AUGUSTA – Joey Gamache, the former boxing champion from Lewiston, told a legislative committee Thursday that state law should be changed to allow professional fights again in Maine.

“I support professional boxing for what it’s done for me,” he said. “We need our fighters to have a chance.”

Gamache, who won the World Boxing Association’s super featherweight title in 1991 and its lightweight title in 1992, was one of several boxers and gym owners who testified in support of L.D. 889, which would expand the state’s Mixed Martial Arts Authority so it can oversee boxing.

The state disbanded its boxing commission in 2007. Renewed interest prompted Rep. Matt Peterson, D-Rumford, to sponsor legislation to bring it back.

“Combat sports like mixed martial arts and boxing have many fans in Maine,” he told members of the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee.

The only opposition to the bill came from Dr. Robert McAfee, a former president of the American Medical Association, who said injuries caused by repeated blows to the head often don’t show their full effects until later in life.

“When we first began to peer into the brain with a CAT scan … we began to see the tremendous damage done,” he said.

He cited Muhammad Ali, who has Parkinson’s disease, as an example of what happens to boxers as they age. McAfee spoke of “pugilistic dementia” and concussions. He noted that it’s illegal in Maine for dogs and cocks to fight, and urged the committee to reject the measure.

McAfee said there is no other sport in which the sole object is to injure the opponent. He said large crowds are drawn to such events “for the same reason the Roman Coliseum filled up.”

In response, Rep. Frederick Wintle, a Republican committee member from Garland, defended the sport.

“This is a love of mankind and, yes, the Romans did the same thing,” he said. “They were proving they were men.”

Throughout the hearing, there were references to major fights that had been held in Maine, including Ali’s defeat of Sonny Liston in Lewiston in 1965.

The lawmakers were particularly impressed with Gamache, with Rep. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, telling him it was “a privilege to be this close to you” and Rep. Kerri Prescott, R-Topsham, asking for an autograph after the hearing.

Supporters emphasized the economic benefits — particularly income from hotel rooms and meals — that would come with professional bouts. Bill Whitten, Cumberland County’s assistant manager, said boxing would help bring more events to the civic centers in Portland and Bangor.

To counter comments by McAfee, Ken Wyman, a trainer from Stockton Springs, told the committee that he fought 36 amateur fights and never suffered a serious injury. But an injury he sustained while bird hunting forced him to have a hand amputated. He said people get hurt all the time, in various ways.

After the hearing, Jon Webster, former boxer from Portland, said boxing is a way out for kids who live in tough neighborhoods. “It kept me out of the drugs and the gangs on the streets,” he said.

The committee is scheduled to vote on the bill next week.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

[email protected]