by David P. Greisman
In one way, investing in a boxer is like investing in a retirement fund, putting money in on potential, on the promise of a worthwhile payout that will not be seen until much later.
In another way, investing in a boxer is like investing in a business, a premise with a historically high probability of failure, of not being worth it in the long run – but a premise that still lures in the dreamers (and the suckers) with the occasionally phenomenal jackpot.
The overly optimistic would point out that for every Francisco Bojado and Ricardo Williams Jr. who fails to meet expectations, there is a Miguel Cotto and an Oscar De La Hoya who not only meets, but exceeds them.
The overly optimistic would be wrong. There are more cautionary tales than there are success stories.
Not every investment in a boxer will be a winner. That doesn’t keep the investors – in particular, his promoter – from raking in the winnings.
The sporting world is one of revolving doors, future stars appearing, then ascending, and finally reigning before retiring, all as their eventual replacements follow farther back in the cycle. That means that while promoters are looking for more cash cows, they are able to farm them out to networks looking to sell subscribers on the next superstars.
The problem is that protecting an investment can keep it from growing to its full potential.
Networks look to introduce prospects early, to tell viewers whom they should be interested in, to provide them with a storyline to follow on the prospects paths’ to contention and championships.
And so, just as we watched Cotto and De La Hoya from the beginnings of their careers, we saw Yuriorkis Gamboa blast through no-hopers, we saw Andre Berto take out numerous lesser opponents, and we saw Chris Arreola work through a cast of measuring sticks.
To name just a few.
Some of these will pan out, and when they do, promoters and networks hope the audience’s familiarity with the fighters will make the investments in money and time worthwhile. They hope that ratings will spike, that subscriptions will be renewed, and that pay-per-views and tickets will sell.
That is why we see Saul Alvarez against Matthew Hatton and Ryan Rhodes now, anointing him as one to watch later, even as similar labels have been given to others in his division, others he has yet to face.
He is marketable. And he is successful.
Gamboa has earned a world title and remains undefeated. Berto earned a world title but did not distinguish himself in his division before losing his belt. Arreola went on to fall short against one of the top heavyweights in Vitali Klitschko, similar to how Michael Grant was built up as the next important heavyweight before being dominated by Lennox Lewis.
Jermain Taylor was marketed as heir apparent and succeeded in becoming the middleweight champion. His reign didn’t match the investment HBO made in him.
Not every investment will be a winner. Alfredo Angulo fell short against Kermit Cintron, then came back on HBO for three fights before falling off the map due to immigration issues. James Kirkland blasted through foes before being sent behind bars, then came back and lost a shocking first-round stoppage to an opponent who’d seemed an appropriate designated fall guy.
Losses don’t have to ruin a fighter. But they do lay waste to the money spent beforehand building them up; more will need to be spent to rebuild.
For a promoter, it is best to string a network along for a number of paydays before the money train comes to an abrupt halt. For a network, however, giving viewers a story to follow can come at too high a payout for too little a reward. Sometimes it’s best to skip the prolonged rising action and go straight to the climactic fight scenes.
Andre Ward remained a prospect as he fought against lower-tier super middleweights. But after being thrown in with Mikkel Kessler, he became the No. 1 guy at 168.
Fighters need experience to grow their skills. The networks don’t need to subsidize their development, not when so many investments reach their peaks earlier than expected.
HBO heard the backlash for what it spent on Andre Berto’s first-round technical knockout of Freddy Hernandez. Berto’s next fight, then, was an entertaining crossroads battle with Victor Ortiz, another past HBO investment who needed to prove himself.
The problem is that when a network pays for exclusivity, it can become a slave to its own contracts. Paying big money for a prospect’s storyline to unfold on a network makes it cost even more when it’s time to move that prospect in with more difficult opponents.
This isn’t just the case with prospects, but also with networks paying for top fighters – who are on the verge of breaking out – in hopes of capturing that moment.
Timothy Bradley moved from Showtime to HBO, making his debut on the network last year with a win over Luis Carlos Abregu. The network was building an unofficial tournament among the top 140-pound fighters: Amir Khan, Marcos Maidana, Devon Alexander, Timothy Bradley.
But when the winners of those fights – Khan (over Maidana) and Bradley (over Alexander) – were to meet, Bradley decided a sizable sum still wouldn’t be enough to put him in the ring.
That’s bad business – on the part of the fighter and on the part of the network investor.
The danger in selecting stars before they’ve truly proven themselves is that the investment is based on potential rather than what’s probable. That’s the promoter’s business. Let them assume that risk.
Instead of investing in the future, the networks should assume responsibility for the now, putting on important fights that will entice the viewer and good fights that will reward them.
Make the fighters earn their spots. Make them prove their potential. And then they can be made millionaires.
The 10 Count
1. Apparently not every Rhodes has its thorn…
2. There was a reason some of us boxing fans were looking forward to Harold Lederman on commentary for the first fight of HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” broadcast Saturday – he knows and loves the sport.
Lederman’s usual role is that of unofficial ringside scorer, but he stepped into the analysis role for the undercard bout between Adrien Broner and Jason Litzau. This was because commentator Roy Jones Jr. has a promotional interest in Litzau, and Max Kellerman was awaiting the birth of his second child.
