After all, we have focused on improprieties and incompetence at the state level, safety problems, and situations throughout the business side of the game that smack of conflicts of interest.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
I'm not giving away my train of thought just yet, but one thing I have learned throughout this entire process of examining the landscape of boxing - a process on which I have probably spent more time than almost anyone - is that while there is undoubtedly an argument FOR a national regulatory body, there is also a reasonable case that can be made AGAINST it. And it's my responsibility to offer the highlights of both perspectives.
So what should be offered most strongly IN FAVOR OF national regulation?
Well, the argument is NOT that a national commission is needed to facilitate things like uniformity in rules, contracts, medical forms, or even minimum safety provisions that would apply throughout the country, because all of this can actually be accomplished through legislation alone; in fact, you see it now, in some respects. If you have a bill, for which there is a reasonable expectation of enforcement, you don't have an absolute need for a national board to oversee the implementation of it, because the federal laws would supersede state laws, and the states would have to fall in line anyway.
Rather, the applicability of centralized national oversight of boxing lies in the way the industry itself is structured.
As far as I'm concerned, the most compelling argument for a national commission lies in the fact that conditions of INTERSTATE COMMERCE are not only fundamental, but essential, to the sport and business of boxing in the year 2003.
Many years ago, when boxing was a bigger industry (both in terms of participants and popularity), and fight clubs were everywhere, local fighters comprised the vast majority of participants on local boxing cards. And there was not a proliferation of TV; obviously, it wasn't even a real factor at all until the late 1940's.
Now, however, things are markedly different. Because there are not as many clubs around, more and more fighters are coming from one locale to another to fight; this is especially true when fights are held in the busiest casino areas, like Nevada, New Jersey, Connecticut, Mississippi, and parts of California. These fighters, in effect, cross state lines for the purposes of doing business, then go back. This was an issue originally raised in Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore v. National League - the case where, essentially, major league baseball gained its anti-trust exemption.
At that particular time, the Court ruled that baseball did not constitute interstate commerce. Fifty years later, when Curt Flood challenged baseball's reserve clause, the Court recognized that, indeed, activities in the business of baseball DID constitute interstate commerce, but still upheld the anti-trust exemption on other grounds. By this time, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act had also expanded to include personal services, which had originally afforded baseball a grounds for exemption as well.
Boxing promoters and others had ultimately endeavored to seek protection from anti-trust restrictions under the umbrella of Federal Baseball v. National League. But in decisions handed down in two cases - U.S. v. Shubert and U.S. v. International Boxing Club, the Court ruled that not only were public exhibitions consistent with interstate commerce, by virtue of the fact that the movement of performers and equipment across state lines was more than just incidental, but that only baseball was to enjoy the immunization from anti-trust laws. In Shubert, a theatrical production company which also operated a booking agency was ordered to divorce the two. Many parallels can be drawn between that situation and some of the conflicts of interest involving boxing promoters who also operate as "de facto" managers or agents.
But it doesn't stop there. With cable television and pay-per-view having become the dominant forms of delivery for boxing on television, and in turn the major engine for the generation of revenues, promoters and their events have become "national" in scope, rather than local, and thus, by definition, are "interstate". Don King Productions, for example, concerns itself not so much with the live gate revenue in its non-casino promotions, relying much more heavily on the vast revenues from Showtime and PPV. There's a good reason for it - that's where the dollars reside. Customers from all states, and beyond, pay money for the principal events that represent the staple of a promoter's existence. This money is channeled through the cable companies and winds up in the office of the major promoters who produce these events.
The same thing happens, on a smaller scale, with the national cable networks. They are paid per subscriber, by the cable companies, which are not a group of local concerns but instead now a relatively small group of MSO's (major system operators), who carry the network's programming as part of its "basic" or "premium" menu. Cable networks pay for the rights to broadcast fight promotions, which has kept many a mid-level promoter going. This is not local business, but national.
All of this activity constitutes interstate commerce. And as such, it cannot be monitored and/or regulated on a state-by-state basis, but only on the national level.
A few chapters ago I talked about the television industry's role vis-a-vis the boxing business. In support of that, I used the scandal at USA Network to bring into question the ethics and behavior of the very people who are in a position to dictate the programming at networks, making it an issue of conflict of interest and "kickbacks" rather than a by-product of the normal course of doing business. In cases like this, the states, and especially state commissions, have no authority whatsoever to investigate wrongdoing that is contrary to the public interest, nor to establish any sort of regulatory guidelines of behavior. That job is partially in the hands of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), and partially in the hands of the Justice Department's Anti-Trust division.
That's a key here. The ANTI-TRUST laws are established to regulate and oversee market conditions in all industries. In the professional boxing market, there exists characteristics of both a monopoly and an oligopoly.
A "monopoly", according to Webster's Dictionary, is defined as "exclusive ownership through legal privilege, command of supply, or concerted action". An "oligopoly" is defined as "a market situation in which each of a few producers affects but does not control the market".
In the United States, the boxing industry, as concerns televised boxing, can be characteristic of an oligopoly. There is a small group of major "producers" - certainly Don King Productions (Don King), Top Rank (Bob Arum), and Main Events have numbered among this group for years, with others having a foothold at various times, including Cedric Kushner Productions, Goossen-Tutor (formerly Ten Goose), Gary Shaw Productions, and DiBella Entertainment.
Still other entrants - the example years ago of HBA (Houston Boxing Association) immediately comes to mind - have tried to crack the hierarchy, but have fallen by the wayside. Make no mistake - there ARE other promoters in boxing, and some are successful, but none of them participate in a large way in the power structure, at least not without giving up consideration to one of the "majors".
Within this oligopoly, though, are a number of "monopolies". And herein lies the secret of how the top operators are able to perpetuate their power. This is done through two avenues - monopolizing a network, or monopolizing a title.
As far as TITLES are concerned, this is dealt with to a certain extent in the Ali Act by putting limitations on the use of options. Check out Round 83 of "Operation Cleanup 2" for more exploration into that.
In terms of NETWORKS, it happens when a promoter has a deal with a specific network carrier which effectively blocks his major competitors from having access to that network. Some promoters have challenged certain "exclusive" deals and won, but it hasn't happened often. Even when these deals aren't exclusive, television dates are scarce enough that "hidden" output deals can stunt competition. USA Network's Brad Jacobs, while his "Tuesday Night Fights" was still running, allocated close to 60% of all dates to promoters with whom he had some kind of financial dealing on the side. In that particular case, he created his own little oligopoly, which had the effect of monopolizing nearly the entire TV schedule for the year.
It's not so much that Major Promoter "A" would want to freeze Major Promoter "B", for example, out of a major network deal simply as a matter of competitive advantage. That would be understandable. It's that new and upstart entrants into the field, who may indeed possess the product (in terms of fighters) to make an impact, along with the administrative infrastructure to make a promotion work, and otherwise have no financial barriers to preclude them from putting on a credible show, often cannot approach one of these major television outlets and cut a deal without giving away some kind of concession to one of the larger promoters. More often than not, they must give up control of the rights to their own valuable commodity, the fighter - something that may have been developed over a period of years. And that severely curtails their ability to grow as an organization, thus keeping the power among a select few.
State commissions can not deal with matters of anti-trust, restraint of trade, or market manipulation. But legislation that can enable a national board to work hand-in-hand with federal agencies to deal with this, as it often happens in the boxing industry, might be long overdue.
