The First Lady of Promoting, Kathy Duva By Steve Kim, MaxBoxing (Aug 19, 2010) Special to Doghouse Boxing
In the immediate aftermath of Tomasz Adamek’s victory over Chris Arreola in late April in Ontario, California, Kathy Duva of Main Events was insistent on two things moving forward: first, they would not be coerced into an immediate rematch with Arreola (who’s with the ever-influential Haymon Boxing Organization) and, secondly, they would not be waiting around for an HBO date to trot out Adamek again.
And that’s why the popular Polish prizefighter is facing Michael Grant this Saturday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
In an era when most major, brand-name promoters are nothing more than glorified television packagers who can cut a deal with a casino, Duva, in large part, is someone who still puts the horse before the cart. While her male colleagues subsist mostly on the network license fees, which have become more and more like welfare checks, Duva goes to work each and every day to create and cultivate attractions.
After all, isn’t that what a promotional firm is supposed to do?
"My thinking is that fighters need to be active to be excellent and our first responsibility to the fighters we promote is to enhance their ability to be excellent, so they win the fights when they’re in them," Duva told Maxboxing last week. "It occurred to me that if we were to wait around until there’s a date available on Showtime or HBO- as a lot of fighters have done- we’d be waiting it out for a very long time. You just can’t build a business on something you have absolutely no control over and no ability to influence, apparently.
"So I just figured that going forward, the only fighters that I can find a way to work with are the ones who can sell tickets. If you can sell tickets, you can be independent,” declared Duva. “The proof of it is in that the fight Adamek has coming up, if tickets continue to sell at the pace that they have, he’ll actually make more money than he did on HBO against Arreola. That right there is a testament to his drawing power and that is my proof of concept. That if you stay in an area, if you program a fighter like you’re the television network and make sure he has lot of fights where people can see him frequently, build up a following, they want to follow him. It’s hard to follow someone who fights once a year, for anybody. So that’s what we’re doing and it seems to be working."
It seems like such a novel concept but what Main Events is executing, by its truest definition (at least, for boxing), is the art of promoting. Nowadays, most companies couldn’t- or wouldn’t dare- try and stage a show without a substantial subsidy from a television network. Again, most promoters are television packagers or casino brokers.
"Quite a few of them are; yes," agreed Duva, whose shows with Adamek are backed up with television money from Poland. "And you don’t give justice to the sport or to the fighters because part of a promoter’s job is basically to build up opposition for your fighter and also to go and promote your fighter in the community and the boxing world and the sports world. So yeah, that’s been part of the problem with the sport in general. And the people who are just TV packaging and putting the money in their pockets are the ones selling the dates on a major network and, the problem is, they’re not building anything. And that’s the problem; nobody is building anything."
And even if you build something significant, like Adamek’s strong foundation in Newark, if you are not part of the illuminati (HBO, Golden Boy, Al Haymon), you are still forced to make every concession to gain entry onto the network. Despite Adamek’s prowess at the gate, they were forced to head west to face Arreola in front of a rather sparse crowd at the Citizens Business Bank Arena.
They simply had no choice.
Duva says of that situation, "It drove me crazy; we did it because we were told this is what you have to do to get on HBO. So we did it. We’re waiting for a date now. They want us to fight a title fight next year and we’d very much like to do that but it’s a matter of can this fight be made and all the details that go into that. So we’re going to talk about it and we always want to have alternate plans and contingencies. So we’re working on both tracks."
Main Events has scheduled Adamek to return on November 6th in Atlantic City (as the Prudential Center is booked) and Zab Judah, who made his return to the company in July, is slated to return to Newark on October 2nd. Neither show has a firm television commitment.
It’s a much different business than the one that Duva broke into back in the ‘70s when Main Events was an upstart family-run operation that held monthly shows at the Ice World in Totowa. Back then, promoters were allowed to be promoters and, for the most, did what promoters should do. Today, it’s hard to distinguish certain networks from promotional entities.
In Duva’s eyes, it’s very clear when this took place. "When Golden Boy came in and became their partner," she said bluntly. "Which is what Richard Schaefer calls HBO, ’We’re partners with HBO.’ That’s what happened." Several years ago, HBO entered into an exclusive output deal with Golden Boy Promotions, which, in the eyes of many in the industry, has given them an unfair advantage in signing boxers and an automatic upper hand in negotiating fights. "Bob Arum didn’t make them the promoter; I didn’t; Don King didn’t. When Golden Boy came in, that was when this started happening. Look, their goal was to weaken all of the major promoters and they succeeded- except for Top Rank, which is what I’m trying to emulate, which is what I’m trying to do. Emulate what I saw them do. They have a bit more power; they have deeper pockets than I do and they can do their own pay-per-view productions.
"We’re starting on a smaller scale, trying to do what they do. My approach is to do it with guys who can sell tickets. I have the luxury of not having to sign 50 fighters. So we’re very careful about that. We literally have guys throwing themselves at us every single day and we still have only three guys under contract," said Duva, referencing Adamek, Judah and Joel Julio. "There’s a reason for that; I can sign all the fighters I want, really good ones. But the way I look at it the way Showtime did- great fights, no rights- that was Jay Larkin’s motto- God rest his soul- and that’s how I’m looking at it. If people want to be in a great fight, they can go fight at the Prudential Center. If they want to win set-ups, don’t come to our shows."
One of the effects of the modern business model is that contemporary boxers perform no more than two- maybe three-times a year. If you happen to get a slot on one of the premium cable networks, you fight. If you don’t, well, you sit for months at a time till your number is called.
