By Thomas Gerbasi
It’s the semi-calm before the storm and Tom Loeffler is gearing up for a couple weeks that include Saturday’s Superfly 3 show, an ESPN headliner between his fighter - Ruslan Madiev - and Pablo Cesar Cano, and then the September 15 rematch between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez.
So what are the plans for September 16?
“I might be sleeping the whole day on September 16,” he laughs before remembering that there may be some Sunday commitments with Golovkin depending on what happens the night before.
“It really seems to be a non-stop journey,” he said. “There’s such demand for him, not only before the fights but after the fights. Last year, I really thought I would get some time off, and that really wasn’t the case. We launched the Hollywood Fight Nights series, that’s going extremely well. Now we have the biggest fight in boxing on the 15th, Superfly 3 the week before, so this is an extremely busy time for us, but I’d rather be busy than bored.”
After more than 25 years in the fight game, Loeffler has earned a vacation, but once a promoter reaches this level, such things are non-existent. And in the Californian’s case, that’s not just a good thing for him, but for the fighters he works with and the fans he puts shows on for. Simply put, there are no horror stories about Loeffler, making him a unicorn in fight promotion. And such a reputation among his fighters and his peers is something he takes very seriously.
“Those are the relationships I’m really proud of having, where people know that you did your best job for them,” he said. “I pride myself on that. I didn’t necessarily make the most money on every deal, but I can go to sleep at night knowing that I did the right thing by the clients and did my best to put them in the best situation financially and for their career. And that’s the most rewarding thing in what I’ve accomplished in the sport of boxing.
“If there’s a disagreement, I might take the short end of a deal, but I’m always fair, whether I have the champion or the challenger,” Loeffler continues. “I always look at the boxing business as being a round circle. Sometimes you have the champion and you can dictate terms and be overly aggressive or you can be fair, so that when you have a challenger in a similar situation, that promoter will remember that I was the guy who treated them fairly and I would hope they’d treat me the same way in that regard. I look at things from both sides and not just our side.”
Loeffler’s patience was certainly tested in negotiations for the GGG-Canelo rematch, yet once again, cooler heads prevailed and both sides were able to make a deal for the biggest fight of 2018. But before the madness of fight week in Las Vegas next week, there is Superfly 3 at The Forum in Inglewood, and in a lot of ways, this is a more important card for the sport, because the series has proven that if you put together compelling fights between top-level competitors, the fans will always show up. Think about it, the three Superfly cards have featured fighters who aren’t exactly household names, but as soon as the shows were announced, the boxing audience responded.
And making stars out of folks who didn’t fit the traditional mold has always been a specialty of Loeffler, who started out as a manager for the likes of Shane Mosley, Kevin Kelley and Oba Carr.
“The first fighter we signed was Kevin Kelley, who was struggling,” Loeffler recalled. “It seems like we always take on projects. (Laughs) Kevin was a mandatory in three different organizations and he couldn’t get his world championship fight. We finally got him the fight with Goyo Vargas on HBO. He was the first featherweight on HBO since Salvador Sanchez. And the great thing with Kevin was that they matched his fights up with heavyweights – Michael Moorer or Lennox Lewis – and Kevin’s fights were always more exciting than the heavyweights and cost significantly less money, so it was an easy sell to keep Kevin on HBO as the co-feature to these heavyweight fights.”
The success of “The Flushing Flash” on HBO opened a door for Loeffler, who was able to get big fights for Carr, and even though the Detroit standout wasn’t able to capitalize on those opportunities, it wasn’t from lack of trying.
“Oba Carr was probably one of the best boxers that never won a world title,” said Loeffler. “He had three world title shots against probably three of the best welterweights of their era with Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Ike Quartey. You can’t win every fight, but we certainly did the best we could with Oba and got him his biggest payday in his career when he fought Oscar in 1999 at Mandalay Bay.”
Mosley was the jewel of the stable, though, a former amateur star who had talent for days. Unfortunately, talent doesn’t always translate into box office gold, as Loeffler found out early on.
