By: Sergio L. Martinez
Boxing is a sport of longevity, and one’s ability to remain at the upper levels of the business depends on how good one is at his chosen craft.
This is true for every aspect of the sport and business of boxing. When the public is exposed to a fighter, and witnesses that boxer’s development from a prospect to a contender/champion into a legitimate attraction, most only credit the promotional company, managers, and/or the trainers involved with the fighter. Although those components are crucial, rarely are matchmakers recognized as a paramount part of this equation.
Ron Katz, currently employed by Star Boxing, knows a thing or two about the art of matchmaking. Boxing Insider caught up with the man that, at one point, was voted “Matchmaker of the Year” seven years running by The Ring Magazine.
“Without a matchmaker, there would be no event: plain and simple,” says Katz.
“Look, a matchmaker is the most underappreciated and undervalued position – not only in boxing, but in all of professional athletics, in my opinion. We are the heartbeat of an event and do a hell of a lot more than just match fights. We make travel arrangements, book hotels, take care of medicals and deal with a lot of sh–also.”
The New York resident has been watching fights for most of his life, and has professionally dedicated over three decades to analyzing, understanding and developing fighters in the boxing business. With all of this experience under his belt, Katz believes that he fully grasps the tangibles needed for a fighter to succeed.
“After 35 years of doing this, I’ve learned and seen a lot. I can tell you that the three things that a fighter has to have to make it to the top is ability, character and charisma. There have been very few guys out there that have had all three: guys like (Oscar) De La Hoya, Floyd (Mayweather Jr.), Marvin Hagler and (Manny) Pacquiao. Those are the type of fighters that really become superstars and they are the ones that are able to really make some serious money in this sport.
“Hey, you can have two of the three and still do well, but it takes all three. Let me give you an example of a guy that had two of those three. When I recruited James Toney, I knew that he had ability because he was trained by a great trainer, Bill Miller, and believe it or not, at that time, he even had f—ing character. But James lacked charisma. I mean, he just didn’t have it. Still, I was able to build him into an attraction because I knew that he could really f—ing fight, so I matched him with the toughest guys I could find. I never had a doubt in Toney’s ability because I really believed in this talent. Toney did well in his career but he just lacked that charisma.”
“Star Boxing has a kid right now named Chris Algieri,” Katz continued.
“He’s a good-looking, well-spoken kid with a big following here in New York. He’s got great character and is charismatic. If he can develop his skill level, this kid may be able to really do something big.”
Adrien Broner’s recent transgression of failing to make weight and not appearing to have ever intended to do so has led many to question the young Cincinnati star’s character and dedication.
Katz had this to say about that situation: “I’m old school man. What [Broner] did was disgusting and just f—ing despicable. It’s sh– like that which really hurts the credibility of the sport. That wasn’t even a fair fight. You had one guy fighting another guy two weight classes bigger.
“We had Broner on an undercard in one of the shows we did with Golden Boy when he was coming up. I told Eric Gomez that Broner was going to be the best fighter in their stable. At that time, he was a really good kid and all of his people were really nice and seemed humbled. I don’t know what the f— happened to him and his people, but he’s just not the same guy I met.”
In dealing with this kind of indiscretion, the longtime matchmaker feels that the ones televising the event should have sent a strong message: “I really think HBO should have pulled the plug on that show because the only way you get a guy like that to understand what he did is to hit him where it hurts and that’s with the money. These guys don’t give a sh– about belts, fines and things like that if they still get paid in the end.
“By HBO going on with the fight, it sets a precedence to this guy that he doesn’t have to give a sh– bout him making weight or being in a fair fight because he’s going to get paid anyway. I was talking to Dan Rafael about this and he told me, ‘But then that hurts the little guy too.’ I told him that without the big guy, there is no little guy. By going on with the show, how can boxing have any credibility? The lay fan watching this sh– just can’t make sense of it. It’s not a good thing.”
Anyone who has ever dedicated a significant portion of his or her life to a particular profession often experiences instances and/or is involved in moments that are a great source of pride and unforgettable. Katz is no different.
