By Mitch Abramson
Midway through a phone interview with 50 Cent, the rapper-turned-businessman-turned boxing promoter started to rap- literally.
He was discussing the alleged ties between Yuriorkis Gamboa, a boxer he now promotes, and an anti-aging clinic in Miami where Gamboa’s name recently appeared on a list of presumed clients. The rapper, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, was trying to make the point that since Gamboa is working with him- the boxer would suddenly be subject to the same type of gossip and rumors that routinely follow him around, at least that was his explanation for why Gamboa appeared on the list. And that’s when 50 Cent started to rap.
“[Gamboa] was like ‘Why do you do this to me 50?’” Jackson said as if he was laying down vocal tracks for a new hit single in the same sing-song rapping style that made him a platinum-selling artist. “He’s so much of the 50 fighter, so that when he’s out and about it makes him feel like that additional [negative] energy is coming from [my] end.”
No stranger to controversy, 50 Cent has handled the negative publicity surrounding Gamboa about as easily as he handles feuds with fellow rappers. Judging from his relaxed response, it's obvious he has the temperament to handle bad press- now let’s see if he has the business savvy and stomach to actually survive in the boxing business.
After gaining entrée into the sport by befriending Floyd Mayweather, 50 Cent has now set out on his own as a promoter, signing a number of big names with an eye toward expanding his stable, even telling BoxingScene he’d like to one day lend his marketing savvy to the careers of Chad Dawson and Austin Trout and that he’d also like to be in business with Adrien Broner because he likes the youngster’s colorful, glitzy style. He also maintained that he and Mayweather are still friends and that he could see himself working with “Money,” along with Mayweather adviser Al Haymon in the future, despite an apparent rift. What's clear is that 50 Cent wants to infuse a little pizzazz into a sport in need of it, and he will get another chance on Friday when he co-promotes with Lou DiBella a card starring IBF featherweight champ Billy Dib on ESPN's Friday Night Fights.
“I want to bring new energy and attention to it because I think it is the ultimate sport,” he said of what his goals are in boxing. “And I just think what the UFC has done and captured a younger audience because the demo for boxing is what, 30 and up right now? I believe kids would actually enjoy it if they had some kind of attachment to it, the way the [wrestlers] had things within the WWF- those would be things, if there was more showmanship involved in actual boxing to allow people to be more invested in the fighters.”
Dib is putting his IBF featherweight title on the line against Evgeny Gradovich in a main event that has gone through a transformation, testing Jackson’s patience with the boxing business once again. When Luis Franco unexpectedly pulled out of a bout with Dib and said he was retiring, another suitable opponent was quickly found in IBF #11 rated Gradovich (15-0, eight knockouts). But it’s clear the abruptness of the switch and the strange behavior of Franco rankled 50 Cent.
“Those are things that I really don’t understand,” he said in a phone interview. “From my perspective, when a fighter had an opportunity to actually win the title- boxing has changed a lot. That’s all.”
He was similarly delicate and purposefully vague when discussing why Gamboa’s name was on a list of athletes associated with a clinic that reportedly has sold performance enhancing drugs.
“That wasn’t even a surprise to me,” he said of Gamboa’s name appearing on a list of athletes such as the Yankees Alex Rodriguez. “The additional publicity and notoriety that Gamboa has received from being in connection to me- the timing of it makes me feel like that’s a part of it, of why he would actually be mentioned at that point. He’s never failed any drug test. To me, the physical discipline displayed when he’s actually training shows that he doesn’t need that in any way.
“There’s no real- what was communicated to me, [Gamboa] wasn’t aware of why he was involved and even mentioned in that,” he went on. “He doesn’t even know why he’s in it. And you know there’s a language barrier there so then you need a translator.”
Adrien Broner, a fighter 50 Cent admires, recently said that he wouldn’t be interested in fighting Gamboa because of his link to that clinic. 50 Cent took Broner’s comments in stride, firing back at the WBC lightweight champion.
“That’s a good way to try and get away from an opponent,” 50 said of Broner. “As far as boxing is concerned, the testing is fairly good. That’s a way around what would obviously be a tough fight and an exciting fight and one that [Broner] doesn’t necessarily want to have.”
