California's required neurological examination for professional boxers, knocked from ringpost to ringpost by managers and promoters since its inception in 1986, nearly cost the Forum a world championship fight Monday.
Raul Perez, the World Boxing Council bantamweight champion, failed the exam twice last week and didn't pass it until his third try, at mid-afternoon Monday, hours before he was to fight Gaby Canizales at the Forum.
For the Forum's boxing staff, it was a close call--and one they don't care to repeat.
"If we'd have announced when everyone was in the building that the main event had been canceled, we'd have had thousands of people asking for their money back and we would have refunded it, too," said John Jackson, Forum vice president for boxing.
"It could have cost us about $60,000, plus some TV revenue because we'd lost a title fight."
Ticket prices for Monday's show were scaled from $20 to $80, and the attendance was 5,979.
QUESTION OF CREDIBILITY
"Our credibility was at stake," Jackson said. "If we'd advertised a title fight, then didn't deliver one--that would have hurt us."
The Forum, which wants to promote a world title bout every month, runs by far the most successful boxing shows in California.
Perez, who won an easy decision and kept his championship, had passed the neurological exam in three previous years. The State Athletic Commission requires a yearly verbal and written exam of every pro boxer, administered by a commission-designated neurologist.
If a boxer fails the exam, he receives a backup exam by another commission neurologist, and therein lies the rub. Managers and promoters say boxers should be free to be examined by any licensed neurologist. The commission disagrees.
"The second exam is given only to boxers who fail it the first time," said Ken Gray, commission executive officer. "And we want our neurologists to administer both exams."
But Forum matchmaker John Jackson said: "If a doctor told you you needed major surgery, would you go for a second opinion only to a doctor he told you to see?"
Another criticism of the exams is that they discriminate against Spanish-speaking, under-educated Latin fighters.
"It (the California exam) is an education test, not a neurological test," said Miguel Diaz, a manager of several Latin boxers.
"Nevada has a test, too, but only for boxers who flunk the California test. And it's a fair test. All kinds of boxers flunk it in California, then pass in Nevada. My fighters sometimes can't understand the translator, too."
California is the only state requiring neurological exams of boxers. While nearly everyone in boxing lauds the commission's efforts to screen out what could be boxing-related neurological impairments, many--including some neurologists--also believe the present test isn't the proper vehicle.
In a 1987 Times story on the exam, three commission neurologists were outspoken in their criticisms of the test, and all three were fired shortly afterward by Gray.
One, Dr. Clark Espy of Los Angeles, called the exam "worthless."
He added: "But it's a start . . . the start of a consciousness that we need some kind of early-warning system to spot the kind of brain damage boxers get if they box too long."
Espy and other neurologists called for improvements in the tests that would allow for cultural, educational and language factors.
Others, like Dr. Michael Sukoff, called for required computerized axial tomography (CAT scan) tests. The present exam costs about $200, paid by promoters.
"What it comes down to is that a young boxer could pass our clinical testing and still walk out of our office with a subdural hematoma or some other type of boxing-related brain injury that we couldn't detect," said Dr. Laurence Carnay, one of the neurologists fired for criticizing the tests.
Tuesday, Gray said the test was "basically the same" as that given since testing began in 1986.
The neurological exam requirement for boxers was instituted by the legislature in 1986, the result of a bill sponsored by then-Assemblyman Art Agnos, now mayor of San Francisco.
Don Fraser, longtime Southland promoter, said the tests are right in concept, not applicable in practice.
"I like the idea of screening everyone, but the test they're using is more of an educational exam than anything else," he said.
"I lost a good kid named Johnny Tapia from Albuquerque, who was going to fight for me, a national Golden Gloves champion. But he flunked the test, went back to New Mexico. He was tested there and passed. Then he also passed the Nevada test."
The commission is the target of a lawsuit, filed a year ago by Dominican boxer Dino Colome, who had previously passed the state exam but failed it while attempting to renew his license during a Forum welterweight tournament.
Colome's lawyer, Steve Wolfson, said the boxer was examined thoroughly by other neurologists and found to be sound.
"Dino has a third-grade education; he just doesn't understand things," Wolfson said. "All he knows is boxing. This thing (the state test) ripped him to shreds. He stood to make a lot of money in California, and (the commission) took a year and a half out of his career."
For now, much of the blame for Monday's Forum close call has been pinned on Perez's manager, Nacho Huizar.
The commission's assistant executive officer, Don Muse, pointed out Monday that Huizar knew his fighter, who lives in Tijuana, had to undergo a test before he could box in California in 1990, and could have done so in nearby San Diego.