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Keith Kizer's resignation as head of Nevada Athletic Commission creates major problem

Keith Kizer's resignation as NSAC head creates issues

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
Keith Kizer

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LAS VEGAS – Keith Kizer didn't make a lot of friends during his seven-plus years as the executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission.

It was as if many in the fight game were singing, "Ding dong, the witch is dead," late Friday only moments after word of Kizer's resignation broke.

But for all his faults, real and imagined, replacing Kizer is going to be no easy task.

Candidates are already coming out of the woodwork seeking to replace him, but commission chairman Francisco Aguilar isn't going to find a lot of qualified candidates who will also be willing to work for the money the job will pay and deal with the slew of headaches that go along with it.

Aguilar will appoint an interim executive director who will be charged with regulating UFC 170 on Feb. 22 in Las Vegas, and that's not going to be easy to do. That will be child's play, though, compared to finding a full-time replacement. It is no understatement to suggest that will be a monumental challenge.

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One of the first steps that Aguilar should take, however, is to place a telephone call to referee John McCarthy. McCarthy, endearingly known to mixed martial arts fans as "Big John," hasn't refereed in Nevada since 2007.

He's been unofficially banned after getting into a feud with Kizer. McCarthy retired briefly as a referee in 2007 to become an analyst with The Fight Network. He made comments critical of Kizer during his brief period doing television, but when the TV job didn't pan out, McCarthy returned to officiating.

But Kizer, stung by McCarthy's words, refused to hire him back when McCarthy applied in 2009. He's never considered him again.

That move made no sense, as McCarthy was and remains one of the elite MMA referees in the world, far better and more capable at the job than the likes of Steve Mazzagatti and Kim Winslow, whom Kizer regularly appointed to work Nevada shows.

McCarthy, though, may have hurt his cause on Friday after he learned of Kizer's resignation and made a post on Twitter celebrating it.

Aguilar, who desperately needs to increase the depth and quality of the judges and referees for both boxing and MMA in Nevada, is sure to look askance at McCarthy's tweet. It was hardly professional and wasn't wise, even if Kizer was wrong in refusing to re-hire him.

The challenges facing the new executive director are going to be many. He or she will have to find a way to improve the state's drug testing regimen, but will have to do so on a limited budget. Nevada's economy, which was riding high before the 2008 recession hit, is still struggling.

The state doesn't have a lot of money to spend on drug testing, even though it is critical. The new executive director will have to work with a diverse group of promoters, who have differing agendas, on strengthening the drug testing rules and increasing the funding available for it.

Obviously, the person chosen will have to have a background in both MMA and boxing. There are not a lot of those people around, and of those who meet the qualifications, it's unlikely many of them are going to be interested.

Kizer was making $95,000, but he had mandatory furlough days and a greatly reduced staff compared to his predecessor, Marc Ratner.

Ratner holds a senior management position at the UFC and is making significantly more money than he made when he was the executive director. So, too, is former commission counsel Mike Mersch, who was hired by Zuffa and is being groomed to succeed Ratner at the UFC.

The new hire will need to have a background in sports officiating. The biggest issue of Kizer's tenure was complaints about the quality of the judges and referees he appointed.

C.J. Ross was a longtime boxing judge who scored the 2012 Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley fight for Bradley in a match in which the overwhelming majority of experts who saw it favored Pacquiao.

Just a year later, though, Kizer put Ross back in the spotlight when he assigned her as one of the three judges for the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Canelo Alvarez fight in 2013. Ross blew that one, too, scoring a clear Mayweather win a draw.

She took a leave of absence a few days later and is likely done judging boxing in Nevada.

That also came back to haunt Kizer, as promoters turned up the heat on him and questioned why Kizer put her back in a major fight.

Gov. Bryan Sandoval has plenty of things on his plate as he attempts to turn the state around and he doesn't need to be taking complaints from promoters about boxing and MMA judging.

But that's what happened, and it's likely that Sandoval's intervention led to Ross's decision to step away.

On the MMA side, the new director will have to lead an effort to improve the depth and quality of the overall pool of judges. MMA is a new sport and the judging is spotty. Many of the boxing judges who have taken up the sport aren't as good at MMA judging as they need to be.

That isn't a Nevada issue, though. It's a worldwide issue. There simply aren't enough qualified MMA judges, but it's particularly important to Nevada, where attracting big crowds to boxing and MMA shows is critical to the state's tourism industry.

Plenty of promoters, media and fans celebrated Friday when word of Kizer's resignation leaked.

But if Aguilar doesn't get it right when leading the search for the commission's next executive director, those same people are going to rue the day they celebrated Kizer's departure.

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