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Boxing has cheerleader on the Hill

Pete Suazo's boxing career was over after three bouts.

The flyweight-cum-lawmaker lacked pugilism skills, but as they say in fight circles, "he had it upstairs.""I quit when I realized I wasn't very good," said Suazo, laughing, grateful his boxing epiphany didn't come after 30 fights.

Still, Suazo remained loyal to the "sweet science." Several years ago, the Democratic state senator traded his mouthpiece and 10-ounce gloves for a referee's starched shirt and tie.

Now most weekends he plies his trade in amateur boxing clubs from Farmington, N.M., to the East Coast.

And yes, Suazo's much more comfortable in the ring then on Utah's Senate floor.

"I consider myself a boxing ref who happens to be a senator," he said.

Suazo grew up in Salt Lake City, wrestling for West High School and spending his evenings alongside his father and uncles watching Gillette Friday Night Fights.

Later, he became involved in Leo Montoya's Boxing Club in downtown Salt Lake City.

He became serious about refereeing in the late 1980s, becoming nationally certified in 1993. Since that time, he's played ring arbitrator in scores of amateur and professional bouts, including several on ESPN.

He's also boxing's cheerleader on Capitol Hill.

Suazo was instrumental last year in securing the Legislature's blessing for a Utah Boxing Commission to regulate, support and promote boxing in the Beehive State.

This session, he sponsored a 5 percent state excise tax on pay-per-view television fights to help finance the commission.

"We have some good local talent that needs assistance for decent equipment and decent travel," Suazo said.

Local opinion of boxing - especially in the aftermath of Mike Tyson's knuckleheaded actions - is somewhat bruised. Suazo calls it his duty to educate fellow lawmakers and constituents to the sport's positives.

"Boxing has always provided an opportunity for low-income youth, particularly minority youth," said Suazo, who helped design the full-scale boxing facility at the Sorenson Multicultural Center.

Suazo envisions a return to the state's boxing past when fighters like Gene Fullmer and Danny "Little Red" Lopez brought world championship belts home to Utah.