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The Al Haymon Gambit


April 27, 2015

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2015 is slowly becoming one of the biggest years in the history of American boxing.

On Saturday night International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Association, and World Boxing Organization heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, the kingpin of the division, came back to the U.S. after seven years to defeat Philadelphia native Bryant Jennings at Madison Square Garden in a fight that was tougher than most expected.

Sitting ringside was the holder of the only belt that Klitschko doesn’t possess from the World Boxing Council, Deontay Wilder.

The biggest fight in a generation between WBA & WBC welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather and WBO champion Manny Pacquiao is less than a week away with the media storm led by HBO and Showtime in full force.

The most interesting event though has been the launch of a new series ‘Premier Boxing Champions’ on various TV networks ranging from CBS, NBC, NBC Sports Net, Spike TV, and later this year ESPN. The PBC series is the brain child of arguably the biggest power broker of the sport in the Western Hemisphere, Al Haymon.

For over a decade Haymon has been building an empire in boxing after making his bones in the music tour business. What started as managing the late Vernon Forrest has turned into having some of the biggest names in the sport from Amir Khan, Danny Garcia, Keith Thurman, and most notably Mayweather on his stable as an ‘advisor’ who technically operates as a manager but acts more like a promoter.

If one is a long time boxing fan and that sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The last power broker with that formula in the U.S. was long time promoter Don King.

One of the reasons casual fans don’t make the immediate connection is how Haymon and King have carried themselves. King has had a persona loud enough to have a character molded after him in the movie ‘Rocky 5’ along with his “Only in America” catch phrase be burned into the pop culture lexicon. Haymon on the other hand has been a mystery by design. Rarely can anyone find a photo of him and he has refused to give a media interview even to outlets that would serve as his mouthpieces. The closest the media have come to knowing what Haymon thinks is through his business partner Sam Watson.

Another difference between Haymon and King is how they treat the fighters in their stable financially. One of the major reasons for King’s downfall as a big event promoter was him ripping off his fighters to the point that Congress drafted the 1999 Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, which prevents boxing promoters from also acting as managers to fighters, almost solely to put him out of business along with him being banned from doing business in New Jersey. Haymon’s model on the other hand has been to get his fighters a good amount of money for pedestrian fights. One of the best examples of this has been Leo Santa Cruz, the current WBC super bantamweight champion. Not too long ago Santa Cruz was seen as one of the more exciting fighters in boxing’s lower weight classes, but Haymon’s handling of his most recent fights have diminished his allure while still making him decent purses.

With the many difference between both men one would think their goals would also be different. In reality they are employing different means to the same end, obtaining a monopoly over boxing. King tried to do it by bribing sanctioning bodies to do his bidding. Haymon is trying to do the same by creating his own league in the PBC.

One factor that Haymon is using to his advantage is that the networks showing the PBC fights aren’t putting their own money in the endeavor. Rather the time slots were bought by Haymon and his backers giving them more freedom to spend on presentation and shaping the narrative. It shows in the way PBC cards have the fighters walking alone to the ring on separate ramps, a PA announcer rather than a ring announcer, and almost no mention of neither the sanctioning bodies or top fighters not on Haymon’s stable. Add to that growing speculation that the PBC will have their own championship belts and the timing of the series launch as the Mayweather-Pacquiao mega fight was announced, and Haymon’s intentions become more clear. He is relying on the ignorance of the casual fans that are now paying attention to boxing to mold the mind set that only his fighters are the elite of the sport and that the PBC is the only outlet to see them.

It’s a bold plan modeled after what Dana White has done with making Ultimate Fighting Championship the dominant promotion in mixed martial arts. It could work given the apathy that most of the public feel for the sport. There are flaws that could stop it though.

One flaw is the Muhammad Ali Act itself. While it hasn’t put King out of business the law could be used against Haymon. As Steve Kim of the Undisputed Champions Network noted via Twitter, the more recent contracts that fighters in Haymon’s stable have signed are said to be structured in a manner that is in violation of the law. Should a prominent fighter in Haymon’s stable challenge him in court it could open a Pandora’s box which he may not recover from.

The main flaw that Haymon faces though is information. With the era of smartphones and social media still in full swing access to information is at the fingertips for most. Building a narrative about the PBC have boxing’s elite fighters will be tough when information debunking it is easily accessible.

When Haymon’s narrative says that Daniel Jacobs and Peter Quillin are the best middleweight boxers in the world it’s easy to point out that in reality it is Gennady Golovkin.

When Haymon’s narrative says that Adonis Stevenson is the best light heavyweight boxer in the world it’s easy to point that in reality it is Sergey Kovalev.

When Haymon’s narrative says that Wilder is the best heavyweight boxer in the world it’s easy to point out that in reality it is Klitschko.

It is likely that this plan won’t work but time will tell whether or not Haymon will succeed. In the meantime boxing fans might come to see it as a necessary evil if it means the sport can regain some of the luster it lost over the years.

A rising tide does lift all boats.

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