By Mitch Abramson
On second thought, maybe Wladimir Klitschko can fight at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn after all. Just not on opening night. The past few days have seen a war of words between Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy, and Bernd Boente, manager of the Klitschko brothers, over the possibility of Wladimir fighting in Brooklyn, possibly against Chris Arreola at the Barclays Center on Oct. 20.
The Barclays Center is the future home of the NBA Nets, a billion dollar enterprise in downtown Brooklyn erected to compete with Madison Square Garden for the hearts, minds and wallets of local sports fans. The arena is contracted to do big-ticket boxing shows every month after it opens in the fall. The opening night is Oct. 20, the same date when Boente would like to see Klitschko face Arreola.
The only problem is that Golden Boy signed a controversial multi-fight deal with the Barclays Center to run monthly boxing shows as the lead promoter. While some promoters have scoffed at the deal because of its restrictive nature, Schaefer has maintained since he signed the deal in the summer of 2010 that he's open to co-promoting with other companies. Yet Boente isn’t interested in that sort of relationship when it comes to the Klitschkos. The Klitschkos are selling out arenas in Germany. Why would they need a co-promoter? he says. He’s also not shy about expressing himself.
He recently told SI.com that Schaefer is using his deal in Brooklyn at the exclusion of other fighters and at the expense of fans, specifically to keep Wladimir from fighting there. Schaefer, not one to hold his tongue, shot back, saying the handlers responsible for selling the Klitschkos to an American audience have done a poor job (Schaefer is fond of calling the Klitschkos the “German heavyweight champions” because of their proclivity for fighting in Germany to adoring crowds) and would be wise to partner with Golden Boy to co-promote in the U.S., a suggestion that Boente scoffs at.
However, Schaefer offered an olive branch of sorts to the Klitschkos and Boente in their bid to fight in Brooklyn. The Klitschkos can fight there, Schaefer told BoxingScene, just not on opening night, which Schaefer likened to a movie premiere and the perfect time for him to sell his vision of boxing to Brooklyn. Rather, the brothers can fight in November or December, for example, just any date but Oct. 20. And they can do so as the lead promoter without worrying about Golden Boy’s involvement. Schaefer said he’s perfectly willing to step aside for a month and allow someone else to promote if it’s in the best interest of the arena. Golden Boy's three-year deal with Barclays calls for monthly shows, of the big and small variety.
“I don’t care,” Schaefer said. “They can go. I don’t need to be involved. They can do a fight there and do a deal with the Barclays Center. I couldn’t care less but not for the opening weekend.”
He even broached the idea with Brett Yormark, CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which operates the Barclays Center, and the man responsible for signing the multi-year deal with Golden Boy. Yormark paid a visit to representatives of the Klitschkos several weeks ago in Miami, to see if they were interested in fighting at the Barclays Center in October.
Tom Loeffler, managing director of K2 promotions, which promotes the Klitschkos, said there was a little confusion as to who would stage the initial show in the event one of the brothers fought on opening night.
“At that time it wasn’t clear that it needed to be a co-promotion [until after the meeting],” Loeffler said.
According to Loeffler, Yormark flew down with Shelly Finkel, an advisor to the Klitschkos to discuss the idea. Yormark wasn’t trying to cut Schaefer out of the equation by calling on the Klitschkos personally. Yormark has always maintained his loyalty to Golden Boy and the deal they signed. The two spoke after the meeting and came to an agreement.
“If [Brett feels] strongly that there is a fight which fits perfectly with them and it’s great for Brooklyn, I am not going to say, ‘Well, I need to be involved. I need to have my banner up there’ and bull [stuff] like that,” Schaefer quipped. “I’m not going to do that if Lou DiBella or Gary [Shaw] or Top Rank is going to want to do a fight in Brooklyn, and it’s a fight that Brett and his team feel is good for the venue. Hey, go ahead and do it. I’m not an ego-maniac like that. No problem.”
Loeffler was certainly pleased to hear the possibility of doing a show in Brooklyn without having to work with another promoter.
“Yeah sure, that would be of interest,” he said from Germany, where Wladimir defended his heavyweight titles against Jean-Marc Mormeck on Saturday. “That was the whole reason why [Klitschkos’ manager] Bernd took the meeting in the first place to explore those possibilities.”
In a statement, Yormark reiterated his desire to bring the best fights to Brooklyn.
“Our No. 1 goal is to bring major professional boxing back to Brooklyn while doing what’s best for the sport,” he said. “I want to have Wladimir fight at Barclays Center, and there’s no doubt the Russian community will love him. And while we're partnered in the boxing business with Golden Boy, we are all open to a co-promoter on any of the cards."
Schaefer wants to use the first date to make a good first impression on the New York fight fans and make a connection.
“We want to use the first show at the Barclays to really showcase the series,” Schaefer said. “This is going to be a big thing.”
Schaefer is treating the inaugural night of boxing at the Barclays Center like a movie premiere and Oscars rolled into one. He hasn’t secured a network for that first show as of yet but did describe what the first telecast might look like, with a televised segment on the history of boxing in Brooklyn preceding the fights on the telecast. Schaefer plans on shopping each individual show to a network instead of having one distributor do the complete three-year deal.
“Both HBO and Showtime are really interested in doing events from the Barclays Center,” he said. “It’s a billion dollar state of the art facility. Who wouldn’t want to be there?”
To that end, and with a subtle jab at the Klitschkos, Schaefer said he wants to showcase fighters who have “connected” to American sports fans, and “fighters who are relevant to a U.S. audience” and who are agreeable to fighting often in Brooklyn in the initial show.
Loeffler took issue with the idea the Klitschkos can't do good business in America, referencing shows they did in New York and L.A. as proof of the fighters' popularity.
Schaefer referenced the following fighters as possibilities for participating in the first main event: Paulie Malignaggi making his first defense of his world title (if he wins the WBA welterweight belt from Senchenko on April 29); perhaps Canelo Alvarez against an opponent to be determined, or Bernard Hopkins in his retirement fight, maybe Miguel Cotto, Schaefer went on, exuding confidence in his ability to create something memorable on Oct. 20.
“I really don’t know,” Schaefer said, dropping superstar names one after the other, “but it’s going to be a really big event.”
Lost in the conversation is the availability of Arreola, who’s being mentioned as a possible opponent for Wladimir, if not on opening night then perhaps down the road a bit. Arreola’s promoter, Dan Goossen, said that he’s yet to be contacted for such a fight since there remain a few hurdles to overcome and the arena is months away from opening. At this point, it's just conjecture. Plus, there are other factors to consider, he said. Arreola is the mandatory for Vitali in the WBC. And, Wladimir has a mandatory against the Goossen-promoted Tony Thompson in bout slated to take place no later than June, Goossen added.
“I don’t’ mind his forward thinking but I believe Tony Thompson has a tremendous shot to pull the upset,” Goossen said.
And if that happens, all the discussions of having Wladimir fight in Brooklyn this year would seem somewhat premature and like a distant memory.
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.