By Mitch Abramson
It’s not easy getting close to Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Anyone who’s seen Mayweather in the ring can attest to his defensive genius.
But Brett Yormark came close.
When he sidled up next to Mayweather at a fight in June of last year, Yormark, CEO of the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center, had larger ambitions than to make idle conversation with the sport’s top fighter.
No, instead, he was trying to persuade Mayweather to one day fight in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center, no easy chore.
It turns out Yormark wasn’t the only one who had that goal in mind. That same night, Yormark crossed paths with Barclays Center majority owner, Bruce Ratner- also on hand at the match between Paulie Malignaggi and Adrien Broner- and the two conferred over the idea of getting Mayweather to Atlantic Avenue.
“Brett, we’ve got to get him to fight in Brooklyn,” Ratner said breathlessly of the sport’s top fighter and biggest draw.
Thus began a nine-month odyssey for Yormark to land the biggest fish in boxing and out-hustle Madison Square Garden in the process, a crusade that consisted of “dozens” of face-to-face meetings and phone conversations with Mayweather’s representative and a monetary offer to the fighter that Yormark described as being “probably one of the biggest guarantees ever made” to an athlete. (Yormark declined to reveal a specific figure.)
According to a source, the Garden also engaged in “general” discussions with Mayweather, along with advisor Al Haymon and Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer about fighting there. (Yormark declined to discuss the rivalry with the Garden.)
“Thankfully,” Yormark said, “I have an ownership group that enables us to dream big.”
While Yormark’s pitch to bring Mayweather to Brooklyn was persuasive, it wasn’t exactly perfect. He never got to address Mayweather directly, working through middlemen and intermediaries such as Schaefer, who presented Mayweather with Yormark’s vision.
Mayweather ultimately chose to fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for the ninth straight time May 3 against the slugger Marcos Maidana, just a short drive from his Las Vegas residence, choosing comfort over the bright lights and loud glare of Madison Avenue.
But Yormark and the Barclays Center were in the running, according to Schaefer.
In fact, the Golden Boy CEO says that Mayweather likely could make more money fighting at the Barclays Center than at the MGM, even with New York’s state income tax (8.82%) and unincorporated business tax on athletes (4%) factored in.
“They were very close,” said Schaefer, who has a multi-year deal with the Barclays to run shows there, a deal that’s been extended through 2016. The next boxing show in Brooklyn is likely in July to make room for the Brooklyn Nets run through the NBA playoffs.
“From a pure financial point of view, their bid was extremely aggressive but in the end it didn’t come down to money,” Schaefer continued. “It came down to the existing strong relationship that Floyd has with the MGM.”
And because of that, Schafer can’t see Mayweather ever leaving the MGM, unless the hotel casino “does something to piss off Floyd or ruin the relationship.”
When Mayweather’s next bout was first announced on Feb. 24, the fact that no site was attached to the press release gave the impression that Mayweather was stuck between the Barclays and the MGM. But that’s not the case. Mayweather had already settled on the MGM and was just ironing out the final details of the agreement with the venue, Schaefer says.
Still, up until the day that Mayweather announced his intentions to return to the MGM, Yormark thought he would choose Brooklyn.
“I personally thought he was going to do it,” Yormark said. “I thought our financial package was really compelling. I thought our marketing package was very compelling and how we were going to provide brand domination- Mayweather brand domination in and around New York in a way that is only rivaled by a Super Bowl or an NBA All Star Game or something like that.”
When he received the news, Yormark admits he was pretty crushed. But he said he understood the reasons why Mayweather picked the MGM, and it wasn’t a reflection of the vision he had Schaefer pitch to Mayweather, he says.
“I was disappointed, I was really disappointed,” he said. “But when it was explained to me at the end of the day comfort- and to some degree loyalty- played a bigger role than maybe we anticipated, I got to respect that. There’s a comfort factor that maybe I wasn’t aware of and it kind of hit me when Mayweather’s people said that was kind of a big issue. It’s not easy for people to leave what they know- they know how to get to the arena, they know when they have to leave, they know who’s going to greet them at the door and I guess he has a great comfort level at the MGM.”
Despite the challenges, the energetic Yormark wishes he had met face-to-face with Mayweather to press his case and make his plea.
“I felt very strongly that Richard Schaefer and Al Haymon and that entire group made a very compelling pitch,” Yormark says. “But I also believe in my ability to be very convincing and I’ve been doing it for my whole career. So would I have liked to take a shot at it? Yeah, I would have liked to have taken a personal shot at it because I’m a closer and that’s what I do. But I didn’t have that opportunity. But I was very confident in what they presented to him and I think at the end of the day he weighed the pros and cons of the different scenarios and he chose to stay with what he knew.”