So a national commission is a no-brainer, right? Well, not so fast.
It's an interesting question and it does separate the fighters when you actually break down who their best wins are against. There are two ways to break this down: One, who was their signature win against and two, who was the best fighter they beat? When discussing the career of former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, some (count me among them) question the caliber of the fighters that he's fought and defeated. Let's look at who are the best fighters he defeated.
When it comes to name recognition, there can be no disputing that Larry Holmes and Michael Spinks are the two best names Tyson has on his record in the win column. Holmes is the best name on his record as far as wins go. However, Holmes was 38 and hadn't fought in slightly over two years when he fought Tyson. Not to mention that Holmes was only a shell of what he was at his peak, and lost his last two fights to Michael Spinks before fighting Tyson. On the other hand, Tyson is not given enough credit for being the only fighter to stop Holmes. Yes, it was a shot Holmes, but no fighter ever stopped Holmes before, or after, Tyson. To me, Tyson's stoppage of Holmes is the biggest testament to his punching power.
Michael Spinks has to be considered Tyson's signature victory. The fact that he and Spinks were both undefeated, and both had a claim to the title made their fight one of the biggest fights of the 1980's. Some believe Tyson's first round knockout of Spinks was his best fight. However, Spinks was a blown up light heavyweight who caught Holmes at the end of his career and had the right style to trouble him. Anyone who followed boxing knew Spinks was all wrong for Tyson, and that it wasn't going to be a competitive fight (I know I knew it). Tyson-Spinks had Frazier-Foster written all over it. Spinks may have been the first light heavyweight champ to win the heavyweight title, but he's an all-time great light heavyweight champion and that's what he will always be remembered as. No doubt, 38-year-old Larry Holmes and 31-year-old light heavyweight Michael Spinks are the two best name fighters that Tyson has defeated.
If Holmes and Spinks are the two best names Tyson has beat, then who are the best and most formidable fighters that he's beat? In chronological order, it's between Pinklon Thomas, Tony Tucker and Razor Ruddock. When Tyson beat the once-beaten Thomas, he was coming off losing his WBC title to Trevor Berbick via a unanimous decision (though he had three nondescript wins in between). Thomas also was in and out of drug rehab a couple times after beating Tim Witherspoon for the title in 1984 and fighting Tyson in May of 1987. That being said, Thomas was still a pretty good fighter the night Tyson stopped him and Tyson did it impressively.
Tony Tucker was also a very good fighter when Tyson fought him in August of 1987. The undefeated Tucker faced Tyson in the final of the HBO heavyweight unification tournament. Tucker was coming off of a ten round stoppage over eventual Tyson conquer Buster Douglas en-route to capturing the IBF title in the HBO tournament. The 27-year-old Tucker was at his peak, and he managed to rock Tyson with a single right uppercut in the first round. This fight wasn't a typical Tyson cakewalk. Tyson was challenged a few times by Tucker during the fight, but he was never in trouble of losing it at any time. Tyson proved beyond a doubt that he was the better fighter on the way to winning a 12 round unanimous decision. This fight gave Tyson all three title belts that were up for grabs in the HBO tournament.
The 27-year-old Razor Ruddock was also one of the best heavyweights who Tyson defeated. The once-beaten Ruddock was on a roll going into the first Tyson fight. His only loss before fighting Tyson was being stopped in seven rounds by journeyman Dave Jaco in Ruddock's 11th fight as a pro. In the midst of his five fights before fighting Tyson, Ruddock scored impressive knockout wins over James Broad, Bonecrusher Smith and a shot Michael Dokes.
In the first Tyson-Ruddock fight, Ruddock lived up to his billing as a one-armed bandit. Tyson won the fight when Richard Steele jumped in and stopped the fight prematurely in the seventh round. Although the fight was stopped early, other than a brief Ruddock flurry in the sixth round in which he shook Tyson, the fight was never in doubt.
In the rematch three months later, Tyson won a unanimous decision over Ruddock. The second fight between Tyson and Ruddock was an entertaining fight with both fighters landing bombs. Tyson put Ruddock down in rounds two and round four, and broke his jaw in the fight. Though Ruddock never stopped trying to knock Tyson out throughout the fight, the difference was Tyson was too smart and complete of a fighter for Ruddock. Midway through the fight, Tyson had reduced Ruddock to just relying on his left hand smash (Ruddock's hybrid left hook-left uppercut punch). The smash was a devastating punch, but it was the only offensive weapon Ruddock had. Tyson, not having to worry about Ruddock's jab or right hand just basically lured him into throwing the smash, making him miss a majority of them and then countering him with two and three punch combinations.
The only other fighters that could possibly be added to this list are Frank Bruno and Carl "The Truth" Williams. The reason I don't include them is because they were both beaten soundly before facing Tyson. Bruno was knocked out for the count in 1984 by Bonecrusher Smith and by Tim Witherspoon in 1986, before fighting Tyson in 1989. Williams was dropped by James "Quick" Tillis in 1984, and dropped twice by Jesse Ferguson in 1985, two non punchers. "The Truth" was also dropped twice en-route to being stopped by Mike Weaver in two rounds in 1986, before fighting Tyson in 1989.
So, who is the best fighter that Tyson owns a win over? Is it Thomas, is it Tucker or is it Ruddock? I say it's between Tucker and Ruddock. I say this because Tucker and Ruddock were at their best when they lost to Tyson. Thomas went through drug rehab a few times and wasn't the same fighter that beat Tim Witherspoon for the title in August of 1984 when he fought Tyson in May of 1987.
So how do you break the tie between Tucker and Ruddock? Tucker was undefeated, and Ruddock only lost once before fighting Tyson. Tucker was the overall better fighter, but Ruddock was the better puncher. Tucker did win a piece of the title, while Ruddock never fought for the title. Tucker went the distance with Lennox Lewis in a title bout in 1993, and Ruddock was stopped in two rounds by Lewis in a title elimination bout in 1992. Until facing Mike Tyson, Tucker was unbeaten in 37 fights. Until facing Dave Jaco, Ruddock was unbeaten in 10 fights. Tucker stopped Dave Jaco in three rounds in October of 1985. Ruddock was stopped in seven rounds by Dave Jaco in April of 1985. Hmmm, I say Tony Tucker.
Summing up the best of Tyson's career goes like this. Larry Holmes is the best name fighter he has beaten. Michael Spinks is his signature win, and Tony Tucker is the best fighter that he ever beat in his career. When People think of Tyson, they think of some of the great fighters he's been in the ring with like Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis, but he was beaten soundly by both. Tony Tucker is the best fighter Mike Tyson has ever defeated.
This is why in my opinion that Tyson doesn't measure up to the greatest of the greats. You can talk about his power and hand speed all you want, but the bottom line is Tony Tucker is the best it ever carried him past. If wins over Tucker and Ruddock qualify Tyson as one of the greatest of the greats, than Jerry Quarry has just as much a claim to greatness as Tyson. Quarry's best wins are over Lyle and Shavers. Lyle and Shavers were both more formidable fighters than Tucker and Ruddock. If you believe Tucker and Ruddock were better than Lyle and Shavers, you either don't know what you're watching or, you're a relative of Tyson. Quarry is remembered for losing to the best of his era in Ali and Frazier, just like Tyson's remembered for losing to Holyfield and Lewis, the best of his era. In boxing, it's not how many you beat, but it's who you beat. For Tyson, it's Tucker and Ruddock?
