David McWater’s Split-T Management is known as boxing’s answer to Moneyball. As a lifelong baseball fan and researcher, as well as a lover of the Sweet Science, McWater has said that he felt he could combine his passions and capitalize on a market inefficiency. In his words, boxing was the “last frontier of analytics,” and not only was there data to be mined and leveraged, but that since other people weren’t thinking about things as mathematically, there must also be undervalued fighters on the market as well.
As he prepares to headline in a Major League Baseball stadium on Saturday night, it’s difficult to imagine a fighter in modern boxing who has exceeded his perceived value in the public more than McWater’s star client, Teofimo Lopez.
Lopez will headline Triller’s third boxing offering this Saturday on pay-per-view, defending his legitimate lightweight title against George Kambosos. The bout will be staged at LoanDepot Park, the home of the Miami Marlins.
In a stroke of coincidence, McWater has been friends with Marlins General Manager Kim Ng, the first full-time woman to be a general manager of an MLB club, for over 25 years.
“I was an early analytics guy, and it’s kinda funny, when she finally got the Marlins job I sent her an email and I said look, this is awkward for me because I’ve always dreamed of going to work with you no matter what it cost me. But the truth is, I have the greatest fighter in the world who I happen to represent, so my time is more limited. But also, that world is a little bit past me by,” said McWater. “There’s college kids now with proprietary software that’s probably a little bit better than what I have. What’s funny is that back in 2000, when she should have got a (a GM) job, I would have been a real asset to somebody. But in today’s market, I’m not. But that just shows how powerful analytics are.”
McWater has invested his time and brainpower into developing a formula in boxing, where his combination of mathematical implementation and dogged scouting schedule has made him one of the sport’s best talent evaluators. Though the formula itself is proprietary, in essence, it combines a number of historical factors with modern strength of schedule to spit out a likelihood of a given fighter winning a world title, as well as which fighter of yesteryear they are most likely to resemble in terms of accomplishments.
In addition, a background in real estate and negotiation also helped him make Lopez one of the five highest paid 2016 Olympic boxers in terms of their first professional contracts, according to McWater, a sum that has been added to immensely of late.
After defeating Vasyl Lomachenko for the lightweight crown last year, Lopez rocketed to the top of the sport. He collected Fighter of the Year awards near-universally from the boxing press, fielded endorsement offers from major companies and most importantly for his wallet, was immediately sought after by Triller, the newest entity in the major boxing broadcast world. With Lopez mandated to face Kambosos, the bout went to a purse bid, at which Lopez’s promoter Top Rank bid $2,315,000. Its promotional rival Matchroom Boxing even bid on a one-time piece of Lopez at $3,506,000, but it was Triller’s whopping offer of 6,018,000 that won out.
It's likely not a coincidence after a competing entity paid him such a handsome sum and got to claim him for a promotional cycle that this past week, Lopez’s promoter mobilized to sign him to an amended agreement, guaranteeing him higher minimum purses and insisting his next bout would be on ESPN PPV.
Lopez wasn’t always the sought-after entity he ought to have been—at least relative to McWater’s forecast. Despite winning the US Olympic Trials in December of 2015, the US National Team had already decided to select Carlos Balderas due to his triumph in the World Series of Boxing. Lopez went on to the Olympics anyway, representing his parents’ birthplace of Honduras.
According to McWater’s formula, he says, without taking into consideration which promoter he would sign with, “he had a 73 per cent chance of fighting for a world title.”
“That may not sound so crazy, but Top Rank adds 25 to 30 per cent to your odds, gross, not net,” said McWater. “So by the time you sign him to the right promoter, he has a 98 to 103% chance of fighting for a world title. He was a mortal lock. Him and Shakur (Stevenson) were mortal locks the moment they signed with Top Rank. When you take a promoter neutral number like that and put him with the most powerful promoter, it’s off the charts.”
Fifteen fights into his pro career, Lopez proved McWater right, winning a world title in his first attempt by knocking out Richard Commey. But in upsetting Lomachenko, a man then considered by some to be perhaps the best fighter in the world, Lopez began to trend in the direction of proving another one of McWater’s gaudy analytical projections right as well.
“From his seventh pro fight on, Teofimo’s five most similar guys were all Olympic gold medalists. What that system to some degree tells you is what you’ve accomplished, not necessarily a projection tool. What it tells you is that Bruce Trampler and Brad Goodman, the greatest matchmakers in the world, were matching him like an Olympic gold medalist. You can’t get that many points in the system and score that high without being matched like those guys were,” said McWater.
“The two guys who career trajectory-wise are most like him are Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya. When you tell people that, they’re like no, he’s a totally different fighter, but that’s not what we’re talking about. I’m talking about if you did similarities like what Baseball Reference does. If you do a similarity score, the two most similar are Leonard and De La Hoya, and have been for some time now.”
Lopez may have a long ways to go to match the credentials of Leonard and De La Hoya, but the boxing marketplace is treating him as a star in the same way they were treated at this point in their careers. Just sixteen fights into his pro career, a multi-million dollar one-time payday, a fresh contract with a guaranteed additional pay-per-view date and a consensus among the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world—as McWater would assert, the numbers don’t lie.