by Fox Doucette
(author’s note: I know I said I was doing a May-Pac parody with Rocky Marciano and Ezzard Charles as the players in the tale—trouble was, the jokes, which were film noir inspired, just weren’t working, and the fight action itself…well, I’ve done that twice before. So, on short notice, you get a much shorter and less historical edition of this column—on the bright side, it’s a change of pace.)
Sports Illustrated reported yesterday that Al Haymon is officially under legal fire for what many have accused him of for years, namely shamelessly flouting the Muhammad Ali Act, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and even California’s Unfair Competition Act in the course of basically trying to become for boxing what Dana White is for mixed martial arts.
The key point here is that when Dana White does it, it’s legal—MMA wasn’t around (or, more to the point, it was barely in its infancy as a budding major sport) when the Ali Act passed, and many state laws along the same lines explicitly use the words “boxing” and “boxer” to describe the sport and its participants, a legal narrow ground that is great for regulating the sweet science but a loophole through which White has been able to drive a truck. Bear this in mind as you read about Haymon; he’s working in a regulated, federally defined environment here.
Long story short, a UFC-style boxing league, by definition, cannot be run by one man; it’s entirely possible it can’t even be run by a corporate shell (which, ultimately, is what Haymon Boxing is, nothing but a useful legal fiction to shield Al Haymon from financial ruin in case the enterprise falls on its ass.) Oscar De La Hoya is alleging, and not without merit, that Premier Boxing Champions is trying to act as manager, promoter, and matchmaker—functions strictly separated by the Ali Act and the California law as well. (Whether this is an unfair monopoly depends on whether you believe that the 150 boxers or so out of tens of thousands of men and women plying the fight game’s trade counts as a “monopoly”, which seems to your columnist an awfully big leap of logic, so let’s stick to the Ali Act implications here.)
We begin our story with…
November 24, 2015: California judge issues injunction against Haymon Boxing; PBC Is No More
In a decision right before Thanksgiving, Al Haymon was left looking like the turkey as a California court ruled against him; they had hitherto refused to issue the temporary restraining order that Oscar De La Hoya was looking for, but all that meant was that there was more money in revenue from previous PBC events throughout the summer and fall that had to be counted among the spoils of war to be turned over to what had turned into a multi-party suit against Haymon; even Bob Arum, a sworn foe of Golden Boy, had joined the fray, as had Main Events, Gary Shaw, Goossen Tutor, Joe DeGuardia…it was like the League Of Extraordinary Grifters in some kind of film noir where the bad guys are supposed to win.
Even the judge, speaking to the press after the ruling, expressed his belief that if something of this magnitude could get that many people who otherwise wanted each other’s blood on the same side, that was the smoke that foretold the raging inferno just over the next ridge.
Perhaps that’s not the right metaphor. This was a couple of ticks of a Geiger counter telling someone that they were about to happen upon ground zero of the Trinity test in 1945. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and where there’s tick-tick-tickity, someone just got their ass nuked to hell.
December, 2015: Everyone And Their Sister Left With No Boxing As PBC Disbands
Sure, Haymon tried to mend fences with his broadcast partners, but either nobody at NBC, ESPN, CBS, Spike TV, and the Hallmark Channel believed that the injunction would be lifted or the whole lot of them just wanted to wash their hands of boxing once again knowing that the legal uncertainty would leave them stuck for actual boxing programming. TruTV and Fox Sports 1 made out a little better, since their events were put on by Top Rank and Golden Boy, respectively, and the TruTV deal came with the even nicer subtext that Turner Sports could move the events to TNT and cross-promote them during NBA broadcasts (to say nothing of having sports programming during basketball’s offseason or in the event of another NBA lockout.)
ESPN, for its part, quietly bought up some events to keep Teddy Atlas busy, a Klitschko fight here, a minor title bout that HBO and Showtime (each with their own programming which was doing just fine without Al Haymon around) passed up there…but the return to weekly boxing programming? That would have to wait until it could be done without having to resort to putting a bunch of slapdash cards together on short notice. Enough folks were watching basketball on ESPN2 for now.