I thought to be considered a great you had to "WIN" against the best fighters you fought, not lose to them or put up a half decent fight. Holyfield and Lewis are the two best fighters Tyson has ever shared a ring with. He is 0-3 in those bouts and was knocked out by both. Tyson is more known for his losses than his wins, what other all-time great heavyweight champ can that be said about? Absolutely none. He looks awesome on the heavy bag and the pads, but not so great when he has a top fighter in front of him. Don't take my word, just look at his record. All his power and speed meant zilch when he was in with the best of his era. That's a fact not an opinion.
Wright has already done everything but laugh in Oscar De La Hoya’s face. He’s all but drawn a line in the sand with his toe and banged on his door, asking Oscar to step outside so they can settle things.
All Winky wants is a chance to unify the junior-middleweight title. Seems like the logical next step since Winky has one-third of the title and De La Hoya has two-thirds But by now, Ronald “Winky” Wright knows it’s not about world titles, at least not anymore. Instead, it’s about revenge and redemption. It’s about bloody noses and name calling. It’s about returning to the playground a few hours later and kicking the butt of the kid who just got done kicking yours.
That’s the kind of payday De La Hoya is fighting for.
Now the WBC and WBA junior-middleweight champ following his TKO win over Fernando Vargas, De La Hoya doesn’t seem to care about unifying the title. He doesn’t care about fighting Wright, who owns the IBF title. He wants to settle something more personal. He wants that special footnote attached to his bio, the one explaining how, sure, he lost a couple of fights, but he went back later and got the last laugh, beating Shane Mosley and Felix Trinidad, who both beat him by decision earlier in everyone’s career. Who can blame him?
Of course, the timing couldn’t be better for The Oscar De La Hoya Revenge Tour.
Mosley has lost two in a row and he’s not the fighter he was. How come De La Hoya wants a rematch now? As for Trinidad, their first fight was three years ago. Why did Oscar wait until Tito both lost and retired before he started talking about a rematch?
So it's easy to understand why Wright is impatient, why he's trying to goad Oscar into a unification fight. Along with Winky’s agent, Fred Sternburg, the two have done everything they can to get De La Hoya into the ring short of committing a felony.
De La Hoya’s promoter, Bob Arum, isn’t helping Wright’s cause. He offered a lame excuse as to why his fighter wouldn’t be climbing into any boxing ring with Winky Wright standing in the opposite corner. At least not for awhile.
“As for Wright, he has to get better known,’’ Arum was quoted as saying by the Las Vegas Sun. “I’m the guy putting out the money and I’m an old man who is not looking to lose millions of dollars, so I just don’t see that fight happening at this time.’’
Wright and Sternburg had their own twist to the quote. Their translation of what Arum was saying went something like this: “Are you nuts? No way I’m putting Oscar in with Winky Wright before I pick up an easy payday against Shane Mosley!’’
According to Wright, if Arum wants him to be better known, he will “embark on a whistlestop tour throughout every major Hispanic market. New York, Chicago, Miami, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California. I will even go to Mexico. I have defeated 44 men in eight different countries on four different continents. Do you think a little travel is going to bother me?’’
Why didn’t Arum just say that Oscar wanted revenge more than he wanted to unify a title?
Meanwhile, the rallying cry for Wright - who defended his title against Bronco McKart on Sept. 7 - has become, “Oscar, fight me. Don’t kiss greatness good-bye.’’
Apparently, the cry hasn’t kept Oscar up at night. Arum hinted they’re close to signing Mosley to a rematch.
Instead, the gritty and game Barrios, wouldn't follow the script and instead stuck around despite suffering a cut over his left eye that got bloodier as the night went along. After falling behind early, he caught up to the WBO-WBA jr. lightweight titlist by simply out-hustling the champion.
He would send Freitas to the canvas with a flash knockdown in the eighth from a jab, that seemed to be more of a balance shot and caused by a slippery canvas. He would get up quickly, smiling at anyone in sight as if to say,' No problems, here, I'm ok' But it signaled a clear shift in momentum as Barrios continued to press forward and make a fight out of it.
In the beginning of the 11th stanza, with the scorecards tightening, a big right would this time send Freitas to the deck. And there were no smiles this time around, his face said it all,' Uh, oh' He was clearly in trouble and Barrios would be in a position to close the show or at least do enough follow-up damage to win the final round. It was a golden opportunity for this heavy underdog. Nicknamed,' the Hyena' he was no laughing matter.
But Freitas would get an unintentional reprieve, as his mouthpiece was jolted out of his mouth while getting nailed by Barrios big punch. After receiving the mandatory eight-count, the referee would pick up his mouthpiece and then call a timeout to the action so that it could be wiped off and then put back into Freitas' mouth. In essence, the eight-count, became about 'mandatory half-minute' as Freitas trainer, Oscar Suarez had all the sense of urgency of a DMV worker in cleaning of the equipment- as of course, an experienced corner man should.
Freitas with those valuable seconds was able to recover and eventually nail Barrios with his own right hand that staggered him at the very end of the 11th. It had such an effect that less than a minute into the 12th, Barrios would be knocked out. At the end of 11, one judge had Freitas up, 106-103, another had it 106-104 Barrios and the third judge had it deadlocked at 105-105. Freitas' title was clearly hanging in the balance.
Some fighters are saved by the bell, Freitas was saved by his gum-shield.
Which begs the question, from now on, shouldn't every fighter that is knocked down and dazed, simply spit out his mouth-guard so that they can get a timeout and extra time to recover and clear their heads? That's obviously what Freitas got this past weekend and it may have saved his hide.
The rules clearly state that a mouthpiece that comes out in the middle of a fight has to be put in during a clear break in the action. Now, my question is, can a mandatory eight count for a fallen boxer really be considered a 'break' in the action? If Barrios had stunned Freitas and then followed up with a barrage of punches while the mouthpiece came out, the action wouldn't have been halted and he'd have a chance to press the advantage he caused. But because he knocked his man down, in this instance, he got punished for it.
I'm not a referee- but I play one behind the computer- an eight count should not be considered a break in the action. But a continuation of action that followed a big punch, if there is a lull soon afterwords, then you call timeout and get the fallen mouthpiece.
If the same course of action is followed that was in this fight, then fighters everywhere should just merely drop their mouth-guards to the floor. They'd be stupid not to, think about it, do you want eight seconds to recover, or up to 30 seconds? It's a no-brainer if you ask me.
I'm off the opinion that- now, let me explain, because this does sound a bit barbaric, I do admit- no fight should be stopped due to a dropped mouthpiece in any fight. Why? Well, to me if a fighter hits a guy so hard that his mouthpiece comes shooting out or becomes dislodged, he shouldn't be penalize for it by having a break in the action later on. Also, if you can't keep that doggone thing in there, you should be made to fight with a disadvantage.
The mouthpiece is a safety device, I do understand that, but my question is, do they disallow fighters from punching at opponents who keep their hands down and leave themselves exposed? No, you're allowed to capitalize on that if you can. Or if you leave your jab hanging out their like a clothesline, your opponent has every right to time it and counter. So why should a guy who gets his mouthpiece knocked out be given a reprieve in the form of a timeout?
