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The World Boxing Council must give satisfaction to a German fighter whose championship status was downgraded to make way for WBC favorite Roy Jones Jr. U.S. District Senior Judge Richard Owen of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted summary judgment for Graciano Rocchigiani, finding that the WBC blatantly manipulated its ranking system for fighters, violated its own rules and breached its contract with the fighter for the council’s Light Heavyweight championship. “Although the old adage is that one should roll with the punches, the wholly arbitrary and unfair conduct of the defendant in this case would leave anyone down for the proverbial count,” Owen said in Rocchigiani v. World Boxing Council Inc., 98 Civ. 6781. The judge’s decision paves the way for a trial on damages for Rocchigiani and the possible joinder of Jones to the case. The German boxer is also asking for declaratory relief. Jones was the undisputed Light Heavyweight champion until 1997, when, in spite of WBC rules requiring him to fight the highest-rated challenger, Michael Nunn, he declined to do so. The WBC responded by ruling the title vacant and scheduling what was billed as the WBC Light Heavyweight Championship fight between Nunn and Rocchigiani in Berlin on March 21, 1998. The 12-round fight ended in a controversial split-decision, with Rocchigiani landing fewer, but harder, punches and effectively employing what one sportswriter termed a “peek-a-boo defense.” TITLE CHANGE Nunn’s handlers protested the fight, claiming that Rocchigiani’s cornermen were handed the judge’s scorecard during the bout and adjusted their strategy accordingly. For three months following the fight, the WBC trumpeted Rocchigiani as its champion, a status that would entitle him to a larger percentage of the purse and give him the right to defend his title against Jones. But in June 1998, the WBC reversed course and started referring to Rocchigiani as the “Interim Light Heavyweight Champion,” and Jones as the “Champion in Recess.” During a deposition in the lawsuit Rocchigiani filed against the council, WBC President Jose Sulaiman stated that a “typographical error” was responsible for the impression that Rocchigiani was the champion. Judge Owen noted that the WBC claimed that its board, at its annual convention in 1997, had voted that Rocchigiani and Nunn would be fighting for the “interim” title. “The minutes show that the Board voted unanimously to sanction the Rocchigiani-Nunn bout for the interim title,” Owen said. “The minutes of the 1997 Convention, however, were not finalized until October 1998 — 11 months after the Convention, seven months after the Rocchigiani-Nunn bout and one month after Rocchigiani filed this action.” CONTRACT ‘UNAMBIGUOUS’ Owen said the terms of the contract for the Rocchigiani-Nunn fight were unambiguous. “The language in the written agreement admits of only one possible interpretation: the Rocchigiani-Nunn bout was for the WBC Light Heavyweight Championship,” he said. “The word ‘interim’ is nowhere to be found within the four corners of the document.” Owen said the WBC also claimed that the Light Heavyweight Championship language in the contract was unenforceable because it only appeared in the “recital” clause. “This argument truly causes a raised eyebrow,” he said. He said the “only place” in the WBC’s standard contract form designating the nature of the bout is the preamble or recital clause, which has a blank space in which to designate the weight class. Moreover, he said, there was nothing else in the contract that indicated the fight was for “a title other than the Light Heavyweight title.” And when the WBC tried to argue that it has its own rules, incorporated by reference into the fight agreement, as well as the discretion to classify bouts, Owen was unimpressed. “These clauses, however, cannot be read as vesting the organization with the power to act nunc pro tunc and agree that a bout is for one particular title and, subsequently, unilaterally reclassify the substance of that bout by making it something else,” he said. “WBC claims to have the authority to undo that which has already been done.” Carol A. Dunning of Ross & Hardies represented Rocchigiani. Gabriel I. Penagaricano of San Juan, Puerto Rico, represented the World Boxing Council.

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