By Matt Richardson
Lou DiBella has never been one to play it close to the chest. Just watch his reactions ringside when one of his clients is fighting in the ring.
As a former television executive instrumental in the production of classic fights on HBO back in the 90’s and as a current promoter of some of the sport’s bigger names, he has spoken out from both sides. DiBella, who turns 54 next week, proudly wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s a keen observer of the sport and doesn’t hesitate to criticize what’s wrong with it. As such, his opinion is an important one.
“It’s interesting times for boxing,” DiBella recently told BoxingScene.
“Everybody is suing everybody,” he said. “There’s mayhem. It’s not a warm and fuzzy time in the sport. You go on social media and you read about boxing, people are spewing hate constantly. To me, it’s counter-productive. I’ve been on the record very consistently. I’m very happy to do business with HBO. I’m very happy to do business with Showtime. I’m thrilled that ESPN is potentially becoming a bigger player. I want to get opportunities for my fighters. I want to be part of making the biggest fights happen. And I don’t care if those biggest fights happen on Showtime; I don’t care if they happen on HBO. I just want to see them happen. It’s unfortunate that there’s so much litigiousness, there’s so much hatred, there’s so much bickering. I’m approaching my 25th anniversary in the sport. I got into the sport in my late twenties. I’ve never seen it so ugly.”
“I’ve been a vocal critic but it’s not a matter of being a critic,” said DiBella. “It’s not a matter of sitting there trying to denigrate my sport. No! Until you realize you’re sick, you can’t get well. It’s pathetic that Manny Pacquiao and Mayweather never happened. The same way it’s pathetic that Bowe never fought Lennox Lewis. And that kind of stuff doesn’t happen that frequently in other sports. It’s pathetic that I see fights on a regular basis, you can pick three six-year old kids and they’ll accurately tell you who won, but three judges, who are professionals in the sport, seem to get it wrong. I mean, we shoot ourselves in the foot as an industry a lot! And people still are attracted to our sport.”
“Canelo and Mayweather still did two-point something million homes,” he continued. “Boxing still does big ratings but advertisers don’t love it because our demographics are older and there’s a lot of nonsense that people don’t like to see. I don’t think I’m doing a disservice to the sport when I point out the ways I think we’re messing up because I think we need to fix our messing up. Fans don’t give a f*** about feuds between promoters. Fans don’t give a f*** about who’s running what company. The fans don’t give a f*** if one network is exclusive to one guy or doesn’t want to do business with another. But the fans want to see the biggest fights and right now the atmosphere in which we’re operating doesn’t allow the biggest fights to happen! And, honestly, the sport is so politicized, there’s so much nonsense, there’s so much frigging bickering, there’s so much hatred.”
“I just want to make fights,” DiBella stated. “And you know what? I can do business with Hershman. I can do business with Espinoza. I can do business with Al and Richard. I can do business with Oscar. I can do business with Shaw and Arum and Todd DuBoef. I’m willing to do business. If my fighters get an opportunity and we can sit there and make a fair deal, I’ll make a deal with anybody. I just want to see us put our best product out there. Right now, the whole environment of the sport, there’s a lot of negativity. There’s too much bickering, too much hatred, too much insular operations, too many companies operating within their own sort of infrastructure and not reaching out to create the best situations.”
“I don’t view myself as a negative force in the sport,” he said. “I don’t try to be that. I think that I have criticized a lot of things about the business. I think that to the extent that which I’m critical…I’m not being critical because I want to break something down. If I’m being critical, it’s because I want to see something built back up again.”
The focus for DiBella and his promotional outfit right now is firmly on the middleweight championship fight between DiBella fighter Sergio Martinez and Miguel Cotto on June 7. While that big fight will be at the Garden next month, the larger fight of getting the sport in order continues. How that plays out will go a long way to determining the long-term health of boxing.
“Right now, for a lot of reasons, I think it’s a pivotal time in the sport,” DiBella continued. “Both Mayweather and Pacquiao are aging. The Klitschko era is coming close to a close. I don’t think Wladimir has a lot of fights left in him. I’m hoping that one of these American guys can emerge as a real heavyweight contender or champion and have tenure. Because right now we don’t have a great American heavyweight. And I’d like to see somebody emerge as a great American heavyweight because I think it would be really, really good for the sport. But our biggest and best athletes don’t get into boxing right now. There are no college scholarships in boxing. Our biggest and best athletes go into basketball and football and other team sports. But the heavyweight division is a very critical division in boxing.”
“Look, I don’t think boxing is ever going away. I think it’s eternal. I believe the sport’s eternal. And you know what? We’re not dead. We still can have big nights. We can still have great events. I don’t know how many people watched on Saturday night but if you did watch, you saw a good fight. If you watched, it was entertaining as hell. The main event was entertaining as hell and that was the most important thing. To the extent I’m critical; it’s out of a love for the sport of boxing. The business of boxing, on the other hand, has turned me off to a great extent and my love for the business of boxing was lost a long time ago.”
DiBella firmly argued that the onus should be on making the best fights with the best fighters – period. That could be a difficult battle to win but a victory is worth pursuing, nonetheless.
“The fact that people are running around, who cover the sport, all last week covering what was going on with Richard and Oscar as opposed to the best fighter in the game fighting. It says something about the state of our industry,” DiBella said, “and our industry needs to get its sh*t together.”