The boxing economy has always been more ridiculous than sublime, but the announcement that Tim Bradley and Devon Alexander will fight at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan, next month is as strange as anything seen lately in a sport that specializes in the fugazi.
The Pontiac Silverdome, largely abandoned since the Detroit Lions left it behind nearly a decade ago, once drew over 90,000 fans for a WrestleMania event. It will be lucky to reach five percent of that total for Bradley-Alexander. Built in 1975 at a cost of over $55 million, the Silverdome was recently auctioned off for less than $600,000. Who was running that show? Ross Greenburg?
The last time a fight was staged at the Silverdome was in 2002 when Christy Martin and Mia St. John squared off in front of an estimated 300 fans. This is not a typo: 300. Possibly no event in the world—except a boxing match, of course—would have difficulty attracting more than 300 spectators. Wicca rituals, hot dog eating contests, Monster Trucks, the International Pancake Race, Bigfoot conventions, arm wrestling showdowns, Moonie reunions, a White Aryan Resistance Rally—you name it, twice as many folks would show up. Hell, even Andre Berto can draw more than 300 fans. (Keep in mind that Martin had a much larger profile then than 90% of current boxing headliners and that Mia St. John was a Playboy centerfold.) Martin was later forced to sue the promoter—one of several fly-by-night operations that seem to flourish in Michigan—for her purse. Martin and St. John, it should be added, fought in 30-degree weather. They might as well stage this bout in Plymouth, Montserrat, or on Puma Punku.
When it was announced that Andre Dirrell and Arthur Abraham were set to face off in Detroit last March, The Cruelest Sport gave a little socio-economic background to the event:
It sure is nice to see the Super Six taking place in Detroit, a city with an unemployment rate of nearly 25% (Metro Detroit has an unemployment rate of about 15%) and with roughly 35% of its residential lots vacant. Among the figures not revealed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, are those regarding the number of unlicensed matchmakers and crooked promoters operating under fronts and screwing boxers over every which way but loose. You might catch a glimpse of some of them on the Showtime telecast on March 27. Look for the fellows with slime dripping all over their faces.
Well, Pontiac might not be any better off. In 2009, Governor Jennifer Granholm declared a financial emergency and the city went into receivership. Its GM plant, shut down last year, recently held a firesale auction. The Pontiac Stamping plant will be closed before the end of the year, cutting over 1,000 jobs in a city already hard hit by layoffs and unemployment. Metro Detroit now suffers from an unemployment rate of 13.3 percent, actually an improvement over the last seven months.
In addition to the economic woes Michigan is suffering from, it also has one of the poorest boxing commissions this side of California. Unlicensed matchmakers and promoters seemingly run rampant in Michigan and you can bet some of the shadier characters will be on hand to provide local talent in hopes of getting at least 3,000 fans into the cavernous Silverdome. Look for Vernon Paris and Daryl Cunningham to show up on the undercard and, along with them, the oozing figures that call the boxing shots in Detroit. These guys do not have the ruthlessness or daring of the Purple Gang, say, or Sam Finazzo, they merely get by as de facto capos because of the incompetence and laziness of a commission with better things to do than enforce regulations.
Unless the organizers of this bout were guaranteed an overwhelming site fee, this fight is being staged, incredibly, with full knowledge that it will be an utter disaster. On the other hand, this card will be run by a real promoter, Don King, and not one of the glorified television booking agents out there who are routinely confused with promoters. King will hit every local radio station, television station, and newspaper he possibly can to drum up publicity, an old-school ethic that requires effort, unlike sending out poorly written and largely misspelled press releases to sadsackboxing.com and leastsideboxing.com. Nor will King think twice about giving away 10,000 free tickets in order to give the illusion that people actually care about two relatively anonymous fighters.
When Devon Alexander and Tim Bradley began trash talking about a possible fight a few months ago, The Cruelest Sport spent some time wondering about the economic feasibility of getting two young, talented, but ultimately low-profile, fighters to face each other:
Devon Alexander and Timothy Bradley have been woofing it up via cyberspace recently, with Kevin Cunningham, who trains/manages Alexander, chiming in for good measure on various websites, going so far as calling Bradley a coward. All of this back and forth gibberish is a great opportunity for forum ranters to improve their spelling, but so far as boxing economics goes, it is completely meaningless.
Surely Cunningham knows, after many years in the business, that fights are primarily made in boxing for the benefit of promoters, television networks, and bagmen, nominal “managers” whose real role is to be the beard during negotiations between a promoter and a network so that the promoter does not look like a manager and a network does not look like a promoter. (Yes, all very Teamsters Unionish, but backroom shenanigans in boxing are so ignored by the collective media that the powerbrokers in the game might as well just get rid of the bagmen.)
In this case, a potential Bradley-Alexander bout rests in the hands of HBO, Don King, Gary Shaw, and Thompson Boxing. At this point, the pie seems a little too small to share among so many hungry gourmands. Any kind of back and forth nastiness between boxers is purely for show and even then the hype aspect of it seems senseless, since nothing the principals do will draw more general interest in the fight than it will receive in the first place. There are a limited number of fans–despite all the “boxing renaissance” sloganeers running around–who will be attracted by a Bradley-Alexander fight, and any “general interest” spillover will be minimal.
Chastising Bradley for playing by the economic rules of modern boxing is silly, and calling Bradley a coward for fighting Luis Carlos Abregu makes no sense either….If Alexander is offered, for example, $300,000 to fight Bradley, then surely Cunningham will turn it down. So why should Bradley jump at the chance to fight Alexander for a similar amount?
So what does it take to get two solid young fighters together these days? A guaranteed two-fight package from HBO, purses three or four times larger than their highest paydays to date, and a neutral site that guarantees a huge loss on gate receipts. Alexander has drawn close to 10,000 fans in St. Louis, so, of course, they will fight in an abandoned football stadium in the middle of winter in a state with the second highest unemployment rate in the nation. Welcome to modern boxing!