by David P. Greisman
A penny for 50 Cent’s thoughts would be priceless.
This was not the way he thought his entry into the world of boxing promoting would begin. Some predicted that the rapper would be making a power play in the Sweet Science. Instead there have been misunderstandings and missteps, stumbles and setbacks.
Last summer seems as if it was eons ago. Back then, it was thought that the performer otherwise known as Curtis Jackson would be pairing up with his good friend, boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather, to form an outfit called TMT Promotions. Jackson had received his promoter’s license in New York and had applied for one in Nevada (which he has since received). Mayweather was set to be released from a stint in jail. “The Money Team” was already recruiting.
For many fans and observers, speculation won out over waiting for specifics.
Mayweather and 50 Cent at some point had a falling out, their strained personal relationship putting aside any hope of a successful business relationship. Mayweather remains affiliated with Golden Boy Promotions. So, too, do many of powerbroker adviser Al Haymon’s other clients, who didn’t opt to leave one of the United States’ biggest boxing promoters in favor of an unproven company.
Instead, Jackson is at the helm of SMS Promotions, which is coincidentally only one letter away from “TMT” but is actually named after his “SMS Audio” headphones company.
Reports that he was close to signing junior welterweight Zab Judah and welterweight Andre Berto no longer seem to be the case. Instead, the most noteworthy names in his stable are Yuriorkis Gamboa, Andre Dirrell, Celestino Caballero and Billy Dib.
Dib was initially slated to fight last December on the undercard to Austin Trout vs. Miguel Cotto, only for that appearance to fall through. Instead, he defended his featherweight title last week on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights,” losing a split decision to untested challenger Evgeny Gradovich. It was the first loss in more than four years for Dib, who is now 35-2 with 21 knockouts and 1 no contest.
Dib says he has a rematch clause. The Australian boxer will need a far better performance in that sequel to resuscitate a career that had been left for dead — in the United States, at least — after his previous defeat, to Steven Luevano, in 2008.
Gamboa had been bought out of a contract with the other top boxing promoter in America, Top Rank, with 50 Cent footing the reported bill of $1.2 million. Yet the junior lightweight was back on a Top Rank card in December, fighting underneath the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez IV main event.
Gamboa topped Michael Farenas in that fight, though he suffered a knockdown in the process. He won by unanimous decision but did not look to be in spectacular form, which was not a surprise given the 15-month layoff that preceded that bout. There was still nothing from Gamboa (22-0, 16 knockouts) to show that he could potentially pose a challenge at lightweight against the best of that division, Adrien Broner.
And the in-ring questions have been joined by extracurricular controversy. Gamboa has been implicated in a newspaper investigation into a clinic in Miami that allegedly has supplied performance-enhancing drugs to several notable athletes.
Dirrell has also been inactive. First came the 21 months on the sideline after he suffered a concussion against Arthur Abraham during Showtime’s “Super Six” super middleweight tournament. He then dropped out, citing what he said were the lingering effects of that injury, though his withdrawal came in a manner that left some questioning its legitimacy.
He returned at the end of 2011, and then was out of the ring once again until last month, when he scored a unanimous decision over Michael Gbenga. He’s not only left promoter Gary Shaw, but also has apparently dropped Haymon as well. The 168-pound division remains active — and Dirrell has enough of a name (with a record of 21-1 and 14 knockouts) that he could be considered for future fights — but his momentum is otherwise long lost.
Caballero, as with Gamboa and Dirrell, is coming off a long layoff. He hasn’t fought since December 2011 and no longer holds a title belt at featherweight. At 36, he is getting up there in age for a boxer and is particularly old for a fighter in the lower weight classes. He is 36-4 with 23 knockouts, but he does not appear to be part of Jackson’s promotional plans in the United States — not yet, at least, as he is expected to be fighting in his native Panama in April.
This was not the way 50 Cent thought his entry into the world of boxing promoting would begin.
There is a sense of schadenfreude at watching him struggle.
We should want promoters to succeed, to sign good fighters and guide them to success, to stage sellout events and earn money and help grow the sport. But so many have come forth with the promise of greatness or of changing boxing for the better, and so many have failed. There is an arrogance with new promoters, who assume they can bring a fresh approach, can revitalize the industry — or can at least come in and take over.