"That goes back quite awhile because when you’re talking about our fighters, we used to try and keep our guys active; we always did by having fights in between big fights," Duva explained. "The guys we signed in 2000 who were fighting on Showtime, we also had them fighting on NBC and back in the day when we were signing guys, when they were starting off with network deals, they were getting three, four fights a year; we were putting them on USA in between. We always used to sell our fighters on the idea that you’re going to have two big fights a year where you’re going to make money and two fights where you’re just going to stay busy.
"And if guys want to go along with that, then they’re helping themselves. But not every fighter sees it that way."
There was a time when television outlets were plentiful; in addition to the USA Network, ABC, CBS and NBC were all televising bouts on a regular basis. Those are no longer options and boxing programs on Telefutura and Fox Sports Net are now under the auspices of Golden Boy and Top Rank, respectively.
But Duva is clear; if you sign a deal with Main Events, you must be willing to fight often and sometimes without the bright lights of television or a hefty purse. "When we sign people, they are going to understand that there are conditions," she stated. "And this is part of the game- you have to stay active. And look, the best proof of concept is what Zab Judah’s doing right now. Zab Judah! Think of that; how far as he come? Because here’s a guy that no one would have believed would have subscribed to that theory. But he gets it and that’s why he’s doing what he’s doing."
Other promoters have recently stated that they will do whatever they can to keep their clients active outside the HBO/Showtime platform going into the future.
"That remains to be seen," said Duva, "I can’t tell you what they’re going to do. I don’t know that they’re all capable of it. When it comes down to it, selling tickets the way we do it isn’t easy. They don’t sell themselves. We work really hard to make it happen. At this point. my office is selling more than half of the tickets sold, straight out of my office and we’re up in the hundreds of thousands of dollars now. So it’s a big job and it requires a lot of effort and a lot of work.
"And not everybody knows how to do it."
SOLID AS A ROCK
So why is Adamek facing Grant’s Tomb?
Well, because they can.
When you build an attraction and don’t have a network clearinghouse to deal with, you are basically unhindered in who you can tab as an opponent. While many others question this match-up, there will be more than 10,000 partisans who will be having a great time at the Prudential Center on Saturday night.
But it’s clear, based on the success of Adamek and Judah (who drew right around 4,000 patrons for his fight with Jose Armando Santa Cruz), that a market has been built around this arena in “Brick City.” Could there be a regular series down the line?
’We’re trying; it’s getting hard to get dates there now because the Nets are there now," said Duva, of the NBA franchise which will soon be moving to Brooklyn. "At some level, we’re trying very hard to find a TV network that’s going to work with us. I don’t think we can do it monthly there. I’m hoping to maintain six [events] a year. Which, the way their calendar looks, is going to be the best we can hope for, maybe squeeze a bit more; you also have the hockey season. But there’s a few dates that come up here and there and I’m working with them to put them aside. That’s exactly what they want to do.
"At the moment, I’m kind of hamstrung because we’re hoping to have Zab and Adamek in major fights next year and that’s where, now, you have to be working with the television network and you have to coordinate dates and it’s not that easy," Duva added.
I plan on going to see Adamek one day in Newark- it looks like quite the atmosphere- but if you want to see him this weekend, here is some info: Tickets priced at $53, $78, $103 and $253 (ringside) can be purchased at Prudential Center Box Office, by calling TicketMaster at 800-745-3000 or visiting www.Prucenter.com
Whodini (one of my favorite acts back in high school) once asked, “Friends, how many of us have them?” I was reminded of this classic song with what is taking place between Andre Ward and Andre Dirrell, two old chums who are scheduled to face each other in a “Super Six” bout on September 25th.
But it looks more and more like that fight will not be taking place on this date. Y’ know, it’s kinda sorta a problem when you’re about six weeks away from the fight and you have no venue and neither guy is said to be even training as we speak. One source close to the situation told me that it’s about 50-50 if they ever fight.
If this is true (and again, this fight hasn’t been officially moved or canceled just yet), I’m just wondering what action Ken Hershman of Showtime would take? Me, personally, if I were in charge, if those two refused to get into the ring with each other, I’d boot them both from the tourney and sue them for all I could for breach of contract. But alas, I’m not in charge. Maybe they just don’t want to face each other so soon and will gladly fight when the stakes (and fight purses) are higher.
But here’s the thing- they signed up for this. They knew what they were getting into when they put their names on the dotted line for inclusion into this tournament. This match-up wasn’t just suddenly sprung on them.
Let’s hope this is all just a big misunderstanding and I jumped the gun for no reason.
But I can’t help but wonder what Simon Brown and Maurice Blocker think of all this?
Adamek-Grant will be distributed on pay-per-view by Integrated Sports Media on Saturday night for $29.95 beginning at 9 PM ET...It looks more and more like Nonito Donaire will perform on December 4th and not on the Manny Pacquiao undercard on November 13th...Speaking of Jay Larkin, ESPN Classic aired the epic clash between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo on Saturday. That was one of Jay’s proudest moments in his career at Showtime (as it should have been)...Hearing now that Marcos Maidana is being kicked around as a name for Andre Berto on that Oct. 2nd “Boxing After Dark” tripleheader. Meanwhile, I was told that Ricardo Mayorga was rejected by HBO as a possibility for Sergiy Dzinziruk. I guess they didn’t want a fight that had the chance of being any fun...Brooklyn junior welterweight Sadam Ali will be on Saturday night’s card in Newark...RIP to Bobby Thomson, who hit “The Shot Heard ’Round the World”....And yes, it looks like Brett Favre is back (again). Are you really surprised?....