Milksops: Manny Pacquiao & The Promoters Who Weep Over Him

Crying Baby

One interesting byproduct of the infamous midnight press conference last week was the explosion of tears over the fact that Tim Bradley, Andre Berto, and Paul Williams were not going to fight Manny Pacquiao. Among the biggest bellyachers were lachrymose promoters shut out by Top Rank.

“Tim Bradley is a tremendous fighter and he’s a great young man,” Arum said, “but the problem with a guy like Tim Bradley is that even though you and I know what a superb fighter he is, the public really doesn’t know. That’s why a lot of these promoters are shouting out names of very good fighters. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars building up our fighters and publicizing them so they are pay-per-view attractions. Losing money on a lot of events making them. The other promoters don’t really promote their fighters. They take money form HBO or Showtime or a little Indian casino and they think they’re doing the kid a big service. I’m not going to give them a free ride on the work we have done.” You could almost see Gary Shaw, Lou DiBella, and Dan Goosen reaching for pacifiers and overturning their cradles in anger.

There is a good chance that much of that conference call was old baloney, but here, at least, Arum was being truthful. The job of a boxing promoter is to produce an attraction that will draw fans, ratings, and/or pay-per-view buys. So what does it mean when Chad Dawson draws 775,000 viewers for a fight on HBO? Or when the Ward-Green fight is almost cancelled for lack of ticket sales? (And then draws 435,000 viewers on Showtime, an astonishing figure.) Think about it: are promoters at work here? Arum, because he predates network subsidies, never forgets the salability angle for his events. Does that mean they are quality fights or that deserving fighters are always involved? Of course not, but that aspect of promoting is left up to the consumer to decide.

To say that Arum should throw Bradley, Williams, or Berto into the ring with Pacquiao because Joshua Clottey was also an “unknown” is not exactly logical. Clottey had much more high-level exposure that any of the names breathlessly dropped forth these days. He fought Diego Corrales, Antonio Margarito, Richard Gutierrez, and Zab Judah on HBO or Showtime. He also fought Shamone Alvarez and Jose Luis Cruz on Versus (which has more viewers than HBO or Showtime) and fought in front of thousands against Miguel Cotto. With the exception of the Alvarez bout, all of the aforementioned matchups were quality fights. Was Clottey “popular” enough to deserve the fight against Pacquiao? Maybe not, but the rah rah fan pages out there need to get something through their windswept heads: NO ONE, aside from Floyd Mayweather Jr. is popular enough to face Manny Pacquiao. Yes, Arum would prefer to throw Pacquiao in with a Top Rank fighter, but only because outside alternatives are weaker, sales-wise.

The only way Andre Berto will ever perform in front of thousands of spectators, for example, is if he enters the Royal Rumble or joins the New York City marathon. This is a man whose last fight drew fewer than a million HBO viewers and who sold a pitiful—absolutely pitiful—972 tickets to a fight in his home state where some of the proceeds were earmarked to aid Haitian earthquake victims. For his part, Tim Bradley continues to fight in front of just enough people in California to start a pick-up basketball game. Paul Williams is an exciting fighter with a following equal to that of the remaining Branch Davidians. These boxers, all gifted athletes, do not attract any kind of buzz among anybody but the hardcore boxing fan.

Take the potential Tim Bradley-Devon Alexander bout. Every boxing fan in America would love to see that fight, an even money matchup between two talented junior welterweights. And just what does “every boxing fan in America” equate to? Probably fewer than 850,000 people. When Bill King revealed a few weeks ago that boxing attendance figures were vastly inflated, the cheerleading squad found out that boxing is not nearly as popular as they thought.

There are only a handful of ticket sellers and ratings magnets in American boxing today. Period. This despite the fact that most of the boxing media is in cahoots with promoters and networks in hyping fights and fighters. Zab Judah knocks out a mediocre lightweight and internet erections rise to full mast simultaneously. Before fighting to a draw with a fighter who should be placed on medical suspension (Monte Barrett), David Tua was still the subject of absurd ”Heavyweight Championship Redemption” headlines. Barrett has been knocked out four times in less than four years, once by the notorious palooka Cliff Couser.

Essentially, Arum is right: none of the fighters who have been calling out Pacquiao have been promoted to any kind of degree. “Take the HBO money and throw some bum in there” seems to be the philosophical guiding light for Dan Goosen, Lou DiBella, and Gary Shaw. (At least Shaw is smart enough to try to get a stranglehold on Showtime and match a few of his fighters tougher than most.) But none of these fellows have ever put on an independent pay-per-view and none of them have an infrastructure to match that of Top Rank or Golden Boy.

DiBella recently shed tears over the fact that a West Coast Promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, snuck into New York City–where they were recently fined–and signed a lucrative deal with the Barclays Center, a new arena being built in Brooklyn and soon to be the home of the New Jersey Nets. DiBella never thought to approach the Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment group? It never entered his head to try to work something out other than wait for HBO welfare checks to come in? And, no, “Broadway Boxing” does not count, Lou, no one wants to see Andres Ledesma or fighters who enter the ring draped in Spider-Man beach towels. (In his defense, holding cards in New York City is cost-prohibitive, to say the least.)

As bad as Golden Boy product is, and it is bad enough to give you the dry heaves, credit must be given to Richard Schaefer for scrambling and thinking ahead once in a while. Their biggest problem is that once they get a good gig—Telefutura, blank dates on HBO, etc.—they drop their pants and let loose on the fans with execrable cards. This is nothing new for promoters, of course; Bob Arum infamously threw away a $250,000 licensing fee (nearly 10 times the average ESPN2 fee and 5 times that of Showbox) per show from Versus out of sheer stupidity.

So DiBella gets embarrassed by Golden Boy, Goosen stages cards between a Georgian and a Pennsylvanian of Puerto Rican descent in California on the same night as a Lakers playoff game, Shaw protects some of his own fighters (nice to see Gary pocket some serious lettuce for putting in Joachim Alcine against Alfredo Angulo; maybe he can go out and buy a megaphone with the extra cash) and accuses everyone else of being cowards, Don King cancels more shows than he actually stages, and guys like Cedric Kushner and Leon Margules might as well be booking Renaissance Fairs.

Promoters used to hustle to keep ahead of the competition. Today, only Top Rank and Golden Boy actually show any energy. On a lower level, Main Events and Thompson Boxing also work hard for what little edge they have in this unforgiving racket. The rest of these guys just sit around waiting for HBO executives to drop loose change from their pockets into their cribs.

*****

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Topics: ANDRE BERTO, Dan Goosen, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Gary Shaw, HBO, Lou DiBella, Manny Pacquiao, PAUL WILLIAMS, TIM BRADLEY, Top Rank

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  • martin

    Harsh words these days. I like it.

    • Carlos Acevedo

      Hi Martin,

      I’ll be nice next week!

  • johnpaulfutbol

    CA,

    I’m late to the dance on this one, but great piece. Agree entirely, basically. I got some catching up to do at TCS. Hope you’re well.

    • Carlos Acevedo

      Hi JPF,

      I’m glad you shucked off your oven mitts long enough to stop by and say hello. Thanks for the compliment. Much appreciated.

      Anyway, a lot of these promoters are just sitting around not building anything. I don’t think Gary Shaw, for example, has put on a show yet this year that hasn’t been bankrolled by HBO or, usually, Showtime. Too many fighters jump from almost no audience to a limited one on premium cable and still don’t draw crowds either way. The Ring just had an article about why “stars” don’t draw crowds, but the secret is…psssst….they are not stars! They also don’t garner significant ratings, so it makes you wonder about HBO when they say they are in the “entertainment” business and not the boxing business. If fighters drew big ratings, then they might have corporate leeway to fight whomever, but these guys don’t. So when a guy no one is interested in fights a 10-1 underdog who is also anonymous, you’ve got double trouble. If you’re not drawing crowds and gates, you don’t have the right to fight 10-1 bouts on HBO for serious lettuce. It’s ridiculous.

      HBO no longer has the luxury of having CBS, NBC, and ABC develop household names and then buying them out from under the networks. Lots of people–including many “in-the-know” folks, just don’t get this. When I was growing up, you didn’t have to search the ends of the earth for boxing: it was ubiquitous…Larry Holmes used to fight on prime time on a weeknight on ABC, for example. Nowadays, people make a big fuss about Solo Boxeo and Fox Sports, but this just proves how marginalized boxing has become in some ways. If you have to watch taped squash matches, after midnight, sometimes, or fights on a “check your local listings” capacity and all of it in Spanish, why is it something to cheer about?