So many have dropped out. The most recent spectacular failure was Tournament of Contenders, which was behind boxing reality television show “The Contender” but eventually wound up in the position of just booking its fighters on other promoters’ shows.
Boxing is a long game. Most promoters must build an infrastructure to stabilize their businesses; they need to sell tickets, get site fees from venues and license fees from networks. A rare few wind up lucky enough to hitch their horses to a star who can carry the company.
Last summer must seem as if it was eons ago for 50 Cent. He thought he had his star and the proverbial foot in the door. Now he has neither and has had to shoehorn his boxers in on others’ cards. Gamboa fought on a Top Rank show. Last week’s “Friday Night Fights” was co-promoted alongside Lou DiBella.
Jackson still has the benefit of his bankroll — he has earned millions upon millions thanks to his music career, and that celebrity could make it easier for him to establish relationships with the networks and other promoters.
He’ll need to do a lot more, and a lot better, than he’s done so far.
Jackson made his name in the music industry as 50 Cent, but promoters in the boxing business who expect much and achieve little are a dime a dozen.
The 10 Count
1. Who was mentioned more in a single broadcast — Floyd Mayweather on the Feb. 23 edition of “Showtime Championship Boxing,” or 50 Cent on the March 1 edition of ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights”?
2. Let’s return momentarily to last week’s column and my mention of the paradigm shift at Showtime that preceded its signing away of Floyd Mayweather from his longstanding relationship with HBO.
There’s some evidence that the network’s new approach under executive Stephen Espinoza has worked out to Showtime’s benefit so far:
“Since Espinoza took the helm of SHO Sports, our ratings have climbed by an average viewership of more than 30 percent,” said network spokesman Chris DeBlasio via email. “That is unheard of in TV.”
3. Meanwhile, I’m a big fan of the April 6 boxing broadcast on HBO2 — particularly if it’s an indication of things to come.
That afternoon, HBO2 will air a show from Macau, China, featuring the pro debut of that country’s two-time Olympic champion, Zou Shiming, as well as two supporting title bouts: Roman Martinez will defend his junior lightweight title against Diego Magdaleno, and Brian Viloria will defend his flyweight belts against Juan Francisco Estrada.
(The broadcast team itself will be old school: Tim Ryan doing the blow-by-blow, flanked by Larry Merchant and George Foreman.)
I love the idea of this. I’ve been saying for some time that HBO can and should pay much lesser license fees to pick up the American broadcast rights for major bouts taking place overseas — bouts that don’t need HBO to subsidize them. HBO can do this and increase its stature as a must-subscribe network for watching boxing, and it can do so without any worry of “watering down the brand.”
Of course, these kinds of experiments will only work out to our benefit if we support them by showing the networks that they were worth it.
If we want HBO (and Showtime, EPIX, NBC Sports Network, ESPN2, Wealth TV and even the broadcast networks of NBC and CBS) to stay with boxing, and to show us more of it, then we need to tune in.
With that said, the networks will need to present quality cards in order for that to be the case.
4. As we continue to learn more about how prevalent the use of performance enhancing drugs might be in boxing, we also continue to find out just how much the system has allowed cheating to pervade the sport.
And so it was maddening to find out last month that while steroids are banned substances in Texas, they are not regularly tested for, according to a report by Kelsey McCarson of TheSweetScience.com.
The only substances tested for are amphetamines, barbiturates (depressants), benzodiazepines (which are psychoactive drugs), cannabinoids (such as marijuana), cocaine, methadone (an opioid that treats pain), opiates (namely codeine and morphine), phencyclidine (the hallucinogen PCP) and propoxyphene (which treats pain).
Not every fighter on a card is tested, and those who are tested are randomly selected. State officials do have the ability to do additional testing, though there’s no indication of exactly when, and for whom, that testing has been done.
“Under the rule, the agency can require a contestant to undergo anabolic steroid testing, among other tests,” spokeswoman Susan Sanford told McCarson. “Anabolic steroid testing is not regularly performed, but it has been done on occasion.”
Yet when McCarson asked for a specific instance — the reporter asked whether additional testing had been done for last year’s fight between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Andy Lee — state officials declined to answer that question, citing medical confidentiality.
It’s bad enough that the cat-and-mouse game of drug testing has left many states woefully behind.
It’s even worse that what drug testing is done in Texas (among other states) isn’t even usually testing for banned substances that are apparently being used with increasingly regularity.
