male - How come they're not using the regular pad that comes with the ring?
Unidentified Male - I have no idea.
Unidentified Male - I know you're under a lot of pressure because of the Greg Page thing. These are safe ropes.
Ley - Pressure from Page's trainer, James Doolin. In his written complaint to the Kentucky Athletic Commission, Doolin charges that four commissioners at that fight were aware there was no oxygen; there was no stretcher ringside. Doolin claims he originally wrote these complaints before the fight and was rebuffed by those commissioners.
Doolin - Stop the bouts, is what it says.
Black - It's a wakeup call. And, unfortunately, the wakeup call came at the injury of Greg Page.
Ley - That injury occurred after an apparent violation of Kentucky's regulation.
Black - I do not have any documentation that he had a complete physical.
Love - The complete physical Greg got - blood pressure check in his motel room before the fight. That was a complete physical? I can go to Wal-Mart and get one of those.
Ley - And with Page lying motionless on the canvas, the only medicine Dr. Mediodia had available was an ammonia capsule.
Mediodia - I think it's obsolete now. I don't know whether anybody still uses that.
Ley - Dr. Mediodia is licensed in Kentucky. But Outside The Lines discovered that, across the river, he has twice been suspended by the Ohio Medical Board for violations involving controlled substances.
Mediodia - Well, actually, my license was suspended for over-prescribing. In '91, I threw away a lot of medical samples.
Ley - We showed commissioner Nancy Black a copy of his disciplinary history.
Black - I was not aware of this. That's pretty interesting.
Ley - Greg Page is now at a rehabilitation hospital in his hometown of Louisville, listed in fair condition. He cannot speak. In the basement of his home, standing as mute testimony, are the keepsakes of his five months as a world champion and 22 years in the ring, including the trunks torn from his body the night he was rushed into surgery.
Whether his legacy also includes a safer sport is now more important to those who would follow Greg Page than the former champion who went one round too far.
Ley - And to consider the Greg Page case and the fight game, I'll be speaking next with the head of all state boxing commissions, a manager who says Page had no business in the ring, and a journalist who says this sport is totally unregulated.
Ley - Can boxing become safer?
I am joined this morning by Greg Sirb. He is not only the head of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, but he's also the head of the Association of Boxing Commissions. He's in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
In his 11 years at HBO Sports, Lou DiBella created the "Boxing After Dark" series. He also signed major fighters to network contracts. He is now in business for himself. And he joins us from Woodbury, Long Island.
Ron Borges of the "Boston Globe" - He's been covering the fight game throughout his 24 years as a journalist. And he joins us from New York City.
Greg, let me begin with you. You are a state commissioner. You administrate other state commissioners. How the devil could this have happened in Kentucky?
Greg Sirb, President, Assoc. of Boxing Commissions - This is a tough situation for Kentucky. First of all, let's hope everything's well with Greg Page on Easter Sunday. My thoughts go out to him and his family. I hope they will spend some quality time with him.
There was a -- you know, obviously, some mistakes were made in Kentucky. With the doctor being at ringside, that's one thing. But not having the proper resuscitation equipment at ringside, that's a big problem. That's a big problem.
Ley - The trainer goes to state commissioners -- at least he says -- to four state commissioners before the fight, raises these issues, and says he was told to submit a written report, which, obviously, couldn't happen until after the fight.
Sirb - Well, let's hope so -- let's hope that Kentucky didn't get that before the fight.
I mean, again, this -- the federal law states that you have to have medical personnel or an ambulance at ringside. Now, there are other states other than Kentucky that do not require an ambulance to be at ringside. Kentucky's not the only state.
I think what we're going to try to do is, at least from our level, is start to change that federal law to make it mandatory that an ambulance with the proper resuscitation equipment be at ringside.
Ley - Lou DiBella, what does this all say about the efficacy of state commissions?
Lou DiBella, DiBella Entertainment - It says what I think a lot of people have been saying for a long time - that they're woefully underfunded, they're generally undermanned, they're dominated by political appointees who know nothing about boxing or health and safety.
And the system that now administers boxing from the ratings organizations, who run it in terms of giving out titles and ranking fighters, to the state commissions who are in charge of health and safety and the administration of the bouts for the states, the system that now exists doesn't work.
Ley - Does it work, Greg?
Sirb - I think it works. I mean it's improved, but it needs to be improved even more. And that's obvious. I mean...
