A Necessary Evil
By Steve Kim, MaxBoxing (April 11, 2012) Doghouse Boxing (Photo © German Villasenor)
Brandon Rios (L) - Richie Abril (R)
On April 14th, one of the more anticipated bouts of 2012 was supposed to take place between former lightweight beltholder Brandon Rios and talented Cuban Yuriorkis Gamboa at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. About two months ago, Top Rank President Todd duBoef made a trip to Miami with the stated goal of securing Gamboa for this assignment, coming back to Vegas believing they had a binding commitment. The fight was on and it was the centerpiece of HBO’s first half of 2012. Tickets were selling briskly, so briskly that contingency plans were made to expand the seating arrangement at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
But as the day for the two-city press tour to officially announce the bout arrived, Gamboa went AWOL. Soon, that fight was scrapped and Richie Abril was tabbed to replace Gamboa, who was soon served with legal papers by Top Rank.
When asked if this was perhaps the biggest personal betrayal or letdown he had encountered in his years in the business, duBoef told Maxboxing, “I don’t know...I don’t know; it’s tough to rank it. I mean, you don’t rank it. I would say this: I just thought that the conduct was very poor. It’s OK for someone not to have an agreement with somebody or for them to have a different sense of opinion than whatever it is. But the conduct of how you do that is very important to me. You have to have some decency and understanding of how this business works and having conduct that works well in our marketplace- and that’s being respectful and when you agree to a fight, you show up for the ceremonies and the press conferences and fight.”

