Saturday, June 03, 2023  |



Promoter Ivaylo Gotzev pulls for Pulev-AJ reset, ego-deflation in promoters, more

Promoter Gotzev said he has things cooking beyond Pulev, later in the year, but wants to show, not tell. More info soon to come, he promised.
Fighters Network

Boxing continues the re-entry to a state of semi-normalcy, and the going is a bit slower than some fight game enthusiasts would like.

Top Rank’s flurry of activity has been welcomed by many, but has been met with, zero surprise, ample critiques from folks wanting A siders in action, in coin flip fights.

That’s understandable, you can argue, because it’s no sin to want to watch the best and brightest back in action, plying their trade in exemplary fashion, against rivals who push them to the limit. But it is also understandable that we are still living inside a chapter in a history book. The tumult, the uncertainty, the damage toll, in lives and in economic terms, has not ceased. Now is the proper time for measured steps forward, being that the ground underneath lacks firmness.

But the show, the show being “life,” must go on. The current version has the masses craving a normalcy that four months ago they might’ve detested, but it is clear, there are miles to trek before we get to that place. Ideally, all reasonable souls see bigger pictures, and thus, understand that patience is a treasured virtue in this pocket of time.

Promoter Ivaylo Gotzev (below) came off as a “reasonable soul,” in my mind, during a Monday chat.

The Bulgarian born Las Vegas resident started appearing on pro boxing radar screens in the mid 90s, and then his prominence grew. He helped steer the course for Vassiliy Jirov, Sergei Liakhovich, Samuel Peter, and now Kubrat Pulev, a Bulgarian who is co-promoted by Top Rank and is going to fight Anthony Joshua.

Cynics, and by that we mean anyone who has followed boxing for ten years or more, might pop up right now, with a pointed “Really?”

They couldn’t be dismissed out of hand, because Pulev is rated No. 1 by the IBF but in the last couple years, sanctioning bodies have at times gotten more lax at enforcing bouts between champs and mandatory contenders. Patience has been a virtue hard to hold to, for, say, a Dillian Whyte.

And we all see the same posts on social media and then read the news items and hear the chatter. Tyson Fury shares that a two fight deal with Anthony Joshua (23-1; age 30) is in the works, for 2021, and no mention is made of other responsibilities. OK, shouldn’t say “no mention.” Fury made clear he will still stay the contracted course, and meet Deontay Wilder, for the third time…and then, he said, confident he will slay the Alabama ex champ, bring on AJ.

Is Pulev being lost in a shuffle, deliberately? I queried Gotzev, me in Brooklyn, him in Vegas. Are we going to see your guy Pulev, who had to exit a 2017 shot vs. AJ because of injury, fight AJ soon?

Or soon-ish?

Kubrat Pulev poses with promoter Ivaylo Gotzev.

Pulev (left) will be a heavy underdog versus AJ, he hasn’t blown me away his last couple bouts. But you know what I say, about boxing being a theater….Gotzev, right, seems to feel Joshua is more than a bit soft.

“There is going to be a fight, that’s being confirmed, it’s really happening,” Gotzev said. “There’s nothing to stand in the way. Legally speaking, also, we have a signed and sealed agreement.”

Not to be the “but” guy…but, this is boxing. I generally wait until the fighters are in that ring, then believe fully in “signed and sealed.”

Nope, Gotzev insisted, it’s happening, Fury is obligated to fight Wilder and AJ is mandated to meet the 28-1 Pulev.

I think Gotzev, who runs Epic Sports and Entertainment with John Wirt, can understand my wariness. He told me that he feels for Dillian Whyte, who has been told, promised, sworn to, that his massive opportunity is soon to come, only to be informed that he must wait just a bit longer to get a title crack. “Whyte’s been waiting forever,” Gotzev said. And Oleksandr Usyk, another No. 1 rated boxer, by the WBO, he too is in this “patience pool,” Gotzev said. “It’s time for the mandatories to stand up, ask for their rights, because this has become ridiculous.”

