Bradley-Alexander: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Boxing By Steve Kim, MaxBoxing (Jan 25, 2011) Special to Doghouse Boxing - Tweet
Lots of people have been asking me if I'm really heading out to Pontiac/Detroit, Michigan later this week for the bout between junior welterweight standouts Tim Bradley and Devon Alexander at the rusted Silverdome. Yes, I am. And invariably, I'm asked, “Why?” Well, it's pretty simple; I'm going to Pontiac because I go where the fights are (and this is a good one) and it's not in Tahiti or the Bahamas. But really, I have to admit, there is a sense of morbid curiosity that I have over this whole event which is being staged by HBO under the promotional banners of Gary Shaw and Don King.
In many ways, this fight represents the good, the bad and the ugly of the boxing business as it currently stands.
THE GOOD: There's no doubting that this is a great match-up on paper, at the very least. Two undefeated American boxers (with a combined mark of 47-0) in the primes of their careers, each fighting for the right to call himself the best 140-pounder on the planet. If you give any credence to the mythical pound-for-pound rankings, Bradley is a consensus top ten nominee while Alexander is usually listed just a bit lower. Both young men aren't just fighting to stake their claims as the best in the division but to place themselves in future discussions for fights against the likes of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. Yes, they are absolutely fighting for the right to be in a much higher tax bracket in the near future. There is plenty on the line on Saturday night.
Not sure how this fight plays out stylistically, since one guy is a southpaw and Bradley's fights have a tendency to have clashes of heads. But you can only hope for the best when two gifted and skilled fighters with so much at stake get into the ring together.
If the answer to this business’ ills is for the best to face the best, well, this certainly is an elixir.
THE BAD: I've heard some compare this upcoming fight to the original face-off between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns on the night of Sept. 16, 1981. Yeah, I found that to be almost sacrilegious but, hey, you never know what will transpire in that ring and maybe we will get a night to remember. But here's the thing, when those two legends fought, they were already household names to the American public. Fast forward to 2011 and only Pacquiao and Mayweather are remotely close to being transcendent figures over here in the States. The bottom line is simple; the mechanisms to have boxers become more recognizable were much more readily available back then.
Here's what stands out about Leonard and Hearns leading into that match-up; from the beginning of 1980- in an era when boxers actually performed on a regular basis and promoters actually promoted and didn't have the luxury of just staging two bouts a year on HBO- to that fateful night in the desert in September of 1981, the two future legends boxed a total of 13 times (eight for Hearns, five for Leonard). That stretch culminated in the two co-headlining a show at the Houston Astrodome to further build their promotion, just a few months before clashing. In other words, they were out there consistently, being seen by the public, building and cultivating a following, locally and nationally. There was a building anticipation of this fight that was fostered.
Contrast that to Bradley-Alexander, well, the “Desert Storm” has been dormant, fighting just once in 2010 (a rather ordinary looking performance at welterweight against Carlos Abregu in July), and Alexander performed twice the past year. In the eyes of many observers Alexander was beaten by Andreas Kotelnik in August in front of his hometown partisans in St. Louis. Leonard-Hearns was grown and cultivated like a beautiful, plush lawn. Bradley-Alexander is essentially Astroturf.
Now, I'm not exactly Tex Rickard but it's my humble opinion that this isn't exactly the way to build momentum toward a fight that is supposedly only second in terms of caliber to a Pacquiao-Mayweather hook-up. You might as well call this fight the “Hungry Man” because, like many other fights today, it was microwaved. It's a good thing HBO didn't have the influence on the business back then as it does now because Leonard and Hearns would've probably fought in 1978 or in a small casino ballroom on “Boxing After Dark.”
THE UGLY: OK, this is gonna take awhile; where do I begin? Oh, yeah, Pontiac. While this may not exactly be the modern-day version of Shelby, Montana, this is another example of promoters who are now for the most part- save Bob Arum and Kathy Duva- nothing more than booking agents and television packagers. Sorry, but I'll have to disagree with my old friend, Shaw (who seems a bit miffed at me for some recent things I have written) that while, yes, I have stated ad nauseam that boxing needs to scale back its reliance on casinos and go to local venues (as Shaw stated in last week’s conference calls, also attended by King), when you feature a fighter from St. Louis versus one from Palm Springs, California, going to Michigan is not considered local, unless staying in the same country constitutes “local.”
