By Ivan G. Goldman
In a move that further Balkanizes the sport, Golden Boy’s Amir Khan has reportedly signed an exclusive deal with Showtime. Although the British junior welter has never been known for ducking opponents, his new network connection further insulates him from possible match-ups with Top Rank fighters such as Brandon Rios.
Photo by Gene Blevins/Hogan Photos/ Golden Boy
Top fighters are rapidly moving into two sandboxes as we speak, with an electrified border fence between them. HBO and Bob Arum’s Top Rank are in one and Showtime, Golden Boy, and manager-advisor Al “Rasputin” Haymon in the other. The fighters throw sand, insults and sometimes even rocks at each other, but they can’t climb into the same ring because their adult minders are too foolish to let it happen. Exclusive deals with networks only make everything worse.
In a way the increasingly bitter alignment empowers smaller promoters such as Goossen-Tutor and Lou Di Bella Entertainment because at least for now they’re free to deal with both sides. Some of their fighters, such as Andre Ward of Goossen-Tutor and Sergio Martinez of DiBella, are too darn good to ignore. And Kathy Duva’s Main Events, for example, has on its roster one of the few heavyweights who can draw a crowd in the U.S. — Tomasz Adamek.
Photo: Chris Farina/ Top Rank
But more and more world-class fighters are stuck on one side of the fence, cut off even when bigger fights and purses beckon from across the way. As things stand, super bantams Abner Mares of Golden Boy and Nonito Donaire of Top Rank can shout over to each other and throw handfuls of sand, but unless some startling new ingredient is added to the existing formula, they won’t meet up in the ring. Ditto Lucas Matthysse and Brandon Rios.
About fifteen years ago we had the same sort of impasse between rivals Arum and Don King — two men whose disgust for one another was thick enough to choke a crooked judge. But their fighters did in fact fight each other if the numbers cried out for it. And they never held big competing cards the same night in the same town the way Top Rank/HBO and Golden Boy/Showtime have. It’s less about business than it is about pure hatred.
When King’s Felix Trinidad fought Arum’s Oscar De La Hoya and Trinidad came away with a Las Vegas decision, King and Arum came at each other during the press conference. Their aides separated them. King subsequently refused to give up the microphone, so lead promoter Arum ordered it unplugged.
King, who walked out in disgust, never could pass up a plugged-in microphone. I’ve seen him drone on forever to reporters from two-bit radio stations who wished he’d shut up already. But I digress. The thing is, King and Arum were able to bury the hatchet once in a while. This Golden Boy-Top Rank rivalry is even less yielding, possibly because Freudian issues are involved. Arum, who promoted Oscar for most of his career, was once a father figure to him. Oscar even gave Arum his Olympic gold medal. De La Hoya had earlier dedicated it to his dear departed mother.
When Oscar went off on his own to form his own promotional company and hired Richard Schaefer to run it for him, a business competition quickly transformed itself into antagonism of biblical proportions. It’s a bit like the story of Joseph. Once your brothers kidnap you and sell you into slavery, it’s not easy to let bygones be bygones. Recently I suggested that world-renowned mediator David Weinstein step in and break the impasse. He’s done it for them before, but their mutual loathing appears to grow exponentially.
Further intensifying the rivalry is the fact that Ken Hershman, who used to run Showtime Boxing and often kick HBO butt with a smaller budget, has crossed over to run HBO’s sports department. He’s eager to bury his old company. Meanwhile Showtime boxing is directed by Stephen Espinoza, who used to be Oscar’s lawyer and who’s not on speaking terms with Arum.
Among other great fights that can’t be signed is Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. versus Canelo Alvarez. Mexico would close its schools and declare a bank holiday for that one. And forget about Robert Guerrero versus Manny Pacquiao or Danny Garcia versus Jose Benavidez. And what about Chavez against kayo artist Keith Thurman? These fights are not allowed to breathe.
I’ve previously made the point that if baseball were like boxing, we’d have no World Series — just two leagues sitting across a fence making faces while their parents applaud.
Ivan G. Goldman’s critically acclaimed novel Isaac: A Modern Fable came out in April 2012 from Permanent Press. Information HERE