Bob Arum wants Al Haymon to know he’s sick of him and his boys playing on his lawn. Enough is enough, he’s saying, he’s tired of watching all these kids having fun without his permission and he’s calling the cops, err—his attorneys—right now.
Instead of celebrating a thaw in the deep freeze of boxing business, fans are on the outside of Bobfather’s lawsuit against the man bringing them what they love and are looking in, scratching their heads.
After surviving the worst winter in generation in Buffalo, New York, watching TV on a weekend afternoon in summer isn’t something I expected to fit in between mowing the lawn and sharing intimate moments with my long lost friend, the sun. But boxing comes to you when you’re of the persuasion, in the form of Google advertising—turns out they know a thing or two about my habits—and over radio on the local sports station. For the first time I can remember, boxing is getting paid placement in the waters of mainstream sports and I was reminded to tune in a few weeks ago to watch Sammy Vasquez in against Wale Omotoso on CBS, courtesy of Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions.
Who? Doesn’t matter, there’s boxing on TV and since Haymon’s emerged from the shadows of several years of some of the worst matchmaking imaginable during which he stockpiled and protected fighters and made us all furious, he’s turned on the faucet. It’s been part of the plan all along, apparently, to invest perhaps as much as $400 million in a sport that many pundits and investors felt had lost relevance.
I saw something like this coming about a year ago, but like Pat Russell I had counted Haymon out too early. At the time, he was making money hand over fist with such matchups as Garcia-Salka and Peterson-BagofSand. While I still think that a tournament style showcase of Haymon’s fighters would pique interest and create new rivalries—which is really the life-blood of boxing interest—I can also see the business downside of so quickly establishing stars over perennial challengers. For 2015, Haymon deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Back to Vasquez-Omotoso: For those who didn’t catch it, it was a great little fight—a “this is what boxing is all about” kind of fight. The storylines were basic and compelling: Vasquez, a decorated Iraq war vet from Pittsburgh; Omotoso an immigrant from Nigeria pursuing the American Dream. And both fighters wore the courage that got them into the ring in the first place directly on their sleeves, and both fought with the determination that reflected how much this moment on national TV meant to themselves, their families, and their corners of the world. The favorite, Vasquez, was tested continually while the challenger refused to yield an inch of space, winning tough rounds with measured aggression. It was a little like Provodnikov-Matthysse lite: neither fighter was ever hurt but the fight never stopped being entertaining.
There are still things I don’t like about PBC events, the lack of a ring announcer for one (what are they scared by Dave Diamante’s dreads?), but the good—quality, accessible, well-marketed boxing—far outweighs the bad. And because of selfish reasons and the strong possibility that PBC isn’t yet in the black, Bob Arum and Golden Boy’s efforts to discredit and drag Haymon to court, while predictable, just feels like nothing more than sour grapes.
The main argument of Top Rank’s 50-page lawsuit filed against Haymon alleges a “payola” scheme by which Haymon and PBC are paying CBS, NBC, ESPN, etc. for time-slot placement and exclusivity agreements. It’s an absurd argument for Arum to make, (1) because this sounds like due diligence from a business standpoint and (2) Arum hasn’t had shred of interest in holding fights on any network but HBO for twenty years.
The Muhammad Ali Act of 1999 has been invoked in Arum’s argument, but that notion is incredibly fraught as the Ali Act has never been really enforced anyway, and the whole argument of promoter acting as manager to create a non-competitive environment just seems moot as Haymon is using promotions and broadcast avenues Arum has dismissed for years. I’ll readily admit I’m not a lawyer and the only people who really know boxing business are the people who don’t talk about their business, but the whole thing smacks as a vanity lawsuit filed by a man with a legal team on retainer.
Remember, this is the man who complained to TSS editor Mike Woods last month that he thinks it sets a bad precedent for PBC to pay networks to air fights and in his own lawsuit alleges Haymon has lost $200 million already. So he’s upset someone is challenging his decades-long iron grip on the money of boxing and he feels it necessary to sue a party who, by his accounts, is bleeding money? If it were true, of course, that Haymon’s burned through half of his chest in six months, PBC will go bust long before this lawsuit is settled. And doesn’t Arum stand to directly benefit from any new fans that PBC attracts to the fold?
Ultimately, I have no dog in the fight. Fight fans are used to playing the sucker, and I’m no exception. I’ll watch the matches any damn way I can. As such, I understand a little about the physical and mental toll that the sport exacts from its brave participants and want them treated well. With a roster of over 200 boxers and growing, it’s clear that Haymon is doing something for boxers that has never been attempted. I’d love to know what Vasquez and Omotoso feel about Arum’s lawsuit. If crazy Al goes broke paying boxers, more power to him. If he makes good on rumors to put Floyd’s next fight on CBS, all the more props.
Arum just wants everyone to know that if and when PBC folds and the new fans it has attracted are looking to feed their fight jones, he’ll be here to jack up the PPV prices.