This system, and this dynamic has its defenders, because in the age of social media prominence, more and more fans assume the persona of “fanager,” and side with the ultra capitalists. Only dollars really make sense to more Millenials and Zs…You see fight fans acting like they are getting a stake in a mega promotion, as they gloss over the credibility leak that forms when rules and regulations are re-imagined, tweaked and twisted. Whyte is the WBC’s “interim” champ, has been since July 2019, and word is he might go the legal route to try and force his hand, get a title crack against Fury, who took the ‘BC belt off Wilder in February.

Gotzev on Monday lobbied for his guy, Pulev, who was to clash with AJ June 20, but saw coronavirus muddy the mix.

Let’s re-book the fight, he said to me, and he he’s hopeful Eddie Hearn will be straight forward, not so slippery, with his agenda as we look toward July.

And not just Hearn, by the way–Gotzev said that just about across the board, boxing has let an opportunity to showcase the sport while the other big leagues are sidelined slip. Promoters are too much looking out for their assets and themselves and coddling their A siders. It doesn’t help the sport grow as a whole, in his mind. “I’m saying boxing needs to start regulating itself a little better,” he stated, factoring in sanctioning body leaders as well. “Imagine if this were any other major league, and the top two teams just played each other.”

And there’s just plain too many work arounds, and inventive reasoning why guys rated No. 1 for super long spells don’t get a shot after putting in their time, in his mind. Flexibility is one thing, but this is resembling too much a club which radically rewards the lead dogs, and makes the lesser lights beg for time in the sun. OK, no, Gotzev didn’t launch into a dissertation on the global trending on income inequality, and lobby for Bernie Sanders as a write in for November. Here’s some proof–Gotzev is not so much in the “better to be ultra, mega safe than sorry crew,” he thinks that bigtime fights can and should get cemented, and then unfold in an atmosphere that respects science and rigorous protocols.

OK, in that vein, can Gotzev give us more insight into when and where Pulev, now in Sofia, Bulgaria, gets that re-set shot versus AJ?

“October or November,” he said, that was the direction promoter  Hearn, still waiting for more clarity on a re-open plan from oversight officials in England and thereabouts, indicated in their last convo.

Gotzev gets it that Team AJ wants a home date, a danceoff in the UK. Makes sense, he told me, being that Joshua looked out of sorts in NY, and then no all-time all-star in Saudi Arabia. “We saw what happened when it wasn’t home sweet home, he collapsed, in the first one versus Ruiz he looked like a deer in headlights, in the second one, he ran like a deer!”

Bob Arum told me two weeks ago that he liked the idea of doing AJ vs. Pulev as an intimate gala type deal, high ticket prices, nice food and drink.

Gotzev, Pulev, Arum and Wirt mostly smile for the camera.

Gotzev thinks a bigger venue, allowing a 50% capacity, might be what Hearn is seeking. “I think that’s what he’s really hoping for. Listen, I’ve been following the Fauci line, the line is flattening, it’s almost dead,” Gotzev said of his perception of the virus shadow looming over the game. “I think common sense will eventually prevail, people will realize you have to live with some conditions. Regarding the so called silent killer, let’s be strong.”

No, Gotzev isn’t an anti-masker. He wasn’t dismissive of how he sees it set up in the Vegas casinos, with distancing respected at the tables, and a mask mandatory at table games. “I’ve seen the casino floors, it’s full of people, some people choose not to wear a mask. People now have the option to protect themselves, they’re not totally in the dark anymore.”

We processed that fact, I noted that in my neck of the woods, where the virus touched down and made itself at home and left hard scarring, mask wearing isn’t looked down upon as being a concession to softness, but is seen as a gesture of respect, for others, and for the virus’ potency, even when not at a lethal level.

And it must be noted, juries are still out on the virus. In the US, states that had enjoyed few cases are seeing surges. Places like Texas, Florida and Arizona, which had politicians and citizens here and there mocking a NY, for being “over dramatic,” are now better understanding how hospitals can get slammed and get over filled with COVID cases. But some experts are seeing some zones seeing an uptick of infections, but lower lethality rates than projected. Is that because more of the infected are young, with better immune systems, and in places where younger folk are likelier to go out and about even if the temp is 95 degrees, while the elderly stay at home, in a quarantined but cool mode? Bottom line, lessons are still being learned about the virus, around the world.

