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Kathy Duva on the (Dying?) Art of Promoting

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“We need to sign all the talent and get all the TV dates.”
 
Oscar De la Hoya
September 2010
 
Since Floyd Mayweather, Al Haymon and Golden Boy Promotions all walked from HBO to Showtime, Oscar De la Hoya’s then-controversial statement to broadcastingcable.com seems to be coming true more than ever.
 
 
While how it is being done is an issue for De la Hoya (maxboxing/a-golden-rift), that it is being done at all is likely a problem for the sport as a whole. We’ve had the “Cold War” going for years now, in which Top Rank Promotions (the company that, as a promotional entity, created De la Hoya) and Golden Boy Promotions (as run by CEO Richard Schaefer) have decided not to work together. That war went nuclear once uber-adviser/manager (and in some eyes, the real power behind GBP) Al Haymon brought Mayweather over to Showtime. What’s more, GBP’s former lead counsel Stephen Espinoza took over as the head of Showtime’s Sports Programming.

The fallout has been tremendous.
 
HBO immediately ended its dealings with Haymon and GBP. Top Rank moved into the driver’s seat at HBO and mid-level promoters such as DiBella Entertainment, Banner Promotions and Gary Shaw Productions jockeyed for position. The number of pay-per-views has now risen as Mayweather fights twice a year - Manny Pacquiao the same - and now, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez enters the yearly PPV mix. Boxing fans who primarily subscribe to premium cable each month for the sport now had expensive choices to make.
 
Through all this, Haymon, who primarily appears to be working with GBP, began signing talent left and right. A-sides, B-sides, prospects, veterans - everyone.
 
The more the picture began to take shape, the more like a league it looked. The more De la Hoya’s hope looks like reality, the more separatist his company looks.
 
“What I see going on is that the Showtime-Golden Boy Axis is them kind of attempting to follow the UFC model, where you create a league and you just fight each other and never go outside of that,” said Kathy Duva, CEO of Main Events. “I think the problem with that is that the talent pool is just too small and so after a while, you tend to muddy up everybody’s brand. They fight each other with no regard - mixing and matching, I like to say - as opposed to matchmaking, which is what we do, Top Rank does.”
 
Duva understands the art of promoting like few in the sport. She builds her talents locally, getting them the right fights at the right time. What she and others see in what is happening at Showtime is not a positive for the sport in the long haul.
 
“Boxing is different than every other sport,” she explained. “It doesn’t work in the tournament setting; it doesn’t work as a league. The way you develop a boxer is to build his brand, which [GBP] do a fine job of. Everybody knows who the fighters are; our job is to teach them to fight.”
 
“You don’t learn how to fight by fighting a bunch of people who just lost their last fight or two or three,” said Duva. “There seems to be a pattern with how their fighters are being built. You don’t get good being matched with people with two-and-15 records [though] you are an elite amateur. You can’t learn to fight that way. What I see is people being groomed and moved up and then when they are put in with a marquee fighter, then they lose because they never learned how to solve problems in the ring. And we see this time and time again.”
 
What we have seen in the pattern of Haymon fighters ranging from Danny Jacobs and Andre Berto to Adrien Broner is a lack of development at the professional level. Sure, all those fighters got paid well and were fast-tracked to title shots but ultimately, when they got there, what happened? When met with adversity in the ring, they lost. They had not been given the hard lessons in the ring that a true apprenticeship brings.GBP is already a young brain trust with a history of damaging its own fighters by poorly matching them early on. They are learning on the job with fighters’ careers. Add in Haymon’s penchant for moving his fighters too quickly; put it all under one roof with a potential yes-man in Espinoza and it’s a recipe for a fast rise and quick fall with many casualties in its wake.
 
We’re supposed to entertain the fans and we’re supposed to build our fighters up and that’s the trick to being a really good promoter,” said Duva. “It’s not to make fans sit through miserable, horrible mismatches that nobody wants to see and I don’t think fighters learn to fight that way. So I see this league thing where every fighter was built on another network, on HBO. They move over to another network which is willing to overpay for the time being and what you end up getting is a severe lack of stars. And when I say, “lack of stars,” what I mean is that you have lot of middle-class fighters. They’re getting paid well; I’ll grant you that but aside from ‘Canelo’ Alvarez - who, by the way, isn’t managed by the same man who manages Floyd Mayweather - I can’t think of a single pay-per-view attraction that’s been developed that way. And ‘Canelo’ was matched. He was not mixed and matched.”
 
Are we in the era of the microwaved superstar? Adrien Broner showed us that flash and hype are just that. When the bell rings, this is a sport about being prepared for every eventuality. It doesn’t suffer fakers. The question becomes: Can GBP and its UFC model last?
 
“I don’t think it lasts. I think it’s something that we have to take a long view and look at what is happening two or three years down the line. Two or three years down the line, I don’t see this even being remotely possible anymore. Meanwhile you’ve got HBO that has built every star in boxing in the last 30 years.”
 
While Duva and I agreed that HBO has its own issues at the moment, we both also agreed that a boxing star is one with substance. You can’t rise to the top of the fistic heap without being able to fight. It’s that simple. And as a promoter, at some point, you have to make that big fight but you cannot do it if you haven’t built part of the bill.
 
“We’re matching our fighters; we’re building careers and we want to build people into superstars, into marquee fighters who can be the A-side on their own pay-per-view,” said Duva. “To do that, you need to be free to select opponents from everywhere. That’s what we do. We make fights because we don’t tie people up to option agreements. We don’t tell fighters, ‘You have to sign with us if you want an opportunity.’ We want fighters who are really, really good. If they are, their style will shine. They will learn to fight and they will become stars. And I shouldn’t have to tie up everyone who can fight in order to build my business. We and I think Top Rank and a few others have a different idea about how this business is to work. We actually think it’s a sport where a lot of other people just think it’s business.”
 
As we saw this past week when Adonis Stevenson vs. Sergey Kovalev, a light heavyweight championship fight anticipated by everyone in boxing, fell apart because Stevenson decided to sign with Haymon and enter the GBP universe. It was a major loss, one we cannot get back. But perhaps it showed the sport that if this is the byproduct of a monopoly taking shape, losing big fights we want to “business decisions,” then perhaps abolishing this league is something we all should look toward.
 
Duva feels the fractured nature of boxing with its multiple promoters, sanctioning bodies and countries competing will take care of this most recent attempt to take over the sport.
 
“It will fall like the Soviet Union: under its own weight. There was a time when Don King took Julio Cesar Chavez and Mike Tyson to Showtime and somehow boxing survived,” laughed Duva, wisely pointing out that as fractured as Dan Duva, King and Bob Arum were in their primes, when it came time to make the big fights, they always came through. “The power lies with the television networks. They have to choose to empower people who might take the longer view and who think about the fact that real competition is better than a faux competition and building a fighter by teaching the fighter, as opposed to padding his record, will create someone who can have the chops to be a superstar someday because to be a superstar, you have to beat everybody. I think the TV networks, the people who have the money that make the decisions, have to stop empowering business people and start empowering the sports people again, as they once did.”
 
You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim, now at its new home, www.blogtalkradio.com/thenextround or via iTunes subscription at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/leave-it-in-ring-radio-blog/id316004573?mt=2. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show www.Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PT.
 
 
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