What Ever Happened to Boxing Reform? (Part 4)

BY Patrick Kehoe ON October 31, 2006
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Read Part 1 by Patrick Kehoe on Boxing Reform

Read Part 2 by Patrick Kehoe on Boxing Reform

Read Part 3 by Patrick Kehoe on Boxing Reform

The Muhammad Ali Act, in part, is a document that tries to formalize into law the situations for legal recourse open to fighters and their representatives, aiming to counteract some of boxing’s more coercive business practices that have long been taken to be standard business practices. As we have sought to detail, the Ali Act has not yet helped to engender anything like a reformist climate on the business side of boxing.

Kurt Emhoff, who’s been a boxing scribe and has had considerable experience doing business with various promotional entities, as well as the sport of boxing’s various world governing bodies, annotates his reading of the Ali Act and what that document has meant in terms of over all reforming import.

“Regarding Section 13(b)(1) involving disclosures from promoters to the fighters, it’s been a mixed bag,” Emhoff admits with characteristic candor.

“Under Section 13(b)(1) of the Ali Act – ‘DISCLOSURES TO THE BOXER- A promoter shall not be entitled to receive any compensation directly or indirectly in connection with a boxing match until it provides to the boxer it promotes-- (1) the amounts of any compensation or consideration that a promoter has contracted to receive from such match.’

“Most promoters that I deal with have been relatively forthcoming with disclosing some of the revenue they received from the fights. Often the disclosure does not include the gate or a delineation of where the money came from and what came from whom. Most disclosures give you the bare minimum of what is required by law – we got x amount from TV and x amount from sponsors.

“The biggest problem with the disclosures has been timing. Most promoters do not give their disclosures until either right before the fight or immediately following the fight. Thus, any proposed use of the disclosure during a negotiation of the purse is nullified.”

The typical argument here is that business like life is not always fair and by ratcheting up that kind of Darwinian justification for what amounts to fraudulent behavior masking itself as business smarts is precisely the kind of retrograde behavior that hurts the entire industry. From small beginnings come large effects; surely in the world of today we understand that hidden deceptions are more than just bad faith immoralities. The idea that equitable sharing of revenue streams from the promotion, presentation and selling of a boxing card is only an opportunity for clever exploitation of the party without controlling interest or levering authority means that boxing as a system cannot reinvent itself against its most base instincts. And we all know that it’s the fighters, in the end, who are going to be kept in the dark, the exact details that constitute the numerical payoffs and contractual obligations of a lifetime’s rigor appearing to them in a language they cannot speak.

“This section of the Ali Act also was litigated in a New Jersey federal court. When Jeff Lacy decided to leave Main Events, one of the grounds he stated was that he wasn’t receiving any Ali Act disclosures. In a published opinion, the court determined two things – one that the Ali Act disclosures must be given directly to the boxer and not to any of his handlers (principles of agency be damned) and that the timing of the disclosure ‘might be particularly important when the boxer negotiates the amount of the purse he should receive.’”

“This is an important decision,” Kurt Emhoff wants to stress. “The judge makes it clear that the intention of the Act is to level the playing field of what is often a one-sided negotiation. The fact that the judge decided that the timing of the disclosure should be at the time of negotiation, and not just before or after the fight, runs contrary to the practice of most every promoter in the business. Granted, often times the promoter does not have all of his sponsors lined up at the time of negotiating the purse, nor may he have the TV money in hand. The Ali Act is explicit, however, in stating that the promoter shall not receive any compensation until it provides the disclosure. Thus far, this decision has not had any impact on the industry, but I have the feeling it will come up in future litigations between fighters and promoters,” Emhoff says, depositing more than a footnote we might look for, in the near-term future, when the next high profile boxer vs. promoter or manager case goes to court.

“Beyond civil litigation, Section 6 of the Ali Act was supposed to give each state’s attorney general the power to enforce the rules of the act when a violation occurred. To my knowledge, no AG has stepped in and stopped a boxing match or enforced the Ali Act to the detriment of any fighter, promoter or sanctioning body. That is the main complaint by many about the Act is that it is well-intentioned but not particularly enforceable.

“Is an AG willing to step in if a promoter does not provide an Ali Act disclosure, or a sanctioning body does not post a timely explanation for a ratings change? It’s highly doubtful. They have bigger and better things to do than try to enforce the attempted reforms of the boxing game. Both litigation and law enforcement are expensive and time consuming activities. The wheels of justice turn ever so slowly.”

Indeed, to quote Gary Shaw from a 2001 interview with regards to boxing reform, “Boxing is a very large ship at sea and seems to take a long time to turn such a big boat.”

Kurt Emhoff puts a very important dot over the ‘i’ of indolence, when he tells us, “Without an internal mechanism for enforcing the Act, those within the sport can only turn to the courts to try to get relief under the Act and only a handful have had the money to do so with mixed results.”

And that, of course, is the myth of the law as able arbitrator for those affronted, exploited, those having suffered injury, be it only financial or defined as opportunity denied. The shot-in-the-gut reality is that most boxers can rarely afford an independent CAT scan or a return trip to an accounts office for some third party auditing of their contingent financial affairs. Redress and recourse are usually rights existing as a privilege for those with enough money to make the wheels of justice or winds of fate turn in their direction.