Sirb - ... we've improved -- the two federal laws that were passed -- the Professional Boxing Safety Act of '96 and the Muhammad Ali Act of 2001 improved this sport 50, 60, 70 percent.
We need to go, though, another step further. And we have got to have all state commissions raise up their level so that we can make boxing as safe as possible in which is, basically, a very tough sport, obviously.
DiBella - Greg, obviously, I think we all agree with that. But think about what you just said two minutes ago. In a lot of states, you're not required to have an ambulance at ringside. That's barbarian. That's barbarian.
Sirb - There's no -- we had talked about this about a year ago at the federal level - whether we would mandate an ambulance at ringside. We have a number of the smaller states -- in the Midwest, in particular -- saying that it was going to be a cost hindrance, you know, to the promoters.
Ley - Go ahead, Ron.
Sirb - In most states, that's the state law.
Ley - Go ahead, Ron Borges.
Sirb - In some of those states, though, they're going to have to bite the bullet. The promoters are going to have to pick up the cost. And it's going to have to be at ringside.
Ron Borges, "Boston Globe" - But, Greg, the commissioners have got to, you know -- so, if they can't afford to operate their business, then there's no business. It's really pretty simple.
Sirb - I agree.
Borges - If you own a Burger King and you can't afford hamburger buns, you don't sell hamburgers. The state commissions are not supposed to be willing co-conspirators in violation of the law. And if you can't -- if you don't have the money to operate safely your business, then you're out of business.
Borges - Otherwise, these things are just going to go on and on.
Sirb - ... responsibility in this case to say -- but it's the state's responsibility to put it on the -- on the books that it's a state law. Soon -- and I hope that it will be soon -- it will soon be a federal law, because we are going to change that portion of the federal law.
Ley - Well, yet the staff member of Senator John McCain's office, who helped draft this law, said at a symposium you gentlemen were at -- two of you, at least, were at last year in New Jersey -- there's very little enthusiasm for Congress to revisit this.
Now, Lou, these laws read great. I've read both of them - the '96 law and the Ali Act. Are they effective?
DiBella - Well, you know, I've got to go back to something Greg said, also. Things are better than they used to be. And McCain worked real hard and his people worked real hard to get these laws passed, with a lot of effort on the other side, a lot of people politicking to make sure there wasn't any regulation, because a lack of regulation tends to help a lot of people that have made a whole lot of money in an unsafe...
Ley - Who?
DiBella - Well, promoters, managers.
Ley - Who? Names.
DiBella - No, it's not a matter of names; it's a matter of the whole system. Everything that exists right now is in the interests of making money and allowing boxing events to take place, while the health and safety of the fighter has got to be paramount. And I -- you know, I represent fighters.
You know, it's an additional cost to a lot of people involved in boxing. If it's an additional cost to have an ambulance there, well, that's too damn bad. You'd better have an ambulance there. If you don't, you shouldn't be able to have a boxing match.
Borges - You know but, Lou, there's also one way to stop it, in my opinion. And you're on that side of it now. If I am, for example, Greg Page's manager, and I look and I see that this equipment isn't at ringside, there's one way to stop it - "We're not fighting."
Borges - And that doesn't have to happen -- that doesn't have to happen too many times before this will all come to end. But the fact of the matter is, the first guy whose job it is to protect the fighter -- in my opinion, the manger -- he's not trying to protect the fighter either.
DiBella - Yes, but...
Sirb - Yes, I agree, Ron. I think that's -- I think -- I think that's sound advice. I think all the fighters out there are going to have to start saying to the commissioners - Hey, where is -- you know, do I have insurance for this bout? Do I have an ambulance at ringside? Do I have oxygen at ringside?"
And one point we should bring up that I think is paramount to the subject we're talking about - Greg Page took a fight for what? He made like $1,500. And he needed the money. Obviously, that's why he took the fight. If there was a pension system for these fighters in place, maybe Greg Page doesn't have to take that fight. Maybe he's getting a little pension money, he doesn't need it, he can live comfortably...
Ley - Greg, it's tough to even promote -- enforce promotional contracts, and that you hear fighters getting a minuscule percentage of the money that -- for which they sign. How realistic is it to believe that money is going to be put aside in an escrow in a business where business ethics is an oxymoron?
DiBella - It's not.
