A potential violation of the Muhammad Ali act is buried in a deposition.
Greg Cohen Promotions paid cash for a little-known consultancy ostensibly to secure favorable rankings at the WBA.
Greg Cohen declined to respond to this story. The WBA vehemently opposed “false accusations.”
Buried in a 242-page deposition, part of a lawsuit brought forward by an aggrieved former employee of boxing promoter Greg Cohen and his firm Greg Cohen Promotions, lies an admission that calls into question the relationship between boxing promoters and the consultants they pay to elevate the profiles of fighters.
The lawsuit regards Clifford Mass, who claimed he paid $250,000 to invest in Greg Cohen Promotions and received $72,000 per annum, but grew disenchanted and sued Greg Cohen as he sought to recover his money.
What’s interesting about the case is not Mass, per se, but the working arrangement Greg Cohen Promotions had with the little-known Sports Consulting Services, and the relationship that little-known company potentially had with the WBA — one of the four major sanctioning bodies in boxing.
Greg Cohen Promotions paid $17,250 to the Florida-based business, which Cohen described as “an international company that works very closely with the [sport’s] sanctioning bodies.”
“They are an advocate and lobbyist on behalf of various boxers, promoters, and managers,” he said in sworn testimony.
Public records seen by Insider show Sports Consulting Services operated for just 13 months and included two directors that have clear and direct ties to the WBA.
Alfredo Mendoza, listed as a Sports Consulting Services director, represented the WBA four years ago on the TV show The Contender. The WBA included Mendoza in a promotional video that same year. He’s also WBA president Gilberto Mendoza’s son.
Another company director, Zailubi Sofia Cuba, also has a relationship with the WBA, as her LinkedIn profile suggests she’s been employed by the sanctioning body since May 2016. She’s performed translation duties for the WBA website.
According to the deposition, the payments Greg Cohen said his company made to Sports Consulting Services were earmarked for a November 17, 2018, heavyweight fight between Jarrell Miller and Bogdan Dinu, who were battling for the interim NABA Heavy Title. The North American Boxing Association (NABA) is an affiliate of the WBA.
There is no admission in Cohen’s deposition that the money was paid for rankings or preferred marquee fight positioning. However, the apparent close ties between Sports Consulting Services and the WBA — the oldest still-active sanctioning body in boxing, whose former champions include Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson — raises red flags, at least.
If the WBA has been receiving money indirectly from Greg Cohen, via Sports Consulting Services, “it would be a violation of federal law,” according to Scott Shaffer, a boxing and litigation attorney with the firm Olshan Frome Wolosky, in New York City. Shaffer stressed, however, that it would have to be proved that the money trail did indeed proceed to the WBA, rather than end with Sports Consulting Services.
The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, which President Bill Clinton signed into law on May 26, 2000, is clear.
In section five, under “conflict of interest,” there is a paragraph for sanctioning organizations, like the WBA:
“No officer or employee of a sanctioning organization may receive any compensation, gift, or benefit, directly or indirectly, from a promoter, boxer, or manager.”
The Ali Act was introduced in the late 1990s to protect the rights and welfare of boxers, while increasing sportsmanship and integrity within the sport.
“There was a huge scandal in the 1990s where IBF officials were caught on tape accepting bribes,” Shaffer told Insider.
“But even back then, there were documented concerns about the pattern of corruption exhibited by the WBA, especially in favor of Don King, who at the time was at the height of his influence.”
Insider sought comment from Cohen on numerous occasions over a span of two weeks, but he declined to respond.
WBA president Gilberto Mendoza told us he’s “angry about all the false comments” made about his sanctioning body, saying he’s “in the middle of litigation about those false claims to be proven wrong in the lawsuit, and that’s the only thing I could tell you .”
When asked if those “false claims” were the ones made by Cohen in the deposition, Mendoza said: “I can’t talk about the details. I’m in the middle of a lawsuit. The only thing I can tell you is it’s all false accusations and will be proven wrong in the lawsuit.”
Insider contacted Zailubi Sofia Cuba via social media, but she did not immediately respond. Alfredo Mendoza could not be reached.
Sports Consulting Services was not alone in funneling money to the WBA for rankings, Cohen said
There are four major sanctioning bodies in boxing—the WBA, WBC, WBO, and IBF. Each rewards athletes at the top of their rankings with eventual title shots and championship belts.
Championship bouts are often more lucrative than non-title fights, as the lure of a belt can lead to TV dates with a prominent network.
Fighters, and promoters, have goals to reach the top, and Greg Cohen Promotions retained the services of Sports Consulting Services, as well as boxing matchmaker Ricardo Rizzo, to do just that, according to Cohen.
“There’s some overlap of those two entities,” Cohen said of Sports Consulting Services and Rizzo in his deposition.
Rizzo has been linked to an alleged cash-for-rankings scheme before. In a 2002 article on The Sweet Science, Rizzo was reportedly caught bragging that he can help fighters get title shots with sanctioning bodies.
Rizzo — a WBO official at the time, according to the boxing website — allegedly said he could secure mandatory title shot opportunities with the WBO through a “donation” of $10,000 to the organization.
The reporter, who was in the room when the bribe was reportedly solicited, asked: “What’s this donation for?”
“Pens and pencils for our members at the WBO convention,” Rizzo replied.
Greg Cohen Promotions apparently paid Rizzo $25,000
According to Cohen’s deposition, Rizzo received a payment of $25,000 from Greg Cohen Promotions.
“GCP advances Ricardo Rizzo money all the time,” Cohen said.
Explaining further, Shaffer — an attorney specializing in combat sports law — told Insider that, according to Cohen’s deposition, Greg Cohen Promotions paid Rizzo a ‘fee’ for the Miller vs. Dinu fight, “which helped Miller move up in the WBA rankings.”
Sports Consulting Services “works very closely with the sanctioning bodies,” Shaffer continued, “as an ‘advocate and lobbyist’.
“It is hard to imagine any reason for these payments other than to secure a better ranking or a path to a title shot for one of Cohen’s boxers,” Shaffer told Insider.
“What else would a ‘lobbyist’ do in this situation?” Shaffer said. “If you look at Greg Cohen’s history, many of his boxers have gotten favorable treatment from the WBA, which makes people’s Spidey sense tingle.”
These payments, Shaffer said, would violate the Muhammad Ali act because this law “forbids officers and employees from receiving compensation from a promoter.”
Again, Shaffer said it would have to be proven that “Rizzo is a WBA employee or that he shared the money with some other WBA officer or employee.”
He said: “That is distinctly possible but is not the issue for the Mass vs. Cohen lawsuit.”
Insider contacted Rizzo via social media but did not receive an immediate response.
Mass vs. Cohen is ‘not yet set for trial’
The current status of the Mass vs. Cohen case is that “even though the case was filed in 2018, it is not yet set for trial,” Shaffer told us.
“Things were slowed down when Cohen went to federal prison on fraud charges from another, non-boxing case, and of course by the COVID pandemic as well.
“As of June, there were summary judgment motions pending with the court. If the court grants summary judgment to one side or the other, there may be a more limited trial than planned, or even no trial at all.
“And of course, an out-of-court settlement is always possible but unlikely.”
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