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Boxer's Tattoo Gets Underneath ESPN's Skin

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Network keeping junior middleweight Ouma off its telecasts after he violated its ban on type of ad

By Liz Mullen, Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal

ESPN has banned a boxer who had an ad tattooed on his back during his last televised fight.

Kassim Ouma, who won his last six fights on ESPN2, wore the tattoo during a May 10 fight in which he took the U.S. Boxing Association junior middleweight crown. The ad was for Internet gaming site ESPN had previously banned tattoo ads.

'He is not welcome back on ESPN right now,' said ESPN spokesman Dan Quinn in a statement. 'In his last fight he assured everyone he would not have a tattoo, then secreted himself in his locker room and then showed up in the ring with the tattoo, which is against ESPN's well-known policy.'

Ouma, a 23-year-old from Uganda, said he does not know what to do now that he has been banned from the cable network. 'I am a good fighter and people need to see me fight.'

Ouma said he was told about the ban by his promoter, Russell Peltz, who also is a boxing consultant to ESPN. He wouldn't answer additional questions.

Sources said Ouma was paid about $15,000 for the ad and about another $15,000 for the fight.

Ouma's manager, James A. Rowan, said he wanted Ouma to wear the tattoo to create an issue to 'galvanize' fighters into joining a group headed by former fighter Paul Johnson that is trying to organize a boxers' union. Also, he said, he wanted Ouma to get the chance to earn some extra money.

Rowan said he is trying to get Ouma a fight on HBO or Showtime, but that it is tough to do because those networks typically feature fighters ranked No. 1, 2 or 3 in the world. Ouma is ranked No. 6 and No. 7, depending on which list you consult. HBO has no policy against tattooed advertisements; Showtime didn't return calls seeking comment.

'The word I am getting is he is banned [from ESPN] at least for the summer,' Rowan said.

Said Peltz: 'I don't like the word banned. He was not invited back. Ask his manager why after repeated warnings for a month and a half before the fight he went and did it anyway.'

Peltz said Ouma was 'made out to be a guinea pig' for the tattoos issue.

During the May 10 event, other boxers, including Tim Witherspoon, wore back tattoos with slogans such as 'Boxers Unite' and 'Free Speech.' ESPN didn't care because the tattoos weren't ads.

Johnson, chairman of the Boxing Organizing Committee, which is trying to form a union, said ESPN is treating Ouma unfairly.

'They have punished a kid who is a good fighter who wore a tattoo on his back,' Johnson said.

ESPN officials wouldn't comment beyond the statement.

Peltz said he is trying to get Ouma another fight on ESPN2 by having the fighter promise to forfeit his purse if he wears another back advertisement.

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