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A fight over the validity of a boxing title has resulted in a $27.86 million verdict against the sanctioning body in charge of the title. The World Boxing Council (WBC) was hit with the award, which includes $20 million in punitives, after a Manhattan federal jury determined that the group had cheated German fighter Graciano Rocchigiani out of his light-heavyweight crown. Rocchigiani, who has won 41 of his 47 professional bouts, gained the WBC title in a split decision over Michael Nunn in March 1998. The fight had been sanctioned and ratified by the WBC after Roy Jones Jr. vacated the title in a bid to move up to the heavyweight division. But that April, Jones reconsidered and returned to the light-heavyweight class, striking a deal with HBO to promote a unification bout in which he (ostensibly as WBC champ) would face World Boxing Association champ Lou Del Valle. In June, WBC President Jose Sulaiman stripped Rocchigiani of his title by declaring that the division rankings which, since the March bout, had listed Rocchigiani as the champion, contained “typographical errors.” Sulaiman claimed that Rocchigiani had only been the “interim” champion during Jones’ absence. That July, Jones defeated Del Valle and united the titles. In September 1998, Rocchigiani sued the WBC for breach of contract. Before trial, Judge Richard Owen dismissed as inauthentic a document produced by the WBC, which, in the language sanctioning Rocchigiani’s title fight, included the word “interim,” and granted the fighter’s motion for summary judgment on liability. Last week, the jury awarded compensatory damages of $7.86 million and $20 million in punitives. Plaintiff’s lawyer Richard Dolan said that although he had asked for twice the compensatory award, the jury felt that the WBC “needed to hear the drum banging a little more loudly.” The WBC’s lawyers failed to return a call seeking comment. Prejudgment interest should add another $2.3 million, Dolan said, noting that one issue remains unresolved. Rocchigiani, who is currently in a German prison for attacking a police officer, wants the court to restore his title so he can defend it in the ring. Plaintiff’s attorneys: Richard H. Dolan and Peter R. Schlam of Schlam Stone & Dolan in New York. Defense attorneys: James E. Mercante of Rubin, Fiorella & Friedman in New York, and Michael Rogoff of Kaye Scholer in New York.

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