And it’s terrible that Texas isn’t even seeking to give the illusion of trying to confront a potential problem. It should be in the interest of state officials to disclose that star fighters in a major fight were subject to better testing. And if those star fighters were not, then the potential embarrassment that would ensue should be a sign that the state’s system is in need of reform.
5. This headline last week on BoxingScene.com raised my eyebrows:
“WBC’s Sulaiman: Danny Garcia Has to Give Up One Title.”
Garcia, after all, holds titles at junior welterweight bestowed by the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association.
Except the WBC hasn’t recently allowed for its world title to remain unified with other sanctioning body’s belts — such as last year with Kazuto Ioka after he topped Akira Yaegashi, and such as in 2009 after Timothy Bradley beat Kendall Holt.
But here’s why this latest decree from Sulaiman amused me:
July 13, 2012, BoxingScene.com: “WBC Chief: Khan-Garcia Winner Must Vacate One Title”
Sept. 10, 2012, BoxingScene.com: “Sulaiman: Danny Garcia Better Decide Between WBC, WBA”
It’s now been more than seven months since Garcia unified the titles. Why hasn’t the WBC stuck to its own rules (as silly as these rules might be)? Sulaiman spoke last week to reporter Miguel Rivera:
“The World Boxing Council does not accept unifications. When these situations come up, the WBC accepts the fight, but the winner must decide which title he plans to keep. If he decides to stay with the other organization, then we’ll vacate our title and crown a new champion,” Sulaiman said.
“In Danny Garcia's case, I did not want to fight with a champion who I admire a lot, but we were surprised by this decision to stay with the two belts. I gave him 15 days to drop the WBA title and he never did it. We did not want to act at that time. But for his next fight Danny Garcia has to make a decision.”
We’ll see if Sulaiman actually sticks to it. This has been brought to his attention on multiple occasions. And at super middleweight, Andre Ward has held both the WBC and WBA titles since December 2011.
But when sticking to your rules means potentially losing the sanctioning fees associated with superstar boxers, it’s easy to imagine one potential reason why this has been the case with Garcia and Ward.
6. If only Richard Abril would have knocked Sharif Bogere out this past weekend.
Not only would he have brought to an end a bout that turned out to be another putrid Saturday evening main event…
…but then the headlines also could have read “The Lion Slept Tonight.”
7. For those of you keeping track at home — and for those of you who have been unable to erase the nightmares from your memory — we’ve now had:
- Cornelius Bundrage vs. Ishe Smith on the Feb. 23 “Showtime Championship Boxing”
- Richard Abril vs. Sharif Bogere on the March 2 “Showtime Championship Boxing”
- And we will have Tavoris Cloud vs. Bernard Hopkins on this Saturday’s episode of HBO’s “World Championship Boxing.”
The sad thing is that the Hopkins fight will bring in more viewers than the upcoming rematch between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado.
8. Former welterweight titleholder Victor Ortiz will appear on the 16th season of ABC’s popular reality competition, “Dancing with the Stars,” in which the contestants are celebrities — and for some of whom that label dubiously applies.
Ortiz’s gig on the show had been rumored of late and was officially confirmed last week in a report by the Los Angeles Times. The 26-year-old last fought in June 2012, suffering a ninth-round technical knockout loss to Josesito Lopez and suffering a broken jaw in the process, both of which kept him from a clash this past September against Canelo Alvarez. He is 29-4-2 with 22 knockouts.
Ortiz is the fifth pro boxer to be on the show. The others were Evander Holyfield (season 1), Laila Ali (season 4), Floyd Mayweather (season 5) and Sugar Ray Leonard (season 12). Holyfield was the second contestant eliminated in his season, Leonard was the third to be eliminated in his season, and Mayweather was the fourth to be eliminated in his season. Ali did the best of all the boxers, making it all the way to the season finale and finishing in third place.
9. Evander Holyfield. Laila Ali. Floyd Mayweather. Sugar Ray Leonard. Victor Ortiz.
One of these things is not like the others.
10. It’s confounding to believe the amount that Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. was fined for testing positive for marijuana after his fight with Sergio Martinez — his second positive test for a banned substance in Nevada, given his positive test for a diuretic in 2009.
He was fined $900,000.
That’s a lot of cash for a little hash…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org