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“Money,” Mayday and the media

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Whether good or bad, the boxing business was born in a backroom and has continued to live there throughout its history. The commissions, judges, promoters, managers, trainers, fighters, strength coaches, sponsors, networks and news media in boxing all operate with the understanding that compromises, moral and otherwise, will more than likely have to be made.

 

The boxing news media’s current state is one aspect that is compromised, in my opinion. Rather, it seems confused what its role should be. Or maybe I am. Are we part of the public relations process for a promotion? Doomed to follow the endless cycle of fight announcement, fighter interview, prediction, fight report, post-fight wrap-up? Are we truth tellers who shouldn’t concern ourselves with maintaining relationships in the business because the truth is more important? Are we critics? A moral compass? Or simply passive observers of history?  I tend to think we were supposed to be a bit of all of the above at all times sans the passive part.

 

Newspaper budgets scaled back as the internet began to take over as the primary news delivery system in terms of print media. Boxing, which had made itself into a niche sport in the U.S. by selling itself to cable and casinos, was among the first sports to have its coverage cut. Whereas major papers had a boxing writer who likely covered one other sport, now that person would cover a multitude of other sports including boxing. That or the paper’s coverage of the sport was cut completely.


Sites like Cyberboxingzone.com, Houseofboxing.com, later Maxboxing.com and Boxingtalk.com were born, giving way to a whole new wave of boxing coverage. Magazines like Ring or KO Digest could not compete with the speed of internet coverage as writers and site owners like Doug Fischer, Gary Randall, Steve Kim, and Greg Leon broke internet boxing coverage barriers.

 

As the medium grew, so did the amount of websites. While Boxingtalk.com, HOB and Maxboxing.com initially hired accredited journalists like Mike Katz, Thomas Hauser and now editor-in-chief of UFC.com Thomas Gerbasi, that model didn’t last forever and it certainly didn’t apply to every site that started in their wake. The more success sites had, the more sites were born each day. These sites needed staffs and there simply is not enough money in boxing writing or enough qualified journalists who want to cover boxing to sustain a quality talent pool.

 

Technology rolled along. The internet grew. The blogosphere was created. Social media was born. Youtube, Twitter, facebook, instagram, DVR’s, smart phones, and the computer as TV became the norm. Suddenly, everyone with an opinion had an avenue to share them and some sort of camera to record it all with.

 

As these entities grew, the news cycle expanded. Nowadays it seems every 30 seconds new information or regurgitated parts of information that was wrong in the first place (think the Boston Marathon Bombing coverage) needs to be fed to the hungry masses. In attention-span diminished 2013, in-depth coverage means a youtube video longer than 3 minutes. A quality news site is no longer one known for telling the truth with a clear lens from as many angles as possible. Today, a quality site means the one with the most traffic.

 

By in large, that’s what boxing coverage culture has become: A competition for traffic. The articles have become shorter in order to parcel out information to keep the traffic flow going. Some of the people gathering the info are in a hurry to be first and have stopped caring about being correct. What ten years ago would have taken a few days to gather and write, can now be alluded to on twitter and then written about in brief only to later be confirmed and then written about in brief. Rinse, repeat and you can see how the quality dilutes over time. Things move so fast that large mistakes are easily forgotten. How could they not be? There will be ten more stories in the next 8 hours to help you forget. Not to mention the tweeting and the trending and hashtagging. On days we’re not careful, social media can be an orgy of bad info and countless opinions about it.

 

In today’s world, “honest criticism” is called “hating” and “biased” is code for “I don’t agree with you so you must have some sort of internal flaw brought on by whatever conflicts of interest I can imagine.” Trained journalists roll next to fanboy bloggers in the media scrum and now it’s just the way it is. It’s not unusual to have to wait patiently to get a good one in while an elite fighter answers questions about his favorite band or what he has to say to his fans in some part of the world even he didn’t know he had fans in.

 

A setting like that, as the UFC discovered, makes it very easy to pick and choose who gets access to the news cycle. With so much media to choose from in a new and quickly growing sport, the softballers and the playballers moved to the front. The troublemaking truth tellers? They sit at home. Access denied. Even better than picking and choosing from other outlets is to do just do what the NFL, NBA, MLB and now the UFC has done: make your own media outlet.

