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Old 08-12-2003, 01:07 AM
Louis Cypher Louis Cypher is offline
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Default Fighter's death raises countless questions

Monday, August 11

Associated Press

Brad Rone took his last fight so he could have enough money to attend his mother's funeral. He ended up being buried next to her, in matching cream-colored coffins.

Rone died last month in an outdoor ring in a small Utah town, where fans yelled at him to get up after he collapsed late in the first round. A punch didn't kill him, but you could say boxing did.

The portly 34-year-old heavyweight held assorted jobs but made his real living being what is known in the sport as an opponent, someone who could be counted on for a few rounds against a local favorite or an up-and-coming fighter.

He wasn't supposed to win, and he rarely did. Rone had lost 26 straight when he got into the ring that night against Billy Zumbrun, a Utah fighter of little note who beat Rone a few months earlier.

He was there for an $800 payday, money he wanted to use to get to Cincinnati for the funeral of his mother, who died of a heart attack a day earlier.

Instead, Rone's life came to an end at the Cedar Raceway Park, where a temporary boxing ring had been erected for a night of four fights in Cedar City. In between fights, motocross riders kept the sparse crowd entertained on the raceway's dirt track.

Rone never seemed to get hit by a telling punch before collapsing. Preliminary results revealed he may have died of a heart problem that he might have just as easily suffered running the bases in a pickup softball game.

Rone's death, though, begs the obvious questions, even if getting hit in the head didn't kill him: What was a guy who was 0-27-1 in his last 28 fights -- he had an undocumented record of 7-41-3 -- doing in the ring? And what can be done to keep other Brad Rones who crisscross the country in search of fights from risking their lives for a few hundred dollars?

"He was just a sparring partner type of guy," said Marc Ratner, executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission. "I didn't even know he was still fighting."

That goes to the heart of one of the biggest problems in a sport with a lot of big problems. Ratner is perhaps the sport's most respected figure, an administrator who genuinely cares for fighters and isn't afraid to stop those he thinks might get hurt.

It doesn't always work. Last year, Pedro Alcazar died during a title fight on the Las Vegas Strip.

But Rone was banned from fighting in Nevada three years ago. He lived in Las Vegas, sparred at local gyms, but had to go on the road to get a fight.

"I can't put guys with those kind of records in fights and I don't," Ratner said.

Rone traveled with gusto, going as far as Germany and Denmark to get fights. This year alone he fought in Idaho, Utah, Oklahoma and twice in California.

Boxing regulators in those states knew his record, yet allowed him to fight. In California, they made him take a physical and neurological exam and he was tested for HIV and hepatitis before being licensed. In Utah, he passed a pre-fight physical.

Rone's last fight took place less than 50 miles from the Nevada border, against a guy he had just fought and a guy he knew he wouldn't beat. Rone had been fighting for 14 years, but the last time he won a fight was when he beat Kevin Rosier in a four-round decision at a Michigan casino in 1999.

Rone never really had any promise as a fighter. He started in 1989 as a 173-pounder and lost his first four bouts. He was knocked out in three of them, two of those in the first round.

When Rone died, he was 86 pounds heavier, a big teddy bear kind of guy who was so distracted by his mother's death that he forgot to bring his boxing socks when he drove up from Las Vegas for the fight.

Zumbrun would later tell people Rone lacked his usual strength. The two were opponents, but they were also friends.

In the last seconds of the first round, Zumbrun hit Rone with a punch that seemed to do no damage. The bell rang and before Rone could reach his corner, he crumpled to the canvas.

The ring doctor couldn't find a pulse. He tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while another doctor pounded on his chest.

It was no use. Rone was already dead.

Rone's July 18 death came at a time when U.S. Sen. John McCain is pushing legislation to form a federal boxing commission to oversee the sport. A few days after he died, the General Accounting Office issued a report saying the lack of consistency among state commissions does not assure boxers of being protected.

A national commission could have protected Rone by taking a look at his record and not allowing him to fight. He might have died anyway, but not in the ring.

Ironically, Rone accomplished something by dying that he couldn't do while boxing. Because he died, the fight was ruled a no contest.

His losing streak ended at 26 fights.
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