By John J. Raspanti
As much as he loves boxing, basketball was Adrian Clark’s initial calling. He played both sports as a young man, competing in two Golden Gloves tournaments until a loss, of which he remembers little, pushed him into sports management.
At 25, Clark earned his certification as a National Basketball Players Association player agent. The gig went well, but Clark was itching for more.
The more landed in his lap. Clark met amateur standout Jerry Belmontes at his first Golden Gloves Tournament in 2008. The two clicked. A few years later, Belmontes, then an undefeated professional fighter, asked Clark to come to his gym for a visit.
“Jerry turned pro my last year in the amateurs,” Clark told this writer on the phone a few weeks ago. “He saw me get knocked out. We had seen each other around the city. Top Rank dropped Jerry from his promotional contract around 2010. His manager also quit. He asked me to come watch him workout at the gym.”
What Belmontes suggested that day was the last thing in the world that Clark expected.
“He saw that I was working with NBA players,” said Clark. “He asked during a break in his training if I could help him out. I was blown away, but acted like I was prepared—I told him we’d talk about it.
“I remember driving back to my hotel. I couldn’t stop smiling," he said. "I knew I had to get prepared because I didn’t know anything about the boxing business. I knew how to fight, but not the industry.”
Clark, who formed ACsports in 2012, got to work immediately. He reached out, and he listened. He soon negotiated a contract for Belmontes.
He hasn’t looked back since.
“It was all about basketball when I started,” Clark said. “ACsports started because of basketball. Everything has been good. I’m learning on the fly. It’s all been amazing.”
Clark believes his experience inside the ring has given him a unique insight into the business side of the "Sweet Science."
It was his older brother who helped Clark fall in love with boxing.
“My brother and me used to get into fights,” recalled Clark. “Even though he had the majority of the wins, as I got older, things changed. We would watch Mike Tyson fights together. I loved it”
Clark’s approach as a manager is unusual, seeing himself as teacher rather than overseer. Some of the boxers Clark has managed are now taking care of their own careers. One asked Clark for advice on a contract.
"That showed me that I’m doing the right thing," Clark said. “Even guys that move on from AC Sports know what’s best for them. It felt great."
“Boxers are their own company,” Clark said.” Not many see it like that. I want them to know everything about their own business, and be able to make executive decisions in regards to the business. “
In boxing history, managers don’t have the most sterling reputations. So many fighters have ended up broke that it’s almost a cliché.
Clark is aware of boxing’s troubled past. Since he boxed himself, he feels a kinship with fighters. He understands the sacrifices they make, and aims to educate them on the business side of boxing.
With this in mind, he published Protect Yourself at All Times last year, a self-help book for professional fighters. The volume takes a hard look at the money side of the sport.
Each of the 12 chapters explains the financial pitfalls and how to navigate them.
Clark plans to bring his book to the internet next month.
“I’m working with Everlast on a podcast,” said Clark. “I’m going to do twelve episodes and break down every chapter from my book. We’ll start with Round one—on how boxers are business owners and conclude with planning for retirement. A retired fighter is going to come in and talk about retirement.
“It’s going to very informative. We’ll be combing experience and others like Kathy Duva, will be breaking down contracts," he said. "It’s all about explaining to the fighters how it’s done.”
Clark knows he’s facing an uphill battle since change comes slowly in the boxing world. He follows his father’s advice to make things happen.
“Your biggest opponent is yourself,” Clark said. “The man in the mirror. It will happen because of you.
“If it’s meant to be it’s up to me, for boxing and business.”