Cedric Kushner was standing in the center of the ring, thanking everyone. It seemed kind of unusual because the ride boxing has given him over the last few years, you would think he'd have something a bit stronger to say than “Thank you.” Perhaps, something more along the lines of Screw You!
Go ahead, Google him. It will take a while before you get to the good stuff.
When you scour the internet for Kushner, you will find that he's duked it out in court with Don King (what rival promoter hasn't) as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission. He was fined after he admitted to paying bribes during the IBF ratings-for-sale controversy and he's lost a heavyweight champion to Don King (what rival promoter hasn't?).
“It has been difficult,” said Kushner. “But another sold out show here is always a good sign. We move on. That's the important thing and here we are.”
Yes, here we are. Back at the Hammerstein Ballroom on November 4th. Kushner was the first promoter to make this hallowed New York concert hall a fight venue back in 2000. Now it hosts regular boxing cards that are staged by several promoters.
On this night, the crowd includes Roberto Duran (who has a protégé on the card), James P. Hoffa (son of Jimmy Hoffa, who is on hand because the Teamsters are aligning themselves with the boxing union, JAB), artist LeRoy Neiman and about 1,000 Irishmen who filed in the door to watch middleweight prospect John Duddy.
Duddy, the unsigned Golden Boy of the New York fight scene, improved to 13-0 with 12 knockouts, by virtue of his 4th-round TKO of Bryon Mackie. Duran’s fighter, Colombian welterweight Richard Gutierrez, also won by knockout. And, in an IBO super bantamweight title fight, South Africa’s Takalani Ndlovu decisioned Armando Guerrero.
It is a far cry from the days when Kushner promoted Sugar Shane Molsey in a world title bout across 8th Ave. at Madison Square Garden. But the promoter was in his element. And he was smiling again.
In 1993, Kushner started the “Heavyweight Explosion” television series and promoted many young up-and-coming heavyweights. Among them were Chris Byrd, Shannon Briggs, Corrie Sanders, Oleg Maskaev, Jameel McCline, Kirk Johnson, Michael Grant and Hasim Rahman. Some of them even went to become the heavyweight champion.
In the case of Byrd and Sanders, though, they were fighting for someone other than Kushner at the time they won the belt. Then there was Rahman.
In April of 2001, Rahman upset WBC/IBF heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis with a stunning fifth-round knockout. To make the victory sweeter, Rahman pulled the upset in Johannesburg, South Africa, the country in which Kushner was born.
The celebration lasted about as long as the 10-count. It’s been well documented. Rahman left Kushner for King after the “Only in America Man” forked over a briefcase filled with about $250,000 in cash. Kushner had a rematch deal with Lewis on the table for roughly $17-million. Rahman would eventually lose the title back to Lewis for considerably less. In fact, the fighter recently filed for bankruptcy.
“I think Hasim Rahman made one of the most fiscally irresponsible decisions in the history of boxing,” said Kushner. “He cost me millions of dollars. And I’m not happy to say that it cost him even more.”
Everyone knows Kushner’s rags-to-riches story. He came to America with little money and even less of a game plan. He found his way into promoting rock concerts and when a small band called Fleetwood Mac exploded into stardom, Kushner was along for the ride.
The South African eventually moved into the boxing business and began by managing the career of Teddy Mann, a tough ESPN fighter in the mid-1980s. Success followed and suddenly Kushner was putting on major cards. He had South African champions like Vuyani Bungu and Cassius Baloyi as well as established fighters in America like Marlon Starling and Tony Tucker.
Today, his stable consists primarily of Bronx junior welterweight prospect Jorge Teron, former world champion Joel Casamayor, and heavyweights Shannon Briggs and David Tua. He has partnered on several pay-per-view shows with Warriors Boxing at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
“I’m very optimistic that both Tua and Briggs will get a title fight opportunity in 2006,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who they fight and I don’t think it matters which belt they fight for. Whichever organization it is, they will represent that organization well.”
Of his relationship with Warriors Boxing, Kushner said, “I have no formal arrangement with them. But I’ve had a good personal relationship with Leon Marguiles and a good business relationship too. I’m optimistic we’ll continue to work together.”
That Kushner remains optimistic is good for the sport of boxing. He has always been an active promoter and the New York fight crowd has often benefited by his schedule. He is talking about returning to New York for a card featuring Teron and Casamayor at the new Loews Theater in the Bronx on December 9.
“I’ve been on top and I’ve been through hard times,” he said. “I’ve never given up. I’m still here. I’m still promoting. I love what I’m doing.”
That may be so. But as a man compiles time in his chosen profession, the losses sometimes tend to last a bit longer and the victories fade a bit quicker. Kushner has lost more than just fights, more than just money. He’s lost friends. He’s lost fighters that he cultivated. He admitted at the ballroom that it took longer for him to recover from the Rahman episode.
He may love what he is doing, but does he still love the sport of boxing? Is it possible after the events of the last several years?
“I’m probably one of the few people who goes to work and doesn’t look at his watch to see if it’s time to go home,” he said. “I look at my watch to see what time other people go home. I’m happy. I’m doing what I enjoy.”