      Promoters sign fighters to long-term exclusive contracts that require substantial investment and that’s why they are so careful with their fighters and why their fighters never catch on. But that doesn’t stop people from pretending fighters like Andre Berto are stars. It’s all just wish-fulfillment fantasy nonsense….

  • johnpaulfutbol

    CA,

    The oven mitts! Ha! Yeah, sometimes I can’t resist that kind of juvenile stuff. That was equal parts genuine frustration and equal parts making fun of the apocalyptic hand wringing. Regardless, I was up listening!

    I remember when the fights were on ABC etc. as well. I think a lot of the people that are banging the boxing renaissance drum don’t, or aren’t old enough to remember. Or perhaps need to try to validate themselves somehow by pretending boxing is better off than it really is. I’ve tried to make similar points, albeit in simpler form. But people either don’t get it, or I just don’t have the desire or ability to fend off the pedantic bullshit that you have to swim upstream against.

    I’ve taken some flack for my take on Berto. But he’s such a good example of what’s wrong with boxing…not hard at all to connect the dots. I didn’t read that Ring piece, but you are right most of these guys simply aren’t stars. It’s that simple. I’m sure boxing will always be my favorite etc., but honestly it’s been a long time since I watched Friday Night Fights or any of that lesser stuff. I expect the “in the know” townfolk to show up at my door with the torches and pitchforks any moment.

    • Carlos Acevedo

      Hi JPF,

      I think you are on the money with the validation issue…of course, running a “harsh,” “incendiary,” “acerbic” blog like this one keeps a lot of folks away, which, I’m told, is counterproductive, but I don’t give a shit. There is no way I’m gonna sit around and be told that a man who sells 975 tickets for a “world” title fight in his hometown for a charity event is a star…Get the fuck out of here with that nonsense…Or that Fight Night Club is worth watching….that is the biggest piece of shit of a waste of time imaginable….They got guys fighting there who should be medically suspended and GBP can’t even conform to regulations and offer a card with at least 26 rounds of boxing….and there are morons out there who lap that shit up….

      I might be naive, but I’m constantly surprised at how unsophisticated many people are about boxing as a business….Unless there is a big purse at stake, the last thing a promoter wants is competition for his fighters…This is exactly the opposite of what a promoter wanted 50 or 60 years ago because back then promoters worked on a fight by fight basis and had to ensure action to get the turnstiles spinning….When ancillary revenue began breaking into boxing (TV, closed-circuit, foreign broadcast rights, PPV), promoters began signing fighters to contracts like they were managers to keep the money flow coming from all directions…This was unheard of in boxing….Muhammad Ali fought for whoever guaranteed him the best purse, same with Sugar Ray Robinson, even Sugar Ray Leonard….Jack Dempsey stuck with Rickard because Rickard gave him the best deals…Only Joe Louis was signed to an exclusive contract among big names years ago…

      Then the media BS surrounding boxing is mind-bending. I mean, really, it’s unbelievable. Imagine if Phil Jackson got to write every report of every Lakers game, or if Bernie Madoff was allowed to submit “news stories” of his crimes….it’s absurd. I’ve had this discussion many times with a veteran boxing writer friend about how the so-called writers today are too stupid to even take kickbacks like they did in 1930s-1950s…it’s enough for them to play groupie….Now, there are some good writers out there, don’t get me wrong, but by and large, this sport is covered by nincompoops who are always pretending to be experts and muckrackers…Most of boxing coverage is unreadable propaganda and this creates an atmosphere of drooling fandom….If Red Smith was still alive people would rather read some blockhead named “FistInYerAss5000″ on a forum board than read him…

      If the NBA all of a sudden was taken off free TV and moved to a UHF station and broadcast in Swahili would basketball fans all pretend that things were going great? Did you see Shumenov and Mr. Blinky fighting for a WORLD TITLE in an empty fucking parking lot on ESPN2 the other night? If was worse than “Bum Fights!” But I still get comments (on other websites I post on…I regularly block people here if they’re just plain dopey) who say, “What’s the alternative?” “There’s lots of fights on TV!” blah blah…The alternative is a decent fucking fight once in a while…and shows about midget bakery owners are on TV, too..so fucking what?

      The worst thing about writing this blog is having to pay more attention to boxing than I want and having sometimes to sit through garbage all the time to make sure I’m up on things and having to read fan drool nonsense in order to confirm, “Yes, this guy is a blithering idiot…and yes, he votes for Hall of Fame candidates…”

      Oh, man….I think I’m grumpy tonight….