Lions, rats and elephants: The evolving face of boxing promotion

Several boxers have opted to make do without promoters. Floyd Mayweather Jr is the most prominent example, but Oscar De La Hoya arguably started the trend when he left Top Rank in 2002, writes Gary Meenaghan.

Bob Arum, the founder and chief executive of Top Rank, told The National that while Floyd Mayweather, right, is “doing a very good job of promoting his own stuff”, not every boxer is suited to the role of promoter. Harry How/AFP
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It was Jack Newfield, the veteran boxing journalist and author of The Life And Crimes of Don King, who professed that “boxing is the only jungle where the lions are afraid of the rats”.

Rarely, if ever, is it a compliment to be referred to as vermin, but boxing promoters have long been cast as the untrustworthy, money-grabbing element of the sweet science. Larry Holmes once said of King, “Don looks black, lives white and thinks green.”

As a means of regaining control then, the lions finally are fighting back.

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In recent years, several boxers have opted to make do without promoters. Floyd Mayweather Jr is the most prominent example, but Oscar De La Hoya arguably started the trend when he left Top Rank to launch Golden Boy Promotions in 2002. Bernard Hopkins and Ricky Hatton, among others, are minority partners in the firm and have promoted their own fights.

There are obvious benefits to self-promotion: a boxer can negotiate his own terms, he need not pay a middle man, he can take full responsibility for his own interests. But there are potential negatives, too, should he find himself spending too much time in boardrooms over boxing rings.

Bob Arum, the founder and chief executive of Top Rank, told The National that while Mayweather is “doing a very good job of promoting his own stuff”, not every boxer is suited to the role of promoter, which involves arranging the event, selling tickets, negotiating television revenue domestically and internationally and generally spreading the word.

Arum added the bad reputation promoters have is par for the course.

“It’s the same as if I was a politician in the US running for office as governor or senator,” he said. “Eventually, the press turns on you because they get bored of what you are saying, or how you are saying it, and they write badly about you.

“But if I gave any kind of damn about that, I wouldn’t be in the business. You have to have a very, very thick hide to be a boxing promoter. King had a hide like an elephant, so that when people criticised him and called him a crook and this and that, it rolled off his back.”

While Mayweather has reaped the rewards of representing himself, the American’s opponent in Las Vegas on Saturday night, Manny Pacquiao, is being represented by Top Rank. “He’s doing a lot of media and talk shows, which is great,” Mayweather said. “I prefer him to do it so I can train.”

Arum said boxers turning promoters “only happens at the top level”, but in Dubai, Eisa Aldah is disproving such a claim. The Emirati, who has fought only 10 bouts, has been promoting his own fights since 2010 through EMD Promotions. He said his 30-man team makes life easier.

“A boxer’s job is to train, so you need to make sure your team is in place,” Aldah said. “I created EMD five years ago and spent the first two years training my team so they understand what is required. Then, for my last event, I was only 20 per cent involved with promotion. My team took care of everything. In the future, hopefully, I can be involved even less. My job will be just to train.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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