From the moment Bob Papa threw to Lederman, he didn’t disappoint:
“You know, Bob, it’s great to make your pro debut, so to speak, with a great fight. And tonight we have a great fight. The 130-pound division, junior lightweight, is dominated by fighters that come from outside the United States. Tonight we have Adrien Broner from Cincinnati, Ohio, facing off against a very tall, 5-foot-10, Jason Litzau, from St. Paul, Minnesota.
“Litzau is absolutely the reason why people watch boxing on HBO. He comes to win. And he comes to knock you out. He just goes out there looking to kill you. There’s no holding back with Jason Litzau. In his last fight, he beat one of the most renowned world champions, Celestino Caballero. Litzau was a 13-1 underdog. He won a split decision on HBO over Caballero. Tonight he gets a shot against Broner, and possibly after this he could get a title shot.
“On the other hand, Adrien Broner, the shorter man but spectacular record: 20 and 0, 16 knockouts. It doesn’t get better than that folks. But, you know, he’s a boxer, and unfortunately the ring tonight in Guadalajara is only 18 feet. It’s a very, very small ring. Broner doesn’t have very much room to move around. He’s going to have to use his punching ability to hold off the much taller Litzau.
“So it looks like it’s going to be a sensational fight at junior lightweight tonight with the winner possibly moving up very high in the ratings.”
Did you see what he did there?
No need for cute wordplay or forced metaphors to set up the fight. He simply – and aptly – introduced the players and the situation, getting the viewers ready for what was coming.
3. How disappointing it was, then, that Lederman, who was introduced about four minutes into the broadcast, was done about 13 minutes later, with Broner scoring a first-round technical knockout over Litzau.
4. George Peterson, trainer to Paul Williams, in a December 2010 interview with Lem Satterfield of BoxingScene.com:
“We knew that the only chance Sergio Martinez had was to stop Paul. And, sure enough, in desperation, and with his eyes closed, just ducking his head and throwing a punch, he landed.”
Paul Williams, in a May 2011 interview with Anson Wainwright of 15rounds.com:
“There’s no way he set that punch up. It was just a lucky punch that landed but I can’t knock him for it, it landed. Don’t go saying you set it up, everybody knows that bull.”
Paul Williams, in a June 2011 interview with Robert Morales of BoxingScene.com:
“It was that one punch that changed the whole fight. He threw a punch out of desperation to try and keep me off him. And it landed on a perfect point. It wasn’t like he claimed, that he set a punch up.”
Can we please put this to rest already?
Martinez landed the same timed overhand left as the knockout punch numerous times in both his first fight with Williams and in their rematch. By my tally, Martinez landed it 15 times in their first bout, including nine times in the final three rounds of the bout, as he realized it was another weapon that would work on Williams.
And in the rematch, Martinez landed it half a dozen times in four minutes – seven times, if you count the final blow.
5. It’s understandable that a boxer will look for some reason – any reason – why he lost. Getting outfought or knocked out can send you down several notches. Rationalizing defeat, then, can give the boxer the confidence to bounce back quickly and get back in the ring.
Saying you lost due to a lucky punch is far less bothersome, thankfully, than going on Twitter six weeks after the fact and implying that your conqueror was on performance-enhancing drugs – and then, when raked over the coals, copping out and telling people that they misinterpreted your words.
6. Do trainers even teach boxers how to tie up when hurt anymore? How many undefeated prospects have we seen of late get hurt and then not know how to give himself a better chance of surviving the round?
7. This week in Mayweather melodrama, brought to you by a pair of news releases about Manny Pacquiao’s defamation lawsuit against Mayweather:
June 16: “Court Orders Mayweather to Begin Deposition Tomorrow”
June 17: “Mayweather Jr. Defies Court Order.”
It’s one thing to have the ego to defy homeowners’ association rules and tax laws. It takes a particular brand of hubris not to do what a judge tells you to do.
8. One more thought: Whenever Mayweather does finally show up, his legal deposition has the potential to be even better than all of those interviews with Brian Kenny and Larry Merchant.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Teon Kennedy, a fan-friendly fixture on the Philadelphia and Atlantic City fight scene, is out of jail two weeks after being accused of shooting another man several times, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.
The newspaper report says the victim, who survived, recanted his initial statement – “telling people he knows it was not Kennedy who shot him,” the article said. But the case is still listed as active, with a preliminary hearing scheduled for Aug. 18, according to Pennsylvania court documents available online.
Kennedy, 24, is facing one count each of attempted murder, aggravated assault, conspiracy to commit murder, carrying a firearm without a license, carrying a firearm in public in Philadelphia, possessing an instrument of crime with intent, simple assault, and recklessly endangering another person, according to court documents.
He was arrested May 30 and released June 14 on $500,000 unsecured bond. The junior featherweight is 17-0-1 with 7 knockouts, and he has a bout scheduled for Aug. 13.
10. I know what Sylvester Stallone was trying to say in his Hall of Fame induction speech, contrasting his recognition in the “observer” category with the recognition awarded to actual fighters.
His choice of words, however?
“I’ve never pretended to be a boxer,” he said at one point.
Except, well, in those six movies…
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
Follow David on Twitter at twitter.com/fightingwords2 or on Facebook at facebook.com/fightingwordsboxing, or send questions and comments to [email protected]