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Is Professional Boxing in Indiana on Its Last Legs?

Indiana boxing is down for the count.

A decade ago, there were more than 30 professional events held each year throughout the state. In 2006, the number was still 24.

This year there has been one professional card. Three others are in the planning stages.

Where once more than 15 promoters were putting on events in Indiana, that number has dwindled to four. Promoters blame higher costs, a new state regulatory commission and the inability to turn a profit as the reason for the downturn.

The amateur National Golden Gloves Tournament will hold its championship bouts at the Indiana Convention Center tonight in what organizers are calling a successful return to the state after 32 years. Two Pike Township boxers reached the quarterfinals, and Elkhart’s James Shorter was the first Hoosier to reach the semifinals since 1996, when Lafayette’s Darnell Wilson made the finals. (Shorter was eliminated Friday.) But the issues on the professional side leave these boxers with limited opportunities in their home state and curtail their chance to succeed nationally.

The question for Indiana boxing: Can the sport survive?
“I think the state of boxing in Indiana is on a lifeline,” said Jake Hall, a former Indiana boxing commissioner. “It’s not dead yet, but it could be if we don’t make changes.”

Hall and many of the old-timers in Indiana boxing circles believe the sport headed south in 2009 when Gov. Mitch Daniels appointed the Indiana Gaming Commission to regulate the sport. When that happened, Hall maintains, licensing fees increased and new rules changed the boxing landscape.

But Andy Means, director of the athletic division of the Indiana Gaming Commission that oversees boxing and mixed martial arts events, said he thinks the decline may have more to do with young people’s interest in MMA. Means said there are 15 to 20 licensed MMA promoters in Indiana and an average of four events per month.
Those are the kind of numbers that boxing once experienced.

“I think with mixed martial arts becoming more popular, what we’ve seen with the teenagers is that maybe instead of going to the boxing gym they are going to the Brazilian jujitsu gym,” Means said. “Boxing has this other combat sport that is in direct competition now, so just by the numbers, you’re going to see fewer events.”

Tough to make a profit

Jen Childers put on 10 shows from 2005 to ’10, primarily in Evansville and Indianapolis. Her final one came last June and she has no plans to promote more events.

“It’s hard to make a buck,” said Childers, the first licensed female boxer in the state back in 1996 who later became a promoter. “When you’re working on a show for two months and you put blood, sweat and tears into it and then lose money, it’s hard finding motivation.

“I’d rather just go to the gym and hit the bag for an hour. That would be a better way to get my fulfillment of boxing.”

Childers estimated the cost of putting on an event at between $30,000 and $40,000. Almost $20,000 goes to paying the fighters’ purses. Add expenses such as rent, insurance, security, judges, referees, a timer, doctor, announcer and glove rental, and the costs skyrocket.

With crowds generally ranging from 500 to 1,000 spectators, at an average of $20 each for general admission and a little more for ringside seats, it’s difficult to recoup the investment.

“When you can only put on a couple of shows a year, it’s pretty much just a hobby,” Childers said. “When you’re putting in those hours and not making a profit, it becomes a very expensive hobby.”

The Indiana Gaming Commission requires that boxing events feature at least four pro bouts and a minimum of 28 pro rounds. Childers said it would help if those rules were eased. She said if a card required fewer pro fights, promoters could earn a profit. Adding amateur fights — where a purse wouldn’t have to be paid — would lower costs and aid amateur boxing.

Malcolm Garrett, an Indiana-based trainer, manager and promoter for more than 30 years, said most promoters are happy if they can break even. He said that becomes nearly impossible with the new regulatory commission in Indiana.

“There have been many, many new rules put in place, but no one ever does anything to benefit the boxers or the promoters,” Garrett said. “The only thing they ever want to change is how much more revenue it can look like they’re generating for the state so they can get a raise.

“But nobody ever looks at it and says, ‘Maybe we should do this because it would be beneficial for the fighters or the promoters.’ ”

Means said Indiana’s fees are in line with those of neighboring states. From his experience with MMA, Means thinks boxing can rebound.

“The fees we have in place for the MMA community are the exact same we have in place for the boxing community,” Means said. “The number of events we have for professional MMA makes me think the model we have in place can work. I hope we can get the numbers back up for boxing that we have for MMA.”

While the majority of promoters interviewed said it’s difficult to be successful in the state, at least one didn’t share that opinion. Billy Reese, Fairbanks, Ind., promoted the lone event in Indiana this year, drawing 1,800 fans April 9 to the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond.

“I have nothing but good things to say about the Gaming Commission because they have worked well with me from the beginning,” said Reese, who said he put on eight of the 10 shows in Indiana last year. “They were a little strict at first, but they have done good things to try and improve boxing. . . . The Gaming Commission is trying to make sure that we put on quality fights.

“They don’t like seeing somebody who is 15-1 fighting someone who is 2-12. And I don’t agree with putting fights like that on anyway. I think that’s why boxing died out in Indiana, because some of these fight shows were so lopsided that everyone knew who was going to win before they stepped in the ring.”

Dead-end for amateurs?

There are about 140 amateur boxers participating in Indiana Golden Gloves, a slight increase over recent years, said Dick Mills, the program’s president. But with few opportunities awaiting boxers at the professional level in the state, there aren’t a lot of Indiana amateurs going pro.

“The amateurs want to have some place to go and feel like why should they work all of this time and then not have anywhere to make money,” said Keith Boggs, the Indiana program’s vice president and the man responsible for bringing the National Golden Gloves to Indianapolis this week. “What they end up doing is going to other sports like basketball and football because they see a little more future in that.

“That hurts the amateur program. And when there’s a lack of good amateurs, that’s going to hurt the pro program. The two entities feed off of each other.”

Amateur Marcus Chapman Jr., a 2008 Pike High School graduate who was eliminated in Thursday night’s quarterfinals, said it’s tough in Indiana. He said the lack of opportunities clearly hinders Indiana boxers from turning professional.

“If you want to be a successful pro, you need to fight two or three hundred amateur fights, and you just can’t do that in Indiana, so you need to go outside the state,” Chapman said. “And if you do turn pro here, there’s not any pro chances.

“If you want to be successful in the sport of boxing, you’ve got to get out of Indiana.”

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