J Russell Peltz Interview: “I’m more interested in pleasing the fans than I am in getting my fighters wins”
By: William Holmes
J Russell Peltz has been a mainstay on the Philadelphia fight scene since 1969 and he’s the last of a dying breed of promoters. He started as a sportswriter for the Evening Bulletin in Philadelphia and wanted to be the full-time boxing writer. Jack Fried, the boxing writer at the Evening Bulletin at the time, was given an extension when he reached mandatory retirement age at 65. Peltz didn’t want to wait for Fried to finally retire so he spent a lot of time in the Bulletin library reading old fight stories and learning the business.
Peltz would read and about what night of the week promoters ran shows, the attendance, the gate receipts. He learned as much as he could and he saved enough money during and after college (Temple University) to promote his first show at the age of 22.
His first boxing card was Sept. 30, 1969 at the legendary Blue Horizon in Philadelphia. Peltz promoted 15 shows in eight months, nearly twice a month. He still promotes in the Philadelphia area and he is known for putting on evenly matched and exciting fights.
Philadelphia boxers have a reputation for being better than what their record shows and for being tested early. Peltz is one of the main reasons for that reputation.
However, boxing’s landscape has changed significantly since Peltz’ first card. Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) has deals with nearly every major television network. PBC buys the air time from the networks, rather than networks paying PBC. Haymon has deals to televise boxing on NBC, CBS, Fox Sports, ESPN, Showtime, and Spike TV. This leaves other promoters scrambling for precious airtime on HBO with little other options left.
Boxing Insider had the opportunity to speak with Peltz to get his thoughts on the current state of the fight game and how it has changed.
Boxing Insider: What is your most memorable moment from working as a promoter?
Russell Peltz: It was when Bennie Briscoe knocked out Tony Mundine in Paris in February of 1974. He (Briscoe) was my first fighter and he was my favorite fighter and it was such a big fight. It was almost like a world title fight, an elimination bout. Every major media outlet in Europe was there. Mundine was from Australia and he was popular in Paris and he was being groomed to fight (Carlos) Monzon for the world middleweight title and Bennie knocked him out in front of a sold out house at the Palais des Sport. Briscoe wore a Jewish star on his trunks and a group of Israeli Jews were there and they stormed the ring and carried him off. It was a wonderful night. I don’t think anything has ever topped that; whether it was my Hall of Fame induction or any world championship fight that I promoted. I don’t think anything was as memorable as that night.
Boxing Insider: Who are some of the more famous fighters that have fought under your promotion?
Russell Peltz: Marvin Hagler boxed for me five times and he lost twice; Briscoe, Michael Spinks, Roberto Duran, George Benton, Jeff Chandler, Matthew Saad Muhammad, Marvin Johnson, Mike Rossman, Arturo Gatti, Emile Griffith, Thomas Hearns, Aaron Pryor, Ernie Terrell, Yaqui Lopez, Buster Douglas, Richie Kates, Prince Charles Williams, Bobby Czyz, Leslie Stewart, Cyclone Hart, Kitten Hayward, Kassim Ouma, Sammy Goss, Charles Brewer, Willie “The Worm” Monroe…you could go on and on. I cannot name them all.
Boxing Insider: What do you think has made your promotion successful?
Russell Peltz: I’m a fan and I promote for the fans. I’m more interested in pleasing the fans than I am in getting my fighters wins, which, unfortunately, is what the business is about today–promoters getting their fighters wins and building them up for HBO. There are few competitive matches anymore at any level, except for HBO and Showtime. That’s just one reason why the business is in trouble. There’s no need to go to most boxing shows other than for the people who buy tickets from a certain fighter. That’s why (heavyweights) Joey Dawejko and Amir Mansour was such a success (May 8) at the box office in Philly. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the terrific fight it should have been, but it was a fight that people wanted to see. Give people a reason to buy tickets and they will. Fighters say: “Get me five straight wins!” It’s ridiculous. Do you think Briscoe or Chandler ever asked me to get them five straight wins?
Boxing Insider: What are your future plans for Peltz Boxing and what fighters from your promotion are you most excited about?