“As far as the promoters who proclaim themselves the new messiahs of the sport – 'The Contender,' Golden Boy, DiBella Entertainment, etc. – no one is really doing anything different than what went on before that I can tell. The Contender has managed to bring a few more fans to the sport, however, the contracts that they make the fighters sign seem very regressive in terms of reform. Have ‘Contender’ fighters made more on the show than they would have otherwise? The winners and the runners-up, most definitely – and the publicity probably didn’t hurt the guys who lost in the early rounds either.

“I have yet to represent a fighter who has signed with Golden Boy, but they do seem to be pulling in more sponsorships than the average promoter and I would hope that this translates into more money for their fighters.”

Certainly, Golden Boy Promotions are the test case for whatever might be defined as a reformist (im)pulse to one day beat near to the heart of big time boxing. Oscar De La Hoya’s promotional child seems to be netting the largest stable of marketable fighters, already staking itself as the chief rival to the traditional houses of Don King’s production empire and Bob Arum’s kingdom at Top Rank. Just how bottom line and mercenary will the business practices of Golden Boy turn out to be or for that matter how inclusive and transparent will the informational transfers be between the management at Golden Boy and all of their clients?

Time will tell and is now telling and we are watching, taking notes to be advised, informing ourselves to be at the ready to judge and make decisions with our wallets and our words. We who are earnest about wanting boxing to reform its conditions, we who are consumers of the sport, who are the scribes and analysts for the sport will be taking upon ourselves that stated goal, to keep the record and to remember just who are the good guys, the agents of change, more often than not acting in good faith, and who are the outlaws, the dreaded others.

Emhoff offers us more. “With DiBella Entertainment, it’s an interesting story. When Lou DiBella first left HBO, he had a new type of model with which he was working that was going to change the industry. His company was not going to be a promoter, but a television packager. The idea was that he would go to the networks, get the television dates and only pay the “promoter” of the bout a flat fee for doing the grunt work (securing the venue, selling the tickets, etc.). When big Lou had a fistful of HBO dates to play with (as were part of his severance package from HBO), this new paradigm worked. When the dates ran out, however, Lou had to change gears and become an ordinary “promoter” and deal with the grunt work like the rest of the Philistines. Lou initially had pretty liberal form contracts with his fighters that were as fighter friendly as any I’d seen before. Now that he is “just a promoter” he’s started to use the same old form language that all the others use.”

“As far as transparency goes, it is a little better with DBE than say Don King Productions or Top Rank. With any promoter, the fighter is going to need representation that speaks up for the fighter and asks the right questions. The problem is, if you get too picky and your fighter isn’t a superstar, the promoters will just put someone else in the fight if they can make the same money. Promoters have no fiduciary duty to fighters, so no matter what is said in public, promoters are in this to make money and they are not obligated to act in the fighter’s best interest. Having said this, I think that DBE is one of the “best of the worst” so to speak. The paradigm is still the same though, pretty much throughout the industry – not much has changed.”

What does Mr. Emhoff have to say about the major governing bodies, those institutions for the administrative oversight of the world fight game, mainly residing off US shores, all mainly happy with the history of boxing as the free market system meets chaos theory and all things negotiable and generally for sale. We increase our lens magnification to try and pick up the faint imaging of subatomic activity, the suggestion of origins and from what interactions all things are animated.

“The Klitschko case (see Part 3) pretty much assured that it’s going to be business as usual with the ratings – and as go the ratings, so go the sanctioning bodies. I think one of the reasons you don’t hear the rallying cries for boxing reform now are that the big fights are still getting made by HBO and Showtime. The belts are becoming less relevant. It’s still the best way for the fighters to make money – if you win a belt, generally you’re going to get paid more for your next fight than not. So the sanctioning bodies’ belts do help the fighters and promoters put more money in their pockets. Bottom line, the sanctioning bodies aren’t going anywhere, the US Congress looks like they’ll never pass a comprehensive boxing bill that calls for a federal commission, and everyone in the business is out for themselves. So when it comes to reform, you only hear about it when a particular party is aggrieved. No one talks about general reform of the sport anymore unless it serves their purposes.

“On the bright side, the sanctioning bodies are more regulated now. They do have to provide explanations for ratings changes and they’ve all seen what the Rocchigiani suit did to the WBC. They have thus far not been acting quite as egregiously as in the past, or maybe I’m just not looking as hard. I also think a lot of it has to do with writers not beating the drum for it anymore. I ran out of steam, Charles Jay ran out of steam, Greg Leon is now content to just collect all the advertising checks he gets from promoters and not try to ruffle any feathers. I think it’s going to take another catastrophic event like the IBF bribery trial to get the drums banging again. I don’t know, but short of a National Commission I don’t know that we’ll see much more piecemeal reform bills.”

Reform. Transparency. Sin. Sinners. Sinning. Predators. Victims. Justice. Redemption. Memory.

Out with the old and in with the new; nothing really changes.

Justice is blind; seeing believing.

And everything gets better over time?

Remember when we used to believe in the future? Pity, because boxing needs a new future, now!

Patrick Kehoe may be reached at pkehoe@telus.net

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