The Boxing Esq., Ep. 24: Bob Yalen
The Ring is proud to present “The Boxing Esq. Podcast with Kurt Emhoff”. Emhoff, an attorney based in New York City, is a top boxing manager who has represented more than 10 world titleholders in his 20-plus years in the sport.
Kurt’s guest on this podcast is Bob Yalen, a Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, six-time sports Emmy award-winner and the new President of MTK Global Management. They spoke about the future of MTK’s top fighters Tyson Fury, Carl Frampton and Billy Joe Saunders and European company’s broadcast deals with ESPN and IFL TV. They also spoke about Bob’s rich experience in the sport as a researcher for Flash Gordon, The Ring Record Book and Fight Fax.
Additionally, Bob gave insights about his time as head of boxing programming at ABC and ESPN networks and as the Chairman of the WBC Ratings Committee. He also discussed the state of televised boxing today.
Excerpts from the interview:
Why MTK made the deal with Tyson Fury and ESPN instead of taking the Deontay Wilder rematch:
“Well, you have to look at it, not just from one person’s point of view or one person’s career per se, but from a company-wide standpoint. The opportunity to hook up with Top Rank, obviously the premier boxing promoter in the world, and ESPN. Again, from all my years at ESPN, I know their reach and what they can and cannot bring to a fighter and a promotional company. So, from Tyson’s point of view, it may not have been what everyone thought was the smartest thing, because he loses out on the immediate title shot the way things worked out, but he certainly didn’t distance himself from being in the mix for the next fight or two. And from a company standpoint, it just made all the sense in the world. You know, it brought (ESPN) into our reach. It establishes a firm foothold in the U.S. At the same time, it allows back and forth between Top Rank fighters and our fighters. Listen, boxing right now is everywhere between ESPN+, DAZN and PBC – everywhere – so both organizations need outlet and need product to present on the platform of their choice, put it that way. And as I said, from a business standpoint, it worked. It made all the sense in the world and Tyson’s in the mix. Tyson will be fighting for the title again very, very soon.”
On whether we’ll see Fury fight either Wilder or Anthony Joshua in 2019:
“I would hope so. Again, everyone’s got their own agenda right now with upcoming fights. Obviously, Joshua, depending on who he gets in the ring with June 1. The fights after that are still very much under consideration right now. So, the next iteration is very, very dependent on how everyone comes out of that three-week period coming up. With Deontay fighting Breazeale and Joshua against TBA, so we’ll see how it develops. But I would hope to see Tyson in the ring with one of them September, October. And if not probably in the March, April time period of your next year. It is tough to say and again between boxing politics and the networks and everything else it is really tough to nail down a real firm time schedule at this point.
“As in boxing’s past, did Bob Arum and Don King love each other? I wouldn’t say they were bedfellows. But they were smart businessmen so they didn’t have to love each other. But they could certainly work together. For the betterment of boxing, they put on some of the biggest fights in history working together. So, you would hope everyone has the same point of view at this juncture and says, okay, what’s the smartest and the best thing for boxing right now? It’s to put A versus B versus C, however you want to position it, a round robin or whatever the case may be. But you just can’t keep them out. You just can’t not let them fight each other because of a network. That would be the worst thing possible for the fans and for boxing.”
On what’s next for Billy Joe Saunders should he defeat Shefat Isufi:
“Well, right now all divisions have a lot of solid matchups. I would love to say we’ll keep him at 168 with a number of MTK fighters and keep it in house. That’d be wonderful. But no, there’s too many matches to be made at 68 and a number of fighters want to move up from 60. Billy’s one of those fighters who doesn’t look like a world beater per se. You know, you look out at him and he’s not one of these monsters that you just shy away from. But you get in the ring with them and you can’t beat ’em. Those are the dangerous guys.
“Listen right now just in Europe, you look at Chris Eubank (Jr.), Callum Smith. There’s a bunch of guys out there at 68 that would make terrific matchups just in the UK. And the Caleb Plants and all these guys in the U.S. Even, you figure a guy like the ex-IBF champ, Uzcategui, would be a really solid matchup for him cause he’s going to be really aggressive and come right at Billy Joe. There’s a lot of matchups for him at 68.”
