When Harry Meshel served as president of the Ohio Senate, he was the driving force behind establishing the Ohio Boxing Commission, the regulatory arm of the state that would oversee its many statewide ring events.
The charge to its first director, Blackie Gennaro, and both House and Senate representatives was not only to regulate, but also eliminate and monitor any unwelcomed outside interference.
That was the late 1970s. While boxing has remained the commission’s main focus, a rise over the years of unarmed combat sports has kept the commission busy as it continues to enforce rules and play watchdog to the safety of its many participants.
For that reason, the Ohio Athletic Commission was created in 1984 to replace the state’s boxing commission whereby it would regulate not only boxing, but wrestling, kick-boxing, karate and tough man competitions held throughout the state.
The agency carries out its mission by setting standards for licensure of individuals, granting permits and conducting events which are then sanctioned by the commission.
Safety, however, remains the commission’s main concern according to director Bernie Profato.
“Our main objective is to look out for the safety and well-being of those who compete in our many events,” Profato said. “Rules are secondary and put into place for the fighters, but safety still remains our primary focus and concern.
“With a 20-member medical panel providing much needed feedback, we’re pointed in the right direction. Ohio remains one of three states considered as the model for which other state commissions should follow.”
Profato said that Dr. John Bergman, one of the nation’s top ringside physicians, has called New Jersey, Nevada and Ohio’s commissions the three best when it comes to protecting its fighters.
“We needed to raise our standards in Ohio,” Profato said. “Boxing was dying due to mismatched pairings and I have always believed that if you give the public quality, then quantity will come.
“A loss in MMA [mixed martial arts] is just another fight while in boxing it can be devastating for the fighter. We wanted parity in order to restore credibility and respectability.”
Profato explained that skill level, experience and weight are three prime factors when pairing fighters.
He also said that before a fighter can obtain a license to fight in Ohio, he or she must clear several other obstacles as well.
“Fighters must produce negative HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C results, as well as a dilated eye exam and it must be done in our offices,” Profato said. “If over 35, then an MRI brain scan is necessary before we can issue a license.
“Several years ago, four promoters were suspended for life because they were providing us with false reports,” Profato said. “The three blood tests, which cost $99, are well worth the investment and not worth the risk. Fighters actually wanted this because they realize it is for their protection.”
When Profato assumed directorship of the commission in 2004, his office was regulating 18 events per year.
Last year alone, the OAC sanctioned 132 events due to added competitions.
The commission’s team, which includes staffers Judy McCarty and Marilynne Houy, will not license anyone under 18 and does not get involved in the juvenile part of unarmed combat sports.
They also make sure that those older than 35 have fought three times in Masters Division action before qualifying to fight a mainstream opponent.
“The commission sees a little bit of everything, but for the most part everyone wants rules by which to abide,” Profato said. “We’ve improved since my first day on the job and continue to do so every day, while no less than 20 states have adopted our amateur and MMA rules.
“The state of Michigan even asked us to testify to their legislature regarding our MMA rules.
“We don’t tell them how to do it, opting instead to just show them what we are doing and let them decide for themselves.”
Profato is pleased with what the commission has accomplished and regulated during his leadership.
“Throughout the state we are blessed with some excellent MMA fighters and boxers, as well as promoters,” Profato said. “Everything they do has an impact on the local economy and that is a good thing.”
Profato fought in the local Golden Gloves in the early 1960s and was a police officer in Trumbull County.
“My police mentality tells me that I’d rather see gloves on their hands than a gun in their hand,” he said.
Rules and forms for prospective fighters, as well as fighters’ records and past event results can be obtained by visiting the commission’s website at www.aco.ohio.gov.
Greg Gulas writes about boxing for The Vindicator.