Sunday, January 3, 2010

Lack of Vision Hinders the Sport

Tex Rickard was a visionary.

He was most probably the best promoter in boxing’s storied history and he lived by a lone philosophy, “Give the people what they want, the way they want it, and not the way you think best.”

If Bob Arum would have had his way, boxing fans would have been treated to a Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. mega-fight at Jerry Jones’ Cowboys Stadium on March 13.

Bob Arum, you see, has vision.

But Arum, and the sport in which he operates, is now an every man for himself environment. As 2010 dawns, boxing has a myriad of competing self interests which means putting together a big fight also means appeasing every single group. Every whim, every desire, every nagging line of every contract has to be agreed to by every party - or there is no fight.

Boxing had a magnificent opportunity to eclipse the sporting world and to put itself on the front pages of newspapers and be the headline of sportscasts round the globe with a 2010 Pacquiao - Mayweather bout. But negotiations imploded because of unreasonable contractual demands by the fighters and those that call the shots for them.

Because of single-minded wants - the entire sport suffers.

There is plenty of blame and finger-pointing to go around in what has become the latest fiasco in the sport. What was going to be the most lucrative fight in boxing history looks now as though it may never happen. Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, who attempted to negotiate the Pacquiao fight on behalf of Mayweather, is pointing the finger of blame at Arum - and Arum is pointing his finger right back at Schaefer and Mayweather’s quasi-manager, the elusive Al Haymon.

Manny Pacquiao will say the reason for the non-happening of the fight is because of unreasonable demands made by Mayweather regarding Olympic style drug testing. Mayweather will say he believes Pacquiao is a steroid user and the only way he has been able to win pieces of titles in seven weight divisions is because of illegal activities.

So, the only tangible outcome of the negotiations to pit the two best fighters in the world against one another has been a lawsuit filed by Pacquiao against Mayweather and his minions for defamation.

Bob Arum makes his feelings known for his favorite fighter, Manny Pacquiao.

Whatever the case, and whoever is to blame for the disintegration of one of the biggest fights in boxing history not happening, the real reason is because of selfishness. It is this same selfishness that is destroying the sport and relegating it to the same popularity as horse racing and women’s professional golf. It is also alienating those who purchase pay-per-views and buy tickets to live events.

When boxing fans think back and remember the storied history of the sport they think of Tex Rickard, a visionary promoter, who pitted Jack Johnson against Jim Jeffries in a specially constructed stadium on July 4, 1910 in Reno, Nevada. They think of Jack Dempsey vs. Georges Carpentier, also at a specially constructed stadium at Boyle’s Thirty Acres in Jersey City, New Jersey on July 2, 1921. That bout was also promoted by Rickard and put together by Dempsey’s manager Doc Kearns.

Those promoters and manager were visionaries. They saw that putting together these huge fights, with huge implications, meant more to the people and the world than it did to themselves. These men saw the vision of what it would mean to the sport and to the future of the sport to seat 100,000 people to see Dempsey (a draft dodger) meet Carpentier (a French war hero) in a bout for what was once the greatest prize in all of sports - the heavyweight championship of the world.

But in this day and age of television contracts, casino site fees and drug tests, those that call the shots in the sport can’t see any further ahead than the next payday. They cannot see the sense in doing something for the greater good or sacrificing a few dollars here or there to put their best foot forward.

The talent and the manager that puts together his deals. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Richard Schaefer share some information.

Most of the folks that profess to run the sport of boxing these days are nothing more than managers. They simply negotiate and sign contracts, put together television deals and package fights. There is no real promoting that takes place, save for a few television commercials, a plethora of e-mails sent by hired publicists, and a few contrived press conferences. Then a fight tales place at some antiseptic Las Vegas casino - a thousand miles from where the fighter may have a legitimate following.

These same people are unable to separate business from personal feelings. They negotiate via the Internet and release inflammatory statements through press releases that further aggravate sensitive negotiations. These amateurs allow personal feelings and beliefs to overtake sound business decisions.

There is no vision.

When fans think back to boxing history they think of Robinson vs. Maxim at Yankee Stadium, Ali vs. Foreman in Zaire, Ali vs. Frazier in Manila, Pryor vs. Arguello in the Orange Bowl, Ali vs. Spinks II and Leonard vs., Duran II in the Superdome and Tyson vs. Douglas in Tokyo. But in this day and age, short-sighted fighters, managers and promoters can think only of Las Vegas and the MGM Grand. It’s become a tired business model in a once electric, but now short-circuited town.

Don King has been practically frozen out of the game by the people in boxing that lack vision. King promoted the biggest fights in boxing history in places like Kingston, Jamaica, Caracas, Venezuela, Kinshasa, Zaire, and Manila, the Philippines because he had vision. King saw the big picture, he liked to put together colossal events and he recognized that exotic locales and eclectic environments made the fights even larger and more significant events. But now he can’t get one of his fighters a fight on HBO or Showtime.

Don King has been putting together the biggest events in boxing history for nearly 40 years.

King had vision. He is perhaps one of the greatest salesmen the world has ever known. He could bring disparate groups together, finagle and finesse his way around roadblocks in negotiations and sell the unknown to those who dealt only in certainties.

It is safe to say that men like Rickard, King and even Arum were and are visionaries. They see potential and go there. They see the pitch and swing for the fences. They see the future in their sights and make plans now to shoot for it.

But sadly, the sport of boxing is now largely controlled by nothing more than managers that can’t see much further than the clock on the wall or the line of a contract they have on their desk. Their short-sightedness is ruining boxing and driving the sport out of business.

When negotiations for the Pacquiao vs. Mayweather fight began several weeks ago there seemed to be a sense that something big was going to happen and that boxing was going to really get back to its rightful place on center stage. There was talk of constructing a 30,000 seat stadium in Las Vegas. The buzz was that the fight could happen in Texas, Los Angeles, New Orleans or Atlanta. There was talk of 3 million pay-per-view buys and each fighter collecting a paycheck of $40 million. Boxing fans were bathing in the glow of enthusiasm.

But now, all that is left - is nothing.

That’s what’s called a lack of vision.

January 2010