By Ivan G. Goldman
About three years ago HBO analyst Max Kellerman had the temerity to raise the subject of secretive fight impresario Al Haymon on camera. Haymon, Kellerman noted, “seems to wield influence out of proportion with others in boxing.” Max observed that somehow Haymon’s fighters manage to fight on the network against overmatched opponents in fights that “usually wouldn’t be seen on HBO.”
It was a courageous, some might say foolhardy slam against Haymon and Max’s own bosses. And presto, Haymon began steering his valuable stable over to rival Showtime, one fighter at a time. Was the new strategy related to Kellerman’s outburst? Hard to know for sure, but just the possibility adds more mystique to the Haymon legend. The most you can get from those who do business with him is an expression of appreciation for doing whatever it is that he does. Sometimes they also thank God. A blanket of silence descends even over entities like Showtime, normally eager for publicity.
It should be noted that Max’s on-camera mention took place right around the time that lawyer Stephen Espinoza took the job as sports president at Showtime. Espinoza had ties to both Haymon and Golden Boy, and they soon turned into a mighty troika. The split with HBO was probably already in the works when Max spoke up, but still … you can’t be too careful.
Then last February Haymon took Floyd Mayweather away from HBO and into a six-fight Showtime deal. It was HBO’s Pearl Harbor, and it’s still surveying the wreckage. In the meantime HBO and Showtime have been one-upping each other with one terrific show after another.
Who is this Al Haymon guy? He’s “the type of manager that will make you a superstar,” says one of his fighters, Edwin Rodriguez. Rodriguez said that shortly after signing himself into the Haymon stable. Then, like the others, he learned to clam up.
Of course we rarely have more than one or two superstars at a time. Ali, Leonard, Tyson, De La Hoya, possibly Roy Jones, and a few others, and finally Mayweather, who earned more than $80 million against Canelo Alvarez thanks to contracts negotiated by Haymon.
And thanks partly to all the money that had to be shoved across the table to Mayweather and Haymon, it was the highest-priced boxing pay-per-view card in history, at $75 per high-def pop. Showtime correctly gambled the fans would buy it anyway.
Compare Haymon to promoter Don King, who, at 82, is no longer the force he once was. King is a man who would crash through Alabama’s defensive line to get to a TV camera. When his fighters are in the show you could chain him to a two-ton anchor and he’d drag it into the ring if that’s what it took to get up there and soak up attention. Haymon, on the other hand, probably doesn’t even attend his fighters’ shows, though it’s hard to say for sure. He could be camouflaging his appearance. One thing you can count on: you won’t get the opportunity to ask him.
Haymon, New York Times staffer Greg Bishop wrote three years ago, is a man with “no office, no answering machine.” That would make him not only mysterious, but magical. But it’s inconceivable that Haymon, with his extensive stable, operates without an office or staff. Just keeping track of all the invoices and payments would be a full-time job. Not even a virtual headquarters would be possible. No, they have a physical presence somewhere, probably in New York, although it may be somewhere beneath the earth’s crust.
But how did Haymon become so powerful? Where did this guy come from? And now that he controls so much of the sport, what does he plan to do with it? There are clues. More on this later.
Ivan G. Goldman’s boxing novel The Barfighter was nominated as a 2009 Notable Book by the American Library Association. Information HERE