By Emilio Camacho, Esq. I often hear complaints about boxing. Some of these complaints are superficial but others are especially serious. One of these has troubled me for several years now: Black fighters are not being efficiently promoted in today’s boxing world. In this article I argue that the improper management (or lack of careful management) of Black fighters has hurt the sport and its athletes for years. Let us discuss this in more detail.
There are a number of potential reasons for the ineffective promotion of Black fighters. Some would argue that, compared to Latino fighters such as Saul “el Canelo” Alvarez, talented fighters such as Andre Berto, Chad Dawson, and Tim Bradley (to name a few), are not backed by their own demographic when it comes to PPV and ticket sales. Others would argue that Black support for athletes is spread between more sports including football, basketball, and baseball. An additional group of critics would argue that simply it is not like “it used to be,”—which is usually a reference to the Leonard, Hagler, Hearns’ days in the 1980s—and therefore the lack of support is natural considering that other sports offer athletes such as Lebron James or Adrian Peterson.
We could go on and on coming up with reasons. However, the previous ones are the ones I have continuously heard over and over. Therefore, I would like to elaborate on them.
Regarding the first, there is some truth to the fact that the Latino demographic supports fighters at high rates. There are several examples of this: Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez, Antonio Margarito, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Juan Manuel Marquez, Juan Manuel Lopez, and the list goes on. However, there are also some talented Latino fighters such as Erislandy Lara or Yuriorkis Gamboa who are not necessarily supported by Latinos at these high rates. These numbers usually suggest that fighters of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent tend to come out on top when it comes to generating revenue.
In contrast, talented Black fighters such as Andre Ward, Chad Dawson, Tim Bradley, Bernard Hopkins, Andre Berto, and Paul Williams (before the accident), seldom match the economic power of many of fighters mentioned above. Of this list, Ward is often able to sell out in Oakland but has not generated big PPV sales whereas someone significantly less proven such as Canelo Alvarez or Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is able to exceed the revenue that Ward produces. Hence, there is at least an argument that, for some reason, Black fighters are not making as much money as other fighters in the sport (I will discuss Mayweather below). What is interesting is that this is exactly what the promoter is supposed to do, make money for his or her fighter.
The second argument, that Black fans are spread among several sports and this dilutes support for boxing, is misleading. This is because it assumes that fans will watch either one or two sports but not all. In other words, just because I like basketball does not mean I cannot like boxing. This is bad logic.
The structure of the sports offers a better explanation. Unlike boxing where Mayweather can decide he does not want to fight a hot undefeated prospect like Andre Berto or Paul Williams (a few years ago), the Miami Heat cannot decide it does not want to play against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, or face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the finals for the NBA championship. Instead, in boxing fighters (or promoters) can play business people and make business decisions on match ups rather than face the absolute biggest challenge at a particular point in time (Did anyone say Erislandy Lara v. Canelo Alvarez?). This just simply means that other sports are giving fans better matchups than boxing. In fact, the same arguments have been made about the MMA and how its match-making framework is superior to the one in boxing today. Therefore, irrespective of race or color, fans want quality matchups if they are going to support a sport. In this way, powerful promoters should strive to offer quality matchups to excite the fans about the sport as a whole.
This leads to the third argument: There is less talent. Although there is less Black talent in the heavyweight division because big athletes are choosing other sports (Lebron James or Vernon Davis would have made great heavyweights) this is not true at the lower weight classes. We have fighters like Andre Ward, who mesmerized hardcore fans during the Super Six tournament, with have plenty of talent. I could name more fighters but the point is that talent must be groomed, managed, and promoted. This is why promoters matter more in boxing than most other sports.
For better or worse, promoters rule boxing. This is evident from the fact that the Mayweather v. Pacquiao fight has not been made. Hence, when promoters agree, fights get made; when they do not, the fans lose what they really want to see. This is different than other sports and means that the economic and professional fate of a fighter rests on the decisions that the promoter makes. Returning to the main problem discussed in this article, it is arguable that Black fighters are not being effectively promoted in today’s boxing world.
The power that promoters exert on the sport has caused fighters to take matters into their own hands. Consider Oscar De La Hoya leaving Top Rank to start Golden Boy Promotions and be a “different” type of promoter, by fighters for fighters. Although Golden Boy has become one of the two most powerful boxing promoters, it shares something in common with its rival, Top Rank: neither seems to be able to successfully promote Black fighters.
Like De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather left Top Rank to take matters into his own hands. Since then, he has contracted Golden Boy on a fight-by-fight basis and has maintained his independence as a fighter. In this sense, Mayweather is different as he has managed himself (with the help of a ghost named Al Haymon, a subject for another article). However, his approach was different than that of De La Hoya. Unlike other talented Black fighters, Mayweather has become one of boxing’s biggest starts, only rivaled by Manny Pacquiao. He is very popular and makes a lot of money. Nevertheless, he is the exception rather than the rule.
This leads me to The Money Team “TMT” Promotions. Recently, rapper and businessman, 50 Cent, made headlines when it was announced that he has officially become a business promoter and founder of TMT promotions. Within weeks, TMT promotions signed Yuriorkis Gamboa, Andre Dirrell, Celestino Caballero, Andre Berto, Billy Dib, and Zab Judah. The latest pursuit is world champ, Miguel Cotto, though sources say he has turned down TMT’s offer and decided to adopt the Mayweather “going solo” model. It’s not entirely clear what Mayweather’s role in TMT promotions will be and whether he will also sign a contract with TMT as a fighter or become a partner like De La Hoya in Golden Boy.
Here, I argue that the improper management (or lack of careful management) of Black fighters hurts the sport and its athletes. Therefore, there are three relevant questions for my readers: will TMT be able to make a difference in boxing where others have underachieved? Is it unreasonable to expect TMT to do better managing Black fighters than other current promoters? Are we unreasonably placing the responsibility to promote Black fighters on a Black-owned company? After all, not all economically successful Latino fighters are promoted by Mexican-owned promotion companies. I find myself puzzled by these questions (I welcome your comments).