Sirb - There's no question, the business ethics, there's a problem there. But it's got to be done. I mean, we're just starting a trust fund as we speak that's going to be shown basically on ESPN on Tuesday -- their first Tuesday fight -- a trust fund that's going to be created. It's got to start somewhere. There has got to be a pension for these fighters.
Sirb - ... so all the fighters can make an intelligent decision - Maybe I don't need that $1,500 to take this fight.
Ley - If I can jump in just for a second, we'll get your point in just a second, as we continue talking about the fight game off the case of Greg Page. We'll talk with Greg Sirb and Lou DiBella and Ron Borges -- more as we continue with Outside The Lines.
Ley - We continue with Greg Sirb, Lou DiBella and Ron Borges.
As we went to break, Greg was making the point about pensions.
And, Lou, you were saying it's much bigger than just a pension system.
DiBella - You know, I don't want to hear about a pension system right now. It'd be so difficult to administrate. How do you even define a fighter? Put that aside. You know, worry about we didn't have an ambulance at ringside. And a 43-year-old fighter who never should have been licensed by a commission is basically fighting for his life. I mean, you know, the whole thing is a mess.
And, Greg, you have to look at it - If there's a strong commission in any state, how does Greg Page get licensed. The man was 40 something years old. He's no...
Sirb - You just go can't based on age, Lou, and you know that.
Ley - Tim Witherspoon won a fight the other night.
Sirb - Dale Earnhardt is 49 years old, driving a car 180 miles an hour into a brick wall. Were his reflexes at the top of his game, as was Greg Page?
Sirb - But we've got other fighters, a lot of other fighters over the age of 40 that are performing.
DiBella - Yes. And let me respond to that. This guy wasn't George Foreman. He didn't have a long period of time off, where he wasn't taking abuse. He wasn't capable any longer of fighting on a world-class level. Hell, he lost to a guy that couldn't have been his sparring partner in the highlight of his career.
Sirb - I agree, Lou.
DiBella - The man shouldn't -- the man shouldn't have been in a ring. And you know that, Greg.
Sirb - I agree. The thing you have to do as a commissioner, when you're looking at a boxer that age, most states have used the age between 35, 36, 37. Once they get to that age, then they start -- you have to start looking at medicals on a yearly basis for these guys -- and not only on a yearly basis, but you have to start monitoring them fight to fight.
DiBella - What medicals you looking at, Greg?
Sirb - ... when you get somebody over that magical age -late 30's, early 40's.
Ley - All right, let me jump in for a second, if I could. One of the commissioners in Kentucky is a gentleman by the name of Michael Mudd, who is a former fighter himself, who claims to have fought all the way to the age of 53. This is exactly what he said after the Page tragedy.
Quote - "I think the rules are too strict the way they are." This is a Kentucky State commissioner. He also said he found it hard to believe that Page was actually hurt in that fight.
DiBella - He's an imbecile.
Borges - Bob -- you know, Bob, that's ludicrous, you know. I mean, I've been around the fight since I was seven or eight years old. I've been covering this stuff for 24 years. I lived in California for 10 years. I've lived in Maryland. So I've watched a lot of commissions operating. And Greg isn't going to like this, but it's a fact.
The commissions, for the most part, are willing co-conspirators in the demise of their own sport. They don't regulate this sport at all, anyway. I walked down, years ago, a hallway in a hotel room with a fighter who was going in to take an eye test. And they didn't know I was behind him. And his manager says -"Don't worry about this doctor. He's great. He can't even read the chart." The guy had a detached retina.
I mean, it's a ludicrous situation to sit there and say that any of these commissions are regulating this thing. They're not. There was a death in Boston last fall. They had everything there you need. An ambulance was there. Doctors were there. Oxygen, everything was there. They had some of the greatest doctors in the world there. He was in the emergency room in less than five minutes -- Bobby Tomasello -- he still passed away.
Sometimes, those things happen. But a lot of times, the commissions themselves invite this. You have absurd matches. You have old men against young kids. You have guys with -- a fight in Massachusetts last year where the guy was 52 victories against a guy with one victory. It's ridiculous. And it's not just Massachusetts.
Borges - It's Pennsylvania, where Tyrell Biggs was going to fight.
Borges - Greg, we both know what happened. He refused to take the CAT scan. That's the only reason he's not fighting.
Sirb - ... medicals he had to take. Tyrell Biggs was given all the medicals he had to take. They didn't come in. He's not fighting.
