On the morning of January 14, 2021, the boxing promoter Greg Cohen sat for a deposition in an investment fraud lawsuit brought to him by a former employee. The plaintiff, a boxing fan named Clifford Mass, stated in a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that he had sunk $250,000 into Cohen’s coffers, on the agreement that he would receive future points on an “event-by-event basis” and a salary, neither of which, Mass claimed, ever materialized. Mass, in short, wanted his money back plus interest.
The hours-long grilling session, held via Zoom, was an attempt to trace a portrait of Cohen’s business practices in the sport, primarily through his eponymous promotional company Greg Cohen Promotions. Heavyweight contender Jarrell Miller, middleweight Rob Brant, and former junior middleweight titlist Austin Trout are a few of the notable names that have fought under the aegis of GCP.
Midway through the 200-page deposition, Cohen, who has been the focus of several lawsuits in recent years, is queried by the plaintiff’s attorney on his relationship with a limited liability company called Sports Consulting Services. The attorney, referencing something like a profit-loss statement generated by one of Cohen’s employees, was curious about a payment of $17,250 made to the company in relation to a heavyweight bout between Cohen’s charge Miller and Bogdan Dinu that took place November 17 at Kansas Star Arena in Mulvane, Kansas, on the undercard of a welterweight main event involving Brandon Rios and Ramon Alvarez. The attorney, presumably, was intrigued by this expenditure since his client allegedly never saw a dime from Cohen.
Plaintiff’s Attorney: Okay. What’s Sports Consulting Services?
Greg Cohen: They are an international company that works very closely with the sanctioning bodies.
PA What does it do?
GC: They are an advocate and lobbyist on behalf of various boxers, and promoters, and managers.
PA: I’m not really understanding what they do.
At this point, Cohen offers an explanation of boxing’s long standing yet opaque sanctioning bodies, entities that purport to offer structure and credibility to an industry that is, at its core, fundamentally de-centralized. Cohen states that he relies on “advocates” or “lobbyists” such as Sports Consulting Services in order to obtain, from the sanctioning bodies, high rankings for his fighters.
GC: They—in boxing, it’s not like other sports where, you know, if you win the NFC championship, you go to the Super Bowl. Boxing is not done on a ranking system that’s arbitrary, and the various organizations have their rankings. You have to be in the World Rankings Top 15 to be eligible to fight for a world title. And if you could get to the point where you move in and you’re designated the mandatory challenger, you fight for the world title as a mandatory challenger, which is far better than fighting as an elective. It’s just a very important component to the boxing world. It’s how your fighters get rated and if you get your fighter to a mandatory position.
PA: Okay. So who owns Sports Consulting Services?
GC: Who is the owner?
PA: Yeah, if you know.
GC: I don’t know the ownership structure of that company.
Public filings and court documents obtained by BoxingScene.com have shed light on the Florida-incorporated Sports Consulting Services. The documents indicate that SCS is controlled or managed by individuals under the employ or closely associated with the World Boxing Association, the sanctioning body led by Gilberto Mendoza Jr. The findings would seem to contradict or undermine Cohen’s claim that SCS is a separate entity from the WBA.
One individual listed as a current officer of SCS is Zailuby Cuba, who identifies herself on LinkedIn as a social media manager for the WBA. On her Instagram profile, Cuba prominently lists the WBA handle (@wbaboxingofficial).
The other is Alfredo Mendoza, the son of Gilberto, who was initially listed as an authorized person for the LLC when it was first registered in 2018 but whose name has since been removed. Alfredo Mendoza has seemingly represented his father, and the WBA, at times in matters directly connected to the boxing business. For example, in January, the Cuban welterweight posted a picture on his Twitter account showing him dining with Alfredo Mendoza at a restaurant in Panama, where the WBA headquarters are located. “We don't speak a single word about what happened with his father,” Ugas wrote, referencing a patchy period he had with the WBA regarding his champion status. “It's time to move on and feel like a proud WBA champion again.”
The apparent involvement of two WBA employees with an entity that a promoter claims was distinct from the WBA raises numerous ethical red flags. Above all, it suggests the appearance of bribery, a practice admittedly as time-honored in the sport as the ten-bell salute.
Neither Cohen nor Mendoza responded to emails requesting comment.
SCS appears to be more than just a one-time clearinghouse for Cohen and the WBA.