Let's be honest; while Shaw and King spoke in circles and around the fact that ticket sales are reportedly dismal- which they never actually denied- and about how the fight is bigger than the site and that this was about bringing a fight to revitalize this depressed region and helping out the local economy, the only reason why this fight was placed here is the economic stimulus gained by both promoters, who stand to pocket over 200-large in their pockets. They’re essentially doing nothing more than cutting a deal with HBO and conducting a few conference calls with reporters. It's the same reason why Shaw is taking Antonio DeMarco, a fighter from Tijuana, Mexico to Nebraska (yeah, Cornhusker country) on February 26th- the site fee. Both Shaw and King deserve credit for putting on this fight.
However, they deserve all the derision coming their way for putting it here.
Maybe I'm being idealistic but the job of a promoter isn't just to make a good fight. They also have some sort of obligation and responsibility to place the fight in an area or region where the general public will want to actually attend. I mean, isn't that the very essence of the word “promoting”? And please, spare me any comparison to Manny Pacquiao in Arlington/Dallas because that's apples to rotten oranges here. Not only is Manny “Manny” but Cowboys Stadium (built for a billion dollars) is in itself an attraction in an area that in many ways is the polar opposite of Pontiac/Detroit and the Silverdome (bought a few years ago for pennies on the dollar). The numbers showed that fans wanted to come to the “Lone Star” state. Google any story about “Motown” and you'll get a host of pieces detailing how there has been a mass exodus from that region. A few months ago, when several prominent locales were being discussed for this bout (St. Louis, New Orleans, Washington DC, Atlanta and Detroit), I took an informal poll among boxing fans on Twitter on where they would be willing to travel to see Bradley-Alexander, getting various replies in return. But which place was unanimously derided as a destination?
Well, you know.
And this fight points out another flaw in the current system where a fighter’s purse is determined solely by a network and whatever they deem the license fee to be for a particular fight. While Alexander has become an attraction in St. Louis, for whatever reason, Bradley has not resonated in Southern California. Yet, whether they sell one ticket or 100,000 this upcoming weekend, he will command a payday of well over a million bucks. And that is great for him. There is no finer gentleman than Bradley in this business and nobody begrudges honest, hard-working fighters for earning huge paydays. But in the bygone era when fighters’ purses were determined by a percentage of the live gate, Bradley would have had no choice but to face Alexander in St. Louis, where this fight would have done very well moving the turnstiles.
Shaw and King have tried to tell anyone that will listen to their spiel that the fight is bigger than the site. Some have actually bought into this malarkey by stating that it doesn't matter if hardly anybody shows up on January 29th and that important thing is that this fight is happening in the first place and they can watch it on TV. That's all that counts. OK, let me get this straight; so if you put on what is one of the very best and important fights in boxing and almost nobody shows up, it's not something to be alarmed about? Boxing must be the only sport that tries to convince itself that when nobody shows up inside the tent, it's not a cause for concern. Let me just say this, if people stopped buying shoes but kept walking, I have a feeling Nike wouldn't be alright with the development. And if people stopped going out and buying Big Macs but were still eating, you think it would sit well with Ronald McDonald?
Yes, this is absolutely a part of the story, no matter what anyone says. The fact of the matter is, if fans stop showing up, well, let's take a look at the ramifications: the fight business would be crippled because there would be no audience; fight cards wouldn't take place; fighters wouldn't find work (and guys like me would have to find new gigs) and so on. This sounds so elementary but I'll state it anyway; part of having a business (one that is successful anyways) is actually having customers. Uh, yeah, so it's kinda sorta important to have patrons in the building. Invariably, there is a direct correlation to the success of an event from an attendance standpoint and how well it does on pay-per-view or the Nielsen ratings. Every other major sport cares about the patronage of their events and those leagues like the NFL have billion-dollar deals with over-the-air networks and every single one of their contests are broadcast and watched by millions. But they absolutely give a damn if people show up to their games. Boxing's power-brokers seem to want more and more to have their fights in television studios like the old sitcoms as long as they can collect their welfare checks from HBO and Showtime.
