The Povetkin-Seldon “sparring session”
Alexander Povetkin and Bruce Seldon met in the ring at the South Philly Arena on July 28. Teddy Atlas, who trains Povetkin, says that the meeting was a “glorified sparring session” and that efforts were made “to replicate the atmosphere of a real fight even though it was just a training session.”
The facts are as follows.
Earlier this year, Povetkin was the designated mandatory challenger for Wladimir Klitschko’s IBF heavyweight crown. The two sides could not agree on contract terms. Klitschko’s promotional company won rights to the bout with a purse bid of $8,313,000. Twenty-five percent of that amount was to go to Team Povetkin. Then Alexander pulled out of the fight.
On July 22, Atlas told ESPN.com, “I think he [Povetkin] deserves the chance to develop. I'm in the middle of training this kid, which is obviously an important time in his life for the future of his career. My job is to do the best job I can for the fighter and to make sure he’s the best he can be when he's in a situation to fight. I’m not controlled or dictated by anything other than that. I was never really for the fight right now. Let me have more time with him. I decided the most important thing was to do what was the best for the fighter. My opinion was, more time would be good.”
Six days later, Povetkin entered the ring to face Seldon. The event, scheduled for 8 p.m., was closed to the public. Between 70 and 100 invited guests were in attendance.
The event was set up to simulate a regulation fight.
Conversations with multiple sources who were in attendance confirm that Povetkin and Seldon wore 10-ounce gloves.
There was no headgear.
The referee was Luis Rivera.
The judges were Russell Peltz, Adam Berlin, and Don Steinberg.
The ring announcer was Larry Tournambe.
The timekeeper was Fred Blumstein.
Rivera, Peltz, Berlin, Steinberg, Tournambe, and Blumstein were paid for their services. So was Don Elbaum.
Elbaum did the nuts-and-bolts work of putting everything together. He negotiated with Seldon’s management team and the venue and arranged for an ambulance to be on site.
Bruce Seldon was paid $10,000 for his participation in the event. He brought his own corner men with him from Atlantic City.
Teddy Atlas served as Povetkin’s chief second. Joey Intrieri was Povetkin’s cutman.
The money to pay for the event came from Povetkin’s management team. Refreshments (such as pizza and hot dogs) were sold. There was no beer.
The event was scheduled for 10 rounds. Seldon won the first round on each judge’s scorecard but suffered a cut above one of his eyes. The second round could have gone either way, but all of the judges scored it for Povetkin. Round three belonged to Povetkin. In round four, Povetkin knocked Seldon down three times. There was no three-knockdown rule, but Seldon was badly hurt and bleeding from the mouth after the third knockdown. At that point, referee Luis Rivera stopped the event.
A Fight Fax report states that Seldon, 43, has been on suspension since Aug.13, 2009, because of a failed drug test administered in conjunction with a ninth-round knockout loss to Fres Oquendo in Illinois on July 24, 2009.
Povetkin engaged in at least one similar “sparring session” with Robert Daniels at the Front Street Gym in Philadelphia on Oct. 17, 2009. That encounter was also stopped short of its scheduled duration by referee Luis Rivera.
Greg Sirb is the capable executive director of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission. As a general rule, Sirb is outgoing and informative when talking with reporters. That wasn’t the case when he talked last week with Lem Satterfield of fanhouse.com. Satterfield recounts the following exchange:
Sirb: We checked into it and we classified it as a glorified sparring session.
Satterfield: Can you give me any details?
Satterfield: Was there any headgear used?
Sirb: Glorified sparring session, part of a training program.
Satterfield: But the guy got knocked out, didn't he?
Sirb: Glorified sparring session, part of the training program.
Satterfield: Was Teddy Atlas there?
Satterfield: Was he working Povetkin's corner?
Sirb: He was at the event.
Satterfield: There's no sanctions or anything like that?
Sirb: Part of a training program.
Speaking with this writer on Monday (Aug. 23), Sirb said, “This is a big to-do about nothing. Things like this happen every day in gyms in Philly. If it’s part of a regimented training session, there’s no problem. This is silly. I’m not going to discuss it anymore.”
However, the Povetkin-Seldon encounter appears to have been different from a “gym war.” In a sparring session, if a fighter is hurt, his adversary backs off. In this “sparring session,” when Seldon was hurt, Povetkin hurt him some more.
Fights are regulated by the state for several reasons. The most important of these is to safeguard the health and safety of fighters. That involves ensuring that (1) the participants are sufficiently skilled and in appropriate condition to participate, and (2) the combat is overseen by qualified licensed personnel.
The state is responsible for making these determinations. Not any individual trainer, manager or promoter. Atlas and Elbaum are good boxing people. They can regulate a fight far more capably than most state athletic commissions. But there are a lot of bozos in boxing with a towel over their shoulder and a pencil in their hand. A state can’t have one set of rules for Atlas and Elbaum and a different set of rules for someone else who wants to arrange a “glorified sparring session.”
Where should a state athletic commission draw the line? Suppose the Povetkin-Seldon encounter had taken place at a black-tie event with spectators paying $200 each for a gourmet dinner? Suppose there were six “glorified sparring sessions” at the event instead of one? Suppose one of the participants suffered a brain bleed or lost an eye?
I don’t have a problem with fighters sparring without headgear and with small gloves. It’s fine with me if fighters go hard in sparring. And I’ll accept the premise that, from Povetkin’s point of view, this was a training exercise. But no matter how the Povetkin-Seldon encounter is styled, it appears to have been a fight.
If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, most likely it’s a duck.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at [email protected] His most recent book (a novel entitled Waiting for Carver Boyd) was published earlier this year by JR Books. Hauser says that Waiting for Carver Boyd is “the best pure boxing writing I’ve ever done.”