A down year for Top Rank in 2015
It was formally announced at a press conference last Thursday that a bout between Tim Bradley and Brandon Rios would take place at the Thomas and Mack Center on Nov. 7. In many ways, this match-up is symbolic of the year Top Rank Promotions has had in 2015 (and, to a certain extent, HBO, which is televising this fight).
Both Bradley and Rios have fought just once since the calendar turned and will end the year with just two appearances. It’s been a pattern for Top Rank, which has seen its biggest stars fight rather infrequently. The days of Henry Armstrong are long gone. Nowadays, if you fight more than twice a year as a world-class fighter , you are considered “active” – think Gennady Golovkin – but unless you’re a Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Manny Pacquiao, it’s difficult to really gain any footing fighting every six-to-eight months.
In the past, Top Rank has taken pride in being more than just “television packagers” as they consistently developed attractions. So why the dearth of shows featuring their best known boxers?
“I think that there were financial restraints and we didn’t do as many pay-per-view fights as we usually do because we concentrated on the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight and we had no pay-per-views the second half of the year,” explained Top Rank CEO Bob Arum at the Bradley-Rios presser at the Biltmore Millennium Hotel in Los Angeles. “Usually, on pay-per-view fights, we make room for fighters and we didn’t have those. Next year we are taking steps to remedy that. We’ll have a lot of fights outside the country and I think a lot more dates on HBO.”
Has there been a “Premier Boxing Champions affect”? Love it or loathe it, Al Haymon and his hedge-fund backed shows (which air on a multitude of platforms) have caused a seismic shift in the business. But Arum says, “I don’t see any effect. I blame of lot of shit on the PBC but not this.”
But was HBO – which, for years, was the 800-pound gorilla on the block – caught off-guard by Haymon’s bold gambit?
“They knew what the effects were but they didn’t know how to deal with it,” opined Arum. “We’re just finding out how to deal with it and one of the ways we’re dealing with it is with serious litigation.”
When asked if he’s been frustrated by the way the year has played out for his company, Arum answered, “No, it was frustrating because the fighters we’re bringing along, we got them plenty of work. Oscar Valdez, Felix Verdejo, Jose Ramirez , we got ’em plenty of work and each of them got on HBO once – at least Valdez and Verdejo – so that wasn’t really the problem. The problem was the lack of dates.”
The trio mentioned by Arum is thought to be the foundation of the company, post-Pacquiao. Verdejo, who seems destined for stardom, has been sidelined for long stretches in 2015 with various injuries. After seven fights in 2014, he has been limited to just two so far this year. After his HBO debut on June 13, Verdejo underwent a procedure on his left hand a couple of weeks later. He will most likely fight once more this year after he gets medical clearance.
HBO, which has a close, working relationship with Top Rank, has gone through an extended hiatus. They have not done a boxing telecast since July 25 and will not return till Oct. 3 with a card featuring Lucas Matthysse-Viktor Postol at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif. Without them, it’s difficult to put on cards at this level. Platforms such as UniMas and truTV are designed to guide young talent through the incubation stage of their careers. As they hit the championship plateau and start making the big bucks, well, either on premium cable or pay-per-view are next.
So is HBO in this changing marketplace for the long haul?
“There’s no question that boxing is part of the HBO DNA,” said Arum, who enjoys a close relationship with the higher-ups at the network.” Richard Plepler, the chairman of HBO, has said that to me and I believe him.”
Another fight on the upcoming Top Rank/HBO schedule is Terence Crawford facing Dierry Jean on Oct. 24. In 2015, Crawford defeated Thomas Dulorme in his only other outing. Coming off a banner 2014, Crawford – who is in the physical prime of his career and enjoying great momentum – will fight just twice this year,neither of which will be considered marquee match-ups.
“Again, some of that is the PBC effect, in the sense that the money that they were paying to some of the opponents ended up being a lot more than we could afford,”,stated Arum. “That’s a problem. Why isn’t [WBO featherweight titlist Vasyl] Lomachenko fighting [WBA/WBO junior featherweight titlist Guillermo] Rigondeaux? The reason he’s not fighting him is we couldn’t pay Rigondeaux.”
Lomachenko, the pugilistic prodigy, is co-headlining a card on Nov. 7 against relatively unknown Romulo Koasicha. Back on May 2, on the Mayweather-Pacquiao undercard, he stopped Gamalier Rodriguez in nine rounds. So his 2015 will consist of Rodriguez and Koasicha, which isn’t exactly quality or quantity.
So just what is the future of the boxing business? It’s certainly a volatile time with much uncertainty. Arum says, ”I think you’ve got to be smart and you’ve got to ride out some people that don’t know what they’re doing and have this tremendous war chest that’s beginning to be depleted and everything will come back to normal.” It’s clear that Arum is referring to the PBC and Waddell and Reed but it’s not clear just how “depleted” they are at the moment. As for Top Rank’s standing in the business, “Well, you have to realize we got a great infusion of cash from the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight and that’s our bank that’s going to tide us over in any tough times.”
Moving forward, will we see another year in which the likes of Crawford fight so infrequently?
“We’re not going to let guys like Terence, Lomachenko fight twice a year. If I have to put them on pay-per-view, I’ll join them together, put ’em all on one show,” promised Arum, who said that the specter of that little event on May 2 overshadowed everything else in the sport. “But yeah, it was a year of adjustment,” he admitted, “and a lot of decisions were made by other people that made no business sense, like Mayweather fighting [Andre] Berto.”
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