His cell phone rings and 73-year-old Joe Gamache jumps to answer it. He heard the worst news last week. Maybe the next call will bring good news.

Or maybe Gamache’s fabled optimism will be tested.

He was promoting a professional fight card for June 19 at the Lewiston Multi-Purpose Center. Make that a family and friends fight card. Grandson Stephen, trained by his father Joey, was to make his pro debut. Grandson Ryan, already a pro, was on the card. Maybe grandson Jeffery, if an injured hand healed in time to begin sparring.

John Webster, a 40-something Portland bricklayer who had fought so many amateur fights for the elder Gamache that he might have been called family, was coming out of retirement one more time. Johnny Bos, the flamboyant manager and matchmaker who guided Joey Gamache to world lightweight championships, was returning to match the fighters.

Old times, again. Good times. Then State Rep. Matt Peterson made his own phone call. Who’s overseeing this fight card? The Maine Athletic Commission was dismantled nearly three years ago by the legislature for lack of business or interest, all in the name of cost-cutting.

“I’m not looking for trouble,” said Gamache, who believes Peterson was simply making a phone call and not the bad guy. “I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. But how did this happen?”

No one stood up for professional boxing three years ago. Gamache was distracted by his fight with cancer. Last year, when Peterson pushed for the creation of the state’s Mixed Martial Arts Authority to regulate that sport, he was surprised no one appeared at hearings to advocate for professional boxing.

The five members of the Mixed Martial Arts Authority have been appointed by Gov. John Baldacci. They are in the midst of creating rules, regulations and guidelines. Professional boxing could have taken a place under the group’s umbrella.

“In hindsight, it would have been great to include boxing,” said Peterson. “But no one said anything.”

After it was reported in the Lewiston Sun Journal late last week that Gamache may have to cancel his fight card, people contacted Peterson. “It was pretty much the same: How do we solve this problem?” he said.

Peterson asked the Mixed Martial Arts Authority to appeal to the state Attorney General for an emergency waiver to regulate this one fight card for Gamache. Permission was denied.

“The AG’s office said it was not within (the new authority’s) purview, that this required legislative action.”

The legislature is not in session. Gamache may have to wait months, if not a year.

“At my age, I may not have that time,” said Gamache, who is more the proud patriarch than businessman. Which isn’t to say he didn’t see a little money coming back at him when the gate receipts were counted. The state always got its 5 percent of the gate.

He’s a stubborn man who has defended his turf with a ferocity that has alienated other promoters over the years. That’s why the sport of boxing in Maine has rarely spoken with a unified voice.

Amateur boxing survives. If proceeds from a fight program are dedicated to a charity or nonprofit organization, fights can take place. Bobby Russo’s Portland Boxing Club was established as a nonprofit. His fighters who turn professional, such as Jason LeHoullier and Jorge Abiague, fight outside Maine.

“It’s a shame,” said Webster. “Look at all the boxing history in this state. Portland used to be the busiest fight town (nearly 50 years ago.) I loved being part of it when I fought.

“Hey, you climb into the ring, get a black eye, break someone’s nose, see a little blood. It was fun on a Saturday night.

“I fought on Joey’s undercards and I wanted to fight on his son’s undercard. It would have been an honor. I wanted to go out a winner, leaving the ring with my hands in the air.”

Webster always fought with his heart. Joey Gamache did, too. Their talent separated them, but not their passion. That’s what many fans paid to see what seems a long a time ago.

“Our intention was to bring back pro boxing,” said Joe Gamache, who belatedly realizes he has a different fight on his hands. “I hope this works out.”

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]