Hate to break it to these boxing bureaucrats, who mean well, but sometimes in their over-zealousness in making boxing politically correct and sterie they're taking away the essence of the game in many respects. Boxing is a dangerous game, it can be brutal in it's consequences. And if a guy has an open and exposed mouth he shouldn't be given boxing's version of a 'Get out of jail' card.
Remember, that's one of the beautiful things about this game, there are no teammates to depend on and there are no timeouts. If you find yourself in a tough fight, you can't call in for a sub and if you find yourself in with a guy giving you fits and hitting you all over, you can't make a 'T' gesture with your hands( in fact, maybe that's the reason why they make you wear gloves, so that you can't call timeout) to the referee and signal for a break in the action. The only breaks you should get come between the rounds.
You certainly shouldn't get one when you get hit with a punch that causes a much needed piece of equipment to come flying off. Like in life, boxing makes you accountable. And if there's any reason to keep your hands up and head moving it should be the thought that if you don't, you may lose all your teeth. Sounds harsh, I know, but that's boxing.
And when you get sent to the canvas, you get an eight count to get yourself together and recover. And that's the way it should be, the mandatory eight, was never meant to be the 'mandatory timeout of 30 seconds to clean off a mouthpiece'
In case you were under the impression that promotional contracts were necessary for promoters to be successful in this business, you'd be wrong. That's because there are a few Scott Wagners out there proving that notion otherwise.
Wagner is the impresario behind a regular series of events held in Glen Burnie, Md. (right outside Baltimore) called "Ballroom Boxing", which is not just a clever monicker for a boxing show, but the product of a concept - one carefully devised by Wagner to offer a "unique selling proposition" for the sport at a time when most promoters are operating under a whole different set of parameters.
Wagner does not have a promotional commitment from, or financial interest in, any of the boxers that appear on his shows. Given the current atmosphere in boxing, that is truly thinking "outside the box".
Not only do Wagner's thoughts move in that direction, it's actually an intentional part of his overall strategy. That would be heresy to today's group of promoters, who would hardly think of featuring any fighter they couldn't "control".
But control of fighters doesn't really matter to Wagner. If you talk to him, sooner or later you're likely to hear the mantra - "With most promoters, the fighter is the commodity. For us, the FAN is the commodity."
Of course, he's onto something. And we've expanded upon it before - promoters, as a rule, have fallen into a self-indulgent pattern. The agenda is clear - build fighters, by whatever means, with the mindset that whatever is good for them is good for the fan. The live paying customer has taken a backseat with that kind of philosophy, which has been a contributing factor in the degeneration of the club show circuit in this country.
That won't do for Wagner, whose events has managed to thrive (he just finished his 50th show) through a well-developed reputation and healthy word-of-mouth, despite surprisingly little in the way of advance press in the Baltimore-Washington area.
The rationale behind Wagner's strategy is beautiful in its simplicity - if you don't have long-term contractual obligations to fighters, you will not be consumed with the need to protect them. In turn, that will result in a better quality of fights, because they'll naturally be more competitive. And it stands to reason that the live customer prefers to see such fights.
"The bottom line here is that my crowd wants to be entertained," says Wagner. "And there's no better way to do that than to give people good fights. When managers bring their fighters to the ballroom, they know they're going to be in a real fight."
And real fights are what Chris Middendorf, one of the busiest matchmakers in the business, manages to deliver, on a continual basis.
Most matchmakers dream of an opportunity to be let loose like that.
"It's the most fun any matchmaker could have," says Middendorf. "I'm making even fights. I'm not given a 'A' side that I have to protect. Nobody's being protected. To match two guys, style-wise, to where they will make a great fight, that's just the most fun I could have."
It's not that Wagner hasn't been approached by fighters and/or their managers to make long-term deals. It is only natural that he would be, since he provides a regular outlet for boxing in a major metropolitan area. But Wagner, with support and reinforcement from the people around him, including his father Michael, a former Maryland state senator, and director of operations Dave Wilkerson, has stayed true to this vision.
"Boxing should be the biggest spectator sport in the world," Wagner says. "But fans are so disgusted with it, because of their perception of what the sport is, and the whole process has become polluted, because it has concentrated on building fighters, not building fans.
"The common fan can't name ten fighters. But they want to watch boxing. The ratings prove it. Our fans are watching the shows and don't even know the fighters. And when fans watch - that's when you breed superstars."
Of course, there are those local favorites who appear with a degree of regularity on Ballroom Boxing shows by virtue of the fact that they have a fan following. But more likely than not, they're matched in something a little more substantial than a "stepping stone" bout. And promoters sometimes place their fighters on Ballroom cards, but almost without exception, they know they're going to be in tougher than the promoter would require on his own shows.
Wagner's revenues are generally derived from ticket sales, through an exhaustive effort. Yes, that's a novel concept for many promoters to digest. Want to buy a ticket? If you were fortunate enough to get Wagner on his cell phone at 4 AM, he'd be happy to take your credit card number. One could hardly imagine a King or Arum doing that.
We'd say Ballroom Boxing has had a string of sellouts, but I guess theoretically, a Ballroom Boxing card is NEVER sold out.
"I don't care if all my seats are gone," says Wagner. "If someone comes up to my door with the price of a ticket in hand, we're not going to turn him away. We'll find a way to squeeze someone like that in."
Wagner has become adept not only at retaining customers - he makes use of an extensive mailing list and sends out frequent newsletters - and has mastered the art of maximizing revenue from a number of different sources. Yes - it helps when you have your own venue.
Wagner's family owns Michael's Eighth Avenue, and so there's no rent, and all the concessions belong to them. But there's opportunity cost, because Michael's could be booked every night of the week. And there isn't a market in this country where an industrious promoter couldn't find a venue at a very low cost, with control of food and drink sales, if he looked hard enough.
Certainly it takes more than that. It takes a plan, a commitment to that plan, and, most importantly, the execution of that plan.
Just because Wagner doesn't operate like a typical promoter does not mean that he doesn't consider television an important part of his overall strategy. But instead of being dependent on the likes of ESPN and Fox, which tailor their dates largely toward promoters who "own" talent. Wagner, in keeping with his independent philosophy, went about producing his own TV shows and having the tapes distributed to cable carriers and regional networks across the country. Now he's got New England Sports Network, Sunshine Network (Florida), Empire Sports Network (New York), Comcast Sports South, MBC (Major Broadcasting Corp.), various Equity Broadcasting affiliates, DirectTV, Armed Forces Network and others in his distribution cycle, which approaches 50 million homes in all.
The basic philosophy of action-packed fights, once again, directly related to his "neutral" position with the fighters, is essential.
And Wagner takes it a step further, by continuing to "re-purpose" his tapes so that they take on an "evergreen" quality, as they're shown in one-hour and two-hour formats, with different combinations of "The Best of Ballroom Boxing" airing over and over again on his outlets, which have been nothing but pleased with what they've received.
With sponsors in the fold, and absolute authority over production, Wagner sees the day when he can generate as much money with his independent distribution as other promoters can through cable rights fees, and he sees it soon.
What makes that so important is that, in this day and age when networks are the real power in boxing, it involves a promoter taking a step toward controlling his fights on television, rather than television controlling HIM.
