The only fights left in the once-promising Ring City USA boxing series will now take place in the courtroom.
BoxingScene.com has confirmed that the creators of Ring City USA—Offabbot—have been met with an eight-count complaint filed by series researcher and content producer Mark Ortega. The lawsuit was filed with the Superior Court of the State of California, Los Angeles County, with Ortega and his legal team alleging:
- Non-Payment of Wages;
- Waiting Time Penalties;
- Failure to Reimburse For Business Expenses;
- Failure to Furnish Timely and Accurate Itemized Wage Statements;
- Unfair Business Practices in Violation of California Business;
- Breach of Contract
Ortega seeks compensatory damages and penalties for unpaid wages, reimbursable expenses and additional compensation owed. Offfabbot, Ring City LLC, Ring City Inc., CEO Frank Samuel and Production Executive Lauren Bayer were named as the defendants in the 71-page complaint, a copy of which was obtained by BoxingScene.com.
According to the complaint, Ortega—a longtime boxing media member who also works as a producer for Fox Sports—was hired to work the first three Ring City events upon its official launch in 2020. The NBC Sports Network-aired series officially debuted on November 19, 2020, with Ortega providing research for that show as per an agreement signed on or about November 14, 2020.
The series was well-intended and also received mostly with praise, through its concept of putting on the best fights free of promotional output deals that have for decades polluted the boxing industry. Every Ring City event—which aired live on the now-defunct NBC Sports Network and simultaneously streamed live on its Twitch channel—worked with different promoters, with Bash Boxing serving as the lead promoter by license only.
Per the agreement, Ortega was to be compensated for services provided on November 18-19, December 2-3 and 17-18, surrounding the fighter meetings and fight night for their three shows in 2020. The complaint and accompanying exhibits show that Ortega was paid $800 via remote deposit for each of the three shows, totaling $2,400 for services rendered.
The trial run extended into a year-long agreement in 2021, where Ortega agreed to a base annual salary of $100,000, broken into 12 monthly installments of $8,333.33. According to the complaint, the parties “did not execute a formal employment agreement for Plaintiff’s 2021 services, but the material terms of Plaintiff’s 2021 employment were memorialized, offered, and accepted via email exchanges between Plaintiff ORTEGA and Defendant BAYER, who was acting as an agent for Defendants OFFABBOTT, RING CITY LLC, and RING CITY INC with the authority to bind OFFABBOT, RING CITY LLC, and RING CITY INC to such an employment agreement.”
The intention at the time was to air 14 installments of the promoter-agnostic live boxing series in 2021. A brief delay came in rolling out the series in the new year before announcing a three-fight block in March, all of which aired live from Puerto Rico. The trio of events were part of six planned shows prior to the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics—with the quadrennial games consuming every NBC platform during a three-week summer stretch—before coming back with up to eight shows to round out the year. From there, the series was to serve among several projects to migrate to Peacock streaming platform from NBCSN upon the network’s shutdown at year’s end.
Ring City never made it out of April, only airing four shows on the year. Trouble was clearly on the horizon, with far more damage to come.
According to the complaint, Ortega was paid in full for services rendered in January and February. He received monthly payments on March 1 for January and March 24 for February. No payment was provided for his work in March and April—the only two months the series actually aired in 2021—which would serve as the starting point for a lengthy battle with the defendants to recuperate the balance of his guaranteed annual salary.
Ortega continued to work with Ring City, who still produced content external to actual fight night events. By June 1, Ring City was three months behind on payments for Ortega’s work provided to the series, before wiring a payment of $8,333.33 on June 18, 2021 for services provided last March. Another full payment was issued on June 24 for his services last April.
It was the last payment that Ortega would receive until last October 1, according to the complaint. He was then paid on that date to satisfy his agreement for May. The defendants only offered a partial payment of $4,000 on November 12 for his services in June and the same amount on December 1 also applied to the remaining June balance.
Ortega was then paid another $4,000 last Christmas Eve to satisfy the remaining $333.33 for June and the rest applied to July services. Court records show that Ortega continued to honor the terms of his agreement with the series through December 31, despite still being owed $46,333.35 at the time of his employment termination per the term of the parties’ agreement.
The new year provided similar results, with only trickles of payments offered on four separate dates. By April 15, Ortega was paid $16,500 through four separate payments, satisfying services rendered for last July and August and partially satisfying his work for last September. He was still owed $29,833.35 on April 16, with the subsequent stalling efforts leading to his taking proper legal action.
This would lead to the most damning claim, the accusation of Offabbot forging Ortega’s signature on a Confidentiality Agreement, which the defendant alleged was part of a settlement agreement reached between parties.
Ortega—through attorney Matt Brown—reached out to Frank Samuel on behalf of Offabbot Sports and Ring City USA on June 3, notifying the defendants of their agreement breach. The letter included a Demand for Payment totaling $30,385.49—including $552.14 incurred in additional costs—by end of business day June 17 “or Ortega will seek to collect this amount owed through an official action with the California Labor Commissioner or in California state court. Failure to make the payment of the remainder by the above date will be seen as an indication that Ring City does not seek to pay Ortega for the amount agreed to, and Ortega will take appropriate action to protect his rights.”
The two sides reached a Settlement Agreement in principle on June 24, with a draft settlement submitted on June 30. The draft was accompanied by a Confidentiality Agreement, which Ortega rejected. The defendants then “insisted that further confidentiality language be added to the settlement agreement” according to the complaint.
Ortega’s attorneys provided the court with a copy of what appears to be a forged document with his signature, which the plaintiff claims was lifted from his provided W-9 form. Ortega was unaware of the defendant’s actions at the time of entering a settlement agreement of $24,999.99 on July 22, to have been distributed in split payments. The first half—$12,500—was immediately due upon execution of said agreement.
July 22 came and went without payment issued, prompting Ortega’s attorney to contact the defendant’s counsel on July 25 over the delinquency. The defendants then issued three separate payments at two different times on the day—amounts of $6,250 and $4,000 paid through two separate PayPal transfers at 12:38 p.m. Pacific Time, and then the remaining. $3,250 at 3:02 p.m. Pacific via wire transfer to Ortega’s counsel’s trust account.
The remaining $12,499 was to have been paid within ten days of the settlement agreement, or August 1. After two failed attempts to contact the defendants, Ortega’s counsel submitted a Notice of Breach and Demand To Cure letter via e-mail on August 2. A follow-up amended Notice of Breach was submitted a few hours later, demanding full compensation by August 3 at 12:00 p.m. Pacific “or Plaintiff would rescind the agreement due to Defendants’ breach of the Settlement Agreement for a failure of consideration.”
The defendants responded to the amended Notice of Breach, informing counsel that they would not pay the remaining balance due to Ortega’s alleged confidentiality breach. The Confidentiality Agreement was then made available, showing Ortega’s signature to which he vehemently denied its validity.
The act resulted in a Rescission Letter being issued, terminating the previous Settlement Agreement and with Ortega now seeking the full remaining balance owed in addition to penalties incurred.
According to the complaint, Ortega “demands a trial by jury on all issues so triable.”
It’s a horrific end to a once promising series, though far from the only legal action taken at this time or expected to come. The Ring City USA launch was met with legal action by New Jersey-based promoter Greg Cohen, who filed an eleven-count, $50,000,000 lawsuit against all involved parties in October 2020, roughly one month prior to the inaugural show.
Cohen claimed ownership of the series concept, first introduced in May 2018 to Offabbot and Samuel. Cohen alleged that said parties moved forward without him for which he sought $50,000,000 in collective damages. The case was eventually settled out of court before being dismissed with prejudice on January 27.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox