Monday, January 26, 2009

The Sport's Greatest Rivalry Going...

by Jeff Pryor

Perhaps the greatest rivalry in boxing right now has created explosive action in the ring, and their battles have spilled from the squared circle, to boardrooms, to websites and courtrooms. Natural rivals, Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions, have partnered up to pit many of their big names against one another over the last year or two. When these two promotional powerhouses square off it seems like more than the fighters whose reputations are on the line. As of late Golden Boy has delivered a few crushing blows to the crown jewels of Bob Arum's promotional stable and perhaps solidified themselves as the power broker promotional firm in the sport.

ink about this, what if the CEO's of fortune 500 companies literally fought each other to decide who was going to control the industries they were in and who would be making the most money. For instance, Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates throw down for 12 rounds to decide whether Microsoft or Apple will ultimately snatch up your dollar? Although Bob Arum isn't across the ring from them, this is essentially what Hopkins, Delahoya, and Mosley are doing when they sign up for a mega-fight against other promotional entities fighters; taking the business side of the sport and blurring the lines. Golden Boy promotions and it's fighting partners of the organization are blazing new territory in all of sports and dare I say it... the world, or the world of commerce at least.

In the wake of De La Hoya's purported final year as a boxer, the new face of the sport was to be Youngstown native, Kelly Pavlik, who last October looked to add an all timer's name to his KO list when he met up with Bernard Hopkins in Atlantic City as a heavy favorite. With "The Executioner's" unexpected domination of the promising champ, one of Arum's marquee pugilists, not only delivered Pavlik his first loss, but did so in such a devastatingly lopsided fashion that questions have surfaced over whether or not Pavlik is even the premiere middleweight in the world, let alone a possible torchbearer for sport.

The coverage that Pavlik enjoyed in such a hallowed ground as Sports Illustrated's pages will likely be much more difficult to come by in the foreseeable future as "The Ghost" will need to establish that rumors of his death were much exaggerated.

This past Saturday another Golden Boy geriatric partner was seen by Top Rank as fodder for one of their meal ticket fighters, burgeoning Mexican superstar Antonio Margarito, flying high off his demolition of Miguel Cotto. Once again, a seemingly past his prime Golden Boy underdog emerged to dominate and in this case dispatch his Top Rank opponent in a performance of the year exhibition. Arum must have sat with utter horror and despair as he witnessed, with the other 20,000 plus fight fans, the majority of which had latched onto the Margarito steamroller, the brutal drubbing and experienced deja vu hearkening back to October. The brutal knockout delivered, was both sportingly dynamic and economically devastating, in the sense that not only did it elevate Mosley within the sports rankings, but hit Arum in the pockets, as he saw the prospect of a bona fide Mexican draw crumble almost as quickly as it had been built just the previous July.

Ordinarily, a fight fan could be expected to forgive such a loss, when the man who got beaten went down in true warrior style as did Margarito. However the issue of illegal hand wraps, in which it must be said all the facts have yet to come to the fore on, may just sour the good will that "The Tijuana Tornado" built up over his long toiling career to superstardom and his explosion into the big time against Cotto.

So in the span of a little more than half a year, Arum's premium talent, Miguel Cotto, fell by way of brutal beating to Margarito, while a rematch between the two seemed unlikely to provide a different outcome. Now a rematch for Margarito against Mosley seems even more unlikely of acquiring a different finish, and Arum is left to pit his two damaged commodities against each other, devaluing one even further at the expense of another. There is the possibility that Cotto seeks redemption not through Margarito, but through Margarito's conquerer, a more winnable rematch against Mosley, who he out pointed a little more than a year ago, though that may be too close to admitting defeat for the proud Puerto Rican. Margarito, pending the outcome of this hand wrap fiasco, may find himself once again tossed to the side while others speed past him on the way to bigger and better fights.

Outside the ring, prized prospect Victor Ortiz recently finagled his way out of his contract with Top Rank to sign with Golden Boy. The final line in this story appears yet to be written and some sort of settlement may be nigh, but the direction appears to have Ortiz staying with Golden Boy while Top Rank gets a monetary settlement. Not a total loss for Top Rank, but depending on what the pay out is, it may pale in the face of what Golden Boy ultimately hopes Ortiz will infuse into their company in the future; a young superstar and box office behemoth to carry on the Golden Boy throne.

Arum's lone victory over Golden Boy Promotions of late, was ironically over the Golden Boy himself when Manny Pacquiao unexpectedly blew out Oscar De La Hoya in December. Paquiao is undoubtedly not only Arum's current superstar de jour, but perhaps the true heir to the sports "most valuable" throne. A similar situation to Ortiz, Golden Boy once tried to snatch Pacquiao from Top Rank, but ultimately only succeeded in gaining a small portion of his promotional rights. Where would Top Rank now find themselves if not for that court victory?

To see the impact of these recent events one need look no further then February 21st, on which Arum has planned a show with Cotto and Pavlik fighting not on the big HBO main stage, against marquee opposition, with huge paydays as the two fighters had grown accustomed to, but against Michael Jennings and Marco Antonio Rubio, respectively, two virtual unknowns, on a split site independent pay per view show. With the retirement of Erik Morales, the exodus of Jose Luis Castillo, and the fall of Pavlik, Margarito and Cotto, in the next few years, as Pacquiao goes so goes Top Rank.

On the opposite side of the scale, Golden Boy Promotions has taken the business of boxing by force, with smart, if unpopular, business savvy outside the ring and tactical brutality between the ropes, ironically leaving Bob Arum and Co. to complain about HBO's favoritism to Golden Boy these days, a favoritism Top Rank had enjoyed for years, and which at that time Arum had no problem with.

In fairness, one must ask why boxers are clamoring to tie themselves to Golden Boy. It would seem all these prizefighters are following the infamous advice once given in a dimly lit parking ramp, "Follow the money..."

For better or worse, it appears that boxing is going to be the guinea pig for a radical idea; athletes controlling their own sporting destinies. Imagine Kobe as owner of the Lakers, or Tom Brady as owner of the Patriots. Like a Director given total control of his film, the results may vary wildly, but that control is what everyone, in any endeavor craves.

In business suits by day, and gladiator garb by night, Golden Boy promotions gives new meaning to the term high stakes corporate warfare. There is something ironic in old fighters, banning together to take out old promoters, and bring something new to boxing... the oldest sport there is.

- e-mail Jeff Pryor


Lee Payton said...

fantastic read, Jeff. very well done.

it seems like promoters are getting the picture, and over the last few years, the fans have benefited. with all the arguing and posturing these firms do through the press, they know they have to work together to make the events that fans and the TV networks care about.

Michael Nelson said...

Great read