By Mitch Abramson
He no longer wishes to be known as “Volcanic” Lou for his hot-boiled reactions.
He doesn’t freak out over silly stuff. Not anymore, the promoter Lou DiBella says.
The longtime promoter and current managing general partner of a San Francisco Giants minor league affiliate has mellowed some.
“I think I’m no longer Volcanic Lou,” the 54-year-old says. “And I don’t respond to criticism anymore with emotion. I think I’m a much more mature guy than I was five years ago or seven years ago. Because partially, I don’t care anymore what people think of me.”
So that means he didn't really freak out when he was widely condemned for allowing Jermain Taylor to fight again, even after he was found to have bleeding on his brain following a brutal loss in 2009. (Taylor was medically cleared to continue his career.)
Nor did Lou take it personally when after Taylor won a middleweight title earlier this month, he was disparaged once again for promoting a brain damaged fighter. And also one who was out on bail for allegedly shooting his cousin.
But DiBella is enjoying a very unlikely recent string of success that makes him breathe easier at night.
For one, Taylor recently captured the IBF middleweight title, beating Sam Soliman and opening up potentially bigger and lucrative paydays down the road for both himself and DiBella.
Then, just last week, the San Francisco Giants won the National League pennant, with a walk-off home run from Travis Ishikawa, a player who once played for DiBella’s minor league team in 2006.
If the Giants beat the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, DiBella will pocket his third- third!- World Series ring as the managing general partner of the Richmond Flying Squirrels, a Double-A affiliate of the Giants.
And when the month of November rolls around, it will mark 25 years that the Brooklyn-born, Harvard-educated DiBella has toiled in the sport, dating back to when he started at HBO in 1989.
Despite his constant railing against the sport, DiBella has survived- through the monopolizing of boxing by Golden Boy and Top Rank, through the lopsided loss of Sergio Martinez.
“It’s pretty amazing,” he said in a phone interview on Saturday, just hours before another one of his fighters, Edwin Rodriguez fought and won on Saturday for the first time since losing to Andre Ward last year. “It's been a fun couple of weeks. I think I’m probably the only person in the history of boxing to have one World Series ring and this will be the third [if they win]. Baseball is just not a minor part of my life. I work pretty hard as the managing general partner. And I take that sort of seriously and it’s fun. It’s a nice counter-balance to boxing. Unlike boxing, baseball is sort of family entertainment. And it’s cool as hell.”
In a 30-minute interview, DiBella used the word “balance” at least five times to describe the equilibrium he’s been searching for of late in his life.
It’s why he doesn’t just work in boxing anymore, starting a film production company recently and executive producing three different documentaries, including a film on the late Johnny Tapia.
He says he also acquired the rights to the 2013 cover story in Rolling Stone magazine, “Gangster in the Huddle” about former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez that was written by Paul Solotaroff with Ron Borges.
“I think one of the reasons I left HBO was because I was doing boxing alone,” he says of his time as the boxing czar of the network before he founded his own promotional company. “And this past year I’d say I spent half of my time between baseball and producing and doing other stuff and that’s sort of in my own head allowed to give me a level of balance.”
That search for harmony and calm and most of all change in his life might have been one of the reasons he chose to shake up his office staff, parting ways with longtime matchmaker Joe Quiambao after a long, mostly successful run together.
For now, DiBella is working with different matchmakers basically on a show-by-show basis until a full-time replacement can be found, he said.
“I still love Joe and I respected Joe,” DiBella said. “Sometime when you work a long, long time with somebody- it was like a decade- and sometimes it’s time for a change. I think he’s still a friend of the company.”
And Kevin Rooney Jr., who is now assisting WBO junior welterweight champion Chris Algieri, is now working for DiBella on a part-time basis as well, he said.
Of more changes to come, DiBella said:
“You’ll see over the next six months, they’ll be some tweaks and some stuff to what we’re doing. But I think they're tweaks to make us stronger and more prepared for where we’re heading.”
DiBella said he plans to meet with Jermain Taylor’s team to map out the next step of his career, if he will face mandatory challenger Hassan N’Dam or someone else.
“I think Al [Haymon] and I and Jermain and Pat Burns will get together and figure out the best way to go,” he said.
Taylor, 36, won a unanimous decision against Soliman on Oct. 8, and DiBella says it all worked out perfectly, where Taylor faced someone he could beat who didn't pack a hard punch.
“I’m very happy that he got an opportunity against a guy that as it was proven, he had an actual chance to beat,” DiBella said. “Sam Soliman won his title legitimately when he was 40 years old and he’s not a big puncher and he was right in Jermain’s wheelhouse to have a chance to win and Jermain capitalized on it.”
The circumstances surrounding Taylor’s inclusion in the bout are widely known: He was out on bail for allegedly shooting his cousin on Aug. 26 and needed permission from a judge to travel to Florida to train with Burns and then to trek to Biloxi, Miss. for the bout.
Taylor was also found to have bleeding on the brain following a brutal knockout loss in 2009. He subsequently passed a battery of neurological tests to get cleared to fight.
In the run-up to the fight, DiBella was excoriated for presiding over the fight, especially after he stepped down as his promoter following the 2009 loss because he didn't think Taylor should fight again.
“I’m really way past the media criticism,” he said. “Because it’s very selective to be honest with you. I don’t really think there’s a boxing media anymore. I don’t really pay attention to a lot of the criticism. But I think that Al Haymon and I shared an agenda which was to get Jermain to fight [for a title]. He was cleared by the best doctors in the world. He went through more neurological testing that any fighter has ever seen. We wanted to make sure that his route to a [title] opportunity was the safest possible one and I think Al as his manager and I did a great job and he’s able to win this title. I mean criticize me but I think a pretty solid job was done with him.”
“I don’t do the world rankings and I’m not a state commission,” he went on. “And I think a lot of the criticism was directed toward the wrong people but so be it.”
Despite the criticism he took for the Taylor fight and the other non-boxing ventures he’s involved in, DiBella doesn’t envision abandoning the sport.
“I don’t foresee getting out of boxing anytime soon,” he says. “I’m certainly seeing creating a better balance for myself. My personal happiness and mental health is as important to me as anything. So I need that balance in my life.”
And that includes boxing.
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.