For those who don’t know, ESPN finally decided to part ways with their main boxing guy Dan Rafael after 15 years– and it’s about damn time.
Per ESPN media statement:
“Dan Rafael has been an important part of our boxing coverage for almost two decades…We thank him for the many contributions he made to the coverage of the sport during that time. We wish him success in his next chapter.”
What’s truly amazing is that a guy working for the biggest sports media outlet in the world, with a reported six-figure income at his disposal and every contact in the sport at his fingertips, went 15 long years without ever actually breaking a real, meaningful news story.
All we got from Rafael was re-written press releases (passed off as his own work), bland fight reports, and lots and lots of attitude to those in the industry he felt were beneath him.
But maybe Rafael got where he got precisely BECAUSE he wasn’t ever going to use the bully pulpit available to him. Things DO work like that in boxing media, you know.
As this writer posted elsewhere:
“Promoters have owned the boxing media since, well, pretty much forever. And climbing the boxing media ladder has always been a function of quid pro quo dynamics. Bartering access to fighters, events, and strategically “leaked” insider info for positive, salable marketing content is part of the business. Those writers who play the game well get more traffic, greater name recognition, and the better gigs that go along with both. Those who ruffle feathers by refusing to play the game, on the other hand, get nothing but a hard time and a real battle to make a buck.”
Hell, you kind of always have to walk that tightrope near the top of the food chain, even if you fancy yourself an independent guy. Business takes priority over truth in an industry where access to fighters is a commodity and hurt feelings can fuck with your ability to cultivate that commodity.
Rafael, to his credit (I guess), managed, for 15+ years, to traffic in nothing but bartered access and as little meaningful communication to the public as possible.
Ironically enough, it was his one slip-up in playing that game that possibly could’ve cost him his ESPN gig.
Last April, Rafael was uncharacteristically critical of ESPN Boxing’s contracted promoter, Bob Arum. The aged promoter was shooting out some propaganda about supposed efforts to get his fighter, Terence Crawford, a bout with fellow welterweight champ Errol Spence when Rafael found his nut sack.
“…Fights aren’t made on social media,” Rafael wrote via his verified Twitter account, “they’re made behind closed doors in private if sides actually want to make them…Top Rank has no top opponents for Crawford to fight, hence the apparent desperation.”
Arum retaliated by reportedly stripping Rafael of his press credentials for a subsequent Top Rank event, but the behind-the-scenes buzz in the industry was that bigger repercussions were to come. The rumor that ESPN was not going to renew Rafael’s contract was widely circulated and came to this writer’s virtual doorstep via three separate sources.
So, it came as no surprise when the news came out that Rafael would be gone.
But rejoice not truth-seekers. ESPN won’t be looking to replace Rafael with some bad-ass firebrand scribe with any ambition beyond producing content that will not make any waves whatsoever. Fans will get another Rafael to replace Rafael– someone who is good at playing the game and is okay with shutting the fuck up. There are a handful of likely candidates out there to replace him– all very good at delivering content fully sponsored and endorsed by boxing bossmen.
And if all of this gives you some sympathy pangs for the big lug, don’t weep too much. Rafael will bounce back just fine. Look for him to be scooped up at some point by DAZN– a boxing-gullible company with deep pockets and an affinity for bull-shittin’, highly-controllable media.