Where the litigation goes with Gamboa remains to be seen but because of these machinations, the card on Saturday night is now a lower-level pay-per-view card, featuring the likes of Juan Manuel Marquez (broadcast from Mexico), Mercito Gesta and Mike Alvarado. As Top Rank and HBO couldn’t come to an agreement on who would face Rios in Gamboa’s place, there was no other choice but to broadcast this on pay-per-view.
It was that or Rios and the rest of Top Rank’s fighters sit on the sidelines.
“When we sign fighters, we have obligations to them,” explained duBoef. “I can’t make excuses or reasons why. Your career and family’s livelihood isn’t going to work because someone has to show an episode of ‘Homeland’ or show an episode of ‘Sex and the City’ or, to be even more relevant, ‘Game of Thrones’ or something like that. I can’t do that. So we have an obligation as a promoter to provide opportunities for our fighters, no matter what the case is. That’s our job. I would also echo this; look at UFC, for instance. They do over one a month that you are watching on pay-per-view because they didn’t have a more conventional distribution mechanism over the last 10 years. They now have FOX, obviously, so that was the place where you found their prizefights on a regular basis.”
The reality is this kind of pay-per-view card is more about fulfilling contracts than making money. The expectations for this show are very tempered. As HBO’s Larry Merchant has said in the past, it’s basically like putting in extra bleacher seats for those who won’t make it out to Las Vegas. Shows of this nature are loss leaders designed to advance careers when slots are unavailable on HBO or Showtime.
“It’s doing what my obligation is to the fighters. We’re taking the risk. We’re taking the risk of making this event happen to link it up, to make it sellable, to do whatever it is. Is it a 500,000-home fight? No, it isn’t a 500,000-home fight,” admitted duBoef. “Do I think we can do a decent amount of business? We’re going to do the best we can and give all these fighters the opportunity to live up to our commitment that we gave them.”
One of the problems in this era of boxing is that with the overreliance on the premium cable networks (who have a finite amount of dates devoted) and with the likes of CBS, NBC and ABC no longer a factor, there aren’t many platforms where marquee names can have their financial demands satisfied. At one time, USA’s “Tuesday Night Fights” was a valuable “bridge series” that would see fighters perform between their more lucrative fights on HBO and Showtime.
Better or worse pay-per-views like this weekend’s keep boxers like Rios from performing just twice a year. duBoef says, “Personally, I don’t like this whole two-fights-a-year model. I think it’s a bad model. I think it’s where we’re just managing fighters’ careers based on what the opportunities are for the premium networks or what they’re scheduling; let’s put it that way. I think that’s a little problematic. If you look at Ray Leonard before he fought Wilfredo Benitez for the title, I think it was his ninth fight of the year. It was the ninth fight of the year?!”
(Todd is correct. In 1979, “Sugar” boxed eight times prior to facing Benitez for the WBC welterweight strap that November at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.)
“If the fighter’s ready to go and wants the fight, why aren’t there opportunities? Why can’t they go ahead and do it?” asked duBoef, rhetorically, knowing that his company is perhaps one of the few who will actually finance its own cards without the license fees provided by television. It’s actually the purest form of promoting- putting up one’s own money and hoping to turn a profit. But in the last two decades, there has become more and more of a reliance on only staging fights/cards if someone else finances them, whether it be a network or a casino. 
It’s the age of the TV packager.
“I think we got ourselves in a little bit of a rut and I think we gotta go back to the fighters fighting more often and I think it would solve a lot of issues, guys that won’t blow up in weight in between fights so much. Guys that are constantly in shape. More accessibility in knowing each fighter because there was regularity. I think it would be very healthy for the business if we moved off of the limited number of bouts based on premium television dates,” said duBoef.
Adding to what duBoef pointed out, it’s difficult to promote anything effectively and build a fan base for anything that shows up every six, seven months, save for perhaps Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. What’s that saying; “Out of sight, out of mind”? But this culture change would take a sacrifice from everyone involved, especially the fighters, who are used to being paid a guaranteed amount from their network agreements. Would boxers of today be willing to take reduced purses for fights, outside these platforms, in exchange for activity? Human nature suggests that if you could make millions for performing just twice year with no pressure to build a fan-base or sell tickets (which, at one time, determined your market value), why would you change anything?
Today, many performers who play to half-filled ballrooms and do mediocre ratings are deemed worthy of millions of dollars by the networks. Till this changes, nothing will.
“I think that’s a case to a certain extent and I think that the problems is that there’s too big of a discrepancy between what you can get on a regular basis in the marketplace and what you can get on a premium channel in the marketplace,” duBoef opined. “This gap is so big that it’s not like two fights of a premium channel can get you what you would on a premium channel. There’s no middle class. So you just have a really big gap and I think we have to narrow it down for the health of the sport.”
Will network license fees on HBO and Showtime ever align with reality?
“I’ve said that a number of times that to a certain extent, the values of the fighters were created by a value of a [television] executive that wrote the check,” said duBoef, who agrees that often, the opinions of the decision makers aren’t derived from real value or data but personal preferences. “Right, not based on the ‘attractability’ or if it’s the ratings, the audience demand for it.”
He added, “I think, to a certain extent, you sit back and you kinda have to evaluate how the pay-model works and how those values are created and that’s my biggest concern and I’ve been a big advocate that people create value, not individuals or checkbooks.”
So the show goes on this weekend in Las Vegas. To the consternation of many fans, it will cost $44.95 to see it. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil. But will it at least lead to a showdown between Rios and Marquez later on this summer?
“We have obviously talked to both camps about it,” said duBoef. “We’d love to roll up our sleeves and move to at least have a real good conversation if it can be put together.”
I’ve been asked if Marquez’s fight from Mexico City versus Sergey Fedchenko will be shown inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center. According to duBoef, they will be adding screens that will come down from above the ring, then lowered when Marquez-Fedchenko takes place.
So there you have it.
Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer confirmed via email late last week that indeed the rematch between Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto will take place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on June 23rd. This Showtime card will start off with a junior welterweight scrap between Humberto Soto and Lucas Matthysse. It’s a good looking doubleheader.
It seems to fit much better in L.A. than it does in Las Vegas (where it was originally scheduled). In Los Angeles, it at least has a puncher’s chance of drawing a significant crowd. I’m told the press conference will take place sometime next week and I’m sure that’s when all the ticket information will be released.
Yes, I booked my flight for the Tomasz Adamek-Eddie Chambers fight in Newark on June 16th. Going to an Adamek fight at the Prudential Center is on my boxing bucket list...I’m told that Guillermo Rigondeaux vs. Teon Kennedy and Jorge Arce vs. Jesus Rojas are going to be part of the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley undercard on June 9th in Las Vegas...Look for featherweight Mikey Garcia to face WBA beltholder Celestino Caballero in July on Showtime...Still no final decision on who Adrien Broner will face on May 19 as the opener on HBO. The network and GBP are trying to find someone a bit better than Monty Meza-Clay. Broner’s HBO appointment in the summer (as the headliner) could be bumped up from August to July...Strong efforts are being made for a bout between Leo Santa Cruz and Vusi Malinga for the vacant IBF bantamweight title...Ronny Rios put forth a solid, workmanlike effort in beating Guillermo Sanchez this past weekend on “Solo Boxeo”...The Red Sox and Yankees will win a game, right?...RIP, Mike Wallace...The next edition of “Operation” should be with Kobe Bryant’s body...I wonder if Atlanta Falcons fans are getting a good chuckle from the recent troubles of one Bobby Petrino...

Steve can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com and he tweets at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing.

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