The Boxing Esq. Podcast, Ep. 38: Combat sports writer John Nash
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 over 10 world champions in his 20-plus years in the sport.
His guest on this podcast is combat sports writer John Nash. Emhoff spoke with Nash about a potential boxing league. They also talked about the heavyweight scene and the PBC’s announcement via a Fox executive that they would potentially start crowning their own champions.
They also briefly got into the state of MMA including the UFC antitrust litigation, the status of the Ali Act applying to MMA and the movement for unionization of MMA fighters.
Below are a few excerpts from the interview:
On what John thinks an ideal overarching boxing governing body should look like:
“When you’re trying to think about, okay, we want something to govern boxing. And so what are the problems with boxing? I guess the biggest problem I think everybody has and a few people will deny this, is we do not get to see the fights we want to see because of all the disparate interests in the sport, the politics of the sport. That’s one. And probably the other one is that the sanctioning organizations, the promotions and stuff, they work in a way that sometimes you don’t feel that the fighters are legitimately where they’re supposed to be in the rankings. So those two, in other words, guys get a title and then they do whatever they can to protect them from having to defend against somebody they can lose to.
So you’re like, well that kid doesn’t really deserve to be ranked number one. And the other thing is that you can’t get these cross-promoted fights. Sometimes you do, but not enough that we get the fights we want. But then at least the other problem, which if I’m a guy who follows MMA, you see on the MMA side, is by forcing fighters to make fights that you basically take their leverage away. Without leverage, all the money starts going to the promoters. So that’s the dilemma I always find myself in. And so when I thought about it, my thinking was I want a way to compel, I mean, not force, but you want a way to get guys that have the title to have to defend it against people across from the (aisle) so promotions don’t matter. And, because in a weird way, sure, it’s great, everyone gets mesmerized when Mayweather makes 300 million in a fight, you know, or any of the big fights happen and go, that’s great that these guys make a lot of money.
But what’s missed is when fighters don’t get an opportunity to fight the top guy and get that position and that notoriety of being the best fighter – you’re not protecting guys for making money on one side, you’re actually taking money from the lower-ranked, lesser-known fighters that might not be as popular because the only chance he’s ever going to have to make a lot of money is to fight the best guys. And if you deny him because he’s not popular enough, he doesn’t have the right promoter, you’re actually just taking money from them. So my thinking a couple of ways was to try it. I don’t trust the promoters to work together. So my structure was based on a couple of ideas, but one I had, well, one would be federal legislation. Again, but I don’t see that as plausible, but that might work the best if you had really smart guys and legislation that came back to it. But my other option was an association, but not of the promoters, an association of the boxers who put up a series of guidelines to protect themselves. And that would dictate how not just promoters act, but how the sanctioning organizations’ work and although this might potentially be an antitrust violation. No one knows for sure. My idea was the association would operate as a sanctioning organization themselves.”
On how a lack of integrity was baked into the sport from its very beginning:
“That’s the big problem with boxing. You can go through the history of boxing, unlike all the other sports, boxing is pretty much founded on the principle that we don’t have integrity. Like there’s no sportsmanship. Boxing is like – pro wrestling is the only comparable, which was very similar. They’re basically identical except pro wrestling became completely fake at some point. But the whole principle of boxing was, we are here just purely to make money off people. And it’s in the Broughton’s rules. One of the rules is literally how you split the purse. Of the first seven rules ever written for boxing, one of them, hey, money is so important, we will dictate how the purse is split.”
On the PBC having their own championship belts:
“I get nervous about it a little bit because it reminds me of MMA with UFC. I see guys on Twitter, boxing fans would cheer for that. But I want to see the money go to the fighters, the boxers. And that’s a sure way to get the money going to the promoter. If they can get unified titles from those divisions (Heavyweight, Junior Middleweight, Welterweight) and suddenly replace them with PBC titles and those PBC titles are not just ceremonial, you know, that they actually become titles you have to defend, well that means to win the title of the championship, you have to sign with PBC. It’s just like UFC, you have to sign with UFC, so you can get a title shot. And technically that’s a violation of the Ali Act. The sanctioning organizations can’t do it. But if the whole point is we’re not a sanctioning organization and courts allow that, then that changes the game. Now we’re back where we were pre-Ali Act where you have to sign with the promoter even to get a shot at the title.
This sounds like this is the plan. This was phase two, isn’t it, for PBC. This was in the court documents (in the Golden Boy v. Haymon Sports litigation), the phase two plan where they’re going to become the UFC of boxing. And, that’s where the whole wage share idea was with the PBC that somehow they were going to do revenue sharing with the boxers, which some boxer’s already got revenue sharing. I mean if you’re a huge champion, Mayweather gets 80% of whatever’s sold for his fights. So he’s already got a wage share. So I don’t know how it works with the other guys. But yeah, it makes me a little nervous because I’m a PBC fan, I’m an Al Haymon fan in the sense that I liked that he does more for his boxers than anyone in the sport.