“In 35 years of doing this, there are so many fights I’ve done. The one that immediately sticks out is when I matched James Toney against (Michael) Nunn because everyone told me I was f—ing nuts. The only one that gave me credit was (Bob) Arum. He trusted me and made that fight. There are a lot of others too. The (Merqui) Sosa-“Prince” Charles Williams fight is considered by many the greatest ESPN fight of all time. (Delvin) Rodriguez-(Pawel) Wolak was a good action fight too.
“I tell you what: I always remember this one fight I did in the Bronx back in the 80s. It was a dark show and I matched a local guy, Jose Nieto, against this kid named Antonio Nieves. I can tell you that that fight is the most brutal eight round fight I’ve ever seen. There was about 300 Hispanic people in the crowed and at the end of the fight, they were throwing quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies into the ring. You know they were poor people and they didn’t have dollars but they appreciated the fight so much that they threw what they had.”
Katz added, “There’s also the funny stuff that has happened, pal. I was at a show I matched and there were these triplets: the Weaver brothers. Two of the three were fighting on the card. The place we were at had these steel beams all over the place and if you weren’t careful, you could hurt yourself. One of the brothers was warming up and ran into a beam and knocked himself out. I mean, this kid was out. I walked over to the other side of the dressing room, to the brother that wasn’t fighting, and told him he had to step in. This was back in the day when you could pull this sh– in boxing. These guys looked identical and had similar records, so we put some gloves on him and he fought.”
And how many people in the sport can say they conquered a legendary gym?
“I also never forget the night I destroyed the Kronk Gym in one day. We use to do a lot of business with Emanuel (Steward) back in the day. It was in June of 1989. I had two televised shows scheduled on the same date: one was on ABC in the afternoon, then I had an ESPN show that night. On the ABC show, I had matched four Kronk fighters and the all lost. I’m talking 0-4. On the night show I had matched two Kronk fighters and they both lost. On that show, (Gerald) McClellan fought (Dennis) Milton. Prentis Byrd, who was with McClellan, told me that if McClellan lost to Milton, he’d give me the Kronk t-shirt he was wearing. I still have that t-shirt. Emanuel Steward was in shock.”
Having been involved with a lot of boxing’s recent history and being a longtime fan of the sweet science, it is easy to assume that Katz would oppose the rule change made to add seven seconds to the 60 second rest period in between rounds to make fights more television friendly. This is not the case.
“Look, I get it about the traditional side of the sport. I get that. But I also get where boxing is right now in America. Strictly from an economic standpoint, it makes sense for the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC) to approve the request if that’s what it takes to get boxing back on network television.”
Yet, though the ABC ruled in favor of the time addition in specific situations, the ruling is not enforceable due to a lack of a national boxing commission. Katz commented, “Yeah, that’s true because we have no boxing commission. You know there are a lot of things that the government has to deal with that I’m sure are higher on their priority list than fixing boxing.”
The lack of a nation commission continues to be an ongoing problem.
After witnessing so many great fights and being involved with great fighters, Katz offered this about the current generation of active boxers: “I’d have to say that the number one guy right now has got to be Floyd Mayweather. Two and three, I would say the Klitschko brothers because of their dominance. After that, I’d have to say that guys like Andre Ward, Sergio Martinez and Juan Manuel Marquez are also up there in this era.”
Regarding the immediate future of boxing, Katz added, “The young guys that can carry the spot for the next few years are guys like Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., especially if he beats Sergio Martinez in September. (Yuriorkis) Gamboa is an exciting young fighter to watch. Broner can be big if he can get his sh– together. Only time will tell.”
And after all time in the sport, this New Yorker has no intentions of slowing down: “They’ll probably find me keeled over with a phone on my ear. I probably will never stop. I still get juiced about fights. There’s nothing better and more exciting to watch than a good fight. I’m not as maniacal as I once was, when I use to record every fight that was on television, but I’m still a huge boxing fan.”