 

Which brings us to Saturday night’s “May Day”: Floyd Mayweather, Jr vs. Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero and its coverage. As part of his deal to come to Showtime, this fight will receive something like 100 hours of coverage all executive produced by Floyd Mayweather. It started off with “30 Days in May,” a “documentary” detailing the month before Mayweather was set to enter jail for domestic violence and continues with “Mayweather,” another documentary and All Access, Showtime’s version of HBO’s reality promo show “24/7.” I’m not a film or movie critic but I’m pretty sure documentaries try and cover all sides of a story. “30 Days in May” wasn’t that, prompting the victim in Mayweather’s domestic violence case, Josie Harris, to come forward with this interview May 1, 2013 on Yahoo.com:

 

http://sports.yahoo.com/news/boxing--floyd-mayweather-jr---behind-the-police-report-061849219.html

 

On Wednesday, the same day, the final press conference for the fight happened. Guerrero’s father and trainer, Ruben, an old school vato from Gilroy, CA, took to the podium and went off about Mayweather, Jr’s domestic violence case. It was not pretty but in a way, the moment was more honest than any question posed to Mayweather during this entire promotion or the last one which came in the months before Mayweather was set to begin his sentence. Unlike the media, Ruben Guerrero relentless addressed the subject and would not be silenced. You have to respect someone willing to speak their mind like that whether it was classy to do so or not. Honesty is not easy.

 

On April 17, Floyd Mayweather held a media workout at the IBA gym in Las Vegas, Nevada. Our correspondent, “Radio” Rahim Davies, a respected veteran of Maxboxing.com and boxing media for over ten years, drove from L.A. to Vegas to cover the event. He had interviewed Floyd before for Maxboxing.com. There was no reason to believe he wouldn’t be able to get that done this time.

 

But for some reason, he wasn’t. Instead, like a good reporter sensing he was getting the runaround from the fighter and his handlers, Mr. Davies decided to record the runaround:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbjcoxl1FI8

 

On April 25, media credentials confirmations were given for “May Day.” Steve Kim, Maxboxing.com photographer, German Villasenor and I all were credentialed. Rahim Davies was not. Golden Boy Promotions is co-promoting this event with Mayweather Promotions though it should be noted that to date, the Nevada State Athletic Commission website does not list Mayweather Promotions as a licensed promoter. When contacted by Mr. Davies for assistance in fixing the situation, Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer did not hesitate to attempt to help. However, as Schaefer ultimately told Mr. Davies, the decision was not up him but Mayweather Promotions’ CEO Leonard Ellerbe and their publicist Kelly Swanson. Ms. Swanson did not reply to an email request for a statement as to why Mr. Davies was denied credentials.

 

Some fans aware of the situation have suggested because of the association with me or Maxboxing.com in general as the reason that Mr. Davies was denied. If that as true, our staff wouldn’t have credentials to the fight (Full disclosure: I turned mine down as I have a last minute wedding to attend). Others have called our site racist for being critical of Mayweather. One site owner is a Caucasian Brit. The other, who also happens to be our head writer, is a Korean-American from Montebello. I am Mexican-American. Our editor, Coyote Duran, is Native American. It’s safe to say there is not a more ethnically diverse bunch in all of the boxing media. Could we be racist? I guess so. But we all sure picked the oddest site to work at then.

 

Perhaps the reason he was denied is because Mr. Davies is not one to stay inside the lines. His questions are generally provocative and elicit honest responses. One such response, cost Victor Ortiz a fine and a meeting with the Nevada commission because Ortiz admitted to Davies tried to break Mayweather’s nose in their fight using a head butt:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkmFnN7QI7c

 

Without a statement officially explaining why Rahim would be denied the interview or the credentials, it’s hard to definitively call it one thing or the other. Is it pre-emptive censorship or favoritism? Is there a difference? Oh and for those wondering what a softball interview looks like, well, here you go:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPRoqkD1SA0

 

Speaking as a boxing writer who was banned twice last year by a major promoter, once for satirizing Oscar De La Hoya’s tweets and the other for printing a legal threat sent to me by Golden Boy, the media ban is a very real, very scary precedent in our news culture. It should not be taken lightly. I wasn’t the first writer this has happened to in boxing. Top Rank gave RingTV a media ban for a time. The Boxing Writers Association of America intervened and after some serious lobbying, RingTV gets to have one writer at Top Rank events. It should be noted RingTV is owned by Golden Boy. Top Rank and Golden Boy hate each other. That might have something to do with the feud. Even still, the men in question, Doug Fischer and Mike Rosenthal, editors of the website and the magazine respectively, are media brothers. They do their jobs with integrity and don’t deserve a ban just because Top Rank or any other boxing promoter feels like giving one.  

