In 1997, Graciano Rocchigiani was awarded the World Boxing Council’s Light Heavyweight title. In 1998, the WBC took Mr. Rocchigiani’s title and, without any legal basis, gave it to Roy Jones, Jr. New York Daily News Columnist Tim Smith recaps Schlam Stone & Dolan’s successful efforts on Mr. Rocchigiani’s behalf, resulting in a jury verdit for Mr. Rocchigiani of $28 million. This verdict was the Verdict of the Week in the September 30, 2002, edition of the National Law Journal.
Tim Smith: Verdict Has WBC Taking It On The Chin
The party may be over for the World Boxing Council and its president, Jose Suliaman, after a Manhattan Federal Court jury awarded Graciano Rocchigiani $30 million in his lawsuit against the sanctioning organization last week.
Rocchigiani won after a jury determined that the WBC wrongfully took away the WBC light-heavyweight title from him and gave it back to Roy Jones Jr. after Jones had vacated it in 1997. Rocchigiani won the title in the ring and Jones got it back without lifting a finger.
If Rocchigiani, who lives in Germany, can collect, the $30 million could bankrupt the organization. The judgment is not final yet. If it sticks, it could have a chilling effect on the way that sanctioning organizations deal with boxers.
“I think other boxers will recognize you can stand up to these guys and decent society is ready to listen,” said attorney Richard Dolan, who along with partner Peter Schlam handled the case for Rocchigiani. “Our whole pitch to the jury was that boxing doesn’t have to be this way.”
The WBC went before a jury of people from the real world with a case based on the way business is done in the boxing world.
There was always something fishy about the way the WBC handled that light-heavyweight title with regards to Jones. Remember how Richard Frazier, the NYPD officer, came out of nowhere to land at No. 1 so Jones could fight him back in 1999? And after he lost, Frazier didn’t just drop a couple of spots. He was completely off the WBC charts.
Rocchigiani’s case dated back to 1997. Jones had relinquished the WBC title because he didn’t want to defend it against Michael Nunn. Rocchigiani and Nunn met in Germany for the vacant title. After Rocchigiani won, Suliaman sent him letters congratulating him on winning the title. He was even listed in publications as the WBC light-heavyweight champ. Suliaman said those were “typographical errors.”
It was only after Jones decided that he wanted to fight WBA champ Lou Del Valle in a unification match in 1998 that the WBC snatched the title from Rocchigiani and gave it to Jones and slapped an interim champ label on Rocchigiani.
One juror said the jury decided to increase the award to Rocchigiani because “we have to bang the drum a little louder because when it comes to honesty, they (the WBC) are hard of hearing.”
The WBC does a lot of business in the U.S. Dolan said his firm will use the usual legal means to collect, such as filing judgments in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, where the WBC rakes in sanctioning fees.
“The message here is that business as usual is yesterday’s news,” Dolan said.
Ought to be a law: The Professional Boxing Amendments Act of 2002 made it out of the Senate Commerce Committee last week. It now has to pass the full Senate and the House and be signed into law by the President. Unless it has the teeth to clamp down and punish wrongdoers that it uncovers, untangle the many conflicts that exist in the sport and compile a pool of qualified judges and referees, it is useless. . . . British junior welterweight Ricky Hatton (29-0, 23 KOs) meets Stephen Smith (31-1, 17 KOs) in a 12-round WBU title match in Manchester, England, on ShoBox on Saturday at 5 p.m. WBU middleweight champ Ruben Groenewald (18-2-3, 6 KOs) meets Anthony Farnell (29-2, 20 KOs) in the co-feature. . . . Word out of London is that Prince Naseem Hamed is ready to end his hiatus. He could be back in shape for a rematch next year against Marco Antonio Barrera, who meets Johnny Tapia on Nov. 2 in Las Vegas. . . . Newark super middleweight prospect Jerson Ravelo (11-0, 8 KOs) will meet George Walton (11-1, 7 KOs) on ShoBox from the University of South Florida in Tampa on Oct. 5. . . . Light-heavyweight contender George Khalid Jones (18-1, 13 KOs) takes on Montell Griffin (43-3, 28 KOs) in a 12-rounder on Nov. 3 in Temecula, Calif. It will be rebroadcast on Fox Sports Net.
[Reproduced with permission from the New York Daily News, September 25, 2002. Copyright © 2002 Daily News, L.P. Reproduction of this material without permission from Daily News, L.P. is prohibited.]