ARE THE DAYS OF A PROMOTER NUMBERED?
Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the all powerful promoters in Boxing? Ever since Tex Rickard coaxed Jim Jeffries out of retirement to fight Jack Johnson in 1910, promoters have been an ever present fixture in the ring, proudly standing shoulder to shoulder with their prize fighters.
While Rickard’s fighter ultimately lost the so-called Fight of the Century, he went on to create the boxing’s first million dollar fight when he promoted Jack Dempsey’s 1921 title defence against Georges Carpentier. Rickard’s real stroke of genius however was arranging for the fight to be broadcast on the radio to the masses, taking the fight attendance from the few hundred that could sit ringside to the tens of thousands eagerly sitting next to their wireless. And so the boxing promoter was born.
The 1970s is when the boxing promoters really came of age however, as the legendary figures of Bob Arum and Don King entered the fray. These showmen took boxing from the dark, smoke filled halls to the stadiums and arenas. Don King gave us the classic heavyweight showdowns of the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila, but it was Bob Arum, taking his lead from Rickard, that saw the future when in 1981 he teamed up with Viacom in Nashville to show the Welterweight fight between Tommy Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard. The world’s first pay-per-view fight.
With this new found tool at their disposal the promoters were able to sell their fights to millions all over the world, raking in millions of dollars in the process. This ability also shifted the power in the boxing world away from the fighters and very much into the hands of promoters.
For 50 years these men held the keys to the kingdom, and were the only route for any up and coming boxer to progress through the ranks and achieve their dream of a world title fight, and all the riches that entails. But are things beginning to change?
Arguably the best pound for pound fighter in the world right now, Canelo Alvarez has made a paradigm shift which could spell the beginning of the end for the smiling showmen with their hands on the purse strings. Canelo was the first of the top boxers to break with tradition and decide to fight as a free agent, not tied to a specific promoter or a specific television network.
Canelo’s reward for this move was a $365 million, 11 fight deal with DAZN. More importantly, his decision to eliminate a promotor middle man has saved him over $90 million. And very soon others will catch onto this fact. On average boxing promoters take between 20% and 25% of the fighter’s purse. When you also factor in that most managers are also taking 20% you start to see the sense in Canelo’s approach, especially when the net result is the fighter leaving 25% on the table.
These multi-fight, network exclusive deals are only going to continue with the top fighters as they finally place the power back in the hands of the boxers, providing guaranteed pay days, while being beneficial to the networks as it provides them with guaranteed PPV events for their subscribers. The downside is that the promoter’s chunk of the purse is being illuminated perhaps more than it was with a fight by fight basis.
And Canelo isn’t the only one. Just a few weeks ago Top Ranks own four belt undisputed Welterweight champion Teófimo López chose not to accept Bob Arum’s offer for his next mandatory fight, but instead sent the fight to a purse bid so that he received the money he felt he deserved. In response to this move Top Rank have suggest Lopez should consider buying out his contract, an idea that Lopez appears to be keen on, and I’m sure he’s not the only boxer out there asking the same questions.
At present this move to be a free agent is really only one that an established, high calibre fighter can take, which would mean that it’s not all doom and gloom for promoters just yet. But with bigger and bigger deals being made for the top fights it’s very likely that the fighters will rightly start to question why they are forfeiting so much of their hard earned purse to pay for something they could easily arrange with their existing management team. Promoter’s being the showmen they are however, don’t expect them to go down without a fight.