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The Soapbox - Feb. 1, 2013

(Poster by icheehuahua)
(Poster by icheehuahua)

The biggest story in recent weeks has been the public sparring between Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank over the proposed bout between Abner Mares and Nonito Donaire. Much has been said through the media between the two factions (and certainly between the two boxers on Twitter) in the latest chapter of boxing’s most non-violent feud. There are a lot of pressing issues that hurt boxing but it says here that the “Cold War” between these two promotional monoliths - that have a stranglehold on this business in the States - is the most important one. Yes, far beyond the shenanigans of the sanctioning bodies and the PED issue.

At its core, some of the best fights in boxing will simply be figments of our collective imagination because of boxers’ affiliations with these two rival companies. When it’s all said and done, this is what will help the business thrive - fights fans yearn for. Not “important” fights that are the fancy of those who subscribe to fantasy pound-for-pound lists or bouts that are made merely because they make money for the participants and promoters.

Last I checked, the fans kinda matter.

And while Donaire-Mares certainly isn’t a fight that would transcend the likes of Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather, in this context, it’s every bit as important. Because if you can’t come together on a fight of this level (where both fighters would be making career-high paydays) then perhaps all hope is lost in ever seeing see these two factions work in concert - not just for the good of the sport but, just as importantly, for the good of their clients.

That said, I received this email from a reader who believes that boxers themselves are complicit in this whole snafu...

Hi Steve,

Another interesting column, as usual (
I’ve written to you before on this topic though and, reading your story, again it just gets frustrating that you’re leaving out half of the story. Not sure if it’s by intent or not but I can’t understand why you never approach the “Cold War” from the fighters’ perspective?
Maybe you’ve done 100 “Cold War” stories (whether it’s full column or a blog post) the past 2-3 years? I’m pretty sure you’ve never once asked the hard question (or at least reported the answer) of why these fighters don’t insist that their vendors (the promoters) make the fight?
And I’m not talking a bogus fluff question (“Don’t you want this fight?”) that elicits a cop-out fluff answer (“Yeah, I really want this fight.”). But the simple, straightforward question that to my knowledge has never been asked, at least publicly:
“[Fighter], you employ/contract with Bob Arum to provide you, the employer/contractor a service. If your employee/vendor, Bob Arum, won’t do his job responsibly, have you ever told your employee/vendor, Bob Arum, that you’re going to choose another employee/vendor to provide a better quality of promotional services?”
I’m an attorney and even though my clients usually do what I tell them (in terms of legal advice), if they feel I’m not properly serving them, nothing stops them from signing with another attorney for legal services. I realize in the boxing world, your local club fighter has some practical obstacles from exercising his contractor/vendor relationship the rest of the real world is able to but that’s not an issue for high-profile guys like Mares and Donaire, which any promoter, K2, Universum, Frank Warren, Main Events, etc. would beg to snap up.
As I’ve written to you in the past, last I checked, fighters are not human property to be used as chess pieces by old men and Swiss bankers who peddle human combat for pleasure. They are self-employed athletes who hire promotional companies to serve their beck and call. In all walks of life, vendors are at the mercy of their clients, not the other way around.
My question is, how come you always report the “Cold War” as if these boxers are the human property of promoters rather than promoters being the (grateful) vendors who have been given the privilege of being hired by these self-employed athletes? And if Nonito Donaire says he feels he is a prisoner to the whims of Bob Arum, wouldn’t that be a far more entertaining story than the usual (and tired) “Arum and Golden Boy don’t like each other” angle?
Just wondering...but hey, even if you punt on this one, I still enjoy your work and will keep reading (but wouldn’t it be fresh and interesting to hear why Donaire or Mares haven’t threatened their vendors with unemployment if they both want this fight so badly?)
David R

David, thanks for the feedback and you make a great point. Theoretically, the promoter works for the fighter and in this particular instance, Mares certainly made it clear to his manager, Frank Espinoza, about his yearning for this particular match-up. This idea was passed onto Richard Schaefer. Donaire, I have to admit, may not have been as out front in his desire. Regardless, I’ll give Donaire the benefit of the doubt and say he wants this fight (in which he would be listed as the solid betting favorite).

But you’re making the assumption that Donaire is unhappy with the job Arum and his manager, Cameron Dunkin, are doing for him. Last I checked, he was the consensus “Fighter of the Year” and HBO paid him right around $3 million dollars over four bouts where he was never really threatened. I mean, isn’t that their job, to make the “Filipino Flash” the most amount of money for the least amount of risk? The reality is Donaire is making a fine living with or without Mares, right now and as I tweeted last week in discussing the premium cable roles in this situation:“But remember this, if fighters are financed by networks and getting paid well for lesser fights. Well, what impetus is there for them?”

