Word on the street is Roc Nation Sports, the new Jay Z boxing promotional entity, wants Andre Ward to be a boxing building block for them, and are trying to get a bit creative about ways to get that done.
If you have followed the recent arc in the career of Ward, you know the Bay Area boxer is supremely talented, but that his exploits of late have been thin, simply because he hasn’t gloved up. First, there was an injury (November 2012) which kept him from taking part in a planned tussle against faded Kelly Pavlik. That was to unfold in January 2013.
But soon thereafter, Ward (27-0 with 14 KOs) started shifting his fighting away from the gym, to the business arena. He tried to split from promoter Dan Goossen, and employed lawyers and an arbitration session with the California State Athletic Commission in June 2013. He was rebuffed, as the Commission ruled in favor of Goosen, after the 30-year-old Ward complained that members of his team were kept out of the loop while Goossen discussed a Ward fight with HBO.
Ward complained that Goossen kept other members of his team, such as co-promoter Antonio Leonard, and advisor James Prince, a music CEO, out of the loop, while Goossen worked on hammering out deals with HBO, who has been the platform for his bouts of late.
In November 2013, Leonard tried to exert some leverage, looking to sue Goossen in Texas, because he alleged that Goossen was improperly seeking to cut him out of a valid co-promotional arrangement. Leonard got nowhere with that attempt. Ward kept on punching…
In April 2013, the Cali Commssion again saw things Goossen’s way, after Ward contended that Cali labor laws should invalidate a contractual deal with Goossen, because it exceeded seven years. No, Team Goossen argued, Mr. Ward of his own free will re-signed an extension, in 2011, and the Commission agreed. Ward’s attorney Josh Dubin took offense, and hit at the Commission’s trending towards not seeing things his client’s way. The Cali oversight body ruled that because of Ward’s “incapacity and/or uncooperativeness,” 14 months was being added to his contract with Goossen, and thus, the deal was good till Nov. 8, 2016.
Goossen countered that it was Ward who was the one keeping HIM out of the loop with HBO, and thus, that gummed up the works in putting a bout together for Ward. Goossen asserted he had a deal ready for Ward to face off against Mikkel Kessler, in February 2014, but that Ward didn’t want to play ball.
Ward, showing some of the pluck which serves him well in the ring, didn’t go quietly. In May, he said he “didn’t really have anything personal against Goossen. This isn’t a personal fight or personal vendetta.” But in early August 2014, Ward upped his charges, to a new level. His legal team filed suit alleging violations by Goossen of the Muhammad Ali Act. “Even though Goossen has promoted Mr. Ward for nearly his entire ten year professional career, and despite repeated requests by Mr. Ward, Goossen failed in all instances to make any timely disclosures to Mr. Ward under the Ali Act for any of his fights from 2004 through 2012,” read a portion of the Team Ward complaint. Goossen had about enough, and filed a countersuit, to the tune of a $10 million defamation charge versus Ward. Yes, it became, to my eyes, somewhat personal.
Goossen took umbrage at that accusation, but chose not to speak publicly, telling me he wanted the issue to be cleared up not in the public eye, but through our system of law. But it was clear he was somewhat stung that Ward would lodge what seemed like a smear to a proud man. He took the high road, though, refusing to engage in an in-the-press mud-throw-fest. On Aug. 20, a Cali Superior Court judge ruled against Ward, yet again. The status of the defamation countersuit by Goossen is unclear to me, at this time.
With the passing of Goossen on Sept. 29, the rumor mill started humming.
Here’s what I’ve been hearing:
Ward, or Ward and Roc Nation, will buy out the Goossen contract. Leonard will be part of a package, will hop aboard Team Roc Nation, to work in some capacity, and Ward will be freed from the Goossen deal, and be featured as Roc’s top dog boxing client. I also heard that people working at Goossen boxing, which includes son Craig Goossen and matchmaker Tom Brown, might be open to listening to buyout offers, but the figure Team Ward might like to offer isn’t in the right ballpark.
I reached out to Ward first, to see what is truth and what is just grist for the mill. His publicist wished me well, and said Ward had “no comment” when I asked about a buyout of the Goossen contract and a leap to Roc.
I also reached out to Leonard, to see if he could shed light on the issue. He took my call, said he would call back in 20 minutes, and I am hoping a call back is in fact on his To Do list.
Here is the “About” from his website, to help you get a sense of him:
Antonio Leonard Promotions is the premiere boxing promotions, management, and special events company. Our primary goal is to bring the most exciting and entertaining boxing events across the globe. Antonio Leonard Promotions was founded in 1995 by long time boxing manager and promoter Antonio Leonard. Antonio Leonard has managed and worked with many of our generations greatest world champion boxers such as Winky Wright, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Diego Corrales, Jeff Lacy, Roy Jones Jr, Andre Ward, and Chad Dawson. Mr. Leonard has been apart of many of the greatest boxing events of our time and looks forward to bringing that same excitement across the globe.
I reached out to Ron Berkowitz, a spokesman for Roc Nation Sports, to help shed light, and clarify the issue. Berkowitz didn’t respond to several emails or a phone message. Roc Nation chief operating officer David Itskowitch, when asked about these rumors, about Roc wanting Ward and Leonard coming aboard, about there being resistance on the Goossen side of accepting a buyout offer, replied, via email: “News to me. Haven’t heard that.”
I left a message requesting Craig Goossen, Dan’s son, who is taking over a portion of the reins of the boxing endeavor, to help clarify the issues, and I await his reply.
My take: as with most such rumbles, I would be most pleased if the lawyers had less to do with the matter. Maybe this all plays out and Ward gets to say “I told ya so” in five years, but to me, I see a talented guy reaching his possible prime who fought once in 2012, once in 2013, and hasn’t fought in 2014. The man is a fighter…who isn’t fighting where he does it best, in the ring. Here’s hoping peace pipes get brought out, an agreeable settlement occurs, and all involved can get busier making lawyers less happy, and fight fans more so.
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