By Thomas Gerbasi
Having seen it all in the fight game over nearly three decades as a promoter, Dan Goossen isn’t one to glamorize his profession. Sure, it’s nice when you’ve got the big fighter in the big fight and everything runs like clockwork, but more often than not, it’s not always like that.
Promoting requires a lot of faith, a lot of hours, not enough sleep, and plenty of heartache. But Goossen, like most of his peers, will admit that when the bell rings on fight night, it’s an opportunity to take a deep breath and hopefully enjoy the moment, because at that point, what happens is out of his hands.
“Leading into any event, I don’t care what it is, there are a multitude of problems always,” he told BoxingScene. “The stress becomes larger on the larger fights because of various reasons, and I’ve always said that the only time I can really relax from the date of the conception of the event is when the bell is being rung. And everything that was on my shoulders I now pass over to the fighter.”
Beibut Shumenov, a 2004 Olympian for Kazakhstan, can relate to Goossen’s words, considering that when he turned pro in 2007, he did so as his own manager and promoter (along with his brother Chingis). Now this wasn’t one of those situations where the fighter pops his name in a press release and on a ring post and calls himself a promoter. Shumenov actually arranged his own fights and took control of every aspect of his career, which saw him tear off eight wins in a row over the likes of Montell Griffin, Byron Mitchell, Epifanio Mendoza, and Donnell Wiggins.
It was an impressive story and run to say the least, but in back-to-back bouts with Gabriel Campillo in August of 2009 and January of this year, cracks began showing in the triple-threat’s foundation as he lost a majority decision to the Spanish southpaw and then won a highly controversial decision in the rematch, which earned him the WBA light heavyweight title. Threats of lawsuits and accusations flew back and forth between the two camps before finally….
In May, Shumenov re-emerged with a new promotional deal with Goossen’s Goossen Tutor Promotions, and now, when the bell rings on fight night, the 26-year old hears it as a fighter, and not as a fighter / promoter.
“Make no mistake about it, it wasn’t the type of promoter position that he wasn’t involved in in name only,” said Goossen of Shumenov the promoter. “He was actively involved and he would carry all the stress and all the problems and all the headaches on the promotional end, try to combine his training, and carry it all the way to the ring, but when the bell rang, it was still on his shoulders. Now I believe we’re going to see a vastly different fighter in that ring, one that’s able to do what your normal fighters are supposed to do – concentrate one hundred percent on preparing yourself to win.”
Tonight, when Shumenov (9-1, 6 KOs) defends his title against unbeaten Ukrainian Viacheslav Uzelkov at Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino in Lemoore, California, it will be the first test of the theory that wearing too many hats hampered Shumenov’s ring progress, one that Goossen certainly subscribes to.
“He’s a very smart man, he’s got his law degree in his hometown and he just realized that ‘all of my success is going to be based on what I do in the ring, and that means I’ve got to get rid of this burden of promotion,’” said Goossen. “We do this for a living; he knows it and he knows that we know how to keep the stress off of him – that’s our job. Let him concentrate on what he needs to concentrate on. You just can’t hang a shingle out on your door and call yourself a promoter. It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of determination and a lot of patience. Because of that, to play dual roles had to be very burdensome on him. And he’s such an intelligent man, he wanted to make sure that not only did he perform in the ring, but that his fights were good. I see it today in his involvement with the two fighters under his promotional banner that are fighting Friday night (Gayrat Ahmedov and Ravshan Hudaynazarov) and his attention to detail and opponents and things like that. He really is someone that I believe is gonna be an extraordinary champion and one that is eventually gonna capture the American public’s interest similar to what (Manny) Pacquiao’s done.”
Uh-oh. He said the “P” word, and while the pound-for-pound boss from the Philippines is likely a once-in-a-generation phenomenon, fighters who have crossover potential like Shumenov do get the juices flowing for promoters who would love nothing more than to get a sliver of the pie Pacquiao has carved out for himself worldwide.
“If you look at Pacquiao five years ago, you would say ‘who is he, what impact is he gonna have?’” asks Goossen. “And if you look at our other sports teams – baseball teams, basketball teams, you’ve got players out there now who come from different countries, some who don’t speak our language, and parlay their abilities into success in mainstream America.”
He’s right. But is Shumenov that guy? Goossen intends to find out, and if his work over the years with the likes of Michael Nunn, Gabe and Rafael Ruelas, James Toney, Paul Williams, David Reid, David Tua, Andre Ward, and Chris Arreola, among others, is any indication, he doesn’t take a cookie cutter approach to promoting and building a fighter. Case in point – compare the fast track push of Olympic Gold medalist Reid to the slower, more methodical – but ultimately successful – rise of another Gold medalist in Ward.
“Remember with David (Reid) that a lot of that fast track was because of his drooping eye, which was a lingering problem,” Goossen notes. “On the other hand, we had Hector Camacho Jr., who was number one in the WBA for over two and a half years and we didn’t go on the fast track with him even though we could have had a mandatory, because I didn’t think he was ready. So I’m adaptable to where our fighters are.”
And that may have been the key selling point for Shumenov in abandoning his sole promotional duties.
“He wasn’t averse to having a promoter; he just didn’t have a promoter that, I think, understood his needs,” said Goossen. “He wanted to get on the fast track to a world championship, and he’s done that. Most promoters, managers, trainers, when you have an Olympian and accomplished amateur, no matter what country he’s from, you’re looking more to give him what you might want to call experience, and get him those 15-20 wins where there’s very little likelihood of coming out on the losing end.”
Shumenov, to his credit, tossed that conventional wisdom to the side and worked his way to a world title in just ten fights, surpassing Jeff Harding’s previous light heavyweight record of 15 fights, set in 1988. Has this strategy backfired, since there’s no going back to six rounders when you’re a world champion, or will becoming “just” a fighter be the key to staying on top at 175 and setting himself up for bigger fights in the division down the line? It’s likely that the 22-0 Uzelkov, a decorated amateur who holds a 2007 pro knockout over the then unbeaten Campillo, will be Shumenov’s truth machine tonight.
“Fights such as Friday night are ones that push us to the next level,” said Goossen of the ESPN-televised bout. “It’s his ability, his mental toughness, and his intelligence that I’m banking on. And he’s shown all three of those in a very short professional career. I believe that Friday night he’s going to put it all together and open a lot of eyes with the fans, the media, and the networks.”
Then the ball gets passed to Goossen to do his magic.
“The way I’ve looked at it as a promoter throughout the years is if you’re good, we can make you a star,” he said. “What I like is to bring these fighters to different levels, and do our part to make them successful outside the ring. That’s the enjoyment. When a Beibut Shumenov puts all his trust and confidence in our company and our staff here, it makes me feel responsible and I want to make sure we do everything and beyond to do our part in making him a star.”