Hey, for years, Roy Jones had no problems taking on a set of mis-mandatory defenses and other no-hopers while the likes of Nigel Benn, Gerald McClellan, Frankie Liles and Steve Collins (among others) were battling it out on Showtime. Brian Swider, who’s appeared in a previous edition of “The Soapbox” and is a professor at Georgia Tech explained to me, “This is referred to in both social and physical sciences as the Law of Least Effort. If there are several ways of achieving a goal (i.e., making money as a fighter), then individuals will typically take the least demanding (either physically or mentally) option. So long as Donaire and Mares’ main goal in prizefighting is to make money, they will natural avoid each other if they can. Your point is consistent with 1000 different situations that have been studied. I just wanted to give you the formal name.”

And let’s be honest, all of us; if we could make more money, for less (or easier) work, we would jump at that opportunity. All this talk of fighters doing anything for “legacies” or “for their fans,” well, if you believe that, you’re more naive than Manti Te’o. They are called “prizefighters” for a reason. They are in one of the toughest lines of living you could ask for. The work is hard; there is no union protecting you and pensions non-existent. So can you blame any of them for taking the biggest paydays for the least amount of risk?

If you asked Donaire if he was happy with Top Rank, while in the past he’d answer he wasn’t, I’d say currently, he’s more than satisfied with the direction of his career.

But I agree with your premise; fighters (especially the ones who become known quantities) should absolutely take more control of their careers and if there are particular fights they want, they should speak up (Also, perhaps, like Lamont Peterson, understand the landscape within your division and what options are ahead of you in signing with a certain promoter). What I find interesting about this scenario is that unlike Pacquiao and Mayweather, who financially did just fine without each other (each banking between $20-40 million per fight) regardless of who they faced, these two fighters are relative unknowns to the casual boxing fan. Let’s face it; they are still considered “small” fighters and in this country, they are often overlooked and underpaid. While Manny and Floyd didn’t truly “need each other” except from a historical perspective, Nonito and Abner do represent the best option for each other from a financial perspective (if the numbers being thrown around are authentic - and we’ll talk more about that later on).

After he fights on April 13th and gets past Guillermo Rigondeaux (no sure-thing), he should restate what he uttered to Larry Merchant (after he KO’d Jorge Arce in December) that he wants the Mares fight, next.

