Conspiracies Real and Imagined? Golden Boy Takes a Loss in District Court
By: Eric Lunger
James DeGale took a savage beating from the hands of Badou Jack last Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Despite a perforated eardrum and two lost front teeth, the judges rendered a rare majority draw. The crowd — vocal and active during the fight on behalf of both fighters – made its disapproval clear. Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Jack’s promoter, did not hide his scorn for the decision, flinging about vulgarities and self-pitying complaints in the post-fight ring interview and the post-fight press conference. I have nothing but respect for Mr. Mayweather as a boxer, but his post-career propensity to see conspiracies against him behind every curtain, this Mayweather contra mundum act, is growing stale.
I attended the bout as a fan, and I have to say that it was an unbelievable night of boxing. The undercard was stellar, while the main event featured an action-filled bout with both fighters at the peak of their art. Defense, offense, power, knockdowns; this fight had everything. But as I was leaving the arena, I overheard some fans saying that the scoring was fixed, because “there was no way they would let Floyd’s fighter lose.” I didn’t stop to ask the speaker who “they” were, but the sentiment was clear enough: boxing is manipulated by the financial titans of the sport.
While grousing about scorecards will never be eradicated, the real conspiracies in the sport might be the antitrust kind. After years of pre-trial maneuvering, Golden Boy Promotion’s antitrust suit against Al Haymon (the financial power behind PBC) appeared to be close to trial. At issue was whether Mr. Haymon has established market power in boxing management, and whether has violated the manager/promoter firewall set up in the federal Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act. Market power is a legal concept; the suit alleged that Mr. Haymon has so much financial power that he is able to act as a monopoly, or to wield monopoly power to the detriment of other economic competitors. The firewall issue stemmed from the Reform Act’s prohibition against the same person acting as manager and promoter. Managers have a fiduciary duty to the fighters, while promoters are in business for themselves. Separating the two roles protects boxers and ensures integrity in the business side of the sport.
PBC contracts separate promoters for each of its shows, and Mr. Haymon’s fighters always refer to the reclusive businessman (Mr. Haymon never gives interviews and is difficult even to photograph) as their advisor, not manager. The Golden Boy suit alleged that these moves are illusory and meant to camouflage actual violations of the Ali Reform Act’s requirement that managers and promoters be separate persons.
Golden Boy is not the only rival promotion company to take a swing at Mr. Haymon in court. Bob Arum’s Top Rank Boxing sued Mr. Haymon in federal court in California in 2015, alleging antitrust violations. After U.S. District Judge John F. Walter dismissed most of the antitrust claims, the parties reached a confidential settlement. Thus no legal conclusions were reached.
What made the Golden Boy suit especially bitter is the personal antagonism just below the surface. Mr. Haymon had offered to buy out Golden Boy in 2013, and when the deal failed, a number of big name fighters jumped ship to Mr. Haymon, including Floyd Mayweather. So to listen to Mr. Mayweather complain about being conspired against after the Badou Jack decision is a bit jarring. His fighters on the card, Badou Jack and Gervonta Davis (the exciting new super featherweight champion), are both advised by Mr. Haymon.
On Thursday, Judge Walter granted Mr. Haymon’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Golden Boy was “unable to present any evidence of harm to competition, instead [they] have merely presented evidence of harm to themselves.” In other words, the judge found that even if all of Golden Boys allegations were true, they did not add up to an antitrust violation. It was a stunning win for Al Haymon.
I had a fantastic time at Barclays Center last Saturday night at the PBC show, and I can’t wait to watch the Thurman vs. Garcia bout in March on network TV (CBS, it was announced Wednesday, will televise the bout). I wonder sometimes whether Golden Boy is hurting boxing more by putting their last big name, Canelo Alvarez, only on PPV shows against lesser opponents.
And, adding more mist to the cloudiness of this issue, a few days ago Golden Boy announced a long-term deal with ESPN to broadcast a boxing series much along the PBC model. Sounds like competition to me. The real issue, which Congress attempted to address in the Ali Reform Act, is that boxing lacks a unified, national-level governing body. There is no NFL or NHL for boxing. Until we have a National Boxing League or some such entity, and as long as the only regulatory mechanism is expensive antitrust litigation, the conspiracy grumbling will continue.