February 5, 2016: Waddell and Reed Cuts Its Losses, Breaks Ties With Haymon Boxing
It took a big investment firm to bankroll the time buys, especially on the major networks—indeed, the word was that the investors had raised a nine-figure war chest. But with their own role in the still-pending lawsuit to get reparations out of Haymon for the bomb he’d thrown into the old model sitting on their books and their own internal auditors beginning to question the management about whether anyone had properly assessed the probability of legal issues (there’s a lot to geek out on here for the accounting-minded, but your columnist is a sportswriter, not an accountant), a lot of guys who suddenly found their asses on the line decided that a sunk cost and a lesson learned was better than doubling down on risk and finding themselves with the one thing that strikes fear into even the rich and powerful.
See, if the failure to assess the risk of a transaction was found to be a result of doing something less than due diligence, if the appearance of impropriety called into question whether the entire enterprise had been the results of cooked books and understated liability, a little piece of US law called the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (otherwise known as “the Enron reforms”) could land them all in the slammer. And with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren doing their level best to push friend-of-the-corporations Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries? The executives wanted out…and they even went so far as to issue earnings advice to Wall Street.
When your own guys are sacrificing the stock price in the name of keeping their heads? That’s the tick-tick-tickity of a whole different nuclear winter.
May 5, 2016: Al Haymon Files For Bankruptcy, Haymon Boxing Disbanded
Mind you, Haymon isn’t broke in this scenario. Think Donald Trump, not the poor sap who lands on Boardwalk with the hotel in a game of Monopoly on three straight trips around the board. Still, Al Haymon knew which way the wind was blowing; his big gamble that he’d be able to corner the boxing market without riling up the powers that be—let nobody forget that the fight game is less about business in the sense that would be understandable to an MBA student and more about “business” that would be familiar to guys named Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky and Al Capone. Haymon went back to music promotion; enough of his fortune had been shielded from his creditors that he landed on his feet just fine in a much more legitimate business.
Speaking of legitimacy, it’s not like boxing went anywhere. One thing the networks learned from the whole PBC experiment was that yes, boxing does work as a mass-market sport, even in 2016, if you market it properly. The fight game, with a little help from Main Events and Golden Boy and Top Rank and even Mayweather Promotions, stayed on the major networks, and plans were even made to cross-pollinate some events between NBC’s stable and the guys on CBS and…
January 6, 2017: Hammerin’ Hank Lundy KO8 John Molina, ESPN2 Friday Night Fights
…the return of a fight series that had been sacrificed on the altar of Premier Boxing Champions a year and a half before.
Even the WBC, WBA, IBF, and WBO saw the opportunities here, and boxing, back up to its old tricks, created championship pipelines that had a funny way of funneling a single network’s stable of guys through the ranks of one alphabet club.
The strange thing? Boxing as a whole benefited, as fighters started using those ranking pipelines as an excuse to go network-agnostic, and HBO and Showtime picked up the world championship bouts one after the other. The fans loved it—there was plenty of incentive to risk guys across networks because if one guy got cut down, like the arm of the hydra, another guy who’d been recently featured could rise to take his place.
The promoters loved it, because it also meant quicker turnaround on the deadweight—they knew a lot faster whether a fighter had a shot at the big money fights, and if he didn’t but he was just a great TV guy, they knew they could get those fighters televised fight dates. Fans loved that too. If a guy has every incentive to be an action guy, that means more action fights, and that means better boxing where arguments about the Fight of the Year were like a Vegas casino buffet.
Al Haymon may be hoist upon his own legal petard, his Premier Boxing Champions reduced to the ash heap of history…but the effect his series has had by its mere existence? That’s not such a bad What If outcome.
NEXT WEEK: Back to historical fiction. Promise. Thanks for indulging a writer on a deadline.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune and writes the weekly What If alternate-history series for this publication. Fan mail, hate mail, and Tenacious D’s “Master Exploder” (“me and Kyle wrote this song in five minutes backstage”) can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.