By Thomas Gerbasi
The shovels came out and the gravestones were engraved, but someone forgot to tell Brett Yormark that boxing in New York was dead.
“Not me,” he laughed. “You never heard me say that.”
The CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, a role that has seen him help revitalize the sport in the Big Apple at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, isn’t about to bury the sweet science, even after raised insurance rates for combat sports in New York State have many promoters wondering if they can still put shows on in the coming months and years.
Yormark isn’t ready to throw in the towel.
“I’m a guy that looks at the world half-full and never half-empty,” he said. “There’s no better place than Brooklyn for boxing. It’s part of the DNA of the community. All the big fighters want to fight in Brooklyn for obvious reasons. When they come into Brooklyn, we help build their brand, their profile, and while we’re doing that, we’re building the sport. So we’re excited, we’re committed, and it’s only going to get bigger and better for us.”
Four years into the arena’s existence, boxing has become big business, with more than 120 bouts and 20 world title fights taking place at Barclays. That’s a shot in the arm for the entire sport, and an unexpected one, especially with Yormark making an initial commitment to boxing and not just sticking to it, but creating the popular and growing Brooklyn Boxing brand as well. And those who aren’t familiar with that brand will get a dose of it Friday night when Danny Jacobs defends his WBA middleweight title against Sergio Mora.
“The corner is going to be adorned with Brooklyn Boxing, Team Jacobs is all going to wear it, and Danny’s going to wear it coming into the ring,” Yormark, who will be ringside in Reading for the fight, said. “His trunks, his shoes, his gloves, it’s all going to be about Brooklyn Boxing. Danny epitomizes what boxing means in Brooklyn, and there’s no one better to represent the brand than him.”
He’s right. Once the “Golden Child” of NYC boxing, the type of once in an era amateur talent that had local scribes trading DVDs of his fights, Jacobs began his pro career on that same arc until a loss to Dmitry Pirog took away his air of invincibility and a battle with cancer nearly took his life. He courageously battled back from both, with the result being a world championship and, more importantly, a bright future.
“He epitomizes Brooklyn,” Yormark said of Jacobs. “He’s got Brooklyn grit. He’s been an underdog for most of his life, he’s had setbacks, but he’s persevered and he overcame them and now he’s on a worldwide stage and one of the best at his craft. And when you think about Brooklyn and the makeup of the borough, very few people in Brooklyn have been given anything. They’ve worked hard for what they’ve accomplished. Danny Jacobs is no different.”
Promoters promote and people in the boxing business can sell like no others. But when Yormark talks boxing, there is a sincere excitement in his voice, and if you’ve been at New York venues other than Barclays Center on fight night, odds are pretty good that he’ll be there because at heart, he’s a fan first.
“As a kid, I used to watch boxing growing up with my twin brother,” he said. “We went to Atlantic City back in the day when Atlantic City was hosting big fights. I went to the fights, I watched fights and I was always a fan. So when I got this job to come back as CEO of the Nets and CEO of Barclays Center when I was hired, I said to ownership, ‘We’re going to bring back boxing in a big way to New York and we’re going to be at the forefront.’ And we went out there, as far as developing relationships very early on with Danny Jacobs, Paulie Malignaggi, Peter Quillin and all the other Brooklyn fighters. We said, ‘You don’t need to go to Vegas, you don’t need to go anywhere else in the country. You can go down the street and fight in a world-class venue in Brooklyn, and we delivered on that. And the fighters delivered on their promise to be the best at what they do, and it’s been a true partnership.”
But did he get any funny looks in the office when he told of his vision for the sport in the new building?
“A couple of my colleagues would look at me and they didn’t say it – and they could have if they wanted to – but, is this a business or a passion, and there’s a difference. My response was, ‘It’s a passion that’s going to fuel a business.’ And that’s exactly what it’s been.”
And regardless of anything going on outside the ring at the moment in New York, Yormark plans on following up a year that has seen Keith Thurman-Shawn Porter, Carl Frampton-Leo Santa Cruz, and the first New York appearance of heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder with something special for the holiday season.
“Probably next week, we’re going to be out there announcing two big fights for the month of December,” he said. “We want to finish off the year in a pretty dramatic way. The two dates we’re targeting are December 3rd and the weekend of December 17th. It’s going to be a Brooklyn Boxing month for sure at Barclays Center. And we will be the biggest stage for boxing to close out the year with megafights and big personalities, and the fans are going to be very excited about it. That’s going to end what’s arguably the best year we’ve had in boxing.”
He’s not done yet, either.
“This is a commitment that I’ve personally made and ownership has made to the sport,” Yormark said. “I don’t think there’s anyone else out there in the country that is as committed as we are to the sport, building it the right way and helping to host the biggest and best fights. So we’re really excited about the future. It should be an exciting future for us and for the sport.”