There's a lesson to be learned here for both aspiring promoters and others who are already in the business - there certainly is another way to do things, as long as you've got a little imagination and fortitude, an independent spirit, and give yourself sincerely to the philosophy that re-emphasizes the "grass roots" concept of personal sales and service as a principal vehicle for income, rather than the quasi-management of fighters, which may or may not ever bear fruit.
As far as Wagner is concerned, if you do that, everything else has a way of following. And that can only be good for the game in the long run.
"When the Ravens won the Super Bowl, they had to beat 30 other teams. That's the truth," he says. "In boxing, you can bullshit your way to the top even when you're not the best. If we could see a day in the sport of boxing where the cream rises to the top on merit, where the person with the most talent wins, you'd have promoters packing fight venues in every city in the country, as opposed to people who are trying to control the truth themselves, selling the public on something that isn't really there.
"Remember, the public knows a lot more than they're given credit for."
Based on his overall career accomplishments and fighting ability, I would rate Muhammad Ali the best overall heavyweight I've ever seen. Ali no doubt had the most ways and weapons to beat great fighters, more so than any other heavyweight champ in boxing history. It also cannot be disputed that he dominated the best era in heavyweight history, winning the title three times in 14 years.
Despite spending his prime years fighting the United States Government from March of 1967 through October 1970, exiled from boxing, Ali was never defeated in his prime. He defeated three of the top ten greatest heavyweight champions of all-time in Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman. He literally interrupted the title reigns of Liston and Foreman, (who were a combined 75-1 when Ali defeated them) when both were considered unbeatable. It's a well-known fact that when Ali defeated Liston and Foreman, most historians and boxing writers were certain that both of them would reign as champion for years to come. At the time, Liston was compared favorably to Joe Louis, and Foreman was thought to be greater than all the previous heavyweight champs. Had there been no Clay/Ali, Sonny Liston could have been champ through the 60's. Had there been no Ali, George Foreman could've reigned as champ for as long as he wanted; there is no way an undefeated Foreman would have lost to Jimmy Young.
In boxing, nothing sparks emotion and controversy like debating history's greatest fighters and champions, especially when heavyweights are the topic. Using Ali as the measuring stick, fans and historians often debate who would have defeated him or who would've given him the toughest fight. Trying to reach an agreement on this is as difficult as any regarding boxing.
Some of the fighters who are often mentioned who could've defeated Ali are the following: Jim Jeffries, Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and some may mention the names Lennox Lewis, and Mike Tyson. In my opinion, Ali has too many weapons to adapt, and would defeat all of the above mentioned. From a style vantage point, it's obvious that Ali would present those fighters with more problems than they could possibly present him with. Basically, he has defeated other great heavyweights who were similar to the previously mentioned fighters in style and power.
The toughest one of the fighters mentioned is Joe Louis. Ali has never faced a fighter like Joe Louis, just as Louis has never faced a fighter like Muhammad Ali (Billy Conn was not like Ali, the only thing they had in common was their use of lateral movement). Louis was the perfect boxer-puncher. He would have given Ali a tough time because he had fast hands (especially in short and tight spots), a solid defense, carried his punch throughout the fight and wasn't prone to making mistakes. However, I believe Ali's speed and boxing ability from outside, overall strength and cast-iron chin would have carried him past Louis. Style wise, Ali has the advantage, because Louis pursued but not as aggressively as Marciano or Frazier. Louis focused on drawing his opponents to come to him so he could nail them on the way in, Ali would have never fallen into this trap and would have been able to dictate the pace and fighting distance vs. Louis. The immortal "Brown Bomber" was also vulnerable when he had to move his feet quickly to chase an opponent who wasn't hurt, which also is to Ali's advantage. Although I'm confident Ali would have defeated Louis, it would have been a close fight and not a walkover as some have suggested.
The fighter who I believe would have given Ali the most trouble strategically and stylistically is former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. Some of the above mentioned fighters would have given Ali a rougher fight from a physical vantage point than Holmes (like Jeffries, Dempsey, Marciano, and Tyson). However, from a style match up, none of them could have answered and matched Ali technically like Holmes could have. I can't see any other heavyweight outside of Holmes who had the skill and style to possibly upset Ali at his best. A lot of what Holmes did in the ring were things Ali didn't face too often.
When comparing Ali and Holmes, they are mirror images of each other in many ways. They are virtually the same height and have the same reach. I think the differences were, Ali was a little stronger and faster, had a better chin and possessed better stamina and legs when he was in top shape. Ali was also better at adapting during the course of a fight than Holmes was. That being said, none of those advantages, other than Ali's speed, would've come into play had Ali and Holmes crossed paths at their best.
Had Ali and Holmes fought in their respective primes, I think it would have been a dull fight because of their many similarities. A big reason Holmes would have been effective versus Ali is that he wouldn't have been trying to kill him with every punch he threw. The fighters who tried to kill Ali are the ones he ate up. Holmes fought at a more measured pace, somewhat like Ali. Fighters who didn't try to knock Ali out with every punch were more troublesome to him. The fighters who tried to take him out, he killed with his speed by taking advantage of their mistakes and countering them off a miss.
Both Ali and Holmes had great jabs, and used them perfectly to set up their offense. The difference was, Ali's was faster and he threw more, but Holmes' was a little harder. What makes Holmes a problem for Ali is that he hated to be jabbed at. Fighters who jabbed back at Ali gave him the most difficulty; look at his fights versus Doug Jones, Jimmy Ellis, Jimmy Young and Ken Norton. As great as Ali's jab was, fighters who jabbed back sometimes befuddled him. Also, not many fighters attempted to jab with Ali. Therefore, he wasn't used to jabs coming at him. None of the fighters mentioned had a jab in the same class as Holmes, and we know Holmes would be jabbing back at Ali. Although Holmes didn't like to be jabbed at, it didn't bother him as much as it did Ali. Holmes was bothered more by pressure, as was Ali, but not as much as Holmes. Another problem Holmes presents Ali with is that his hands were very fast, not as fast as Ali's, but faster than any Ali opponent except for Floyd Patterson, except, unlike Patterson, Holmes had a reach equal to Ali's.
Another given in this fight is that it would have gone the distance. Both fighters had great chins and neither had the one-punch power to stop the other. In my opinion, Holmes had the skill to match up quite well with Ali. Yes, I think Ali would have won a decision over Holmes due to his speed and overall better adaptability, but this would have been a very taxing fight for Ali, mentally and technically. In my opinion, Holmes wouldn't do as well with a prime Frazier or Foreman as Ali did, however he would have been pure hell for Ali! I believe Larry Holmes most likely would have been the toughest heavyweight champ in boxing history for Ali to look good against and achieve a decisive victory over.
One factor in Ali's favor in a match up with Holmes is that Ali would have lured Holmes to pursue him. Both fighters liked their opponent coming to them; neither Ali or Holmes were at their best when they had to play the Joe Frazier and seek and chase down their opponent (see Ali vs. Young and Holmes vs. M. Spinks). The fighter who is the one pursuing in this fight is at the disadvantage strategically. I believe this is the one style match up that favors Ali in a big way. Had they fought in their primes, I see Holmes going after Ali much more than I can envision Ali pursuing Holmes. In this scenario, I see Ali's speed advantage playing a major role. Again, most likely Ali wins. However, I see Holmes a very difficult night for him from the first to last bell.
