James Weber of Brighton recently was named chairman of the Michigan Unarmed Combat Commission, which regulates boxing and mixed martial arts in Michigan.
Weber, the 44-year-old father of two young girls and the chief medical officer at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, says he'll work with promoters and the state to attract big fights to Michigan. One of the first will be Jan. 30, when the Palace hosts its first professional MMA event under the auspices of the Impact Fight League
Free Press boxing writer Mike Brudenell spent time with Weber, a former club fighter and ski instructor.
Q: Why did you accept the job?
A: I'm tired of seeing many of our former fight idols destitute and in a state of poverty. These people didn't become champions overnight. They had to work hard at it for years. I want to make sure our current and future fighters have sufficient health insurance in the ring and opportunities after retirement. Safety is an important issue for me. As an emergency physician in a Level 1 trauma center and longtime ring doctor, I know about head injuries firsthand. I want to improve our research into boxing and how we can help fighters.
Q: You had some club fights. Why did you climb into the ring?
A: I wanted to taste leather. My dream was to one day sit in the chair as commissioner, but I wanted to know what it was like to fight -- get inside the head of these warriors. I got my butt whipped, but I learned a lot. I feel honored now to follow in the footsteps of former commissioners like the great Chuck Davey and Al Low.
Q: Who has influenced you in boxing?
A: Joe Byrd Sr., father of Chris, former heavyweight champion from Flint. I hung around Joe's gym in the '90s, and I constantly picked Joe's brain. I'm like a sponge. I absorb everything. Chris, I've watched, looked after and learned much from him, too.
Q: Boxing and MMA: different sports with different fans. Can you wear two hats?
A: My goal is to do what I can to represent and advance both sports, without either taking precedence. I want to see boxing resurrected in this state -- seduce the big fights we once had at Olympia, Cobo and Joe Louis Arena back to the Detroit area. I also see pro MMA shows here as a silver lining for Michigan. I think they can be a home run economically for the state.
Q: What's your pet hate in the fight game?
A: Mismatches. They really bother me.
Q: What do you bring to the table as commissioner?
A: My ability to work behind the scenes. I think I bring a scientific and administrative skill set to the job, too. But in the end, I'm prepared to run through a brick wall to get the job done.
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