• Middleweight Champion’s Unraveling “Taylor” Made for an Evaluation of Boxing’s Legal Vagaries
  • March 13, 2015
  • Law Firm: Goldberg Segalla LLP - Buffalo Office
  • This past week, 2000 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist and two-time middleweight champion Jermain (Bad Intentions) Taylor, who was once expected to usher in a new era in the middleweight division following back-to-back decision wins over long-reigning champion Bernard (The Executioner) Hopkins, was arrested for the second time in six months on gun-related charges. In late August 2014, Taylor was arrested in connection with shooting his cousin and subsequently indicted on related felony charges. His second arrest came at a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade in his native Arkansas, where he was accused of threatening to shoot a woman’s three children and pointing a gun at her husband after he thought that one of the children almost dropped his championship belt. In between the two arrests, Taylor, who had suffered a brain bleed in an October 17, 2009 knockout loss to Arthur Abraham and was not expected to either box or be a serious factor in boxing ever again, capped off an improbable comeback by winning the IBF Middleweight Championship with a 12-round decision over Sam Soliman.

    There will be no further title fights after Taylor’s second arrest. His scheduled February 6, 2015 defense against Sergio Mora was promptly cancelled following the latest gun incident. Nonetheless, in a year that saw NFL stars Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice suspended following high profile arrests, the question is begged as to why Taylor was even allowed to participate in the Soliman fight. The answers provide some insight into the vagaries of professional boxing’s rules, regulations, and business practices. A quick look follows.

    How the Mississippi Athletic Commission was Permitted to License Taylor

    Taylor’s October 8, 2014 bout with Soliman took place at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi.  The licensing for the bout thus came under the purview of the Mississippi Athletic Commission. According its Rules, the only explicit ground for denying a boxer a license is “if it is believed that the contestant is not physically or mentally fit to compete.” Therefore, while some have casually questioned Taylor’s mental wellbeing following both his brain bleed (for which he ultimately received medical clearance) and his arrest for shooting his cousin, the Mississippi Athletic Commission was apparently satisfied that Taylor was mentally fit to compete. In comparison, the New York State Athletic Commission has far broader grounds for denying a boxer a license, including the right to base its decision upon “the financial responsibility, experience, character and fitness of an applicant[,]” even if he is otherwise physically or mentally sound. Had Mississippi had such grounds, Taylor may never have been issued a license for the Soliman fight.

    How the International Boxing Federation Allowed for Its Title Bout to Go Forward

    The International Boxing Federation (“IBF”), the sanctioning body whose title Taylor won from Soliman, states in its Contest Rules that “[a] Champion and Challenger must at all times set high ideals and act in a sportsmanlike manner. Any action by a Champion, Challenger or cornerman which reflects poorly on the IBF...or the sport of boxing will subject the contestant to the imposition of discipline and penalties.” Its Contest Rules further state that “[a]ny boxer...who is ill, injured, under a legal impediment which could prevent the bout from taking place in the opinion of the IBF...or on suspension at the time the Championships Chairman and President order a bout...shall be considered unavailable.” When these two provisions are read together and applied to Taylor’s situation, it appears that the IBF did not find Taylor’s first arrest to reflect poorly enough on either itself or the sport of boxing to cancel it or that, in any event, the first arrest did not expressly figure into the calculus of whether Taylor could be “considered unavailable” to face Soliman since he had not been arrested by the time the bout was ordered.

    How Taylor’s Promoter and Advisor Could Have Allowed Taylor to Keep Boxing

    Taylor is promoted by DiBella Entertainment and advised by the influential Al Haymon. One would expect that both DiBella Entertainment and Haymon have so-called “morals clauses” in their respective agreements with Taylor which permit them to terminate their agreements in the event of situations such as an arrest for shooting one’s cousin. Such provisions are, however, applied at a party’s discretion. The discretionary nature of a morals clause thus gives a party the ability to use it as he sees fit, for better or worse.

    Whatever one may conclude from the above analysis, it appears that Taylor’s most recent arrest has convinced those in control of Taylor’s professional boxing career that the time has come to put an end to both his comeback and his improbable second title reign. Had they not been immediately convinced, a video containing a rambling, somewhat incoherent Taylor half-apologizing for recent events while sitting in a bathtub that was released a few days after his second arrest conclusively suggests that Taylor may need something else in his life right now than a few hundred more hits to the head from Sergio Mora or anyone else. The events surrounding Taylor’s recent unraveling, however, suggest that professional boxing as a whole may need its head checked too, if boxers like Taylor are not consistently disciplined in a similar manner going forward as athletes in more centrally organized sports are, such as Peterson and Rice.