There were hints, little things that made Lester Bedford think he wouldn’t be a part of Team Real Deal for much longer while he was overseeing the Evander Holyfield fight last week in Dallas.
The event marketer got a call from a matchmaker a few weeks ago, asking about opponents for Holyfield’s next fight, and the matchmaker was someone who’d done work for the promoter Murad Muhammad.
Bedford is now in his third decade in this business and had heard, like everyone else, about Muhammad’s dealings with Manny Pacquiao and Roy Jones, and how he’d been ditched from each affiliation.
But Bedford shrugged the queasy feeling in his stomach and the tinkling warning bells in his head, and went back to work packing people in to American Airlines Arena to watch the 43-year-old comeback kid beat on an insurance salesman from West Virginia.
Bedford tried to placate his worries when he asked George Hutson, the director of business development for a Texas law firm who was working with Holyfield from a negotiating/legal angle, if there was anything he should know? No, Bedford says Hutson told him, everything’s the same. Just keep doing what you’re doing, look ahead to a Sept. 30 date in San Antonio. Holyfield’s trainer, Ronnie Shields, was also kept in the dark about the change in status, Bedford said, and also about the speed of Holyfield’s comeback and level of opposition as he attempts to line up a title shot.
So Bedford went back to work, making sure all the ads were out for the fight, performing PR for the event with due diligence.
But the queasy feeling turned in to a full-on stomachache when he got a load of Hutson after Holyfield took care of business against Jeremy Bates on Friday, according to Bedford. Hutson took on the role of manager/promoter, in effect, when he took the mike and rattled on about Holyfield’s next outing, which in fact had not been locked down, against 26-3 Turk Sinan Samil Sam. This was before Holyfield had a chance to address the media, who were eager to hear from the comeback “kid,” and were aching to get some quotes to make late deadlines.
Bedford pulled Hutson aside and confronted him in a heated manner in a hallway at the post-bout press conference and asked him what gives? Bedford already knew that he was expendable, basically, as the promoter Muhammad was in attendance, but he wanted to be told to his face, to be given that consideration. “This is what Evander wants to do,” Hutson replied.
Evander may well not know that Muhammad, a former member of Muhammad Ali’s entourage who sometimes said he was a bodyguard for The Greatest, was accused of bilking Manny Pacquiao out of millions of dollars. The Real Deal may be unaware that the IRS swooped down on Pacquiao to snatch up a portion of his purse money for fighting Erik Morales because his taxes were not paid on his earnings, as he was promised. Muhammad was accused of acting in concert with Pacquiao’s business managers in forming a shell company, and deducting 30% from Pac man’s earnings to pay the taxes, but never actually performing the task.
The whole mess went to the courts in April 2005, with Pacquiao filing a $33 million breach of contract and was settled minutes before the case went to a jury in June 2005, with Muhammad paying $800,000 to Pacquiao. Muhammad also agreed to let Pacquiao pursue another promotional situation, with whom he’d been aligned since 2001.
Bedford, a man who has done promotional work on more than 100 title fights, paints a picture of Hutson as a neophyte in the game, who may too be unaware of the recent negativity surrounding Muhammad and his dealings. To be succinct, Bedford thinks he has been screwed by Hutson, who he says had never been to a live boxing event before the Dallas show.
“Big time,” he tells TSS. “I found out I had been dumped at the press conference. I was made out to be the bad guy. I’m a good team player. I was a good soldier.”
Some whispers may have been tossed at Holyfield, Bedford theorizes, to try and convince the fighter that the event marketer wasn’t wholly on the up and up. Also, he heard grumbling from Holyfield’s new crew that the last press conference, on Tuesday, wasn’t at the arena, but was a twenty-minute drive from the venue, at the Texas Motor Speedway.
Regardless, Bedford will protect his interests. As he hasn’t been paid for his efforts, he has alerted an attorney to be on the ready so he can recoup what he is owed.
Clearly, Bedford knows to his core that he did a bangup job with the promotion, convincing 9,127 people to pay to see a sparring sesh, and lobbying Fox to air the event. He is stung by the turn of events and while he won’t pin the hard-hearted dealings on Holyfield, his image of the fighter has definitely been affected.
“If you’re in the big leagues,” Bedford says, “and you hit .385, you don’t expect to be released.”
TSS called Hutson to get his side of the story. I left messages on his office voicemail and on his cell phone on Tuesday during the day, letting him know I wanted to get the scoop on Holyfield’s forthcoming plans. I heard nothing on Tuesday, so I tried again Wednesday.
I left a more specific message, saying that I wanted to give Hutson the opportunity to answer some negative press that appeared about him in the San Antonio and Atlanta press. He got my voicemail and called me back after 3 PM on Wednesday. All questions regarding Holyfield’s direction will be answered at a press conference next week and as for the negative stories, Hutson said, there would be no comment.
I called him back, leaving a voicemail saying that I wanted to at least get the scoop on who he is, so I can inform readers who the man leading Real Deal Promotions is. He called back quickly.
“The bottom line is I have no comment on the negative stories. Evander is the guy who makes the decisions on Real Deal events, I take directions from him,” Hutson said. He was virtually in filibuster mode, barely pausing to take a breath. When I got an opportunity to speak, I asked him about his background.
“So, you are an attorney at a law firm?” I asked.
“That’s irrelevant to what we’re doing here,” Hutson said. “That’s not the issue.”
The credentials of the person directing the career path of the iconic, four-time heavyweight champion, a man revered in some circles for his boundless faith and status as a warrior for Christian values, are not relevant?
“I’m curious because I don’t know your name from boxing circles,” I told him, and one of the printed pieces referred to Holyfield’s advisory crew, apart from Bedford, as ‘inexperienced boxing people.’
Hutson kept his cool, but stayed on message, as curious and cryptic as it appeared to be.
“You don’t need to know me from the boxing scene,” he said. “I appreciate you called me numerous times…”
I had no more time or interest in this time-wasting exercise, so we parted ways on that note.
My questions to Hutson, about his suitability to act as a spokesman for Holyfield, or act as a negotiator for him; or whether or not trainer Ronnie Shields had ever been informed that a fight with Sinan Samil Sam was in the works; or if Murad Muhammad would be part of the new Holyfield promotional entity that Bedford had advised him to set up; or if Bedford had been mislead about Holyfield’s near-future plans; or if Holyfield knew that Muhammad had to settle a court case with Manny Pacquiao, went unasked, and unanswered.
Just know that we tried to get all sides of the story, but were rebuffed.
Bottom line, we all know this is business. And just because Lester Bedford apparently did a bangup for Holyfield it doesn’t mean he will be rewarded for his excellence. That is quite likely not fair. Life seldom is. But one has to wonder about Holyfield’s state of mind as he attempts the seemingly impossible, a fifth heavyweight title, at an advanced age and years of declining skills. He fashions himself as a man of God, who follows a higher set of principles than the average man, and so his dealings are judged accordingly. From my vantage point, with the information that has been given to me, I can only conclude that Lester Bedford got screwed over. Hey, you can argue, that’s business for you. But this is Evander Holyfield, a man who should know and do better.
Are Holyfield’s stated beliefs the Real Deal, or not?
Or are his beliefs, in context with his recent actions, irrelevant?