Tyson has filed for bankruptcy, which didn't really catch anyone napping. Besides, we hadn't heard from Tyson in almost a week. He was due to be caught up in another controversy.
A lost kid who grew up on the streets of Brooklyn, he made $300 million during his boxing career and now he's broke, busted, played out. He's just another pug who lived high and mighty and a little too fast. And now it's too late to go back and start over.
In the past, Tyson might have been able to fight his way out of this kind of jam. Book him a fight against a top contender, and he'd be back on his feet in no time, at least for a few weeks. Pay him $30 million to fight and maybe the wolves would back away from the door for awhile. He could continue his lavish spending.
But today, the only guy you'd pay that kind of money to was the old Mike Tyson, the guy who use to scare us just by climbing into the ring. He was like watching a horror movie. It was only a matter of minutes before someone lost their head.
But that guy's not around anymore. The new guy, the new Mike Tyson, is 37 and has dwindling boxing skills and limited earning potential. His days of big-time fights and big-time purses are over, and making a small fortune on the lucrative lecture circuit doesn't appear to be an option.
Still, he could pawn that $173,706, 40-inch, 80-carat necklace he bought last year. Or he could quit going to the jewelry store in a stretch limousine, which he still owes $308,749 for the use of.
If he hasn't done it already, Tyson should donate his pet tigers to the San Diego Zoo. It costs serious money to keep a tiger happy. In this case, he's $8,100 in arrears for tiger care and maintenance.
Think your phone bill is a little high following that 20-minute long-distance call to Denver? Between 1995 and 1997, Tyson reportedly spent $230,000 on pagers and cell phones. Just how much time does he spend on the phone and who is he talking to?
Tyson also reportedly owes millions in back taxes, owes several thousand in child-support and he's facing a number of lawsuits filed by old "friends" and ex wives.
Tyson isn't taking all the blame for his bounced checks and bad credit. He's suing Don King, claiming the promoter stole about $100 million from him during their carefree days when Tyson was king and King was making daily trips to the local savings and loan.
The problem with suing Don King is the long waiting list in front of you. Everyone from his ex-fighters to the check-out girl at Winn-Dixie wants a piece of King, and his won-loss record is impressive. King knows lawsuits and he has seldom dealt with one he couldn't beat.
As for Tyson, he brought most of this on himself. The number of fighters who claim to have lost millions to King is no secret. And even Tyson swore off King before he went to prison for rape in 1992. When he walked out three years later, he apparently forgot everything he'd learned. He went right back to King.
A fighter, who showed some definite signs of sluggishness last time out, wants to start over with a new promoter. During the process of negotiation, while there are still some I's to dot and some T's to cross, the promoter asks the fighter to take a complete physical, which includes some blood testing. It's nothing unreasonable - indeed, when a football player goes from one team to another in a trade, for example, he takes a physical so that the team that traded for him isn't getting "damaged goods". It's simply routine.
Well, in this case, the fighter tests positive for Hepatitis-C. From here on in it's not so routine.
Naturally, the promoter doesn't sign the fighter. But because he's concerned that word might get around the boxing grapevine, the fighter makes the promoter sign a confidentiality agreement, prohibiting any disclosure of the positive test results.
With this agreement in hand, the fighter has no thoughts of retiring, but instead endeavors to find a promoter who won't require him to go through a physical and a jurisdiction to fight in that doesn't test for Hepatitis-C. It's not too difficult to find both.
So ultimately a fight is scheduled, and an opponent is procured.
But obviously there's a problem that, for all intents and purposes, only the infected fighter is privy to.
The commission has been told about the positive Hepatitis test, but hasn't seen any concrete evidence of it. So, for as long as possible, their plan is to do nothing. Before exploring the ramifications of that particular posture, perhaps a quick orientation is in order.
According to the website http://www.all-about-hepatitisc.com, "Hepatitis C is a liver disease that is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The virus enters the liver cells, uses the cell's inner genetic machinery to make copies of itself, which then infect more cells..............In the United States alone, hepatitis C affects about 4 million people, making it much more common than HIV infection. In fact, hepatitis C is the most common bloodborne infection in the United States."
"Hepatitis C is usually spread from one person to another by direct exposure to infected blood or blood products, and needles or other sharp objects. With hepatitis C, there is risk associated with everyday events such as BLEEDING FROM CUTS or NOSEBLEEDS, and blood from menstruation."
Certainly it is not outside the realm of possibility that the disease could be transmitted from one fighter to the other.
Not only that, but there are other people to consider as well - the referee, the corner men, the doctors, the commission personnel at ringside, writers sitting around the ring apron, even customers in the first couple of rows of ringside seats - all of them could come in contact with Hepatitis-infected blood.
What's problematic is that they may never know it.
In fact, they may not actually discover it for years, and may infect other people in the interim.
"When symptoms do appear, they may be vague and include tiredness, stomach pain, and rash. Because HCV infection often has no symptoms, many people do not know they have hepatitis C and may be infecting others. THE ONLY WAY TO KNOW WHETHER YOU HAVE HEPATITIS C IS TO GET A BLOOD TEST FOR HEPATITIS C."
Given those parameters, wouldn't you think it's only right to make people aware of the infected fighter's condition?
Yes. But there are roadblocks. One is that promoter's confidentiality agreement with the fighter. Another is something called HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), passed in 1996, which, according to the website http://www.hipaadvisory.com, establishes "security standards protecting the confidentiality and integrity of 'individually identifiable health information,' past, present or future." Who is affected? "All healthcare organizations. This includes all health care providers, even 1-physician offices, health plans, employers, public health authorities, life insurers, clearinghouses, billing agencies, information systems vendors, service organizations, and universities."
This obviously leads us down a slippery slope. Many questions need to be raised - first of all, considering the symptoms and the internal health, should a fighter with Hepatitis-C be in the ring for his own sake?
In a strenuous physical activity, given the probability of close combat, where a clash of heads can cause both fighters to bleed, doesn't there exist a point where the fighter's right to privacy ends and his opponent's right to know begins? Indeed, couldn't this be classified as a NEED to know? And wouldn't the aforementioned referee, judges, doctors, corner men, etc. also fall into this "need-to-know" category?
Yes. And, to the best of my understanding, it is provided for within HIPAA.
"The Privacy Rule recognizes the important role that persons or entities other than public health authorities play in certain essential public health activities. Accordingly, the Rule permits covered entities to disclose protected health information, without authorization, to such persons or entities for the public health activities discussed below:
One of those activities includes.......
PERSONS AT RISK OF CONTRACTING OR SPREADING A DISEASE. A covered entity may disclose protected health information to a person who is at risk of contracting or spreading a disease or condition if other law authorizes the covered entity to notify such individuals as necessary to carry out public health interventions or investigations. For example, a covered health care provider may disclose protected health information as needed to notify a person that (s)he has been exposed to a communicable disease if the covered entity is legally authorized to do so to prevent or control the spread of the disease. See 45 CFR 164.512(b)(1)(iv)."
But under the parameters of my hypothetical, where none of the fighter's information is known, if a mishap occurred, and someone - anyone - contracted Hepatitis-C as a result of such contact with blood, and the jurisdiction had no safeguard for it through the testing of its licensed competitors, wouldn't that commission be on the hook for an awful lot of liability? Wouldn't the same hold true for the fighter infected with the disease, especially if he were fully aware of it?
