By Terence Dooley
Responding to James DeGale's claim on Friday that he is severing ties with his manager, Frank Warren stated unequivocally that the 2008 Olympic gold medallist has a manager's contract with him that runs until April 14 2013. DeGale issued a brief statement via his solicitors, Blick & Co., on Friday evening apparently signalling the end of the relationship on his side, but Warren's insistence that 'Chunky' remains under contract has since muddied the waters. What, then, are the repercussions and what do they mean for the future of both DeGale and Warren?
Should DeGale have a current promotional deal in place, he cannot walk away from this commitment. Ditto for the managerial contract. The documentation sent to BoxingsScene.com on Friday outlining the length of the contract would seem to limit DeGale's options. Either he sits it out or explores other avenues.
One such avenue is that the lack of a mention of promotional ties in both of Friday’s statements. This indicates that DeGale may currently be a free agent in promotional terms if a contract renegotiation clause was triggered after his EBU super-middleweight title win over Piotr Wilczewski in October, which happens when a boxer fights for a new title, and DeGale failed to agree to a new contract and fight, which happened early last week when DeGale and Warren failed to reach an agreement over DeGale's maiden EBU defence against Cristian Sanavia. DeGale gets to walk away as a free promotional agent if this is the case. What does this mean for his managerial situation?
A manager can contribute to ongoing discussions between a promoter and fighter. Interjecting with objections over the opponent and other aspects of the proposed bout if the manager in question believes that the fight is not a good one for his client. These disputes can create a drag effect, with the three parties failing to reach agreement, fights falling through and time wasted. DeGale's statement, it is safe to assume, may make it difficult for him to work with Warren during future fight negotiations even if he were to find himself free promotionally.
DeGale, therefore, may decide to push on with his decision to jettison Warren as his manager and this in turn will lead to Warren taking legal steps to prevent James from appointing new representation or seeking a temporary injunction to prevent the boxer from fighting.
Indeed, there is a legal precedent for this situation, a landmark case between Warren, Nigel Benn and Ambrose Mendy in 1989 after Benn decided his relationship with his then-manager Warren had soured. Prompting the ‘Dark Destroyer’ to attempt to appoint Mendy in some sort of managerial capacity.
Warren then applied for an ex parte injunction to prevent Benn from boxing or seeking new representation until a legal decision was reached. The court decided that the embargo could not be enforced as boxing is a special, and depreciable, skill and fighters have short careers. Compelling Benn to refrain from practising his trade would have impacted on his ability to earn.
Upon consideration of the ‘special skills’ aspect of Benn’s career, and given that it means the case was not a straight delivery of goods one, the court then ruled that enforcing Benn to stay with Warren and honour his contract would place the fighter in a position where he had to fight for a manager that he felt did not have his best interests at heart. Declaring that, ‘In such a case the court ought not to enforce the performance of the negative obligations if their enforcement will effectively compel the servant to perform his positive obligations under the contract.’ [Weekly Law Reports 853].
Warren V Mendy  became a legal precedent, the practise direction for this type of restriction of trade case. It is likely that the opening stage of any legal battle between Warren and DeGale will echo this case. Warren’s other option? To sue for breach of contract and compensation for loss of earnings incurred by DeGale’s decision to break their union.
It is likely, therefore, that DeGale will walk away from his managerial contract, equally likely that he will be sued for loss of earnings, although the amount of compensation could be limited by last May’s defeat to London rival George Groves as DeGale’s legal team can argue that the loss diminished his status as a world contender. This setback impacts on what Warren would have earned during the remainder of the contract.
The other likely scenario is that DeGale attempts to prove Warren was in breach of his managerial contract because he did not perform his managerial duties. In this scenario the fighter would have to prove that BBBoC guidelines were not adhered to.
Indeed, rumours have swept across Internet forums that DeGale and other fighters are owed money from recent contests. None of the fighters in question have come out and confirmed these allegations, which have come from anonymous Internet forum posters, some of whom could be pushing an agenda.
Still, if there is any truth in these claims, or even if payment for bouts was made later than promised, DeGale will have a strong case for breaking his managerial contract unless Warren, as manager, can prove that he liaised with DeGale’s promoter for full and prompt payment as per BBBoC guideline 9.37 which states that ‘purse monies shall be paid within seven days of the contest taking place.’
There are other rules that state a manager must provide a ‘detailed financial statement to the boxer itemising the distribution of the purse’. Crucially for the managerial contract the manager must ‘immediately’ lodge non-payment of any purse monies with the BBBoC.
However, as stated above, this all depends upon the issue of whether money has been paid and within a certain timescale. If money has not been paid then the onus falls on DeGale’s team to argue that his manager, Warren, had not fulfilled his duties. If Warren, though, shows that he acted in DeGale’s best interests whilst his manager then DeGale will be unable to leave without paying compensation.
In order to be granted a managerial of promotional license an individual has to show in-depth knowledge of the rules, regulations and their own responsibilities. Boxers do not need to display this knowledge and are the ones who sometimes suffer due to this ignorance of the board’s guidelines.
The nature of promotional outfits further complicates the issue. In every company there will be a person, or persons, who hold the requisite BBBoC promotional license. The companies themselves, FWP, Matchroom, Frank Maloney Promotions or Hatton Promotions, are not the ‘promoters’ in the strictest sense of the word, instead acting as agents, the shows themselves fall under an individual’s promotional license – be it Warren, Eddie Hearn etc.
When all is said and done the battle between DeGale and Warren looks destined to go to court. Both sides will try to prove their points and Warren’s management of the former Olympian will decide the outcome. If it has been strong and served the fighters interests then it is likely that DeGale will be allowed to walk but he will have to pay a price. If the courts find that Warren did not act in his fighter’s interests DeGale will come away unscathed.
The long and short of it? DeGale is going to leave Warren and this may benefit both parties. The fighter gets to rejuvenate a career that has lost some of its lustre due to the loss to Groves as well as DeGale’s dismissive and arrogant behaviour during the build up to the contest. Warren will be given the opportunity to get an expensive fighter – DeGale’s take home per fight is alleged to run into six figures – off the books.
The jungle drums are already beating out the demise of Warren. This is somewhat premature given that he recently launched BoxNation, the UK’s only dedicated boxing channel, holds our two current world champions, WBO lightweight titlist Ricky Burns and WBO light-heavyweight champion Nathan Cleverly, has a history of overcoming adversity and has guided fighters back from terrible defeats. Nuclear scientists, when asked to postulate a post-apocalyptic landscape, stated with 92.6% certainty that “Frank Warren will emerge from the dust and put together the first big show in the new world”.
Fighters come and go, Warren is decades in and although certain to lose DeGale’s services the veteran promoter will be there with professional contracts when the 2012 Olympians come through and can point to the massive PR push he put into play when DeGale inked with him in 2008.
As for DeGale, the Games are coming, a gold or two for Team GB and ‘Chunky’ is officially yesterday’s news and will have only his pro career thus far to fall back on. The slender loss to Groves was a setback, DeGale’s attitude and comments in the build up a huge knock to his public image, which is a shame as this writer has always found him an engaging, polite and talkative character. The 25-year-old needs to put some distance between himself and the Groves fight, moving away from Warren, who now handles Groves, may give DeGale the space needed to rebuild and refocus.
Wider repercussions depend on the fighters themselves. Contracts are there to hold people to account; they can also be manipulated and broken on both sides. The very nature of the business of boxing may provide more and more boxers with the tools they need to break both managerial and promotional contracts without losing a huge amount of money, which is not a bad thing all things considered.
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