Boxing loses a strong advocate with the retirement of PA state commissioner Greg Sirb
The starkness of his office has become more apparent as the fight posters that once adorned the walls are gradually being taken down. Greg Sirb, the legendary executive director of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, is nearing the end in the same steady way he ran boxing for over three decades in the state.
His last day as executive director of the PA State Athletic Commission will be Friday, September 29. Sirb will retire to end a 33-year run, concluding the longest consecutive-year tenured role of any state athletic commissioner in the United States.
Sirb, who is in his late-50s, decided that the time was right.
The Boxing Writers Association of America’s 2018 winner of the James A. Farley Award for Honesty and Integrity, Sirb is known nationally as a stand-up guy with a no-nonsense reputation when it comes to the rules that govern boxing. He was about fairness. He was one of the few left that cared about the integrity of the sport. If he saw a mismatch, it was Sirb who had no problem nixing the fight, regardless of who the promoter was or what network the fight appeared on.
There are many state commissions and executive state commissioners who are nowhere near as meticulous as Sirb. It’s why there is a grave inconsistency in the straight-up way Sirb ran the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission as opposed to the ad hoc way state commissions are run.
He took over in PA on January 29, 1990. His stature and universal respect across the nation was so impactful in boxing that he testified several times before U.S. House and U.S. Senate committees about the well-being of the sport.
To those close to boxing, he will be missed.
“After 33 years, it was a good time, and it’s a job where your phone just does not stop ringing, so earlier in this year, I decided this year was it,” said Sirb, the father of two. “The traveling, the pressure that gets put on this position, it’s undaunting. It never stops. In 52 weekends a year, this position requires 50 of those weekends.”
For many years, Sirb ran the PA State Athletic Commission as a one-man shop. Ed Kunkle, who started with Sirb in the early-1990s, will take over for Sirb. He was Sirb’s chief inspector, then went to the New York commission and rejoined Sirb in Pennsylvania a few months ago.
“I remember a professor in graduate school saying when you leave a position, leave it better than what you took over, and I feel that I have done that,” Sirb said. “I personally picked Ed to take over. I’m putting this in very able hands. Ed follows the rules.”
In 33 years, Sirb oversaw some great fights and amazing events, like Mike Tyson’s second comeback fight after his three-year prison stint, which came against Buster Mathis Jr. on December 16, 1995, at the now-defunct CoreStates Spectrum.
“That was a free-for-all, and at the time, it was largest revenue producer ever in state history,” Sirb recalled, laughing. “Tyson brought a whole new element to the game as to what you do as a regulator. I was on the job five years by then. The other moment that I will remember is the first time UFC came to Philadelphia.
“We passed the MMA legislation, and we were one of the last states to pass it, back in April 2009. When UFC came to town, it took everything to a whole new level. We had 5,000 people at the weigh-in. That was UFC 101 on August 8, 2009. With my wrestling background, I followed UFC for years, and loved it to death. It was a huge show. They sold out within a day. That event broke all revenue records that still stand today.”
Sirb also fondly recalls the last USA Network’s Tuesday Night Fights at Philadelphia’s historic Blue Horizon on August 25, 1998. It was so large even late U.S. Arizona Senator John McCain was there.
In 1994, just four years on the job, Sirb teamed with McCain on boxing legislation. The legislation, known as the Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996 and the Muhammed Ali Boxing Reform Act of 2000, provided initial national regulation as to how states and tribal boxing commissions govern pro boxing.
Before Sirb, Pennsylvania averaged around 10 to 12 events a year. Under Sirb, Pennsylvania became a destination to hold fights. The average number of fights grew to over 40 fights a year.
In 2022, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission regulated 70 events (40 boxing, 30 MMA). It was the fourth-highest number in the U.S. In total, Sirb figures, he’s regulated over 2,000 boxing events and over 1,100 MMA events.
At the bottom of his emails, Sirb openly says “Pennsylvania is the best pound-for-pound best boxing and MMA in the country.”
It is a mantra Sirb is genuinely very proud of.
“I believe that, I actually believe that,” Sirb said. “You put your $40 down, you are going to see a good show in PA. I’m proud of a lot of things, and I suppose the one regret is the kid who died, Francisco “Paco” Rodríguez on November 22, 2009 after his (junior featherweight) fight with Teon Kennedy.
“That still crushes me. The kid was just 25. I remember being at the hospital and driving home was brutal, thinking about that. It was a two-hour drive I’ll never forget. You know going into boxing, everybody knows, boxing is a dangerous sport. It happened on my watch. I kept thinking back over what more I could have done. That was brutal for me.
“That fight will never get out of my head.”
Sirb feels boxing is in a healthy place today. He wishes there was more nationally weekly boxing shows. When USA Network, he notes, everyone looked forward to Tuesday Night Fights.
Now under his seventh Pennsylvania governors, what kept Sirb, a certain inductee to the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame, going all these years, what sustained him through the grind?
“I loved doing it,” said Sirb, who possesses a graduate degree from Penn State in public administration. “I love boxing, I love combat sports. I love the game. I was fortunate all my life was being involved in sports. I wrestled and boxed through high school and wrestled in college. I have over 200 fight posters all over my walls and I’m taking them down now. I don’t know where I’m going to put them (laughs). You want to know what kept me going for 33 years, I loved what I was doing.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a hall of fame, award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.