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Behind the Scenes, Haymon Is Shaking Up the Fight Game
As Floyd Mayweather Jr. basked in his latest victory, the man behind the curtain actually stood behind a curtain, a cliché sprung to life. Few in the postfight news conference recognized this man, a reclusive, eccentric so-called adviser who rarely ventures into public.
Tom Uhlman for The New York Times
The man arrived in Las Vegas incognito, dressed like a secret agent: black suit, white shirt, dark tie. His influence extended over every aspect of the promotion, from Mayweather’s $40 million pay structure to the resale of the best tickets at the MGM’s Grand Garden Arena.
As the chief architect of the career of Mayweather, perhaps the most prominent fighter since Mike Tyson, this man ranks among boxing’s most powerful figures. He also stands between Mayweather and a blockbuster fight with Manny Pacquiao.
From behind the curtain, he watched as Mayweather called his sizable entourage onstage, thanking bodyguards, assistants and assistants to assistants. “Where’s Al Haymon?” Mayweather said as he scanned the audience, his question a familiar one.
Mayweather shrugged. “Al Haymon would never come up here,” he added. “Al Haymon is the Ghost.”
These are the Haymon basics: Harvard-educated; successful in live concert promotion, then television production, now boxing; extensive list of celebrity clients; a brother, Bobby, who once fought Sugar Ray Leonard; no office, no answering machine, no photographs, no interviews.
“Think of Al as the Wizard of Oz,” said Phil Casey, one longtime partner in the music business. “It’s best not to try and figure him out.”
From Concert Stage to TV Screen
Haymon, 56, grew up in Cleveland and studied economics at Harvard, where he also earned a master’s degree in business administration. He started promoting recording artists while still in school, and even financed his first show, which featured the violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, with student loans.
After college, Haymon returned to Cleveland and established a relationship with the O’Jays, growing especially close with Eddie Levert, the lead vocalist, and his son Gerald, an R&B singer. Haymon, Eddie Levert said, became “almost like blood to us.”
Levert described Haymon as a momma’s boy, and he meant it as a compliment. Early on, Haymon’s mother, Emma Lou, helped him with promotions, and for her 70th birthday, they recreated their trip to Harvard for his freshman year.
Haymon eventually created 14 businesses, mostly to deal with myriad aspects of live concert promotion. Early on, he was partners with Casey, then head of urban contemporary music at International Creative Management.
Casey estimated they staged more than 1,000 concerts together. Their client roster included M. C. Hammer, New Edition, Whitney Houston and Mary J. Blige. They were, Casey said, among the first urban concert promoters to package several acts into a single tour, some of which ran for 300 days. They created the Budweiser Superfest, a concert series that ran from 1979 to 1999 and was revived in 2010.
Haymon and Casey turned an often haphazard business into an assembly-line production. They oversaw lighting, production, marketing and advertising, built an infrastructure, a total package, then plugged artists in. In 1992, Haymon, in a rare interview, told USA Today that they put on some 500 shows and grossed $60 million the year before.
“You could say the African-American concert world was divided in two camps: all the promoters who were trying to beat Al, and him,” said Jack Boyle, then chairman of the concert giant SFX Entertainment’s live music group.
By 1987, Haymon began to branch out. He co-promoted the “Eddie Murphy Raw” tour, working closely with Murphy and his stepfather, Vernon Lynch. Lynch’s partner, Gregory Pai, said the tour was at that time the highest-grossing comedy tour and comedy film ever.
“Promotion is as much science as art, and Al was able to mix the two,” Pai said. “He understood the mechanics of the business. He was an optimizer, the Steve Jobs of promotion.”
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