By Lem Satterfield & Rick Reeno
The legal battle pertaining to the promotional rights of WBO/WBC bantamweight champion Nonito Donaire - is quickly heating up. On Monday, Arbitrator Daniel Weinstein issued a ruling in favor of Top Rank. Weinstein ruled that Golden Boy Promotions violated a previous agreement with Top Rank, which directs both companies to refrain from poaching each other's talent. Their previous agreement was reached when both companies were involved in a 2007 legal battle over the promotional rights to Manny Pacquiao. Weinstein handled the 2007 dispute.
Two weeks ago, Golden Boy announced the promotional signing of Donaire. Top Rank is claiming to have a valid, binding contract over Donaire until at least mid-2012 to 2013. Donaire believes his contract with Top Rank became invalid when the promotional company failed to honor their requirement to deliver three fights on a yearly basis - which Top Rank disputes and argues that Donaire was unable to accept fights because the boxer was medically suspended, twice, during his first two years with their company.
Donaire signed a three year deal with Top Rank on June 26, 2008. Top Rank is confident the two medical suspensions have extended Donaire's contract beyond the one-year extension period, which binds Donaire until June of 2012.
"Well, Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions have an agreement between them. At least at the current time we have an agreement. I don't know what the future of that agreement is, but it has been in place for a few years. But the agreement calls for full arbitration of disputes between the two parties in front of the retired judge named Daniel Weinstein. And, when Golden Boy signed Mr. Donaire to a contract that infringed on Top Rank's pre-existing agreement with Mr. Donaire, we brought a claim in front of judge Weinstein and he heard argument and received extensive briefing on it, and, yesterday, and, today, he agreed that Golden Boy violated the agreement and issued an injunction restricting and restraining Golden Boy from proceeding under its purported agreement with Mr. Donaire or otherwise promoting Mr. Donaire given Top Rank's pre-existing agreement," said Dan Petrocelli, attorney for Top Rank.
"There is a separate court proceeding that Mr. Donaire filed against Top Rank effectively trying to get out of his contract. That was filed in the Nevada, and we haven't even been served with that lawsuit. It has just been sitting there for a bit. That was filed in the Nevada State Court in Las Vegas. It makes arguments that Nonito Donaire is no longer bound to the contract with Top Rank. The exclusive agreement that Top Rank has. The case has no merit, and Mr. Donaire is fully bound to the agreement for an extended period of time. If he pursues that, and I don't know that he will, then we will deal with it. But that issue was not before the judge."
Petrocelli tells BoxingScene that Weinstein's ruling invalidates the recent promotional signing of Donaire.
"What was before the judge yesterday before judge Weinstein was the issue that Golden Boy signing Mr. Donaire, and they can not go forward with that agreement any more. So it invalidates that signing and that agreement," Petrocelli said.
Top Rank's CEO Bob Arum was ecstatic with Weinstein's decision - "This is a massive victory. A huge victory."
Judd Burstein, legal counsel for Golden Boy, believes the battle for Donaire is far from done. While the ruling invalidates Donaire's contract with Golden Boy, the next battle will determine whether or not Donaire's contract with Top Rank is still valid.
"They got a preliminary ruling, not that Top Rank's contract is valid, but that pursuant to a term sheet between Top Rank and Golden Boy, that Golden Boy did not have the right to sign Nonito Donaire without a ruling that Donaire was, in fact, free. That's the only ruling. So now, we're going to be fighting over whether or not Donaire is free," Burstein said.
"It's an opening skirmish. It's like there is, to us, it's black and white that the contract has been breached. Top Rank has no answer, and, in fact, the first answer that they provided was just a demonstrable lie. But, that's for a fact-finder to make that decision. We are now pursuing the merits of the claim. All that the arbitrator ruled is that because of the peculiar agreement between Top Rank and Golden Boy, that neither Golden Boy nor Top Rank can sign a fighter who has an agreement with the fighter unless there is a determination that the contract is no longer binding. Our next move is to get a finding that the contract is no longer binding."