He’s raised wages probably more than anybody cause he’s forced other promoters to compete. But I still don’t want anybody to have control over it all. The idea that one entity has control over the sport is scary. I just don’t like that idea. I’m firmly against it because it ends up – people forget one of the major parts of the Ali Act was it was intended to prevent monopoly in boxing. And so if they can find a way to skirt that and get back to the old ways to the promoter controls the title, then that’s a sure way to gain a monopoly over things.”
On the status of the Ali Act for MMA, the UFC antitrust litigation and the unionization of MMA fighters:
“The Ali Act never got out of committee and that hasn’t been resubmitted. They don’t think there’s much hope with the Trump administration. They’re just going to wait till after the next election to get submitted again. So that’s dead in the water right now.
Markwayne Mullin proposed it and he got 45 co-sponsors. You know, there’s a whole game about who, you don’t go for the super-liberal guy to be the first one to be the co-sponsor and you work your way up. So knowing, you know, that you don’t, it doesn’t suddenly become like a, say a conservative or liberal bill. But, it’s just the support for it. There’s members of the committee, it wouldn’t get out of committee even with the amount of cosponsors. It doesn’t take much to get one guy to derail it. And, also the fact that, with Trump’s relationship, not just to Dana White, but Ari Emanual, the head of William Morris Endeavor that owns UFC, he’s tight with both guys, very close relationship. And also, (Makan) Delrahim, the head of the (DOJ) Antitrust Division, used to lobby for Endeavor, that I don’t think anybody thinks that it would survive even if it got passed. So it’s like there’s no motivation to push for it until after Trump leaves office.
And then you’ve got the antitrust case going on right now. We are waiting to hear if it gets class-certified, that’ll be huge. If it does get certified, that means it goes ahead into, it has to pass summary judgment, but at that point I think it would. Then there’s the appeal, but if it gets past that, then it goes to trial and then it gets really interesting. So we still have that. That’s potentially a game-changer for the sport of MMA and for UFC.
And then the last one is, uh, I’ve never been big on a union. I’m a very pro-union guy, but in combat sports, boxing, MMA, a union would be particularly weak. I think we’ve seen it, there’s just no way to get the solidarity to get a union together. First of all, they’re declared independent contractors, which makes it really hard to make a union because you technically can’t make one. And then on top of that, it just doesn’t take much to break up the solidarity because your career is so short. You get an opportunity, you’re not going to turn down an opportunity for a fight because this is one of the few that you can make money on.
So that association is slightly different, but that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. The only one that’s really pushing for an association is the MMAFA. Another one behind the Ali Act and the antitrust bill and not the antitrust bill but the antitrust lawsuit. So that’s another one that’s not drawing a lot of support from the mass of fighters. But I think it has more potential because you don’t need to get – a union, you need solidarity, you need everybody in it. So you can like have a strike and stuff like that. So you can put together a work stoppage. An association, you just need enough people that you can start getting legislation and things done and then get the ball rolling. So I think that an association in MMA, there’s some potential. But really I think the only way it’s really going to happen is if, let’s say they win the antitrust suit, then I think you might see a lot of fighters thinking about it because it’s like, Oh, they actually did something that worked. But until then no.”
On what’s going on with Dana White’s “big” announcement about Zuffa Boxing:
“I really don’t know. I’m not hearing anything. I mean, the people I know that are probably the same people you know or everybody else knows that are kind of tapped into that before – they were sure that Endeavor was going to do some with [PBC].
I mean, people forget even, Dana White said, we’ll definitely be working with PBC for Zuffa Boxing when he talked about it in September when he was making part of the discussion about the big announcement in October. And then November, nothing happened. But the word is everybody seems to think, and it seems to make sense that the failure of the IPO really put a dent in whatever their plan was. Either with PBC or on their own Zuffa Boxing because that was money they needed. They wanted to spend on expanding into boxing and now it’s going to go probably everything. Now they’ve to scrump all their excess money to pay off Michael Bell because he’s getting such a huge return on his shares that the loan or not the loan, but whatever his shares that he bought of Zuffa, when they bought Zuffa, is a premium and pays a much higher payment than normal and he gets the guaranteed first of all profits.
So they’re trying to get rid of – they gotta get Michael Dell out of there to make a profit. There’s something like 13 percent interest and it’s guaranteed and whatever. So they have to get rid of him. So that money’s going to that, and not going into boxing. So I don’t know if they’re scaling down the boxing plans or what. I mean, I just don’t know. There was so much talk before that they had these big plans using the Performance Institute and their new studio in Vegas and you know, they’re going to do all these things and now you’re not hearing much.”