Ley - How many states get it right, guys? How many states get it right?
Borges - None of them get it right, including Pennsylvania. None of them get it right.
Ley - Not even Nevada, not new Jersey?
Borges - No, they don't.
DiBella - No, they don't. But let me ask you a question, Greg. You keep talking about medicals, comparing to medicals. We're in an age of nuclear imaging, where you can get a scan of a guy's brain and compare it to something and know whether there's been a change. And CAT scans and MRIs are like unknown to most states in the Union.
So what medicals are we comparing to? And I'd also like to...
DiBella - Hold on, I'd like to address two other things. I saw, personally -- I was there when two guys had basically life-ending injuries in the ring. A guy named Stephan Johnson - It happened to him in New Jersey. A guy named Jimmy Garcia - It happened in Las Vegas on a -- he fought a champion named Gabe Ruelas, and he was mortally injured in the fight.
If you look at both those cases, just in brief, Stephan Johnson, a commission in Canada found a bleed on his brain. And that information never made it to the state of New Jersey. They guy was licensed to fight and didn't make it out of the ring. Jimmy Garcia lost his life to Gabe Ruelas. It wasn't poor Gabe Ruelas' fault.
But I ask you a question. Jimmy Garcia got the living bejesus beaten out of him in his previous fight. He was knocked out in a title fight. How did he get sanctioned immediately again to fight a tougher guy in a title fight? And what happened? And what happened was, you know, the young man was in a coma for a while and lost his life.
Ley - So does that beg the question, Greg - Are these regulations reading great on paper, but not effective? If Stephan Johnson can fight after Canada finds bleeding on his brain in Georgia, South Carolina, and New Jersey, is the passport system failing?
Sirb - No, I don't know if it's failing. Obviously, there were mistakes made in the Stephan Johnson case. I'm not going to sugar-coat that. There were mistakes made on that case. There were some problems there. And I think something fell through the holes there. The laws work if you just look at them and use them.
They've improved. But, yes, we need to do a lot better, especially at the commission level, to watch over these fighters, because, basically, even though the fighter and his manager know each other the best, if he's...
Sirb - What kind of fighter is he? Is he tired? But the commissions have got to be the last stand to take care of the fighter, because surely the promoters and everybody else are not.
Ley - Isn't it the truth, Ron, when young fighters start out in little roadhouses, like the one that Greg Page fought in, they're fighting under the -- perhaps the worst conditions?
Borges - Oh sure, there's no question, it's the minor leagues of minor leagues. And it's the one sport -- you know, Mike Tyson said this years ago - Don't call me an athlete. I don't play anything.
You play baseball. You play -- but you don't play boxing. And he was exactly right. It's not something that they're playing at. This is a life-and-death situation, whether people want to admit it or not, every time they go in there. And the fact is, nobody protects the fighter, not the manager -- in general -- I'm talking in general -- not the managers, not the commissions, not anybody.
And if Greg is honest about it -- and Lou knows this, too -- I've heard this 1,001 times by state commissions - Well, the show has to go on.
No, the show doesn't have to go on.
Ley - It goes on night after night around the country.
Greg Sirb, thank you. Lou DiBella, thank you for joining us. And Ron Borges, thank you from New York.
And next, we'll have word on A-Rod, as we continue Outside The Lines.
Ley - The interactive Outside The Lines is where you can enjoy any of our past programs. The keyword is otlweekly. Type that in at ESPN.com. Check our site with complete transcripts and streaming video of all past Sunday programs. You can also join or begin public discussions of our shows on the message board. Our e-mail address - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tonight - Joe Morgan in conversation with Alex Rodriguez on the eve of his return to Seattle this week, where A-Rod's letter to Boeing, suggesting the company relocate to Dallas, is sure to stir a little bit of reaction. A-Rod tonight, "Baseball Tonight" at 7 Eastern before the A's and the Rangers on ESPN.
Ley - You can join us along the web. The program reairs over on ESPN2 at 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific. Tonight's major league baseball game at 8 Eastern - the A's and the Rangers.
And I'm Bob Ley. We will see you next Sunday.
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BROADCAST OF SUNDAY, APRIL 15, 2001
Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Guests: Greg Sirb, president of American Association of Boxing Commissions; Lou DiBella, boxing promoter; and Ron Borges, boxing reporter, The Boston Globe..
Coordinating producer: Jonathan Ebinger, ESPN.