Commentary

Running the NAC is no easy task, but Kizer makes the best of it

Imagine combat sports without rules and regulations. One word sums it up: Chaos. Who oversees the doctors, the administrators and everyone else assigned to keep an eye on the fight game in Nevada? Keith Kizer.

Originally Published: February 27, 2008
By Royce Feour | ESPN.com

Floyd Mayweather and Ricky HattonEthan Miller/Getty ImagesWho can keep a room full of egos like this in check? Keith Kizer can.
One of the toughest jobs in sports is following someone who was a legitimate legend in his field -- succeeding a legendary major league baseball player, a great college basketball coach like John Wooden or one of the best-ever quarterbacks like Joe Montana, for example.

When Marc Ratner left his position as executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission in 2006, he was rightfully hailed as an iconic boxing regulator.

Talk about a tough assignment. Succeeding Ratner was indeed a tough act to follow.

Fortunately for the state of Nevada, it had a well-qualified person to replace Ratner in Keith Kizer, who had been the chief legal counsel to the athletic commission.

Although Kizer was well qualified, he must have worried about facing the daunting challenge of trying to follow Ratner's footsteps. Didn't he?

"I see it the other way around," Kizer said. "If you are looking for a mentor in boxing, who else would you want than Marc Ratner? I felt good about it."

Keith Kizer
NSACKizer succeeded Ratner as executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission in 2006.
Why does it matter so much who succeeded Ratner?

The position of executive director of the Nevada commission is significant because the NAC generally is considered the best athletic commission in the world. It regulates the most major boxing cards and major mixed martial arts fights.

According to Ratner, Kizer has the best regulatory job in the world.

Kizer had worked in the Nevada Attorney General's office and was the chief deputy attorney general, serving as the chief legal counsel to not only the athletic commission, but also the all-important Nevada Gaming Commission and Nevada Gaming Control Board.

"I probably dealt with Marc on a daily basis," Kizer said. "I went to a lot of weigh-ins, fights and organizational meetings."

Kizer, of course, was also present for the regular meetings of the five-member commission.

"Marc was a great mentor," he said. "The only thing I wasn't involved with was the selection of officials and the approval of the fights. Everything else, he let me learn."

The people around Kizer, like office staffers Sandy Johnson, Colleen Patchin, Barbara Barcenas and Deisi Negron, certainly made the adjustment easier as well.

"They are the main reason the transition from Marc to me went so well," Kizer said.

Kizer moved to Las Vegas 16 years ago to escape the frigid Midwest winters.

He graduated from Valparaiso University in 1988 with a major in political science. He received his law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1991.

Kizer's mettle, as well as his patience, were put to the test right off the bat.

The first weigh-in he oversaw after taking over for Ratner was when Jose Luis Castillo tipped the scales -- literally -- in June 2006.

[+] EnlargeJose Luis Castillo
AP Photo/Jae C. HongYou read that right, "El Temible," you just missed the super lightweight limit by five pounds.
"Jose Luis Castillo came in approximately five pounds overweight after being warned by the full commission a few months earlier that they would not tolerate him signing for a fight for which he could not make weight," Kizer said.

Castillo was fined $250,000 and suspended for the remainder of the year.

Looking back, Kizer realized that his initiation as commissioner may not have been all that strange.

"Ratner's first [major]fight card as executive director included the Bowe-Holyfield rematch, where "Fan Man" flew into the ring [via parachute], so maybe such peculiarity is par for the course."

After almost two years, the toughest part of Kizer's job is approving or rejecting fights. He often turns down one or two matches per fight card on the bout sheet by matchmakers.

Matchmakers, of course, usually want to get the easiest possible approvable fight for their fighters, especially for their prospects.

Since matchmakers often try to pad their fighters' records, Kizer looks closely at the "opponents" based on three criteria: Their overall record, how they have performed recently and how many times they have been knocked out.

Kizer readily concedes that Ratner had a wealth of experience in applying this criteria and that he was instructed and influenced largely by Ratner.

Still, there are differences.

"I have a legal background," Kizer said. "I [tend to] see things as a lawyer. Sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes it's not. I'm a little less trusting than Marc."

Kizer is proud of the staff of referees, judges, inspectors and ringside physicians that the Nevada commission has and is confident in their capabilities.

"There are always things we learn from each other," he said. "I give them a lot of deference. They're the experts. We all have our own strengths. We always use Nevada doctors and referees."

Ratner and the current and former chairmen of the Nevada commission praise Kizer as a highly qualified successor.

"I'm very proud of Kizer," Ratner said. "It was a seamless transition. He had the legal knowledge I never possessed. He knew the major players -- the promoters and the fighters. In under two years, he's become one the best regulators in the world."

Jim Nave is regarded as the best commission chairman Nevada has ever had. Simply put, no one is better at judging the qualifications of an executive director than Nave.

"Marc Ratner was a legend," Nave said. "He was considered to be the best executive director. Any time you follow someone like that, that's very difficult."

Nave compared the situation to following Wooden or former Alabama football coach Bear Bryant.

"Following Marc was a very difficult job," Nave said. "Saying that, Keith Kizer is doing an excellent job. The state of Nevada is very fortunate to have someone like Kizer who was mentored by Marc. Keith is a good friend of Marc and has Marc's counseling any time he wants it."

Current Nevada commission chairman John Bailey said the commission knew it would be a difficult task to find someone who had the background in boxing as well as the administrative skills to replace Ratner.

"Despite the fact that Marc clearly put a positive impact on the regulation of boxing both in Nevada and worldwide, Kizer has done a tremendous job following in Marc's footsteps," Bailey said. "He's demonstrated the appropriate temperament and intellect that the commission must have in an executive director to properly meet the responsibility to regulate unarmed combat in Nevada."

Former commission chairman Dr. Tony Alamo Jr. said Kizer was the right man to select for three reasons. Kizer's legal background and his close work with the previous commissioner were the primary two.

But there's a third reason Kizer's services are priceless in Nevada: He's mixed martial arts-savvy.

"Kizer was a fan of not just boxing but mixed martial arts well before it was sanctioned in the state of Nevada," Alamo said. I was impressed with Keith's knowledge base of MMA before it was sanctioned."

Alamo summed it up best: Ratner may have left a huge void for the commission, but it was lucky to have Kizer to fill it.

Royce Feour was the boxing writer for 37 years at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.