But actually going out there and selling tickets and marketing your product? That's soooo old-school and unnecessary.
Just think about it; for all the plaudits (which are deserved) for this fight, if only a few thousand folks show up, won’t that be an indictment on the sport or those who were responsible for this development? Shaw proudly pointed out that he put on the best fight of the past decade between Jose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales in 2005 and only sold 2,000 tickets. Yeah...y' know, uhhh…that's actually more of an indictment than anything else. I have always lauded Shaw for being the most fan-friendly promoter around. I stand by that but here, he is doing the fans, his fighter and even himself a disservice.
No offense to the people of this region; we should all feel empathy for those going through this horrid economic downturn but this fight never, ever belonged here. What's that old saying about “location, location, location”? As one boxing insider told me recently, "Please, Bradley-Alexander couldn't fill up a Pontiac SUV, much less the Pontiac Silverdome."
Beyond all this, in a sport where a fighter’s economic clout and viability has a large say in what opportunities come their way (think Ricky Hatton and his huge following, which he parlayed into bouts with Mayweather and later Pacquiao), this is something that will affect the winner’s ability to land big fights in the future. Just think about this scenario: if Amir Khan, who is a huge draw when he fights in the UK, steps up to face Bradley (should he come out victorious), guess what will be the biggest obstacle in making this fight? You guessed it; the fact that while Khan draws extremely well in places like Manchester, Bradley will have the fact that this fight bombed at the box-office held over his head. In this sport, your perceived popularity is every bit as important as your achievements and ability.
This really supports Bob Arum's philosophy that while he works to actually build attractions and risks his own money, why should he be relied upon to provide the biggest paydays to fighters whose sole value to a promotion is that they are facing other fighters that were heavily invested into by Top Rank? If they are promoting fighters like the “Pac-Man” who can put over 30,000 thousand patrons into seats and there are boxers who literally can't sell a tenth of that, you can see why Arum would rather just make in-house fights (when these rival promoters start asking for 70-30 splits and the like).
So how well will this fight do next week? I'm sure there will be a bit of a push as Shaw and King finally arrive in Pontiac and beat the drums for their event. One guy on Twitter asked me if they would throw in a foreclosed house for every ticket sold. I can't confirm or deny that but trust me, this thing will be papered more than the exterior of a piñata (and nobody is better at it than King). The thing is, you kept reading that Detroit is/was a “fight town.” Well, this fight is actually situated in Pontiac, which is about a good half-hour from Detroit. While this city does have a great history of boxing, most of it has been wrapped around Kronk fighters. And, my good readers, Tommy Hearns, Milton McCrory and Hilmer Kenty aren't walking through that door. But worse, local products like Cornelius “K9” Bundrage (who is not only a major world titlist but promoted by King) and Ronald Hearns, fighters who could perhaps help local ticket sales, are not on the card for various reasons. Quick, somebody call Mary Jo Sanders; she is needed in the worst way.
And then there is the pesky little issue of the weather. Let's just say I won’t be packing my shorts and sandals for this trip: http://www.weather.com/weather/tenday/USMI0681. This might be the only fight I ever cover where I bring my laptop and a snow dog.
Let's just hope that for the game- and those that cover and support it- that no Greek consortium buys up any rundown properties in Antarctica with the purpose of staging any significant fights. But hey, Bradley-Alexander is a good one and one worth checking out. If you’re around the area, drop in and have some fun (but bring a jacket. They may not turn on the heat inside the building, from what I've read) because remember: it's about the fight, not the site.
And I hear plenty of tickets are available.
Twitter is a great way to gauge the public's opinion on anything going on in an immediate fashion, especially boxing cards that are taking place. And this weekend was no different, where I saw some folks giving rather harsh reviews of the pay-per-view show featuring the Evander Holyfield versus Sherman Williams bout this past weekend.
I'm sorry but were you expecting the “Thrilla in Manila”?