Yormark sought to appeal to Mayweather’s longing for exposure and money. Hence, here’s how he described his overall pitch:
“I think it was the financial package, it was the location,” he said. “Listen, his nickname is ‘Money’ so ‘Money’ in Brooklyn- to me was a natural fit. We’re on the heels of Wall Street; this is the heart of raw commerce. When you talk about money and influence and image- when you think of Madison Avenue- he’s in the fashion business: he has The Money Team line and he has a couple of extensions to it from what I understand. You’re in the fashion capital of the world. All the things that he stands for as a brand and as a person in some respects we could have magnified that here in a way that’s never been done before. And maybe one day we have a shot of doing that. So we played to all those things- his interest in money, his interest in fashion and his interest in image and brand. You have it all here so that kind of was the pitch but obviously the financial package had to be meaningful and it was.”
Yormark believes that if Mayweather wants to duplicate the success he had in his last fight with Alvarez in terms of generating PPV buys and profits and just overall hype, he’s making a mistake by staging the fight in Las Vegas, that New York would have been the way to go.
“My own personal opinion is that the promotional support that was given to the Mayweather-Canelo fight was unprecedented,” he said. “It was incredible; it became a mega event for any casual or hardcore sports fan. Whether you bought it or not you knew there was going to be this huge fight that was going to take place in Vegas. And I always felt in my mind that it would be tough to go back there because you could never replicate that kind of hype- at least the next time you couldn’t and that there was always going to be a dip and why experience a dip? Why not experience the same kind of hype and interest in New York where we could have accomplished that and then maybe you go back to the MGM because then at that point and time it’s supply and demand. He took a fight off, he’s building up the anticipation again and then he’s going back there. That was my opinion.”
Yormark also addressed the deal he has with Golden Boy to put on 12-shows a year, a deal that’s been extended through 2016, he said. While Golden Boy has fallen well short of staging 12 shows a year, Yormark says he’s fine with that. After putting on a couple of smaller shows last year, Yormark says he wants to just focus on larger-scale shows, and if that means a smaller amount of shows annually, so be it.
“What we thought we’d do when we had a fight a month is we wanted to create continuity in our fight program,” Yormark says. “And then what I realized candidly is that I didn’t want to be in the fight business where there’s a 1,000 people that show up; we’re in the big event business here. I said to Richard [Schaefer] and his team, ‘Maybe it’s not more is more but maybe it’s less is more. Maybe it’s three or four fights a year, maybe more, five, and that’s our goal, do five or six shows a year, all on Showtime, fights that mean something and have recognition.’ Because of all the activity in the building [with the Brooklyn Nets and concerts, etc.], I have to be a little more selective, and by being selective it forces me to only bring the best here.”
Yormark declined to comment on a TMZ report that Mayweather organized a beat down of two underlings who he believed stole his jewelry, calling it “speculation.” No one has come forward yet to file a criminal report against Mayweather.
“At the end of the day his fight at the MGM is going to sell out and people are going to show up because of who he is,” Yormark said.
And because of Mayweather’s star-power, Yormark was energized by the experience of going after him. If he doesn’t land Mayweather, perhaps he could persuade another superstar, like Alvarez, who lost to Mayweather in September, to fight in Brooklyn.
“Will I continue to go for it? Yeah,” Yormark says. “But what I hope is that we’ve made a pretty loud statement within the boxing community that we plan on being aggressive when it comes to those big fights and like I said, if it’s Canelo Alvarez or someone like that- we want to be part of that conversation.”
And he’s still holding out hope that he’ll be able to land Mayweather, going so far as to say his fantasy fight at the Barclays would be a super fight between Mayweather and Brooklyn’s Luis Collazo, who recently knocked out Victor Ortiz at the Barclays Center.
“If there was ever a dream fight where Mayweather comes to Brooklyn with all his pizzazz and he fights this Brooklyn fighter who, obviously his career has been resurrected because of what we’ve been able to accomplish here,” he said.
“And that becomes this big mega fight- that to me fulfills the dream- because it’s bringing the best of the best to Brooklyn which we all claim we want to do. How great would it be for Brooklyn if the favorite son of Brooklyn fights this legendary fighter Floyd Mayweather? I think that goes down as in many respects the rational for what we [want to do here].”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.