Russell Peltz: Junior lightweight Jason Sosa. He just scored a big hit in Madison Square Garden on June 13. He’s ranked in the Top 15 in the world; actually he’s the only fighter I have right now who is ranked, although Mansour deserves to be. Sosa is an action fighter; he’s still in his mid-20s. I’m slowing down a little bit. I don’t like what’s going on in the business.
Boxing Insider: When you say you don’t like what’s going on in the business, is there anything in particular that you would change?
Russell Peltz: I don’t like the way the TV networks rolled over for Al Haymon, but I guess money talks, even at the expense of substance. There’s no quality control, because if you get mediocre fights you have no recourse. You can’t fine him because he’s paying you. Nobody is buying tickets to go to these fights. You got a talent like Julian Williams from Philly, where did he just fight?
Boxing Insider: I think he fought in Texas, I’m not sure about that though (his last fight was in Alabama. He last fought in Texas in 2013).
Russell Peltz: Julian should be fighting in Philly. Danny Garcia is from Philly but he fights in Brooklyn. You had the so-called Battle of Ohio last weekend and the fight was in Las Vegas. That doesn’t make sense. How many times have you turned on ESPN and you have a fighter from Florida fighting a fighter from Connecticut and the fight is in some casino in Tacoma, Washington? What’s the point? A fighter cannot build a fan base that way. You need more fighters like Terence Crawford who can draw in their hometown. They just had a fight at the Stub Hub Center with (Roberto) Guerrero a couple of weeks ago; how many people bought tickets?
Boxing Insider: Yeah…it looked pretty empty.
Russell Peltz: When some of the big promoters–other than Top Rank because they still know how to sell tickets–go to places like the Barclays Center, and even when Golden Boy came to Philly a few years ago with Hopkins, they gave all the tickets away. Why? Because the matches weren’t interesting enough for fans to purchase tickets so there’s no reason for people to go unless it’s free. The promoters give tickets away and they kill the market by doing that, so when you come along with your own show that means something, people say “Wait a second, I got free tickets last time, why should I be paying for this?’
I don’t care how much TV you have, boxing is never going to make it back to where it once was until the seats are filled with paying customers. You can’t just force boxing down peoples’ throats on television! The NFL is all over free TV but the stadiums are packed because the NFL knows how to market and the best play the best. But in boxing, most promoters are lazy. They run to casinos and the casinos do the work.
We also have competing networks. An HBO fighter won’t fight on Showtime and vice versa. This is childish! Get outta my sandbox! Imagine if CBS wouldn’t let certain NFL teams appear on NBC or Fox. This is outrageous!
As for the Fight of the Century, please! I have seen about three minutes of it on Facebook. I’d rather watch a tape of Hurricane Carter against Florentino Fernandez.
Boxing Insider: You didn’t miss much.
Peltz: We knew that ahead of time. The internet is good and bad. Back in the day when we had real boxing writers who had editors and copy editors and copy readers, you wouldn’t be able to write this stuff. The editor would laugh at you: “What are you talking about? Fight of the Century?”
A lot of the writers don’t want to address the fact that boxing is in trouble. They’ll say: “Oh look at the crowds they get when Mayweather fights” and “Mayweather is the highest paid athlete in the world” and “they’re doing well in Germany.” They ignore what is happening here.
We went to get a trophy for the winner of the Mansour vs. Dawejko fight at Spike’s Trophies, which was like the Taj Majal of trophy stores in this area for as long as I can remember. It was difficult to find a boxing figurine to put on the top of the trophy. They had to dig into their warehouse. This was the trophy company that sponsored the amateurs for years.
Boxing Insider: Do you think Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions series hurts promoters such as yourself?
Russell Peltz: Absolutely! The ones it doesn’t hurt are the ones who decided to work for him. Haymon has so much money to play with from the hedge funds that he can afford to overpay but he’s competing against himself. He overpays not only the “A” side but also the “B” side. So when you go to get a B-side fighter–I hate to talk like that because I don’t believe in an “A” side or a “B” side–you offer a guy somewhere between $1500 and $2000 for a six-round fight or even $2500, he says: “Wait a second, I just got $7000 from Al Haymon for a six-round fight” and I say to them: “You got your head handed to you.”