 

Looking at the promotional coverage norm that is the reality shows “HBO: 24/7” and Showtime’s “All Access” and the blogs, articles and “news” that are created by them, one has to wonder where the unscripted coverage went. As I watched the All Access episodes, “30 Days in May,” and the recent “Mayweather” documentary, I wondered if this much coverage, handled this way, is ultimately good for the sport. Yes, getting boxing back on a regular network like CBS is a great thing. I love how the Showtime/CBS promotional team seems to be rolling with this promotion from getting Floyd on Jim Rome to doing a March Madness interview. It’s nice to see boxing back in the mainstream.

 

But if the cost is not being able to ask a relevant question or the loss of credentials because you might potentially go off the script, is it worth it? Is it right that when discussing the case of Josie Harris and Floyd Mayweather, Jr, that what happened to her in front of her kids at the hands of Mayweather, be dismissed in part of a documentary that is ultimately designed to promote a pay-per-view fight? And should the media, when given a chance at the final press conference, for example, jump on that and say “Hey, wait a minute. That isn’t quite correct” or should they be happy to be there and hope to make it on the final cut of episode 5?

 

Guerrero’s dad was praised and derided for his comments. Mayweather was praised for his restraint in the moment or derided for not saying a thing in his own defense. The moment will pass, the fight will happen and the boxing media will enter into the same cycle as usual.

 

Maybe its bad form to say we should be working harder at asking what should be instead of what the power brokers want us to. Maybe I should mind my own store. I’ve honestly never cared for media watchdogs.

 

But I do think we should be looking at the current landscape. Take a long look at Showtime/CBS and the Golden Boy alliance. You have one promoter working exclusively with one network to the seeming exclusion of all other promoters. One entity with its own in-house media, own stable of fighters (one of whom is a commentator on the network) and the ability to give the boot to anyone who doesn’t like how it does business.

 

If that sounds a bit like the UFC, then go back and re-read this interview with Golden Boy’s Oscar De La Hoya from 2010:

 

http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/457694-Oscar_De_La_Hoya_s_New_Fight.php

 

Oscar De La Hoya: “That’s one of the reasons I commend UFC for what they have done in such a short period of time; they are the only real player in their category, the mixed martial arts world. They have been able to organize themselves, have all the TV dates, a pay-per-view every month; that’s why they are valued at more than $1 billion. They are doing the right thing, and it’s time for boxing to do the right thing, as long as we don’t have those obstacles named Don King and Bob Arum.

 

BG: "How does that actually happen? You want Golden Boy to replace them?

 

ODLH: "Absolutely. We need to sign all the talent and get all the TV dates; then you can have your own agenda and have a schedule for the fans and the sport. You can do a monthly PPV, a bi-weekly HBO fight, you can have the best fighters fight each other. When you have five or six promoters, it’s very difficult."

 

When I look at what is happened at Showtime in the last year and you look back at this interview, it makes me wonder if that is now the world we are living in.

 

This isn’t about “our coverage is more honest than yours.” In the interest of full disclosure, our site is partially owned by a UK-based promoter and in the past we sold advertising space to the promotional firm Boxing 360 advertisers. Espinoza Boxing currently purchases advertising space from us. This practice is the norm on internet websites. That said, I stand by our work. None of those entities act or acted entitled to biased, slanted or coverage of any kind. I’ve never been directed to write something in a positive light or to back off of a story involving any of those entities. This is simply a reporter seven years in, who has watched the landscape change rather quickly, taking stock of his surroundings.

 

What I see is this: The people who decide who gets credentials and who doesn’t are in many cases the same people who also decide on who judges a fight; Meaning, the promoters. Think about that. The most crucial, truth telling devices we have in the sport are in part controlled by the same people who have a vested interest in those entities doing the job the way they want them to. It’s hard not to think one or both of those entities are affected in some way by that reality.

 

Add those to the list of things that need to change in this business.



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