Al Haymon Puts ABC, ESPN on Payroll; Oh Yeah, He Also Killed Friday Night Fights


By Ivan G. Goldman

Boxing Godfather Al Haymon, in a whirlwind of activity, is single-handedly shutting down the venerable Friday Night Fights on ESPN2 and replacing it this summer with bigger fights on ABC, ESPN and ESPN Deportes, his company announced late Wednesday.

Haymon has already signed contracts for his Premier Boxing Champions series to run on NBC, CBS, and Spike. In other news, super-secretive adviser/manager Haymon let it be known that he now has more than 200 fighters in his stable.

Fox is the only one of the four major over-the-air networks not on Haymon’s payroll.

But tomorrow’s another day.

Haymon, a former music business mogul, has been expanding his reach for years, but the new announcement makes it clear that he now has more control over boxing than anyone in modern history, including Don King or Frankie Carbo. Carbo, a Mafia soldier in the Lucchese family, ran much of the sport during the forties and fifties. Getting a title shot without securing his okay was virtually impossible.

Haymon, who’s lined up other investors for his enterprise (their names are kept secret), buys time on the TV networks showing his PBC events and therefore has nearly complete control over his shows. He can even advertise boxing cards that will appear on CBS during an NBC broadcast, a trick he’s already demonstrated.

Haymon’s company, Haymon Boxing Management, said the final show of FNF will be presented May 22, and the first PBC show on ESPN is set for July 9. The fighters have yet to be announced. Most of the PBC shows for ESPN will be seen live on Saturday nights, although they could come on weeknights during college football season.

“ESPN has a long history of carrying world-class boxing events, and the new Premier Boxing Champions series continues our commitment to the sport with premier-level prime-time fights previously only available on premium cable networks,” ESPN president John Skipper said, according to the Haymon company’s press release.

At least two of the PBC shows will air on ABC, which, like ESPN, is a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, one of the largest communications corporations in the world, with a market value of $183 billion.

Friday Night Fights on ESPN2 had a 17-year run. Announcer Joe Tessitore and analyst Teddy Atlas will remain on the new series, Haymon’s company said. Other members of the on-air crew will be announced later.

In order to juggle the careers of more than 200 fighters, Haymon has to be running a vast operation. The matchmaking alone is a daunting task. It’s safe to say that boxing has never seen anything like it.

No other major sport is run by an organization that barely communicates with news media. Haymon Boxing Management, which, we’re now told, is headquartered in Las Vegas, began sending out press releases after the PBC series began this month on NBC, but good luck getting through to someone on the phone.

Haymon won’t let cameras near him, and if he attends any of his fighters’ shows, that would be news to the news media. He’s seen about as often as crazy hermetic Howard Hughes was in his final years.

Other details of Haymon’s two-year deal with the Disney companies, according to ESPN’s Dan Rafael:

* It includes 24 cards. ESPN pays for production and holds an option for six additional cards.

* ESPN3.com will stream preliminary bouts from each card.

* Haymon pays the fighter purses and other expenses.

The federal Muhammad Ali Act prevents promoters from playing a dual role as managers. How Haymon can call himself a manager or adviser and yet pay his fighters out of the coffers of his company will be a neat trick, but don’t be surprised if his legal team somehow manages to wriggle through what would ordinarily be considered a potential conflict of interest.

New York Times best-selling author Ivan G. Goldman’s Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag was released in 2013 by Potomac Books. Watch for The Debtor Class: A Novel from Permanent Press in spring, 2015. More information here.

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