Fighters wait for fights to fall out. When you don’t have TV money or hedge-fund money you can’t compete. You’re depending on the live gate so you can’t pay someone $6,000 or $7,000 for a six-round fight. The talent pool is drying up. Even on some of Haymon’s recent shows, a fight or two dropped off because they can’t find opponents. Fighters are racking up losses and losses and when they get six or seven in a row they can’t fight in certain states. I don’t know what the master plan is because I’m not on the inside. Will it work two or three years down the road? Will boxing ever be that big again where the tens of millions of dollars they are losing can be recouped?
Boxing Insider: Some boxers, such as Eddie Chambers, have recently gone on social media to state they feel Philadelphia boxers should not face other Philadelphia boxers inside the ring unless it’s for a championship. What are your thoughts on that comment?
Russell Peltz: Like many others, Eddie has no frame of reference. He doesn’t understand what made Philadelphia boxing great. Fighters like Eddie think a loss to a Philly guy will hurt them and that mindset is fostered by TV execs who want fighters with pristine records. Many fighters just want easy fights but the Philadelphia fans won’t go to a fight if Eddie Chambers is fighting Joe Blow instead of Chazz Witherspoon, or if Amir Mansour is fighting John Doe instead of Joey Dawejko. A perfect example was the all-local Gabriel Rosado-Derek Ennis fight in 2010, which drew a nice crowd. Ennis won but it didn’t hurt Rosado one bit. In fact, Rosado has far surpassed Ennis since then. So as far as knocking somebody off, Eddie simply doesn’t understand.
Boxing Insider: ESPN Friday Night Fights used to give a platform for the smaller promoters to put their fighters on TV but ESPN is discontinuing that series. I’m sure you’ve heard of the news of the PBC buying airtime on ESPN, NBC, CBS , and now Fox Sports. What are your plans to get your fighters on TV?
Russell Peltz: It appears you cannot do it without eventually turning the fighters over to Haymon. You can get your fighter on a show and score an upset, but you can’t get back on the show unless you go through Haymon. If you keep on winning you’re going to turn your fighter over to Haymon sooner or later. You either go to work for Haymon, which is what several promoters have done, or you try to hold out long enough that you can withstand it, until maybe the hedge funds decide they wants their money back.
I’ve had my career so I’m in the homestretch. I’ll ride out with the fighters that I have. The thing about being a promoter is you make your own decision. You can’t just say I need another $15,000 to pay a six-round kid. We don’t have hedge funds to draw that money from.
It doesn’t seem that there is a business model to what Haymon is doing. It’s assembly line boxing. They wheel in the opponents and they wheel them out. I’m surprised at some of the matches that have been approved on some of these shows. Recently they had a kid who had lost 14 of his last 15 fights, half by knockout, going against a kid who was 8-0 or 10-0. I don’t get it! Who would pay to see that? Some commissioners simply want to have a lot of shows in their jurisdiction to justify their job and to get the tax revenue. They approve fights they would normally never approve.
You can have all the free boxing on television you want, but there’s no appeal to watching it unless you’re an out-and-out boxing freak. Adrian Broner and Shawn Porter, they’re both from Ohio, right?
Boxing Insider: Correct.
Russell Peltz: Why wasn’t the fight in Ohio? Because today’s promoters do not take the time to develop fighters in their backyards. Top Rank is about the last major promoter of that ilk. I remember when (Vinny) Pazienza was coming up in the 1980s in Rhode Island and Main Events put him in Providence in 1986 against Joe Frazier, Jr. Pazienza had one loss in about 14 fights and they drew 12,000 people. Or when Ray Mancini was fighting and was drawing big crowds in Youngstown, Ohio, in the 1980s.
Promoters don’t do that today because casinos have made promoters lazy. There are promoters out there who won’t run a show unless it’s in a casino. They won’t take the risk. They won’t put the posters up around the city, they won’t sell the tickets out of their car, they won’t beat the drums. They send out stories on the internet and think that is promoting. They won’t promote unless they can get a casino, even if the casino is in Timbuktu and the fighters are from the Ames, Iowa.
Haymon should have taken boxing back to the cities where the fighters live. He should have gone back to grass-roots promotion, hired local street teams to get out the word, hit the neighborhoods with posters and literature, hustled tickets on the avenue, staged outdoor exhibitions in city plazas. Get creative! Stop flying fighters from one coast to the other. Concentrate on the cities and the locals. I assume he has a different theory. People say times change, but change is not always for the better. Is boxing healthier today than it was up thru the 1970s or 1980s? I don’t think so!
