Saturday, December 10, 2022  |



Why is it so hard to make big fights? Part II


This is the second in a two-part series examining the reasons behind the difficulty boxing has had in recent months putting together its bigger events.

As discussed in Part I of the series, several fights involving elite boxers have recently been either postponed, announced and then retracted, or were being negotiated for far longer than seemed ordinary or necessary.

Putting together big fights has rarely been very easy business in this game, but the degree of difficulty lately would appear to be greater than at other times in the recent past.

As luck would have it, in the two weeks since the first article ran, several solid events have come together or solidified. The Paul Williams-Sergio Martinez fight is definitely on, as is the oft-postponed Andre Dirrell-Andre Ward bout. Carl Froch-Arthur Abraham finally has a home, a bantamweight tournament is coming to Showtime, and Amir Khan-Marcos Maidana and Juan Manuel Marquez-Michael Katsidis are done deals.

This is no small news and suggests that the final months of what has been a mostly abysmal year for boxing will be superb. The truth remains, however, that many of these fights came together only after hard negotiations that were protracted and grueling even by boxing’s standards, and that false starts, delays, retractions and done deals that weren’t done at all seemed the norm.

An excellent example is the Tim Bradley-Devon Alexander match, which at this writing is purportedly a scant few days from being “official.” Again.

The best available evidence suggests that at the root of things lies a power struggle that pits the game’s three most powerful entities — Top Rank, Golden Boy Promotions and HBO — against everyone else.

Those forced to do business on a smaller scale than those in boxing’s triangle of power want the freedom and leverage to move their fighters as they see fit while maximizing their financial gain. Meanwhile, the game’s power brokers want to continue to strengthen and increase their leverage and scope, necessarily at the expense of their smaller competitors.

Toward this end, Top Rank and Golden Boy have sought to make most of the bigger fights “in-house” — a practice defended by manager Cameron Dunkin in
Part I of this series — but almost universally cited among smaller promoters as an impediment to making the best matches the sport has to offer.

Dan Goossen of Goossen Tudor Promotions told it’s just bad business.

“For many years I battled Bob (Arum) and Don (King) and quite frankly felt back then as I do today that keeping everything in-house is a detriment to the overall good of the sport,” Goossen said. “Today we’re still on the same business road, which is very detrimental.”

Citing the upcoming Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito fight, Goossen told that he must suppose Arum asks himself why he would put his fighter in with anyone that is not his fighter when he can still make a lot of money giving the fans a B-level or C-level opponent and sell it like an A-level pay-per-view.

“What Bob is saying,” Goossen said, “is, ‘I don’t want to lose my star attraction to a fighter my guy probably can’t beat. I’d rather keep it in-house and do all my spin marketing and I’ll make a lot of money because people will buy it. I’ll be able to sell it.’ Which he will. The problem is the next day, after people put down 50 bucks, is whether they throw up their arms again and say, ‘Why did I buy this?’ We’ve got to get away from that.”

Calls to Top Rank seeking comment were not returned.

Goossen also said that it is incumbent on the fighters to push for fights against the best available competition, the way the best fighters did in past eras.

“When everything’s said and done I don’t blame Bob because it’s a good, self-serving financial move by him,” Goossen said. “But like with many instances in our sport, those self-serving financial gains hurt our sport further than it’s been hurt by that thought process.

“ÔǪ When Hagler, Leonard, Hearns and Duran were fighting, it was the fighters insisting on the best fights. If Bob had his druthers in those days, he would have milked it the way he’s milking Pacquiao right now.”

Gary Shaw agrees about keeping fights in-house.

“It ruins boxing, which has always been about making the best fights. What (Golden Boy and Top Rank) are trying to do is copy the UFC model,” he said.

And what’s wrong with that?

“If you go through their rosters,” Shaw said, “they don’t always have the best. At 140 pounds the top would be Bradley and Alexander and Khan, but the fact Golden Boy has Khan and (Victor) Ortiz and (Marcos) Maidana, HBO let them off the hook by not forcing them to fight the likes of Alexander and Bradley.”

