By Thomas Gerbasi
No one likes to get booed, especially in their hometown, but when Leonard Ellerbe took to the microphone for the Washington D.C. stop of the press tour for the Floyd Mayweather-Saul Alvarez bout on June 25th and got an earful from the Canelo faithful, it was music to his ears.
“Going to D.C. after growing up in the area, for me to step up to the podium in my hometown and get booed, that blew me away,” laughed Ellerbe on Wednesday in New York City, where he and the other power hitters of the promotion – Golden Boy’s Richard Schaefer and Bruce Binkow and Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza – discussed the business of putting together the biggest boxing event of 2013. And Ellerbe, the CEO of Mayweather Promotions, which is co-promoting the card, got an inkling back in June just how big this fight could be.
“At that point, I knew we had something special.”
These days, much of the talk about Mayweather-Alvarez centers on the possibility of it shattering the Pay-Per-View buy rate (2.5 million) and gross ($132 million) of Mayweather’s 2007 bout against Oscar De La Hoya. It was in that bout that Mayweather proved himself to be a Pay-Per-View draw, something that has been reinforced in each of his bouts since.
Yet while “Pretty Boy” morphed into “Money” and saw his tax bracket and profile change, one of the constants has been Ellerbe, the pound-for-pound king’s longtime advisor and now the one running his promotional company. And while the relationship remains the same, Ellerbe’s life has also been altered considerably.
“It’s changed quite a bit,” he said. “I went from working 18 hours a day and now I’m working 26 hours (Laughs), but it’s a wonderful thing, being hands on, right along with Floyd, and developing these young guys. For me, having the experience to play an integral role in his events from every aspect, from the promotional side to the training side, I’ve been able to pass on a lot of this information to the younger guys, and it’s been very beneficial because as you will see as our company continues to grow, the fighters will continue to evolve.”
Unlike most fighters’ “promotional” companies, which usually result in a namecheck in a press release and little more, indications are that this isn’t just a vanity label for Mayweather, but an entity building a solid roster of fighters that have been consistently finding their way onto Golden Boy cards and televised broadcasts. According to Boxrec.com, next week alone will see nine of the team’s 10 fighters in action, and that’s not even counting the September 14th headliner, Mayweather.
“It’s tough,” admits Ellerbe. “Mayweather Promotions has ten fighters now, and they’re all active. So between bout agreements, this need and that need, and matching this guy with that guy, it’s a lot, but I can’t take all the credit. I have a tremendous staff that put in a lot of hours, and I have a great team, so I’m not doing everything by myself.”
He is steering the ship though, and one talk with the team’s first non-Floyd world champion, Ishe Smith, will let you know just how integral Ellerbe was to getting the former “Contender” star his long-awaited title shot. As Smith told me before his title-winning effort over Cornelius Bundrage in February, a fight with Omar Henry was on the horizon, but Ellerbe recommended that he not take it, that he had “some other stuff brewing.” That other stuff was a title fight with Bundrage, one that Smith made good on. And for all the highlights being associated with Mayweather have brought him, seeing Smith win a world championship is right up there with them.
“Most definitely,” he said. “He has a family, he’s a good guy, he’s committed to his community, and he’s had a rough road and an up and down career, so being able to be responsible for putting a guy in a position to win a world title and to see the emotion that comes along with that was really a touching experience for me personally. Knowing that you played an integral role in making that happen and that you can continue to put him in a position to provide for him and his family, that’s a great feeling.”
Smith defends his title for the first time on the Mayweather-Alvarez card against Carlos Molina, not an easy fight by any stretch of the imagination, and to their credit, Mayweather Promotions hasn’t been shy about matching their fighters tough, even if it means picking up a loss or two. Mickey Bey Jr. recently lost to John Molina in July, unbeaten Luis Arias got a tough scrap from DonYil Livingston in May, and Badou Jack will take a big step up against recent world title challenger Marco Antonio Periban on Thursday. So while Mayweather has signed fighters with talent, he’s also brought in ones not afraid of testing themselves either.
“Floyd takes great pride in his brand,” said Ellerbe. “TMT, The Money Team. It’s a way of life. And because Floyd has been, in my eyes, the greatest marketer that I’ve ever seen, he’s been able to attract all kinds of different talent.”
Ellerbe talks about the daily calls he gets from fighters wanting to join the Vegas team, but you can have all the talent in the world and it means nothing if you don’t have an outlet for them to fight in. That’s where Golden Boy Promotions comes in, and they’ve been a staunch supporter of the budding company, even if Mayweather and Golden Boy’s De La Hoya have had their share of verbal battles since their 2007 bout.
“I know Oscar respects Floyd for all he’s accomplished, and I have to believe that Floyd respects Oscar for what he has accomplished, and I think that’s really the foundation why our two companies can work so well together, and not just on Mayweather fights, but on other fights as well,” said Schaefer, Golden Boy’s CEO, on Wednesday. “We have Mayweather fighters fighting on Golden Boy cards where we help each other out, and there’s a true friendship and relationship and respect among the staff of Mayweather Promotions and Golden Boy Promotions, and I think it shows that promoters can work together as a team. But if you have promoters who feel that it always has to be their way or the highway, where one side has no voice, that’s when you start having relationships go sour, and that has never happened with Mayweather. We have a voice in the Mayweather camp and Mayweather has a voice within the Golden Boy camp, and that’s why we work so well together.”
“I can’t say enough about our working relationship with Golden Boy,” adds Ellerbe. “That also plays a big role, and working together works. I have to use Don King’s phrase there, but it does. We’ve learned a lot from working with them, we branched out, and our company has continued to grow, and it’s not about competition, it’s just working together to continue to elevate the sport and produce the biggest events.”
September 14th has the potential to be the biggest yet, but Ellerbe remains cool under pressure.
“I never have butterflies,” he said. “When you’re operating at this level you’re used to the day-to-day grind of putting on these mega events. Floyd’s preparation has been normal, and he hasn’t done anything any differently than we did for any other fight. He looks at Canelo as a tremendous fighter, he has a great deal of respect for every fighter, but Canelo has to make him respect his fight game. So the questions the fans have as far as if this is going to be Floyd’s toughest fight, I guess we’ll see that night. But for me, it’s just business as usual.”