On whether MTK is looking to sign more U.S. fighters:
“Yeah, we want to try to, but in that aspect, obviously we’re at a bit of a disadvantage because the established promoters are already here. It would be hard to spend the amount of money here to sign a lot of pros where as you said, our base of operations or strength right now is Europe-based. We’re making a push into other areas (such as) Kazakhstan, you know, the areas that you’re finding some of the stronger Olympians coming out of now. I’m making some pushes into the South Asian nations between China, India. We try to have a broad base of operations. In South Africa, we’ve got Colin Nathan who I consider one of the best young trainers in the world. He’s heading up MTK Africa with Mike Altamura working with him, based out of Australia, but also working in Africa. We want to develop the fighters that make sense globally.”
On his time as head of boxing at ABC when HBO and Showtime started outbidding ABC for big fights:
“What you saw in the late ’70s, ’80s, especially in the mid-to-late ’70s, you saw Carlos Monzon against Rodrigo Valdez. You saw Ali-Spinks. You saw all the big fights on ABC. Then HBO and Showtime come along and they take away that level of fight. But the way they did it financially was the thing I was always curious about. Why, if we were going to go in and we being, let’s say ABC, let’s say we were going to bid X amount for a fight. Why did an HBO or Showtime go in with 10X, where 2X would have gotten the fight? And the answer was always to make sure the fighter didn’t go back. You know, didn’t go backwards and stay loyal to us. But that doesn’t make sense on a growth scale. I always wanted to make deals once it got apparent that the higher level was just looking at, not necessarily take the ABC level out of there, but the way that they were approaching it was basically negating the importance of that. I was like, guys, let’s figure out a way that we act as the development part for you. You know, we don’t have to do the Hagler-Hearns on ABC, we know we’re not going to do that. But the next step down, where instead of seeing Hagler once every six months, once every nine months – you see him once every three months. You give them an easier title defense. And, again, Hagler may not be the right case cause obviously he was a high-level fighter and high-money fighter as well. But guys who you are seeing being built up on ABC, let’s say Pernell Whitaker or Mark Breland or even Evander. You jump them up to the HBO level, but you bring it back down (to ABC) just to keep him in the public eye periodically.”
On overseeing the re-boot of boxing on ESPN in the late 1990s and hiring Max Kellerman and Brian Kenny.
“Boxing was enjoying a nice resurgence. The other thing you got to look at is long term, how do we keep this appealing to a younger audience, if at all possible. And Max had his radio program that was very popular. Bringing Max in just seemed like a great thing to do because (he was) sharp, not afraid to speak his mind. You know, zero learning curve when it came to the sport. So, it seemed like a great fit. And then guys like Brian Kenny, same thing. Brian was just a natural. Brian, you can put in front of a sport he’d never seen in his life. Give him five minutes to prepare and he’d be ready. Brian tended more towards old school. He just kept himself available and ready and studied and was great on camera. Great at leading Max in and out. It was a great pairing. I would love to say that I was the one responsible for pairing them. The director at the time, Billy Graff at ESPN, had the idea to pair them. That was a smart move right from the top.”
On what it was like behind the scenes as Chairman of the Ratings Committee for the WBC.
“It’s a combination of things. You have people from around the world, fielding managers, promoters – their phone calls requesting their fighters be rated. Watching fights all over the place. You know, listening to the public as much as possible. Everyone trying to pay attention to their own geographical area while also keeping an eye on the sport as a whole. Everyone wants to see the big fights. And then once we communicate amongst each other and then towards the end of each month everyone would put in their recommendations about, you know, this fighter is good, this fighter just beat this fighter. And you had to come to consensus on where everybody should be rated (and) trying to be fair to everybody. There’s a lot of circumstances that have to be taken into account. But we tried to pride ourselves on being as least politically oriented as possible. And you have to remember that it’s one thing that I have a little knock about with not just the ratings, but even like Hall of Fames and things like that. Boxing’s a true world sport, you have to as much as possible, take a world view of it and not just U.S. centric or North American centric or Euro centric. You have to look at it as what’s best for boxing as a whole.
“And I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say maybe a fighter from China or India or a developing nation maybe didn’t get a little bump or two because you want to help that nation develop. You want to help develop heroes. What you would also do, try and do it not at the expense of anybody else who deserved to be where they were. We always did our best to try and put the fighters who deserved to be where they were in the position that that demanded, that level of ability, the results, whatever you want to call it. We wanted to make sure the top five were absolutely correct. The top 15 were as good as we could possibly make it. And then you know, going through the time now when it’s 40 you want to get it as correct as possible with slight tweaks to possibly help, again, a growing nation or you know, if there is some assist that needs to be done that isn’t at the expense of somebody else who deserves it.”