“Wouldn’t it have been a great tournament if Golden Boy decided to put their fighters in a tournament against the best fighters the world?”

Shaw believes HBO has seriously damaged the sport in two ways that prevent bigger fights from getting made.

“The worst thing HBO ever did was giving Golden Boy an output deal, which tipped the scale for boxing and for the promoters, allowing them to sign a lot of fighters they couldn’t sign because they have dates – with no fighters and no fights,” he said.

“(Also), the tail now wags the dog. The networks, by throwing crazy money around, have ruined the sport of boxing by paying fighters money they don’t deserve. I’m all for fighters making money because the only way I make money is if my fighters make money. But then you try to make a fight and you can’t because the fighters think they’re worth more money than the networks are willing to pay.”

Compounding the problem, Shaw said, is that there are no secrets. The advent of the Internet has given fighters direct access to fans and media and, importantly, one another.

“The fighters talk to one another,” Shaw said. “And if a fighter goes on the Internet and says HBO is paying $1.8 million for this fight, HBO doesn’t get on and say ‘That’s not true, he’s getting $850,000.’ So fighters are always thinking every other fighter is making a lot of money because the fighter saying it wants to brag to make himself look bigger and all the other fighters believe him.

“The networks should revamp their budgets. And then they could put on twice as many fights, and the fighters should be paid based on their drawing power.”

Calls made to HBO seeking comment were not returned.

Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy, demonstrating the vast difference in perception that exists between the game’s top power brokers and everyone else, said it’s common sense that fights between guys working under the same umbrella are easier to make. In other words, it’s not in-house fights that keep the better fights from getting made, but squabbling promoters.

“It’s usually the promoters fighting about it, and that’s the reason fights don’t get done,” Schaefer said. “There’s no question about it that a fight is much easier to get done if you have one promoter involved than if you have two promoters involved.

“But I don’t agree with the statement that big fights aren’t getting done,” Schaefer said. “Big fights are getting done. There is one big fight that hasn’t been made yet; Mayweather-Pacquiao.” (Disclosure: Golden Boy Promotions owns THE RING magazine and

Schaefer went on to say that rather than impeding the making of bigger fights, cable networks are forcing them to happen by demanding the highest quality for their money.

“I have never seen big fights getting done with the regularity they’re getting done with right now,” he said. “The reason is the networks are being much more strict with the kind of fights they are willing to buy.”

Schaefer cited the Williams-Martinez rematch as a good example of how that is helping the sport.

“Williams-Martinez is the best fight in my opinion in that weight class and it is done,” he said. “That’s because (HBO) stuck to their guns. They didn’t want another Martinez fight or another Williams fight. They stuck to their guns. That’s the one they wanted.”

Schaefer also said that promoters aren’t wielding the power in the sport right now, and those who believe otherwise are wrong.

“Since HBO — or Showtime, for that matter — are the ones with the wallet, the wallet rules. It’s not the promoters, it’s the people with the wallet and the money who are going to say how they are going to spend it, and what they want to buy,” Schaefer said.

“So the power really lies with the networks to say, ‘You know what, we’re willing to spend money, but don’t tell us what we want to buy. We want to buy, for example, Bradley-Alexander. If you guys don’t want to do that, that’s fine. Go find someone else who’s going to buy fights for these two guys fighting somebody else. So that’s where the power is.”

In that scenario, one can see why smaller promoters might be unhappy: They’ve invested money bringing a fighter to a high level and rather than being able to maneuver into gradually larger purses in front of a very large audience, they’re forced to take a dangerous fight they might not otherwise take. If he loses, there goes their investment and any likelihood they can get that fighter on a big stage again.

That’s Shaw’s take, which is curious given his seeming willingness to put his fighters in tough.

“The networks don’t have any interest in fighters with multiple losses on their records,” he said. “That’s another problem with our sport.”