“Shane was a tremendous amateur and a tremendous professional, but, for whatever reason, it was difficult for the local promoters to put him on because he didn’t sell tickets at that time, and it was challenging with the boxing politics,” he said. “No one really wanted to put on a guy who couldn’t sell tickets and they had to overpay the opponent because all the fighters knew how great he was and nobody wanted to fight him. So he didn’t translate to the box office.”
Loeffler wasn’t about to throw in the towel though, and Kelley’s promoter at the time, Cedric Kushner, happened to have IBF lightweight champion Philip Holiday under contract. Loeffler got Mosley a title fight with Holiday that would be aired on HBO’s Boxing After Dark. Mosley got his championship, but he didn’t dazzle on HBO, so it was almost back to the drawing board. But after a knockout win over Manuel Gomez on basic cable, Mosley got back on HBO.
“And the rest is history with Shane,” said Loeffler, who nonetheless saw their business relationship come to an end soon thereafter, a development that he believes didn’t need to happen.
“The biggest disappointment was Shane,” he explains. “We got the world championship fight, we got him on HBO and I think it was three fights after he won the title and his father stepped in and said, ‘We don’t really need you anymore.’ That was a little disappointing because I always had a personal relationship with the fighters and I think there’s a lot of trust there. I have a good relationship with Shane now, but at the time, it was challenging when you have one of the best guys in the sport of boxing and you do everything you’re supposed to do and then they wind up not honoring the agreement you made with them. I think we could have built Shane into an even bigger star than he was.”
It’s the harsh reality of the fight game, but it didn’t deter Loeffler, who moved from manager to promoter after developing a relationship with the Klitschko brothers – Vitali and Wladimir. And while Loeffler’s experience as a manager was unquestioned, when K2 Promotions kicked off with Vitali’s 2004 title fight against Corrie Sanders, he was getting thrown in the deep end of the pool, to say the least.
“A lot of promoters start out at a club level and they start building up and they get to a certain level, entry level in television, then they start going to premium cable television,” he said. “We went straight to HBO World Championship Boxing at Staples Center, one of the premier venues in the world, for the WBC heavyweight championship. So it was a trial by fire. If I didn’t have all the experience as a manager over ten years, it would have been extremely challenging.”
Loeffler pulled it off, and the promotional ball was rolling and picking up speed. And while promoting the Klitschkos was always going to be lucrative, they weren’t going to fight forever.
Enter a young man from Kazakhstan named Gennady Golovkin. GGG could fight at a high level, he knocked people out, and Loeffler’s keen eye knew that he had star potential. All he had to do was convince the premium networks to take a chance on him. And the pitch to HBO and Showtime was short, sweet and to the point.
“Undefeated world champion, he’s from Kazakhstan, he’ll fight anyone, and he doesn’t need a lot of money,” said Loeffler.
So he had them at “he doesn’t need a lot of money,” eh?
“Even with that, it took nine months,” he laughs. “I got blank stares back from them. What do we do with a guy from Kazakhstan? That was unproven territory. We had the success with the Klitschko brothers from Ukraine, but their English was very good and they were heavyweights, which always makes a big difference. With GGG, nobody knew who he was in the United States. But he sells himself. He has such a great smile, a great personality. I almost had to convince people that he was a boxer.”
Golovkin went from unknown to global star. There would be more stars to be made. Cecilia Braekhus, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, Oleksandr Usyk. None typical, but all legit. And the hardcore fans that make the sport go round and round know.
But there’s no time for Loeffler to pat himself on the back. First, it’s not his nature. Second, there are fights to promote, beginning with a card that doesn’t even need promoting. And that’s because Loeffler’s reputation precedes him.
“It’s a great combination of these exciting, smaller weight division fighters coming from all over the world, and the fans have really come to appreciate that for every Superfly show, they know they’re going to get great entertainment and exciting fights,” he said. “And the fighters realize that if you get the opportunity to be on the HBO platform, you’ve got to perform and be in an exciting fight. You don’t always have to win every fight, but you’ve got to perform. And I think that’s what’s made it such a tremendous success with the fans.”