Las Vegas Sun

October 25, 2014

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Ex-Top Rank figure had checkered past

Oklahoma Department of Labor commissioner Brenda Reneau Wynn didn't mince words Tuesday when asked about fellow longtime Sooner State resident Sean Gibbons.

"Ugh," she said emphatically.

Reneau Wynn paused when pressed to elaborate.

"No," she said. "I wouldn't want to."

Gibbons, who worked under primary Top Rank, Inc., matchmaker Bruce Trampler, became the first figure to emerge from the shadows when promoter and manager Bob Arum's Top Rank empire recently became a target of scrutiny.

On Jan. 6, a 20-month undercover sting, dubbed "Operation Match Book," resulted in 16 agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation raiding Top Rank's headquarters on Howard Hughes Parkway.

Via a sealed search warrant, those agents seized computers, medical records, fight tapes, contracts and other financial documents.

Neither the FBI nor the New York Police Department, which provided an undercover ace dubbed "Frankie Manzione" to spearhead Match Book, have revealed their objectives, and indictments reportedly could be made by May.

Six days after the FBI stormed Top Rank's offices, Arum fired Gibbons in a move that Arum did not explain. Top Rank officials have been instructed by legal counsel not to comment.

Gibbons, 37, has not responded to a Sun reporter who has made multiple visits to his Silver Oak neighborhood residence, left messages on his home telephone and sent him a formal request letter, all seeking an interview.

Gibbons, who had served as a matchmaker or promoter in more than 150 fight cards in Oklahoma since 1985, had accepted an offer from Top Rank and moved to Las Vegas in 1998.

What else is known about Gibbons, known by various boxing insiders as "Buddy Holly" or "The Oklahoma Meat Packer," is that the list of allegations against him seems to stretch as long as the Oklahoma panhandle.

Born in Long Beach, Calif., according to the 2003 matchmaker application that he filled out for the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Gibbons likely was steered toward the sweet science by uncle Pat O'Grady, and O'Grady's son Sean.

Pat and Jean O'Grady had moved from Texas to Oklahoma City in 1969. In 1980, Sean O'Grady won the United States Boxing Association lightweight championship by beating Gonzallo Montellano in Omaha, Neb. He retired in '83 with a record of 81-5.

Gibbons also fought, as a light heavyweight under the nickname "The Match Maker," although his record is questionable. Boxrec.com, a noted online resource to which many reputable boxing websites link, has Gibbons at 0-3-2 on the canvas between 1987-96.

By far, his most famous match took place in Davie, Fla., on Sept. 8, 1994, against tough-guy actor Mickey Rourke. It ended in a three-round draw and finished Rourke's pugilistic career at 6-0-2.

However, the Daily Oklahoman reported on Aug. 24, 1994, that Gibbons, as a late fill-in, had won a six-round decision against John Wesley Hardin the previous day in Louisville, improving Gibbons' professional record to a dubious 11-3-2.

"I just came in from a Green Day concert in Dallas and honestly was in no shape," Gibbons told the paper. "I figured the guy was going to kill me."

Gibbons probably learned an abundance of the business side of boxing from Pat O'Grady, a noted promoter and manager who trained his own son and died at the age of 60, in 1988, from complications from pneumonia.

Some in Sooner State boxing circles, and rings, called Gibbons by the name of the legendary rocker he resembled.

"You called him Buddy Holly," said Joe Miller, administrator for the Oklahoma Professional Boxing Commission. "If you ever looked at him, that's what he looks like."

In January 1997, the Oklahoma Department of Labor discussed preliminary findings of a six-month, five-state investigation into the state of the sport in Oklahoma to the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration.

A month later, the final version of investigator W.A. "Skip" Nicholson's 126-page report alleged that Pat O'Grady used a multiname scheme, in which supposedly lesser-skilled fighters fought under various names, to enhance Sean's record.

"Yeah, the same Mexican with 12 different names," Indianapolis promoter Fred Berns reportedly told Nicholson. "That's pretty much where that originated -- old Pat. He'd bring in these illegals, then call Immigration on them so he didn't have to pay them."

Gibbons denied those allegations.

"Pat O'Grady's reputation in this state is impeccable," he told the Daily Oklahoman. "He's a legend ... it's very easy to speak ill about the dead, especially when the dead can't speak. To try and drag Sean and Pat's name into this report is ludicrous."

Gibbons' name was all over the report, which Nicholson entitled "Allegations of Fraud and Other Corruption in Professional Boxing."

Noted author and boxing columnist Katherine Dunn dubbed Gibbons the "Oklahoma Meat Packer."

"(Meat packers) specialize in providing guaranteed losers in all sizes," Dunn wrote in the publication PDXS in 1997, an article in which she referred to Nicholson's report.

"Oklahoma state boxing regulators reported that an Oklahoma meat packer named Sean Gibbons ... ran a revolving stable of bad-to-mediocre boxers who traveled the Midwest pretending to fight each other under phony names, creating fraudulent wins for fictitious fighters with 'respectable' records."

Boxers using at least one other alias (sometimes three) and Social Security number, fraud, forgery and fight fixing are other allegations the Nicholson report pins on Gibbons.

In one example, Michael Smith, an Oklahoma fighter with an 0-11 record who was serving a 10-year sentence on a drug-related conviction when the report was released, told Nicholson of more than one Gibbons-requested dive.

Gibbons' association with Verdell Smith, and at least one of his fights, was one of the many relationships that Nicholson scrutinized in his report.

Gibbons said he was targeted because he helped to "expose" former administrator Jim Hall.

"So they present a one-sided, biased report," Gibbons told the Daily Oklahoman, "(in which) they use convicted drug addicts and felons to make me look bad."

The Nicholson report soon wound up in the hands of Sens. Richard Bryan (D-Nev.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), who implored that its details should be "of significant concern to federal law enforcement authorities" in a two-page letter to then-Attorney General Janet Reno.

Bryan could not be reached for comment Tuesday, and McCain did not return calls seeking comment about the aftermath of that '97 effort.

"(Bryan and McCain) tried to do the right thing ... unfortunately, I think they faced on the federal level what I met on the state level," Reneau Wynn said. "There are too many people involved who would, basically, have to tell on themselves or admit that they're doing wrong.

"They're not going to do that."

Meanwhile, Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Marc Ratner said a list of allegations, no matter how long or deep, has no bearing on a fighter, promoter or matchmaker receiving a license under his watch.

"They're allegations," Ratner said. "Nothing has ever been proven. There's nothing there. (Gibbons) has done what he's supposed to do -- help make matches. If we had to worry about allegations without any proof ... I just can't work that way."

Applicants pay a $100 fee for a license, on which they are asked about ever being convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, ever being disciplined by any athletic commission for any cause and about having financial interest in a boxer.

Ratner said each application is taken "at face value," that he has neither the time nor the staff to review, in detail, each of the 1,600 to 1,900 applications that his office fields annually.

He reiterated that nothing untoward has ever been proven about the man sometimes known as Buddy Holly and sometimes as the Oklahoma Meat Packer, who is now looking for work.

"He is a matchmaker," Ratner said. "He's facilitated getting medicals, getting fighters to weigh-ins and doing what we need to do to make the fights go smoother."

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