Last Thursday, in Los Angeles, Golden Boy Promotions’ $300 million lawsuit against Al Haymon and Haymon Sports, LLC was dismissed by a federal judge.
Two days earlier, in Pasadena, Golden Boy Promotions founder, Oscar De La Hoya, was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol and charged with a DUI after failing a series of field sobriety tests.
The fact that the two events above may be tied together in some way should not come as a surprise to anyone who follows boxing.
The 43-year-old former six-division world champ De La Hoya, who has had two stints in rehab for drug and alcohol abuse since retiring from boxing in 2008, has been seemingly dead set on crashing his multimillion dollar promotional company into the side of any mountain that would have him.
In 2014, the ex-fighter emerged from a cocaine and booze haze to find that most of the fighters his company had been promoting were not actually under contract to him and, instead, were aligned with advisor Al Haymon and coup-minded long-time partner and Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer.
Months earlier, and just eight days into De La Hoya’s September 2013 stint in rehab, Haymon, with the aid of Schaefer and through De La Hoya confidante, attorney Robert Shapiro, had presented the “Golden Boy” with a $100 million offer to sell the company. A still-struggling De La Hoya agreed to the deal at first, but then, after regaining his bearings post-rehab, refused to officially follow through.
Nastiness ensued with De La Hoya and Haymon eventually settling a lawsuit that lead to Golden Boy losing the right to promote most of their high profile fighters, among them Deontay Wilder, Danny Garcia, and Keith Thurman. De la Hoya and Schaefer would also part ways in an agreement shrouded by veils of secrecy.
What followed was nearly two years of a plucky and reenergized De La Hoya working to rebuild after the mass exodus of talent with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and semi-retired light heavyweight titlist Bernard Hopkins, who owns a small piece of Golden Boy, as the only real money earners in his stable.
As time passed, though, De La Hoya became increasingly less plucky and, in recent weeks, red flags were waved as he appeared in several videos apparently intoxicated and slurring his words. The DUI arrest on Tuesday was not a shock to anyone paying attention.
It’s also not a shock that De La Hoya’s addiction issues may have once again sabotaged his own company by dealing a deathblow to his big money lawsuit against Haymon Sports.
To be clear, the antitrust lawsuit filed by Golden Boy against Al Haymon and his company always stood on tenuous ground. Claims that Haymon moved to create a boxing monopoly seemed to be, at best, little more than angry innuendo from a business rival. And invoking the Ali Act in the same lawsuit reeked of desperation and meant nothing in the face of a defendant who clearly was able to dot all his I’s and cross all his t’s in maintaining the appearance of propriety.
An identical lawsuit filed by Top Rank against Haymon was settled last year out of court, presumably, because Top Rank owner Bob Arum recognized the folly of going forward with an ultimately baseless legal action. For Arum, a shrewd businessman and veteran in the game, the threat of a lawsuit was likely more important than the actual lawsuit. However, a less savvy and leader-less crew at Golden Boy just ploughed ahead until the very predictable end.
Although it may have been doomed to failure, anyway, Golden Boy’s flawed lawsuit got an irrevocable death sentence just as it started working its way through the system. De La Hoya’s company, under the guidance of new president Eric Gomez and suffering from their struggling figurehead’s lack of guidance, put the final nails in its coffin by clearly demonstrating that the nine-figure legal action was not worth its weight in ink.
Earlier in January, Golden Boy made a deal for their fighter, Saul Alvarez, to face Haymon client Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in a high profile pay-per-view bout on May 6. Days later, and just one week before U.S. District Judge John F. Walter was set to rule on Haymon’s plea to dismiss the case, Golden Boy issued a press release to announce a multi-year, cross-platform TV deal with ESPN, a cable network also airing Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions cards, to televise contests featuring their fighters. Both business deals served to drive home the fact that Haymon’s “monopoly” wasn’t much of a monopoly at all.
In a dismissive 24-page decision Judge Walters highlighted Golden Boy’s history of working with Haymon-contracted fighters:
“Since January 1, 2015, at least three fights have taken place involving Haymon managed boxers and boxers promoted by Golden Boy; including (1) the Siverne-Wilder fight on January 17, 2015; (2) the Alvarez-Khan fight on May 7, 2016; and (3) the Castellanos-Escandon fight in March 2016.4 The Alvarez-Khan fight was Golden Boy’s most lucrative fight of 2016….The Court recently became aware from newspaper articles that another fight between a Haymon-advised boxer and a Golden Boy-promoted boxer was announced – Canelo Alvarez v. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., scheduled for May 6, 2017. This fight is being touted, and will undoubtedly will be promoted [sic], as the “biggest all-Mexican fight in boxing history.”
The judge also made mention of Golden Boy’s ESPN deal to reject the notion of Haymon working to create a monopoly on TV air time, also noting that Haymon’s exclusivity deals with certain networks had been waved as part of his settlement with Top Rank the previous year.
Walters pointed out that, although Golden Boy claimed that Haymon engaged in unfair exclusionary business practices by forcing fighters to work with hand-picked “sham” promoters, the plaintiff promotional company had never even petitioned Haymon to promote any of his fighters’ cards. As Bloody Elbow.com’s analytics and business writer Paul Gift wrote in his analysis of the dismissal: “It’s hard to claim Haymon won’t let his fighters work with you when you haven’t even submitted any proposals to work together.”
All in all, the Golden Boy lawsuit was appallingly pointless and poorly-prepared. And, by carrying on with the folly of legal action for as long as they did, Golden Boy opened themselves to public revelations a promotional company shouldn’t want on public record (such as internal emails between a boxing writer and a Golden Boy publicist that used racist language to describe Haymon or the fact that over 90% of the fighters on their roster are money losers).
In short, this failed lawsuit tells the tale of a company with deeply flawed high-level management. And, at the top of that deeply-flawed high-level management is Oscar De La Hoya, a great fighter and earnest ambassador for his sport, but someone who lacks either the discipline or business acumen to stay alive in the deep waters of the business without the aid of someone able to pull most of the weight. Golden Boy’s most profitable years featured former CEO Richard Schaefer making the deals and the Golden Boy of 2017 is, without much exaggeration at all, almost entirely dependent on Saul Alvarez and his drawing power to keep them in the black. De La Hoya’s addiction issues could be seen as a major driving factor behind his company’s lack of sound judgment in many areas.
Bob Arum, who once referred to De La Hoya as a “dummy, ” doubted the future success of a Golden Boy Promotions with Oscar at the helm, saying this to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 2011 about his former client: “Oscar is one of the stupidest guys I’ve ever met…Forget just ‘not smart.’ He’s not just even average.”
“Stupid” is a rough word and one that probably doesn’t accurately represent Oscar De La Hoya and the management of his business. “Fatally flawed” may be a more accurate term when describing the ex-fighter’s fitness in running a major company at this point in his life.
Regardless of the description one chooses to use, it’s quite clear that whatever Golden Boy touches right now may be doomed to failure until the Golden Boy can get a real grip on his life.