Boxing is set to lose one of its few watchdogs.
After 33 years, Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission executive director Greg Sirb is retiring.
His final day is on Friday, Sept. 29.
“It’s time,” Sirb told BoxingScene.com, with a laugh.
Sirb has the distinction of being the longest-tenured overseer of a state athletic commission, having served as executive director since Jan. 29, 1990.
During his incumbency, Sirb formed a reputation as one of the most scrupulous regulators of boxing in the country (an admittedly very short list), emphasizing safety and coherence in a sport perpetually plagued by unethical behavior and flat-out fraudulence.
Under Sirb, Pennsylvania became a popular destination for combative sports. Last year, the commission oversaw 40 boxing cards, the fourth most in the country, in addition to 30 MMA events.
In 2019, Sirb was awarded the James A. Farley Award for Honesty and Integrity by the Boxing Writers Association of America.
Sirb was instrumental in helping devise, along with the late Arizona senator John McCain, two pieces of federal legislation to bring regulatory ballast to the “Wild West” of sports.
The Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996 and the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act of 2000 established some of the first laws prescribing how the various state commissions and tribal authorities should go about governing a decentralized sport.
Sirb says the work he did on these two bills with Senator McCain are the proudest moments of his career.
“Those two were huge,” Sirb said. “They really changed the landscape of pro boxing—for the better. For the much better.”
Sirb, who also served as president of the Association of Boxing Commissions from 1996-2000, says he can rest easy in retirement under his belief that the sport is safer than when he first entered it.
“There’s no question the regulatory side has improved,” Sirb said. “All fighters have a federal ID card. Fighters don’t fight on medical suspension anymore. That part has improved greatly.”
At the same time, Sirb noted that problematic aspects still abound in boxing, including a few jurisdictions that operate in questionable ways.
“We still have a few commissions that are somewhat lax in medical requirements, that are somewhat lax in overseeing mismatches,” Sirb said. “But even that has improved over the years.”
In this regard, the recent conduct of the Florida Athletic Commission is particularly salient.
Last weekend, in Orlando, the FAC greenlit the return of embattled British welterweight Conor Benn, who has been out of action for 18 months due in part to testing positive twice, last year, for a banned performance-enhancing substance. Despite the fact that Benn has not been formally cleared by the British Boxing Board of Control to fight in his home country, the FAC permitted Benn to appear on a fight card organized by his promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom. Benn wound up winning a 10-round unanimous decision over Rodolfo Orozco.
Sirb made it clear that he did not agree with the FAC’s decision to allow Benn to fight on the Orlando card and wishes that such a scenario is avoided in the future.
“In the future, I hope these types of situations get addressed in a different manner, so we don’t have a dark cloud hanging over the event,” Sirb said. “I hope that in the future that gets handled a little bit better. We don’t need dark clouds in boxing.”
Born in Sharon, Pennsylvania, Sirb has been an avowed boxing junkie since he was a little boy. He recalls going to the fights with his father, who would even drive more than three-and-a-half hours to Philadelphia to catch some of the popular names that were making noise in that city—part of an era now commonly referred to as The Last Golden Age of Philadelphia Boxing.
Not surprisingly, the fights themselves are what has stuck with Sirb the most.
“I will miss the excitement of the big fights, boxing and MMA, especially in Philadelphia,” Sirb said. “I will miss all that.”
Sean Nam is the author of Murder on Federal Street: Tyrone Everett, the Black Mafia, and the Last Golden Age of Philadelphia Boxing.