Gosh, are major, multinational companies dropping the ball not throwing fat endorsement deals at Nonito Donaire, I found myself thinking on Thursday evening at the luxurious Capitale in NYC, at the 88th annual Boxing Writers Association of America awards dinner. Yeah, sorry, I gotta admit that business thoughts intruded where they shouldn't, but one and all in the room were feeling the waves of emotion and gratefulness emanating from Donaire as he received his award as 2012 Fighter of the Year.
He spoke about being the runt of the litter growing up in the Phillipines, about how he was taunted, bullied and beaten, and lived in fear. Breaking into a nervous grin, and admitting he felt ill at ease giving this speech, as wife Rachel and his Top Rank team, led by Bob Arum, looked on, Donaire (above, in Chris Farina-Top Rank photo) said that this award should be noted by all the little kids who are getting taunted, bullied and beaten. This award is for the asthmatics, for the children who aren't expected to flourish as adults, he said. This award is being held by a person who was so nervous that he peed his pants before his first time stepping into a boxing ring. "Don't worry, I'm not gonna wet the stage," he cracked.
Yes, I have said this before, but maybe this time some marketer, or someone with influence in this sphere will get the damn memo--Donaire is a role model whose story should be disseminated far and wide. His is an inspirational tale and it is a minor felony that non boxing fans aren't fully aware of where he has come from to get to this peak. His level of excitement and committment as he counts down to the birth of his first child in July is widely appealing to women as a whole, I suspect, and we know that his in-ring skill and power has fight fans, male and female, enthralled.
Most of you know, you can see Donaire in action Saturday night, at Radio City Music Hall (NYC) or on HBO, against Guillermo Rigondeaux (11 PM ET).
The dinner was a success, as BWAA president Jack Hirsch once again oversaw, with event coordinator Gina Andriolo, a smashing gala. It got off to a rough start for me, as I arrived at 7:20, and went to a bar to grab a club soda. A Capitale employee grabbed the club soda out of my hand, and said, "The bar is closed." We argued, I informing the man that I was on the board of the damn organization paying for the event, but he was unmoved. He wouldn't let me have a club soda. I dropped an eff bomb and he pouted. I then walked into the dinner area and got a club soda. "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," I found myself thinking as I collected myself. It's not like I was grabbing a bottle of Stoli and causing a ruckus. Shame on Capitale for enforcing such a silly rigidity...
One standout moment for me, aside from collecting a second place writing award for this story on the late Willie Classen, in the long feature category, was hearing Bob Arum rail against the programming powers that be while accepting the Fight of the Year award on behalf of Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao, for their December 2012 squareoff. (Note: Please feel free to follow me on Twitter here.) Enough with appearance fights, Arum said to a room of about 150 people, as many had cleared out because the dinner ran a bit long. All of the fights up for Fight of the Year were basically even fights going in, and that is instructional, he said. Fans don't want showcase fights, don't want to see record and hype building exercises. Give them pick em fights, and we will once again see boxing tick up in popularity. I cracked up to myself as Arum, as passionate as ever at 81, gave folks the what for. And guess what? He's not wrong. Programmers need to assert themselves and force advisors and promoters to bring pick em fights to the table. If they do that 95% of the time, all of us will benefit. Brandon Rios lost against Mike Alvarado, but are any of us writing him off, dismissing him, saying that we don't want to see him again? No. Informercials are great for 2 AM on a bottom tier cable channel, but not appropriate on premium cable, is what I took Arum to be saying, reading between the lines.
As for Arum, you should have seen his face when Jack Obermayer, introing the Long and Meritorious award to Top Rank's Bruce Trampler, cracked a joke about Oscar De La Hoya and his relationship with Arum. Arum looked like he'd found a roach on his filet.
Kathy Duva probably gave the best speech of the night. She gave a shoutout to all the ladies in the sport and jabbed the preponderance of penises in the power-archy in the game. We've gotten better, she said, but there is still room for improvement. Russell Peltz, introing her, had the best anecdote of the night. He recalled that Kathy's late husband Dan signed Arturo Gatti. Russell had his brother Joe. Before Arturo was much into his pro career, Dan called Russell and asked to trade 50% of Joe for 50% of Arturo. Russell said yes, and from then on, after a few years, he shared in the bounty of Arturo's take. Dan died in 1996 and around 2000, Kathy was sorting out Main Events business. She wondered why funds from Arturo's purse were being funneled to Russell, so she asked Russell. Because Dan and I made a deal, over the phone. Good enough for me, Kathy said. Peltz noted that her decency was apparent to him, in spades, because of that interaction.
SPEEDBAG I took note halfway through that this was the best behaved crowd I'd ever seen at one of these things. There was no chatter while people spoke, people were fantastically attentive. And I figured out why...no open bar. Cash bar. People weren't that sauced, over all. So they acted respectfully, instead of babbling like intoxicated orangutans. I make a motion that we do the same every year. (Top Rank sponsored a cocktail hour, so it's not like the savages didn't get their freebie hooch anyway.)
--No, Al Haymon didn't show up to get his Manager of the Year award, but they did show a picture of him on the screen, so that means another couple hundred people won't see Sam Watson in the ring and think that's Haymon, moving forward.
---Max Kellerman of HBO gave a classy speech, mentioning most all the fine people he's worked with, and who helped him get to the point where he was voted broadcaster of the year. As the attendees filed out, I noticed that he looked stricken. "I forgot to mention Harold Lederman!" he said. As I exited the building, I noticed Max apologizing to Harold profusely.