If those commissioners actually had some prior knowledge of these possibilities, or if probable cause for suspicion were presented to them, wouldn't they be negligent if they didn't investigate it at the first opportunity, or didn't invoke the exception provided in HIPAA?
The answer to all of those questions is - you bet your ass. And you can argue all day about it if you want to.
To carry the hypothetical even further, what if it turned out that there was some kind of financial relationship, directly or indirectly, between the infected fighter and the people who were entrusted to make these kinds of decisions?
If that were the case, you would truly have a scandal of Jack Kerns-like proportions.
Let's say another boxing commission were in possession of a positive test for the disease, or to operate under the standards set up in some commissions, a fighter seeking a license simply failed to provide a NEGATIVE test when requested to do so. That commission has specific knowledge that the fighter is going to compete in another jurisdiction that might not test for Hepatitis-C. Does that commission have any obligation to inform the other commission as to such relevant information, or can it exercise the option that appears to be provided for it under the exceptions to the HIPAA Privacy Rule?
Hypothetically, if no one else bothered to provide the information about the infected fighter's condition to his opponent, would I be out of line if I decided to pick up the phone and call the opponent, letting him know the potential danger he was in?
Finally, the most salient question of all - considering all I have laid out for you, why in the world aren't all boxing commissions in the United States mandating pre-fight tests for this disease?
I sure wish everyone in Washington would think about THAT.
But I have to fess up, I was rooting like hell against cruiserweight Richie LaMontagne this past Friday night when he took on Dale Brown on ESPN2's 'Friday Night Fights'. Now, you may ask, 'Richie LaMontagne, who?' and why I would break one of my tenants about rooting for or against any fighter.
LaMontagne is basically a fringe contender at cruiserweight who barely registers a blip on the boxing radar. He's basically an average talent in a below average division who outside his looks- his moniker is 'the Model'- doesn't really stand out.
He's been fed a steady diet of soft touches and every time he's stepped up, he's been defeated by the likes of Vassiliy Jirov. On the surface, he was just another pug trying to punch out an honest living in the toughest game.
But he has this victory celebration that just got on my last nerve. He did this thing where he would look in the direction of his fallen opponents and mimicked a shotgun blast. What made it worse was that he'd do this celebration while his foe was prone on the canvas after a knockout, sometimes barely conscious. And to add insult to injury, these guys he was taunting weren't exactly James Toney or Dwight Braxton, they were hand-picked opposition that really had no shot of winning.
And in the case of former 2000 Olympian, Michael Bennett, he was actually struggling in a life-and-death fight.
It was as tacky as it was tasteless.
There's no problems with guys getting excited and celebrating, jumping on the top rope, raising their arms, jumping into their trainers embrace, screaming, yelling and even talking a lil' trash. Hey, it's the nature of the beast, an emotional game where fighters put their lives on the line. But to have a celebration where you go through the motions of shooting a fallen opponent clearly stepped over the line of acceptability. This isn't a Terrel Owens autographing a football after scoring a touchdown, or Butch Johnson doing the 'California Quake' or even a Barry Bonds standing at the batters box admiring one of his long distance blasts.
In boxing, battles can be literally life-and-death, the brave men that step through those ropes know the risks they are taking. But at the same time their is a pact made between the fighters that what has to be done, will be done, but there will be some honor in doing it. It's one of the most endearing things about this sport to see two men land hay-makers at each other for 10 rounds and then embrace each other. Throughout those grueling rounds they have gone from grudging respect to flat out admiration for one another. It's something only fighters can understand.
And mind you, I'm a guy that likes celebrations and touchdown shimmies. Hey, sports is entertainment and athletes are performers. But the difference here is that when a Owens or Bonds show up an opponent, nobody is maimed in the process- and there is always a chance that somebody who got shown up by these two athletic diva's, will later on have a chance for retribution and revenge in the form of a hard tackle or a high hard one- but also they are doing it against their equals, not over-matched opposition that is there to serve as cannon-fodder.
It's bad enough that you get to play the role of bully, but then you rub it in. If he was doing his 'shotgun' blasts against world-class fighters, it's one thing, but to do it against guys who had no shot at winning, well, at that point it's just flat out obnoxious. It would like winning a hundred yard dash against a group of quadriplegics and backpedaling the last 20 yards and high-stepping against the handicapped racers.
So it was with great interest that I watched his fight against Dale Brown. Brown, certainly isn't a great fighter but there was one thing that separated him from LaMontagne- experience at the world class level. Unlike LaMontagne, he did't have promotional protection and he had gone on the road against some of the games best within his division. No, he did't win a lot of those fights but he was battle tested and seasoned. LaMontagne, to him, was just another fighter. On the other end of the spectrum, Brown represented a huge step up in class for LaMontagne.
And it showed.
Brown would floor LaMontagne in the first and judging by the look on his face, he knew he was in for a long night. Too many outings at the kiddie pool and now he was about to drown, as he knew he was in way too deep. Brown would continue to pour it on early against LaMontagne, bruising up 'the Model's' mug, it looked like this would be a short fight.
I could't have been happier and I could imagine that the legions of fans who felt the same way I did were probably know doing our own 'shotgun' blasts in the direction of our televisions and crowing out loud. And perhaps others were doing the ever popular 'throat slash' gesture, or doing the 'air shovel' and digging a grave for LaMontagne. Hey, what comes around, goes around as they say.
But a funny thing happened as the rounds went on and Brown kept shellacking him, LaMontagne, didn't quit, didn't whine or find a way out. He fought on like a true fighter, still attempting to win, being game and tough. It was a losing effort but a valiant one nonetheless. By the late rounds, believe it or not, I felt a lot of admiration for the way he stayed professional and steadfast in his commitment to fight. He was a real fighter on this night.
And while it may be easy to pile on him for his past antics, the question has to be asked, how many of you have gone through what he did? Teddy Roosevelt once had a quote that basically stated that it's not the critic who counts but the one who's out there on the battlefield putting himself at risk. LaMontagne, did something that very few human beings have the courage to do- and it's even harder when you're getting beat like a drum.
There would be no celebrations for LaMontagne on this night but he did gain a measure of respect that he had failed to earn in all his recent victories. And perhaps he also realized that the vanquished- like he was on this night- deserved respect also.
Since opponents are needed in order to put on shows, the other promoters were left with a situation where they often had to go out of state to bring talent in. It became a costly proposition, in many cases making it impossible to make money, and discouraged promoters from staying in the business.
Certainly this was a creative way to make use of the promotional contract. But was it right, or a practice that should have been curtailed, if only the mechanism existed?
Well, promotional contracts prescribe a minimum number of fights over a specified time, for a minimum amount of money. And consider that when the dust cleared, a lot of these opponents were left in the lurch. The intention of their "promoter" was not to give them work, but simply tie up talent. Obviously it wasn't something that was GOOD for the sport. Of course, not many fighters took action for breach. They probably didn't have enough resources to bring a suit. And besides, why would a fighter with a .500 record expect a promotional contract to begin with?
Most boxing commissions don't get involved in penalizing promoters for not fulfilling these deals. But in some cases, maybe they should.
