It has taken about 18 months, but finally, Randy Gordon is starting to lose some of his enthusiasm for being chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission.
What has soured superfan Gordon on the state's No. 1 boxing job? Things such as the Dec. 1 Dennis Milton-Michael Olajide fight in Albany, N.Y. Not only did it end in controversy--to this day, no one is sure who actually won--but Gordon finds himself being threatened, physically and financially, by representatives for both sides.
"No matter which way it goes, one side is not going to be happy," said Richard Herring, the commission's administrative executive.
Milton-Olajide had trouble written all over it from the day it was signed, mainly because Milton's new manager, Lenny Minuto, was so enamored with his fighter and so eager to get him ranked among the world's top-10 middleweights that he was willing to do just about anything, including digging deep into his pockets.
After trying to woo Olajide and his manager, Joe Allegro, with offers starting at $10,000 and escalating by the same amount with each turndown, he finally came up with the magic number--$100,000--for a non-title 10-rounder. He paid his own fighter $25,000. He had a 1,000-seat arena in Albany and no television money to back him up.
This was a fight, mind you, that ESPN was going to put on for a fraction of the cost until Moneybags Minuto ran wild. But he wanted a win over Olajide and was willing to buy it, at any cost. "He wanted to get Dennis into the ratings in a short time, and he elected to go this route," said Bob Miller, who owns the gym where Milton trains.
With just more than 700 people paying their way in--another 400 Milton fans were bused in from the Bronx by Minuto at his expense--and a total gate of $21,000, Milton and Olajide went at it. By most accounts, Milton controlled the early rounds but faded badly in the second half of the bout.
By the 10th round, Milton, who may have been overtrained, could barely stagger through the round. A videotape, made by the Olajide camp and shown to the media last week, shows what dire shape Milton was in. He falls to his knees once without being hit. Olajide, looking for the KO, begins teeing off until referee Ken Zimmer administers one of the commission's ill-advised new rules, the standing eight-count. It turns out to be more like a standing 20 after Zimmer stops the count once to make Olajide cross the ring from one neutral corner to another, and then pushes him back with another admonishment before allowing hostilities to continue.
A few seconds later, Olajide has a helpless Milton on the ropes and pounds away until Zimmer, using his left hand, clearly grabs Olajide by the right arm and pulls him off Milton. With his right, he waves in that universal motion that says, "I'm stopping the fight."
Not three seconds later, the bell clangs--once, twice, thrice--signaling the end of the bout. Here's where it gets interesting.
The crowd, strongly pro-Milton, begins showering the ring with boos and beer cans. Obscenities from Milton's corner are hurled toward the referee and Olajide. Zimmer goes over to the ringside timekeeper and says something that sounds like, "What was the time?"
At this point, Gordon and Herring, unsure of what they've seen, jump into the ring and confront Zimmer. According to them--Zimmer did not return calls Wednesday--the referee said, "I stopped the fight. The fight was over."
Then, he said, "I didn't stop the fight. I thought I heard the bell. I thought the fight was over."
Well, which was it?
Apparently, the latter, because they went to the scorecards, which had Milton as a split-decision winner. Now it was the Olajide camp's turn to get excited. Gordon and Herring, after a short conference, decided to "temporarily" rule the bout a No Decision, pending a commission investigation beginning Friday. Included will be the unusual step of subjecting Zimmer to a polygraph, even though Gordon insists, "I believe the referee. He's a friend of mine. I know him well."
If Zimmer passes the polygraph--meaning, ostensibly, that he believed he heard the bell--then the decision for Milton is likely to stand. If he fails, then Olajide may be a TKO winner. Or the bout may be ruled a No Decision.
But there are bigger questions than whether Zimmer did or did not hear bells. According to Gordon, Lenny Minuto--who, incidentally, is not even Milton's manager of record; his 18-year-old son, Lenny Jr., is--threatened to "get him."
The judging of the fight also raises questions. The scorecards show some bizarre patterns--notably, the fifth round, which judges Sid Rubinstein and Wynn Kintz scored 10-9 for Olajide, but Moe Pier scored for Milton. It seems this investigation should involve more than just the referee.
"I think the incompetence of the boxing commissioner and the referee precipitated this," Allegro said. "If they don't rule this fight is a TKO in the 10th for Olajide, I'll take it all the way to the State Supreme Court. If a referee hears bells in his batfry, he doesn't belong in the ring."
Meanwhile, Gordon, who gave up a lucrative and ego-massaging career as color man on MSG Network boxing telecasts, is wondering what he got himself into. In the summer, it was the Mike Tyson-Bill Cayton-Don King hearings, when Gordon's loose tongue caused the case against King to be dropped. A few weeks ago, it was King and Benjamin Hooks of the NAACP alleging racism because Gordon was not pursuing King's cross-claim against Cayton. A fighter lies in a coma after a KO upstate a few months back. Now this.
Gordon, who was overjoyed when he was appointed to replace Jose Torres in July 1988, now says things like, "It's a thankless job. If the right (TV) offer came along . . . "