By Ivan G. Goldman
Are fighters cowering behind the apron of Boxing Godfather Al Haymon so they can fight on Showtime and hide from HBO man-eaters like Gennady Golovkin and Sergey Kovalev?
Possibly. That’s why light heavyweight Kovalev recently likened Adonis Stevenson to feces. And maybe Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin uses “adviser” Haymon as an excuse not to tangle with middleweight Golovkin. Or is Golovkin hiding behind HBO to duck Quillin? It’s not always easy to sort out these claims and counterclaims and get at the truth. But boxing’s cold war, if it doesn’t prevent good fights from happening, is very clearly a good excuse for them not to happen.
HBO despises Haymon for bringing Floyd Mayweather and other fighters over to Showtime. HBO has even officially banned Haymon’s accomplice, Golden Boy Promotions, from its telecasts.
Still, the screw turns both ways, and we’ll also see fighters cling to HBO in order to duck some of Showtime’s hardest cases. All this is courtesy of the business war between the two networks, which are owned by global corporations that don’t give a rat’s ass about boxing. They sign fighters to exclusive network deals, and they’re subsequently prevented from competing against approximately half the top fighters in their divisions.
As for the network executives that perpetrate these indecencies, their ultimate goal, beyond feathering their own personal nests with loads of cash and perks, is to build their media empires and fatten their profits. They do this by getting lots of subscribers.
If the executives can build fighters into stars they immediately turn around and stick those stars on pay-per-view, where they’ll compete before even smaller audiences than they attract on their respective premium networks. That may work as a business model, but as a sports model it’s atrocious.
In the bad old days there was one champion in every division, and if a fighter didn’t play ball with the Mob that controlled boxing, he didn’t get a title shot. End of story. Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano were very clearly the best heavyweights of their respective eras, but to get a crack at the title they had to sign away half of their future earnings no matter what the source. When the retired Marciano used to travel around making appearances he’d demand cash payments to try to foil the suckfish trailing after him for their end.
So business complications aren’t new to the sport, and boxing doesn’t stand alone in this regard. The 1919 Black Sox scandal was made possible by rapacious owners who owned their players’ careers. White Sox baron Charles Comiskey was an infamous miser who got a kick out of whittling his players’ salaries down to a nub. Finally some of them took money from gamblers in exchange for whatever it is they did or didn’t do in the World Series (details were never made clear).
But what’s happening to professional boxing is a new kind of wart on the sport. The top fighters are being lined up into two network leagues that don’t play each other, much like the days of the American Football League, which was eventually absorbed into the NFL after the two leagues reached an agreement in 1966 and played their first Super Bowl the following year.
Even before this network war heated up, title holders could duck one another by hiding behind their respective alphabet gangs. The gangs don’t rate fighters who hold a title with another gang. Stevenson, who holds the WBC title, could have ducked Kovalev anyway if he and his handlers could have persuaded the WBC to order mandatories to get in the way of his facing the WBO titlist, who happens to be Kovalev.
Meanwhile Oscar De La Hoya, president of Golden Boy, has more or less officially acknowledged there are difficulties within his company by tweeting that he’ll explain everything eventually. CEO Richard Schaefer may be departing after Mayweather fights Marcos Maidana in a welterweight contest on May 3 in Las Vegas.
Oscar would no doubt get someone else to handle day-to-day business, but he himself has hinted at reconciling with his former promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank, an HBO ally. De La Hoya had a long and profitable history as a fighter with both Arum and HBO. A cease-fire may be in the works. It wouldn’t cure everything, but it couldn’t hurt.
Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag, by New York Times best-selling author Ivan G. Goldman, was released in 2013 by Potomac Books, a University of Nebraska Press imprint. It can be purchased here.