Seriously, with shows of this caliber, you should know exactly what you are getting into. Hey, if you buy a movie ticket to see “Meatballs” and expect “Citizen Kane,” well…that's on you (and for the record, this is no condemnation of “Meatballs,” which was a fine movie, where Bill Murray was on top of his game). C'mon, lighten up; nobody forced you to purchase that or even waste your bandwidth on an illegal stream to check that out. If you were surprised and disappointed by that show (which from what I'm told was an interesting presentation, to say the least), then that's on you. This is one of those situations where you just need to sit back and just laugh at the lunacy taking place.
One of my fondest moments of being a fan (which I still am) was chipping in ten bucks apiece with two of my friends, Hugo and Chris, back in 1996 for the pay-per-view card featuring the George Foreman-Crawford Grimsley bout in Japan, which turned out to be like one of those classic, cult B-movies. You know, the ones that are soooo bad that they’re actually kinda good (but more than that, very funny in retrospect). But the main event was so uneventful that we all were asleep by the sixth round. I can still see it in my mind as if it as it happened yesterday. Three of us laid out on separate couches as if we had taken big right hands from “Big George” himself. We still refer to it as the “Night of the Triple Knockout.”
Honestly, I think it's much worse when you get horrid fights on truly important cards that feature guys like Pacquiao because that's when boxing is really on the big stage and under the microscope to deliver. In cases like Holyfield-Williams, you know that this is only for the hardest of the hardcore, like my guy “Trader Tim” (and Tim, get that over here ASAP, please. I'm dying to see this abomination). It's at points like this where you might as well just chuckle and just have a good time with it.
(True story, I gave my copy of that card to former Miami Hurricane great Alonzo Highsmith, who fought former New York Jet Mark Gastineau on that undercard and scored a first-round KO. Yeah, sure, he never got the ball at the end of the 1987 Fiesta Bowl against Penn State and was on the losing end of one of the post painful losses in UM history but, hey, a victory over the former sack-master made up for it, I'm sure. But as I gave him the DVD, you would've thought I gave him the complete Zapruder film or something.)
Some of my thoughts on this groundbreaking move are in the “PAC-TIME” section of my Saturday morning article: http://www.maxboxing.com/news/main-lead/cucaracha-in-mexico. There's no doubt this is a huge development. The only question/concern I have is will this move be just a power-move made by Top Rank/Bob Arum (who I have consistently lauded as the sports last, real renegade rogue promoter) to just further polarize his company and his fighters from the rest of the sport? I think the ultimate success of this nascent relationship isn't just about further filling the coffers of Pacquiao and Top Rank but if it can shift the tide for the whole sport and benefit the entire business.
One hopes that his union transcends a singular boxer and company.
FINAL FLURRIES (OF PONTIAC)
Kathy Duva of Main Events sent an email on Monday night stating that a deal to have Tomasz Adamek face Wladimir Klitschko in Germany in the month of September has been reached. She also confirmed that Adamek will still fight in April...Don't look now but junior lightweight Diego Magdaleno is turning into a fighter and currently there are no monsters at 130...Just wondering but with the Magdaleno brothers, do they have a chance to be the biggest born-and-bred attractions that Las Vegas has ever had?...Why is Ray Lewis is the GOAT? Watch this (some boxing in there at the end): http://www.footballscoop.com/news/3282-a-grown-ass-man-a-coach-on-the-field ...Coldest I've ever been was Thanksgiving weekend of 2003 when I went to Pittsburgh to see the Hurricanes face Pitt for the Big East title...I spent a pretty good amount of coin on some Under Armour thermals, a scarf, beanie and gloves to prepare for my trip to Detroit/Pontiac...I haven't been this excited about a Super Bowl in a long time, I love the match-up between Green Bay and Pittsburgh. I'm gonna go with the Packers in this one...Who says you can't go home again? The Hurricanes have rehired Art Kehoe to be their offensive line coach. I never, ever thought this would happen...Our own Managing Editor Coyote Duran has started a raffle to raise money for a family friend, who is suffering from terminal cancer. Up for grabs are original paintings (done by Coyote himself) and other collectibles. You can learn more about it at Coyote’s site right here: http://www.coyoteduran.com/2011/01/coyote-needs-your-help.html. If you or someone you know has been affected by the pain and stress that cancer imposes, this link is especially for you.