Boxing Insider: Do you think the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight helped boxing or hurt boxing?
Russell Peltz: It hurt big-time!
Boxing Insider: Why?
Russell Peltz: The fight was far from compelling. I don’t want to hear about the art of self-defense. People want to see people getting clocked. That’s why Mike Tyson was big, that’s why Jack Dempsey was big, that’s why Henry Armstrong was big, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, all the greats. I enjoyed watching Pernell Whitaker, but I wouldn’t want to watch a show with seven Pernell Whitaker fights. People want to see people getting clocked.
They screwed the public. How many fans were able to buy tickets? The tickets went to brokers, to high rollers, to celebrities, not to fight fans. The prices were outrageous in the arena and on Pay Per View.
We had the Pacquiao injury. Why did he say anything? People are saying: “This is boxing” or “what did you expect” or “they’re lying again.” If you’re a potential sponsor and Haymon is asking you to come on board and you just read all this negative publicity about Pacquiao and Mayweather, you have to be scratching your head. I think that really hurt. I know people are gullible, but will they buy into that again? And spare me the anguish about whether or not Pacquiao should have postponed the fight. I’d like to meet the fighter who would walk away from a $150-to-$200 million dollar payday on short notice and hope the fight gets rescheduled within a year. Stop it, please!
As for Miguel Cotto vs. Canelo Alvarez, if they were to put that match in San Antonio the same night as Mayweather against, let’s say Amir Khan, in Las Vegas, they’d blow Mayweather vs. Khan out of the water.
Boxing Insider: I agree
Russell Peltz: They’d kill them but it’s not going to happen. So you get a kid like Alvarez who fights in Hispanic-friendly cities, 31,000 people at his last fight. Hopefully the Cotto fight will be in San Antonio or Cowboys Stadium, places where it makes sense. .
Boxing Insider: What are your thoughts on Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)? Do you think the two can co-exist?
Russell Peltz: I have no interest in mixed martial arts, none whatsoever. When I was younger I was told to get into wrestling. I’m not a wrestling guy and I’m not an MMA guy; I’m a boxing guy. The only thing I’ll say about Mixed Martial Arts is Ronda Rousey. She is the first person to pique my interest. I can’t stand watching the UFC where you got a guy on his back and you got a guy sitting on him and punching him on his face, c.mon, please! Ronda Rousey is a crossover. She’s a good- looking woman, she’s hot, she’s got a great personality, she has a great story. If she were not around, that sport would have trouble.
Boxing Insider: You used to do a couple of events in Atlantic City each year but you haven’t been there in a while and it seems as if boxing has dried up in Atlantic City. What do you think led to the demise of boxing in Atlantic City and what do you think has to happen for a revival to happen there?
Russell Peltz: The closing of four casinos and the bankruptcy recently filed by Caesars, which is connected to Harrah’s and Bally’s. Ken Condon, who buys most of the fights in Atlantic City, has single-handedly kept boxing alive there but his hands are tied during the bankruptcy. The other casinos that I’ve approached don’t appear interested. I never could get even a return call from the Borgata. The Tropicana and Resorts wanted me to pay them. Why would you go to a casino to pay them? The whole idea of going to a casino is not having those expenses.
Boxing Insider: Anything else you want our readers to know?
Russell Peltz: September 30 will make 46 years for me in boxing. I don’t know if I’m going to make it to 50. It’s not the sport I fell in love with as a kid. It’s not even a sport anymore; it’s a business. We have 68 so-called world champions walking around. The Ring magazine just published that out of 180 fighters ranked in the world by The Ring, 55 are undefeated. That’s a joke! Most of today’s undefeated contenders still have not learned their craft. Their opposition is pitiful!
If you want to look at the rankings in the 1950’s and 1960’s, eight divisions–80 fighters, maybe half a dozen were unbeaten back then, maybe. It’s hard to get on ShoBox today if you’ve lost four or five fights without having 60 wins. Guys like Archie Moore, George Benton, and Bennie Briscoe couldn’t get on television today because they lost too many fights. It’s crazy.