No, if and or buts.
Much has been made of the Golden Boy contract to Top Rank, which would have given them $3 million to split with their client. Schaefer was so incensed by Donaire stating there was no real contract, going as far as to email the contract to various members of the media. And I have to say, this 13-page document certainly looks like a contract with various specifics such as the number of flights and hotel rooms Donaire would be provided for this event.
But again, I’m just a boxing writer, not a lawyer or someone who specializes in contracts. So knowing what I don’t know, I asked someone (with no dog in this fight) who has been in the business for a few decades, has dealt with both Golden Boy and Top Rank and has made big fights for years, to look it over and asked the validity of this offer. Here’s the feedback I received:
I would not sign this in a million years. It is a trap. There is no way for Top Rank to ensure that it will ever get paid. Golden Boy, for example, could declare that Top Rank has breached the agreement in some way or that Top Rank owes them money due to some past legal dispute and simply not pay them. Then Top Rank would be left holding the bag and be forced to pay Donaire while suing Golden Boy for the money that Top Rank is owed.
When we promote fights like this, with such big numbers involved, we agree that the TV network, for example, will direct deposit the money owed to us into our account after the fight. Or we agree to have the promoter put the money up ahead of time in an escrow account or a letter of credit. In that case, payment is protected.
I would not sign this and there isn’t a competent attorney on Earth who would direct their client to make a deal like this. You always have to find a mechanism to guarantee payment. You don’t sign a piece of paper, put yourself on the hook for millions of dollars owed to your fighter and then hope that your mortal enemy will pay you when the fight is over!
The lack of any kind of payment guarantee jumps out at me so fast that I can’t even focus on the rest of this! Ridiculous!
One other note, there is no reason in the world for Top Rank to have to show a copy of their contract with Donaire to GB. TR would have to file it with the commission at some point. It varies from state to state whether or not this becomes public record. Again, GB is just trying to get a look at Donaire’s deal. I can’t believe they think that Arum would be stupid enough to fall for all this. I assure you, he is not.”
And here are some specifics that were then later explained to me:
1. There is no date, venue, television network or sponsors named in this contract, except that it will be no later than June 30 and in the United States. GB would have sole control of this promotion in every respect. Our promotional contracts with our own fighters are not that restrictive.
2. There is no payment guarantee. TR will be on the hook for paying Donaire even if GB never pays them.
3. The “in association with” billing seems like a nice gesture but TR has its own sponsors and that might actually violate their agreements with those sponsors, especially because the language in that clause makes it clear that GB’s sponsors will share in the billing. Golden Boy, having its own sponsor deals, should know that.
4. Credentials: Why would TR only be entitled to a “reasonable number” of credentials when other credentials and travel details are so thoroughly laid out? This is one example of how they are setting a trap for TR - details regarding the fighter’s needs are spelled out but the promoters’ are vague and left to GB’s “reasonable” determinations. Even, interestingly, in the preceding paragraph, the 20 tickets are “for use by Donaire” - one could argue that if TR used the tickets, they technically violated the agreement, which brings us back to the payment clause that denies payment for any breach by TR (usually financial penalties are limited to a “material” breach).
5. Sanctioning: Although the recitals state that this will be a world championship bout, there is no indication which alphabet sanctioning body - if any - would be involved. I haven’t looked into it but my first thought is that this choice could result in Donaire having to forfeit his belt. Additionally, in championship contests, all promoters usually have some say in the selection of judges. There is no provision for that in this agreement.
6. Site/Broadcaster: It is not unusual to include in bout agreements or POS that the fighters will comply with the requirements of the site/broadcaster. In this case, I would object to that. Showtime is in GB’s pocket, there is no telling what their “requirements” might be and no limiting language that would prevent them from doing anything non-standard.
7. Walk Out Music Licensed by TR: I’ve never seen a clause like this before. It’s just weird. GB might require that TR either have the rights to the music OR choose music covered by GB’s or the site’s music license.
8. Medical examinations for non-appearance insurance: GB can require that TR/Donaire comply with all requirements of the insurance company but I’m not sure why GB should be entitled to see medical records.
9. Footage of Donaire: This requires TR to give GB “reasonable excerpts from all footage” of Donaire that TR owns for use in publicity and promotion of the fight and all of the Ancillary Rights. First, that’s an awfully broad request. Second, the Ancillary Rights are quite expansive and continue in perpetuity, including merchandising and licensing footage in the future forever. I would never grant those kinds of rights to our footage. Essentially, GB would be entitled to post clips of every Donaire fight TR owns the rights to (at whatever duration they feel is reasonable) on their website to “promote Mares” or “encourage merchandise sales” or “make something up and put it in quotations.”
10. Postponement: The original “final date” for the bout is June 30th. However, GB can postpone that date for ninety days “for any reason whatsoever.” TR and Donaire can “reasonably” agree or not with the proposed rescheduling but not the postponement itself. In combination with the “No Interim Bout” clause and the cancellation provisions, GB can keep Donaire on the shelf until the end of September and incur no financial liabilities to TR or Donaire whatsoever.
11. The “Integrity” Clause: At no time, would I ever put Golden Boy or Showtime in the position of determining (conclusively) whether (our company) or its fighter violated such a clause. There is a place for this kind of condition but in a case like this, I’d insist on an arbitrator. There are times when the television network will suffice but this isn’t one of them.
12. Confidentiality - GB has already violated this clause. Of course, it was not binding on them because TR didn’t sign but still. That also brings me to the point that it is possible that Donaire has a multi-fight deal with HBO that this agreement would violate. He and TR may be bound by confidentiality not to reveal it publicly.
13. Assignment: This clause raises a red flag for me. It’s not odd that GB would want to be able to assign portions of this agreement - for instance, they’d need to be able to assign certain rights to TV networks. It is odd that it specifies that TR can’t assign it because Donaire’s services are personal and of the essence. First, if TR wanted to assign their right of payment, they should certainly be able to do that. They could also assign their obligations. This is a provision of services agreement for the services of Nonito Donaire. Anyone who has the right to Donaire’s services can fulfill the obligations under this contract. What’s interesting is that it does not make a similar provision for the services of Mares. I don’t think anyone could successfully argue that GB could switch out opponents but it strikes me as VERY odd.

OK, there it is. But I will say this; I get the sense that Golden Boy does want to do this fight (I know that Mares and Espinoza absolutely do). So the way I look at it, whatever objections that Top Rank and Cameron Dunkin (Donaire’s manager) have with what is being proposed, get a red marker and just cross out what they don’t like, note whatever problems they have with certain clauses and send them back. And then you go back-and-forth till you hammer out a deal that appeals to both sides. Last I checked, this is the way you make business deals.

Yeah, get this: negotiating a real fight isn’t as easy as just making proclamations on Twitter and making other public pronouncements. These agreements are often a long and hard process which have to be fought over till the very last-minute details are ironed out. The way I look at it, if you could consummate the Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson fight (where the late, great Jay Larkin once famously quipped, “Tyson will fight on HBO when pork chops grow on the palm trees in Tel Aviv” - or something to that effect), which had even more complex issues and much more money on the line, you can get Donaire-Mares done.

It will just have to be in the second half of the year – if ever.

Steve can be reached at and he tweets at We also have a Facebook fan page at, where you can discuss our content with Maxboxing readers as well as chime in via our fully interactive article comments sections.

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