The record says otherwise. HBO showcased Arturo Gatti, Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito and even Paul Malignaggi after losses. Showtime didn’t drop Vic Darchinyan after Nonito Donaire stopped him. Or, for that matter, after Joseph Agbeko beat him. Even Pacquiao’s lost three times.

Recent comments attributed to Oscar De La Hoya by reporter Ben Grossman of TV trade publication Broadcasting & Cable can only add to the anxiety and resentment felt by the smaller promoters.

According to Grossman, De La Hoya said Golden Boy’s plan is to “sign all the talent and get all the TV dates; then you can have your own agenda and have a schedule for the fans and the sport. You can do a monthly PPV, a bi-weekly HBO fight, you can have the best fighters fight each other. When you have five or six promoters, it's very difficult.”

Asked whether he plans to take over the sport, De La Hoya replied, “My plan is not to take over boxing, but really do what no other promoter was able to do, and that is have unified rules and one commissioner and make sure the fighter is taken care of and is not cheated out of anything. That's one of the reasons boxing hasn't really taken itself to the next level, because we cannot make those big fights and a lot of times promoters are the ones in the way.

“We are very transparent with whatever we do with our fighters, and in a way, yes, we do want to take over. Well, we don't want to take control of boxing, but we want to do the right thing for the sport.”

Depending on one’s point of view, that’s either the best or worst thing that could happen to the game. Time will tell. Until then, there are good fights to watch over the next couple months. Lots of them, finally. It’s about time.

Some random observations from last week:

Things really are slow these days. I haven’t experienced so much uncomfortable silence since that time I called the IBF and asked the guy who answered the phone to explain their rankings at junior lightweight. ÔǪ

Things certainly are looking up, though. In case you missed it, they just made Kelly Pavlik-Bryan Vera. Vera just lost to a guy in the Ukraine who couldn’t be more anonymous if he were the Green Party’s presidential candidate.

You can’t blame Pavlik for taking an easy fight, though. He took such a beating from Martinez last time out I thought he was going to say to hell with it and buy Jack Loew’s driveway-paving business. He deserves an easy one and this guy will give it to him. Vera makes Jesse Feliciano look like Wilfred Benitez. ÔǪ

Gary Shaw discussing his intellect: “My father once told me that if I’m the smartest person in the room, I should get out of that room.” ÔǪ

Call me a sadist if you want, but I think referee David Mendoza was wrong to stop the Tim Coleman-Patrick Lopez fight on ShoBox just because Lopez fell into the corner when getting up. The guy’s got until “10” to get it together. How do you know he wouldn’t have? Cripes, haven’t any of these guys ever seen Rocky?

On the other hand, Ray Corona’s timing was perfect in Archie Ray Marquez’s win over Juan Santiago. Speaking of Marquez, between the first name and the handspeed, the kid’s got a heck of a future. ÔǪ

Don’t go throwing your money away betting Maidana’s punch over Khan’s chin. Maidana isn’t the kind of puncher Khan has to fear; he’s too slow. Khan wins easy. ÔǪ

Thank goodness Kassim Ouma beat Joey Gilbert. Any other result would have signified the collapse of the universe. 

Wondering how in the hell Shannon Briggs got a fight with Vitali Klitschko? It’s easy: Briggs’ manager is Greg Cohen. Cohen recently founded Empire Sports and Entertainment, and hired Shelly Finkel to be CEO. Finkel used to manage the Klitschkos (he now “advises” them). This is example 971 of “How Things Work” — not just in boxing, but in all business. ÔǪ

Everyone scratching their heads over Arum’s plan to ugly-up Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. by matching him against Miguel Cotto can stop scratching with the news that Chavez is meeting Alfonso Gomez. Yep. That’s more like it. ÔǪ

Bill Dettloff, THE RING magazine’s Senior Writer, is working on a biography of Ezzard Charles. Bill can be contacted at [email protected]