The following article is reprinted with permission from Lisa Creech Bledsoe and appears on her website, theglowingedge.com. While the piece centers on boxing, the content can easily be extrapolated to the world of MMA promotion as well. Thank you Lisa!
Getting a good amateur boxing match together is never, ever a blissfully effortless ride on the pugilistic merry-go-round. It’s the most complex, chaotic, and frequently emotional mess you ever did see. If all you ever do is show up to enjoy a local fight night it might look smooth, from the outside. But it absolutely isn’t.
For the 4 to 6 hours prior to the doors opening at the average amateur boxing evening, there is more anarchy and disarray than a high school cafeteria lunch period on homecoming Friday with no teachers. (Sorry, did I just give you a flashback?)
The Promoter: When an amateur boxing event is announced
When an upcoming boxing event is first publicized, the promoter – who is the one responsible for creating, hosting, paying for, and running the event – gets flooded with phone calls and emails.
Boxing coaches, as well as individual boxers, will call the promoter to try and get a match on that card. Typically your coach will tell the promoter your age, weight, and experience level (how many fights, or how many years in the gym).
Here’s what nearly every promoter will say in return: “Oh yeah, I think we’ll have someone there for your fighter.” And they’re not lying – they’ve been on the phone non-stop since the event was announced, trying to get some preliminary matching ideas into place. The promoter is also handling seven zillion other critical details, many of which can wreck an event and cost the promoter all the money that’s been invested if they aren’t handled correctly.
This is where the ugly can start to grow.
The Coaches: Trying to find out if they can get matches
Amateur boxing coaches put in lots of overtime hours – often unpaid – in order to take their fighters to events. They may drive a van full of people several hours to get to weigh-ins, which may be taking place the night before the actual event. Depending on how far away the event is, they have have to field out-of-pocket expenses for food and hotel, sometimes paying for their boxers as well. Even if they bring up boxers for weigh-ins the day of the event, typically those weigh-ins will be held 5 or 6 hours in advance of the start time.
So if you commit to taking a boxer, putting in all those hours and expenses, and the promoter TOLD you there would be a match for your fighter… That’s what you expect. But the key mistake most people make in this scenario is this one:
The promoter is NOT the one making the matches in a sanctioned amateur boxing event.
That’s the job of the sanctioning commission. Those are the people who are tasked with seeing that an amateur event is run safely and according to the rules. A promoter must pay to have an event sanctioned, and must follow a sizable set of rules and guidelines, including things like providing a regulation ring, certified medical personnel, and so on.
But that’s only the beginning. Here’s how it gets even worse…
Getting to weigh-ins
By the time you get to weigh-ins on the day of or day before an event, a LOT may have changed.
Boxers who expected to compete have been injured, or can’t get to the event, or were unable to get to the weight they planned.
So any preliminary matches that were considered may no longer be remotely workable. It’s after the weigh-ins, and before the medicals, that the real match-making begins.
The Match-making: after weigh-ins
This is when the matches actually start coming together. At this point all necessary documents, including passbooks, weights, and so on, are in the hands of the officials, and it can be one biggie-sized paperwork crazyhouse.
Most of the craziness comes from the constant ebb and flow of eager, anxious, curious boxers and coaches who have a thousand questions as well as last-minute information that they want to communicate with the officials. Everything from “I’ve lost my passbook” to “We brought an extra boxer” to “Where’s the bathroom” to “How soon will we know if my boxer got a match?”
There are a thousand hitches that can keep a match from being made. Boxers’ passbooks must be in order and up to date, they can’t be boxing after too recent an injury, and weights and ages and experience levels are all brought into account as the first run of official matches is made by the sanctioning commission.
Sometimes the officials are working in a tiny space with no heat, air, or (sometimes) even a table to lay everything out on. They may not have an electrical outlet or a way to set up a computer and printer to create bouts on. There are hundreds of documents floating around. There’s a rushed feeling, because the process takes a fair amount of time. Coaches and boxers are constantly in and out of the space.
As the matches are being made, changes happen. Someone shows up late to the weigh-ins, but drove six hours to get there, so a fresh batch of boxers may be added back into the mix. Someone comes down sick between weigh-ins and medicals, and pulls out. And sometimes coaches get wind of who an opponent might be, and they’ll pull their boxer out of the mix (which can get the boxer banned for an extended period of time, by the way).
And like many certified officials in amateur sports, the sanction commission – the ones making order in all the chaos for hour after hour on a given Saturday – are all volunteers.
Typically medicals happen shortly before the event begins. Once in a while, this process causes further changes to the bout sheets. Most of the time the officials won’t print and distribute a bout sheet until after medicals, because there are almost always last-minute changes.
That’s why you will sometimes see more than one version of a bout sheet floating around at an event; they can’t always successfully be recovered before the new version is issued.
This is also why many boxing events start late. (Hey! Now you know!)
The human factor
Once bouts are made, there are sometimes a handful of coaches angry or upset because their boxer didn’t get matched, or they don’t like the match that was made and would like to put forward their own ideas about who should be allowed to compete against whom. This can be the very worst part of the entire thing. And it happens with some regularity. But somehow, some way, the officials make a path through it all and the event comes off, frustrated coaches or no.
And there may still be some typos on bout sheets, and the event may not start on time, and the announcer may have no idea how to pronounce everyone’s names, and the people in charge of the event may look like they’re scrambling (because they are).
Which, once you know how the entire process works, makes some sense. It’s a crazy scene, moving at top speed, containing a whirlwind of documents, people, and emotions. Sometimes I’m shocked when a bout sheet comes out perfect, and the event starts and runs completely on time. It does happen… Mostly not, but sometimes.
I’m a newbie
Even though I’ve been boxing now for about eight years, I’m writing this after my first year of service as a USA Boxing certified official. That’s me in the photos above. I’ve officiated at 10 events this year, judged about 90 bouts, refereed about 40 matches. I’m fortunate because most of the rest of the officials I work with have twenty or thirty years of service already. There isn’t anything they haven’t seen, smiled at, and made it on through. I’ve learned SO much from all of them.
And out of all the things that have made an impression on me this year, two are biggest. The first is how much I love officiating in the ring. The second is how incredibly complex the match-making process is, and how hard promoters and officials work to make matches come safely together, according to the rules, as the day of an event progresses.
Are you still here?
If you made it through all that, fist bump! You are your own kind of badass. You’re weird, like me, because you’re actually curious about how all this mess goes down. And if you have questions, I may have answers, although I may also simply know someone much smarter and more experienced than me who can answer for us both. Leave me a comment!
About the Author
Lisa Creech Bledsoe is a competitive boxer fighting out of Second Round in Raleigh, NC. She is also a certified USA Boxing coach, referee, and judge.