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Woman Dies in Toughman Fight

Aired June 18, 2003 - 10:25   ET


LEON HARRIS, ANCHOR: We want to turn our attention back to that case we talked about in Florida awhile ago. Police are investigating now a Toughman competition that led to the death of a young mother.
Police are saying that Stacy Young was severely beaten by a female opponent Saturday night, this during an amateur boxing bout. She was declared brain dead and taken off life support yesterday.

It was Young's first fight. Her husband says that she had decided to take part in the competition after being told that she would not get hurt if she went in.

Now Young is not the first to die in a Toughman fight. About 100 contests are held across the country every year, and in the last nine months, at least three other people have died after battling it out in the ring.

Joining us now to talk more about this story and the Toughman contest, and the inherent dangers, is Fred Girard. He's an investigative reporter for the "Detroit News." He's been following competitions since earlier in this year when a Toughman fighter was killed in Michigan.

Also joining us this morning is A.J. Verel. He is a professional fighter himself who's competed in lots of different fights at different levels, Toughman bouts as well, and served as a referee in Toughman bouts.

Good to see you gentlemen this morning.

Fred, let's start with you. You've been looking into this for quite some time now. What's going on here? Is this something that is more dangerous than we were led to believe it is?

FRED GIRARD, "DETROIT NEWS": Unquestionably, Leon.

When the "Detroit News" ran a major investigation into Toughman on May the 18th, we discovered that a dozen people have been killed and five are living with devastating brain injuries since Art Dore, who is from Bay City, Michigan, invented this blood sport 24 years ago.

You'll be interested to know that Art Dore finally has gotten the message and he told me late yesterday that for the foreseeable future, no more Toughman. He has canceled all 86 matches he had coming up over the next year, a national pay-per-view finals. It's going to cost him over a million dollars, but four people are dead now in the past ten months alone in Toughman fights, and Art Dore says, "We have to find out what's going on here."

HARRIS: That is news to us to hear that Art Dore has decided to go and cancel that.

A.J., is this the first you've heard of that, as well? Because I know Art has said in the past that Toughman competitions is perhaps the safest form of all kinds of boxing.

A.J. VEREL, TOUGHMAN REFEREE: Yes it is. This is the first time I've heard about it, Leon, and good morning.

Yes, I was unaware of that statement that he made, but I surely look forward to what reviews they're going to do and what they're going to look into about that.

HARRIS: Do you think it's necessary at this point, A.J.? Do you think that despite this brand of fighting is inherently too dangerous now for just anyone without any special, formal training like you have, to step into a ring?

VEREL: Well, I'll tell you what. Any time you step into a ring, any time you step into any sport that there's contact, it becomes an inherently dangerous event. And with that, I mean, you look at the safety precautions that be are place, and how you can provide better safety for the athletes who are competing.

HARRIS: All right. Well, how about that, Fred? You've been -- quite an intensive look at these fights and the whole system around them. What did you find when you look at the different precautions taken and are arranged for? For instance, doctors, ring doctors, that sort of thing?

GIRARD: I found them darn near non-existent, to tell you the truth, Leon.

The sport is terribly poorly regulated, which is a point of pride with Art Dore. He says it's 100 percent amateur. These people pay him a $50 entrance fee to get in and there is no cash prize in almost all of these events. These people are fighting for a jacket or a trophy.

Ring doctors are whoever Art Dore says they are. In two of the deaths I researched, the only ring doctor present was a chiropractor. When this woman died in Sarasota, Florida, on Saturday there was no doctor of any kind present. There was a physician's assistant, she was called.

HARRIS: A.J., does that sound like the kind of thing that you've seen when you've refereed these bouts?

VEREL: I mean, I've worked with -- I obviously do quite a few shows with Toughman, but I've always worked with a medical doctor. I've worked closely with the same doctors over the past few years and in many different states. They were well qualified.

And as far as not having a doctor, I have never been involved with an event myself where there wasn't one present.

HARRIS: Very interesting. Do you think -- A.J., let me ask you this, since you happen to be ringside at most of these fights. Do these people, in your estimation, really know that they can step in this ring and die?

VEREL: Well, actually, yes they do, Leon. I mean, it's actually in the waiver in their physical form that they go through with the doctor, with the promoters. And it is something that is actually in my speech as the referee when I'm briefing the fighters on the rules of the event. It is listed many times in there that they can have serious injury occur from participating in this event, resulting in possibly death.

So I mean, it is something that they do sign off on many times.

HARRIS: Well, Fred, how about this, if all of this is the case and if they can have fights where the ring doctors is actually a chiropractor, how come we don't see states lining up to regulate against this sort of thing? As I understand it, maybe only a handful of states do. And your state, actually, Michigan, protects Toughman fights.

GIRARD: That's exactly right. There's a special law here in Michigan, passed by a friend of Art Dore's, a former state senator, that exempts Toughman here from oversight by the state boxing regulators.

In most other states, Art Dore has a smorgasbord of ways that he avoids regulation. And most common is by claiming his sport is totally amateur and thus not in any way subject to jurisdiction. Also, he is very fond of placing these events in casinos that are on Indian reservations. There, he says, they have their own rules and they don't have any rules. And Toughman can do whatever it wants.

All of this, I think, is on the cusp of a great change. There are movements in Oregon and Washington and now in Florida to more totally and exhaustively enact bans against this brutal and inhumane sport.

HARRIS: Well, those rules may be obviated, no doubt, by...

VEREL: I'd say that's very strong to say "brutal and inhumane"...

HARRIS: Quickly, if you could.

VEREL: ... on that, Leon. I mean, especially -- it is an amateur event. It's followed by all state guidelines as what they regulate as an amateur event. The fact that they pay an entrance fee is taking care of other fees, such as the ring doctor, the physicals that they're provided with, the equipment that they're using. The fact that they just receive a jacket or a trophy is no different than any of the other amateur sports or boxing matches regulated by other boxing commissions. HARRIS: Well, we're going to have to leave it there, gentlemen. Fred Girard, A.J. Verel, thank you very much for your time this morning.

GIRARD: My pleasure.

HARRIS: ... see where this story leads down the road and then perhaps Art Dore saying that this is the last fight. Could be the last one. Thanks, gentlemen.


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