And let me go a step further. As I'm sure I've said before, it is not uncommon in this business for someone who isn't a promoter at all to have fighters under a promotional contract. When I say someone is not a promoter, I don't mean in the broader sense as I pointed out in the 81st Round. And I don't mean in the legal sense either, since the party who issues a promotional contract defines himself as "Promoter".
I mean someone who doesn't promote fights; someone who doesn't put on any shows. He's not licensed in any jurisdiction. As such, he has not gone through the process of getting bonded, as anyone who seeks a promotional license must do in most states.
Under these parameters, we know that the motivation for signing a fighter to a promotional contract is something else altogether - the ability to exercise control over the fighter's activity, and to pick up a side fee, as a precursor to allowing a fight to happen, generally without any restrictions as a manager would have, since everyone is mindful that the Ali Act is not enforced.
And the fighter who signs a contract with this kind of individual often doesn't know that he has no intention of actually PROMOTING shows, but rather to serve as a quasi-manager.
Which brings us to another question - should parties holding promotional contracts be licensed as promoters, and subject to all the requirements that are associated with such licensure? That appears to be the case in some states, including Pennsylvania, where for years the requirement is that a promoter must be licensed and make note of that in his promotional contract in order for it to be valid. Should something like that become a nationwide standard? Perhaps it's something that needs to be explored.
Another concern I have surrounds some of the actual clauses that appear in promotional contracts, aside from the actual lengths of those deals.
There is a perception, I think, that simple agreements are best, since they don't get complicated to the point where they confuse the fighter. Actually, simple contracts - which are preferred by the likes of Russell Peltz - leave a lot of "wiggle room" for the promoter, in that they leave enough uncovered that the promoter knows how to fill in the blanks to his advantage.
For instance, I think the absence of clauses specifying the split of a purse when the fighter is "loaned out" to another promoter needs to be addressed. We've talked about it before - a promoter places his fighter on another promoter's card, and can grab any amount of money he can from that transaction - sometimes even more than the fighter himself earns. It would seem reasonable that restrictions on that kind of money-grubbing could be mandated if contracts were standardized to some extent.
I'll give you another quick example - in the last chapter I referred to the "one-loss-and-out" clause which gave the promoter an option to cut a fighter loose after a loss or keep him under different terms. That would appear to be fair and equitable, but it shouldn't be used to hit a fighter over the head with. If the contract calls for renegotiating minimum purses in such a case, that's exactly what it should mean; the true intention can't be that there will merely be a fight-by-fight negotiation from that point forward without minimums - something so nebulous as to create "indefinite terms" that serve to advantage only one side (and guess which side that is).
Antwun Echols got out of his promotional contract with Banner Promotions on the basis of this issue, in a case I was involved in, and will expand upon - to a great extent - in a subsequent "Total Action Special Report" and later a book.
The fact is that even though Echols got out, he had to spend a lot of money on lawyers (not to mention consultants like myself) in order to do it. Maybe it shouldn't have to be like that.
Couldn't a boxing commission, or association of commissions, have some input as to which clauses are permissible in a promotional contract and how these clauses are interpreted?
And what about promotional contracts in general? Not everybody likes them. While they may represent a source of opportunity for some fighters, they may, by the same token, become a tremendous burden to carry for others. You know, I've talked to a fair number of people in this business - a surprising number, in fact - who feel that promotional contracts are a poison and should be outlawed; that the system should exist where if a promoter wants to put on a show, he simply negotiates best price with each fighter individually, without any consideration of "exclusive rights" or financial interests in the talent.
Under this system, all fighters would be "free agents". Ideally, it makes some sense. You could imagine that the overall quality to fights would go up. Would it also drive purse up? Maybe not.
Remember, if there were enough "free" fighters to the point where the market of good ones can occasionally flood the market in a way where supply outstrips demand, it would serve to keep the market very much in check. I'll never forget the message put across by Charlie Finley, former owner of the Oakland A's, when it was readily apparent the era of free agency was going to drive baseball salaries up considerably. "Make 'em all free agents every year," was Finley's reaction. Opening the floodgates for ALL players, every season, to enter the free agent market would have diluted the effect of their free agency and decreased demand, thus keeping the salary scale down. And the players couldn't have argued against it on the basis of moral principle.
There is very little question that the elimination of promotional contracts would make it much more difficult for promoters to build a power base that would perpetuate itself through tying up fighters. This would probably result in a more level playing field, since procuring a fighter's services could only happen on a case-by-case basis.
But would there be a playing field at all? It is no secret that in and of itself, a boxing show is not normally a profitable proposition. And it's almost certain to fail without the backing of a casino, a network, or both. So the motivation for a promoter is to have a certain amount of "equity" in the careers of the fighters he has under contract. If a promoter couldn't engage in the development of an entity that may someday yield a return on investment, he might choose not to be involved in the business.
And even though I'm sure there are some people who would like to take all the promoters and drive them off a cliff, the stark reality is that promoters, and even packagers, play an integral role in the business, both in developing talent for the marketplace and fueling the boxing economy with product (with the help of the omnipresent network interests, of course).
It's more appropriate to come up with a way to appease both sides, at least to a degree.
Perhaps a scenario to consider is one where promotional deals would be limited to THREE fights. Over the long haul, this would constitute better fights, since the motivation to protect the fighter might not be there. It would still allow the industrious promoter to profit with the fighter, but would force the promoter into putting the fighter "in tough" more often, since there would not be as vested an interest in the fighter.
Under this scenario - to the extent you feel such activity is the norm - the promoter would not have as much motivation to use money to manipulate the rankings, since the relationship is not as long-standing and the investment, by and large, is not as considerable.
And if you want to know about prospects who would be signed out of the amateur ranks, a component of this plan is that fighters would be prohibited from signing a promotional deal until they have competed in a certain number of bouts, or have reached the eight-round level.
Yeah, I know the objection: how would fighters get developed? Well, the answer is - and listen closely - they'd be developed better. By and large, promoters DO NOT develop fighters these days; they STEER fighters. They build COMMODITIES. "Development" is not a proper word, but that's a subject we can talk all day about.
I'm a believer that the cream will eventually rise to the top; so if they're good enough, the true prospects are going to succeed. The only difference is, you can be virtually assured that the fighter who comes through this system would be a REAL prospect, not a phony, built-up contender who needs to get through twenty stiffs before he demonstrates to the whole world that he can't fight.
A number of fighters could benefit from a structure that features limited free agency, with the ability to shop while at the same time not flooding the market. In this way, competitors of all levels will find themselves in a position where they can control their own destiny.
Should a promoter want to renew an existing deal with a fighter, he is free to do so, but each renewal would have to be accompanied by a mandatory 20% increase in the minimum purse structure.
Another potential effect - promoters, unable to tie up fighters for a long period of time, may not be in a position to make certain long-term deals with networks or casinos, thus opening up the marketplace a little more.
Would the richest promoters still be able to get the best talent? Well, that's quite possible. After all, you have to have the financial wherewithal to guarantee purses. And television connections built through the years wouldn't necessarily evaporate. But the fact is that with more competition to procure talent, power in the industry is naturally going to be more widely distributed.
The end result could be less corruption, more competitive fights, less domination by a few promotional entities, and an atmosphere where promoters have to become promoters again and not just packagers.
Which could very well lead to more public confidence in the sport of boxing.
Or perhaps there shouldn't be any changes at all? I'm very anxious to get your input on the subject. Don't hesitate to get in touch.