Gotzev said one of his fighters got infected, but the guys’ sparring partners didn’t, they all got tested and came up negative. He believes that with sensible precautions, fans can attend fights. “It’s like the last thing the ref says before the fight starts, protect yourself at all times. Take precautions, don’t be stupid, don’t be crazy, and most importantly, look after yourself, your own immune system.”

And fans will attend if compelling matches are made, he continued. “I’m calling for cooperation among promoters and networks. This is/was a golden opportunity and it seems like we’re missing the train,” he said. He believes egos, that’s the main reason there isn’t a spirit of making fights to lift up the sport as a whole. (I also tend to think that many deal makers starting in March didn’t want to be anything resembling the Dana White style guy who can be perceived by some as not respectful enough of the virus’ power…they’d rather be safer than sorrier. Also, some boxing-affiliated corporations didn’t want to leave themselves open to litigation and/or public scrutiny and scorn, for coming back to market too soon, with too much risk attached.)

We started out up top riffing on the aura of uncertainty. We come back to that when we discuss another element of the AJ-Pulev tango. Would it be screening on DAZN? Gotzev knew what Arum had said not long ago, how he had wondered aloud “if” DAZN was going to come back from this hiatus…or if the direct to consumer play would be one of the victims of the global pandemic, on the business side. “DAZN was promoted as the second coming, the 800 pound gorilla, they were going to destroy the competition, that didn’t happen,” Gotzev said. “The billion dollars that was advertised they spent, they failed to deliver. I never thought that platform would work. The billion dollar question is, are they even still existing? It’s up to them to decide on their business structure, if they are moving forward.”

Uncertainty is present, and, I dare say, will be in the air longer than many are assuming. Essentially, in the US, many states are really experiencing a “first wave” of the virus. Many of those places that are seeing rising numbers had been told by federal and local leaders that talk of the virus was over blown. “We don’t need no stinkin’ masks,” was a common rallying cry, and one that is not shouted as vehemently in some spots experiencing a negative ‘growth’ trend these days.

Gotzev preaches that some uncertainty can be minimized, in the boxing space, by pivoting to a more humble mindset. “We’ve seen more fights outside the ring, Bob Arum and Dana White, who is the bigger, better promoter. Let’s keep the competition for the ring, let’s try cooperation. Make it happen for the fighters. Now is their chance to shine, now is our time to shine!”

We discussed if boxing people will look back at May, June, into July, and beyond, and wonder whether if opportunities were lost. My guess is we don’t solve that debate anytime soon. And we shouldn’t mind you, being that projections show the national death toll to be over 200,000 by the fall.

The state of sport has to continue to be of secondary import. But wheels which spur GDPs need to keep turning, I don’t dispute that.

“Eddie has Joshua, and maybe DAZN leaves, but he’s got SKY, that’s huge,” Gotzev continued. “With or without DAZN, the show must go on. We have ESPN here on this end, I think they’d gladly pick up the card. Or maybe DAZN decides to re-boot, if they can. Let’s bury those egos in the backyard, work together, collaborate.” Gotzev is getting more passionate, I blame myself, I had dropped a couple eff bombs as we chatted.

He speaks of “our beloved sport,” and of how some “systems will dissolve” and “the right people” will gain power, and be better at building the brand of boxing, as a whole, instead of their part of the pie share.

I chuckle, I find myself digging his passion, buying in, feeling comfortable with the eff bombs, which signify authenticity born of overflowing passion to me. But, as I write this, I revert to a large degree, to more so default setting. I started in the space around the same time Gotzev did. The calls for better collaboration and growing the brand as a whole are persistent…because the need for the systems to be re-born doesn’t disappear. But then again, how many of you thought Andy Ruiz, powered by Snickers, would thrash Anthony Joshua. We still are the theater of the unexpected, so no, I won’t be the one to look to take issue with Ivaylo Gotzev and try to lower the volume on his call for a better brand of boxing.


–Brooklyn resident Michael Woods publishes NY Fights,  calls action for Facebook Fightnight Live, contributes to Bad Left Hook and is part of The Ring magazine crew. In 2016, he started the Talkbox podcast, powered by Everlast