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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