At the same time, 50 said he liked Broner and what he’s brought to the sport, from rapping his way into the ring to getting his hair combed during post-fight interviews because of the apparent way he connects to younger viewers and an urban demographic- groups that 50 Cent has made a career of connecting with that don't always tune in to boxing.
“One thing about Adrien Broner is that he’s displayed showmanship,” 50 Cent said. “Even though they were pages out of Floyd’s book, but he’s still done it in a way so that people take note of him. He’s a top fighter and in the future I’ll end up working with him regardless [of] whether he’s fighting with the talent being offered up by the company or if he’s with me.”
A moment later, he clarified those remarks.
“When I say in the future [what I meant was that] if not having him actually [be] involved in my company then he’ll be fighting a fighter from my company,” he said. “I look forward to being a part of the top events in the sport of boxing. In the future if he continues down the road that he’s on now, he’ll be one of those guys
“I want exciting fights,” he went on. “I don’t want to be involved in fights where it’s clear he’s fighting a pushover. That should be a criteria for fighters that are looking for a home- they should know that don’t associate yourself or even talk to me if you’re running. If you’re already at that point where you feel like you have to dip and dodge and find special opponents for yourself- don’t come to me.”
He also made clear that he wants to work with a number of talented fighters that haven’t exactly connected with sports fans because of their low-key personalities (and sometimes ho-hum boxing styles), such as Chad Dawson, Austin Trout and Jean Pascal. But 50 Cent believes that he’d be able to better promote them and elevate their status among fight fans if given the chance.
“There’s a lot of talented fighters out there that are being under promoted,” he said. “I’ve had conversations with different promoters and they have talent in their actual stables that aren’t being focused on that I can actually acquire. You’re going to see me make some changes, if it means moving other fighters from promotional companies, like I had to negotiate with Top Rank to get Gamboa out of his agreement.”
Concerning Dawson, Trout and Pascal, and the way they’ve been promoted so far, he had this to say:
“They haven’t made the decision to put them in the spotlight,” he said of their respective promoters. “If they don’t have that vibrant personality, then you have to find different spots to put them in. If they’re reserved to the point where they’re not offering anything [to the] public then you may have to use a non-traditional route involving them in other media platforms and other portions of promotions. Like if you have a fighter who doesn’t speak English then you have to figure out how to market [them] to the point [where he’s marketable].”
He listed Manny Pacquiao as an example who’s versatility with the English language wasn’t always great but still found a way to connect with fight fans with his boxing and charming ways.
“Look at his endorsement portfolio and having political aspirations would guarantee corporations that he would be politically correct,” he said of Pacquiao. “So it allows him to market himself in ways that you don’t traditionally see other fighters do.”
He addressed his relationship with Mayweather, which has fascinated fight fans, curious to see how the most successful fighter in boxing and one of the most successful artists in hip-hop managed to become such good friends.
“We’re always going to be cool,” he said. “I look at Floyd as like my brother, just like siblings. We’ll be angry and fight and then whatever and he’ll speak to me when he’s ready. I don’t care. It’s not like- the cool part- what helped the relationship develop is that we don’t need each other. See everyone [involved with] Floyd is co-dependent. And in my case a lot of people rely on me to create their income. So, hanging out with each other and not needing anything from each other is what created a separation. Floyd has followed me around since 2002.”
He can also see himself working with Mayweather in the future in a business venture.
“Absolutely, I have no hard feelings toward him,” he said. “I told him I got the [money] for him if he needs it if he’s looking at his options.”
He denied any truth to the rumors that his rift with Mayweather stemmed from a power struggle with Mayweather’s long-time adviser, Al Haymon.
“There’s no truth to that,” he said. “I think Al’s a smart guy. It’s obvious he’s done extremely well for himself. Floyd- at the end of the day everyone has to make their own decisions as adults. And I didn’t plan on coming in and saying, ‘Let me be involved in your business.’ As a friend, we actually started hanging out and doing things, it’s just about enjoying myself. I’m taking a break from what my business is and being exposed to all this new information and learning,” he said before adding: “I think in the future me and Al will have opportunities to work with each other.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.