A recent amended lawsuit filed by German heavyweight Mahmoud Charr against veteran promoter Don King argues that SCS has also been used as a third-party receptacle for payments made from King to the WBA since at least 2015. Charr was stripped of his “regular” WBA title by the organization in 2021 and replaced by Trevor Bryan, King’s fighter. Lawyers for Charr have been trying to make the case that King influenced the WBA through illicit means and that Mendoza, furthermore, has had a history of requesting bribes with promoters in order to get their fighters advantageous rankings.
“The WBA’s decision and rankings are frequently the result of illicit deals between WBA officials and promoters, ‘fixers’ and others who provide economic incentives to WBA officials in exchange for the WBA issuing favorable decisions or higher rankings for their fighters,” the complaint reads. “These illicit deals are executed in many forms: In some cases, promoters and ‘fixers’' make payments (or provide things of value) directly to WBA officials. In other instances, promoters and “fixers” will disguise such economic incentives as ‘donations’ or ‘gifts’ to third-parties, which in turn launder these incentives to WBA officials.”
Sanctioning bodies have long been considered bastions of illegitimacy. They are, for one, notoriously cryptic when it comes to their finances. ''They collect percentages of a fighter's purse in sanctioning fees every time he fights,'' Joseph Spinelli, a former FBI agent who investigated bribery in boxing, once told The New York Times. ''No one knows where it goes or who it goes to. They're not accountable to anyone.''
Sometimes, the ugly underbelly of sanctioning bodies would rear itself in the light, as in the case of the IBF. In 1999, several officials from the organization, including its head Robert Lee, were indicted by the federal government on racketeering and bribery charges. Few, however, in boxing could pretend to be surprised by the allegations. "This bribe thing has been common knowledge for years,” veteran promoter Bob Arum told The Associated Press at the time.
Cohen is hardly considered a major player in boxing today. The self-described protege of the late club-show promoter Cedric Kushner, Cohen has operated mostly on the fringes. Despite his limited profile, he has been sued by many of his own fighters and business partners. Cohen recently spent six months in federal prison for wire fraud unrelated to boxing. Cohen’s descriptions of payments made to SCS offer insight into the relationship between promoters and sanctioning bodies.
In his recent deposition, Cohen admitted to using another “entity” similar to SCS in order to gain better rankings for his fighters. Asked how much he typically pays these entities for their services, Cohen said “It could cost anywhere from thousands of dollars to a million dollars.”
PA: We talked about Sports Consultant [sic] Services. How long has GCP been dealing with them?
GC: A few years. Five years. I don’t know.
PA: Do you use any other entities for those types of services?
GC: Ricardo Rizzo.
PA: He does the same sort of thing?
GC: There’s some overlap of those two entities.
Rizzo, a longtime industry fixture who has worked on behalf of sanctioning bodies, including the WBA, is the husband of Gloria Martinez Rizzo, a boxing judge who ignited controversy last year for turning in an egregiously shoddy scorecard that favored Gabriel Maestre over Mykal Fox in their 12-round, WBA interim welterweight bout. Most observers believed Fox deserved to win, and called the fight a robbery. Adding to the fracas was the fact that Martinez Rizzo appeared to have a history of making racist comments.
In a 2002 article published by Charles Jay on TheSweetScience.com, Rizzo is portrayed trying to solicit a bribe from a pair of managers so that their fighter can get a title shot with the WBO.
Mass, Cohen’s former employee, alleges in his suit against Cohen that Cohen advised him to give Rizzo a loan of $14,000 in 2016. The loan was never repaid. In his deposition, Cohen insists the loan was of a strictly personal nature and that he himself at the time did not have the funds to fulfill the request.
In his deposition Cohen admits to paying a sum of $17,250 to SCS for the Miller-Dinu heavyweight bout that took place on November 17, 2018. The bout was categorized as an “NABA” title bout; the NABA is an affiliate of the WBA. But Cohen also apparently made a payment to Rizzo for the same bout. Mass’s attorney points to a check of $25,000 made to Rizzo dated Nov. 21, 2018, or four days after Miller-Dinu. The payment is described as a “consulting fee.” In other words, Cohen seems to have forked over, at the very minimum, $42,500 – the deposition suggests Rizzo’s fee was as high as $35,000 – for a seemingly non-descript secondary title bout. Of course, in Cohen’s words, there is nothing “arbitrary” about the ranking systems of sanctioning bodies.
Miller would end up beating Dinu by fourth-round technical knockout. A few months later, Miller found himself challenging Anthony Joshua for the ultimate prize in boxing, the heavyweight championship.