Chatting with the champ: Sean Gibbons
If he could sing and dance, he might literally be the modern-day James Brown. But he certainly can share the title as “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” – and his business is boxing.
He answers to the nickname “Green Day,” named after his affinity for (and close friendship with) the Oakland, California based punk rockers of the same name. He carries the most famous briefcase in boxing, that sports his ever-faithful wingman “Cowboy Woody” (yes, of “Toy Story” movie fame. Woody has a bigger following than many fighters in the sport.) He peppers most sentences with his enthusiastic moniker, “Viva!” and is one of the most well-liked and respected people in boxing.
And he represents a lot of fighters. If there is a fight of any importance going on, pretty well anywhere in the world, there is a good chance he is there, working the ring and the room.
Boxing is full of wonderful characters and he is one of them.
He is part businessman, promoter, matchmaker, manager and agent.
He is Sean Gibbons, boxing’s Energizer Bunny.
Gibbons, who has literally done every single job in the sport, got his start as a promoter, matchmaker or ready-when-needed opponent on the Midwest club circuit. Gibbons was a longtime fixture throughout the Midwest after leaving college in Simi Valley, California.
After lining up the opponents, often on both sides of the ring, promoting and doing just about any other job required, the show would usually go on. And, if an opponent fell out, then Gibbons had no problem lacing them up and stepping in on 30 days, 30 hours or 30 minutes notice.
Gibbons’ start in boxing certainly allowed him to see boxing, and boxers, at every level from upstart, opponent-level club fighter to decorated world champion. This experience has also allowed him to develop a great understanding of the game and its participants at every level.
After relocating from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1997, Gibbons initially started working for Bob Arum at the Las Vegas-based Top Rank Promotions. After working for them for several years, Gibbons started to work as a matchmaker and agent for a variety of promoters and clients.
Now, one of the game’s most highly respected agents and matchmakers and, without a doubt, one of the busiest, Gibbons is on the move 24/7, booking fights and fighters on all corners of the globe.
It might be easy to see Gibbons as a classic boxing huckster, with his non-stop banter and carnival-barker approach to promotions. However, make no mistake, he is highly respected throughout the industry for his incredible work ethic and a devotion and dedication to his clients that is second to none.
Right or wrong, boxing is a sport that has a reputation for being littered with questionable deals. But if a Gibbons fighter is stepping into the ring you can bet Green Day has battled hard to secure a more than fair-market value compensation for his fighter.
And while it is a business, Gibbons has long formed strong bonds and friendships with the fighters and the promoters he represents. It is evident that he cares as much about them (and their families) as people, as he does business associates.
Fresh off a whirlwind press tour, beating the drums for his fighter Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (who will battle fellow Mexican star Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on May 6), Gibbons stopped long enough to sit down for a chat with UCNLive.
Speaking from his home in Las Vegas, which he shares with sons Brendan and Parker, and his beautiful wife of 26 years Valerie, Gibbons espoused on a myriad of topics on his life in the game and his thoughts on the current state of boxing.
Bill Tibbs: You are a busy man; it is good we were able to catch you for a minute.
Sean Gibbons: (laughs), Yes, always working, always busy, but that’s good. Just fighting a bit of a head cold, so I’m resting a bit.
BT: You just came off a press tour for the Canelo-Chavez fight. How confident is Chavez going into this fight? Is that arena going to be lit on fight night or what?
SG: I’ll tell you, Billy, it is going to be such a great fight. It will be viewed by 40 to 50 million people in Mexico alone. It is a huge fight. (Chavez) is so happy and positive right now, just in a great frame of mind. People have brought up the past, the people who want to doubt Chavez and be negative but, let me tell you, after May 6th, there won’t be any talk of the past. Believe me; I’ve just spent a week with this guy. They were running him ragged; the press tour was very busy, a lot of commitments for him but he just handled it like a pro and never stopped smiling. He is in love with boxing. He knows what a great opportunity this fight is. It is the Super Bowl of Boxing. Golden Boy (Promotions) did the numbers and gave Julio the call but they’ve got a real problem on their hands now. May 6th, they got a real problem on their hands. Boxing is all about timing and the timing for this fight is great. May 6th, Julio is going to prove any doubters wrong.
BT: If Chavez wins, do we see him and unified middleweight titlist Gennady “GGG” Golovkin in the fall?
SG: I think the Golovkin fight is always there but let’s see how this fight with Canelo plays out. I think that it has the potential to be one of those great, great fights that demands a rematch or a trilogy type of scenario. If Alvarez wants the fight, we would certainly give him a rematch. You never know what will happen in a fight but this should be a fantastic fight. So, why not do it again?
BT: Speaking of Mexican fighters, update me on my man, Mexico’s ironman Orlando Salido. Do we see him in May also? He is such a natural fit for the Chavez-Canelo card.
SG: I’m so frustrated right now with this. (Golden Boy Promotions is) haggling on a few dollars and this guy is someone who deserves to get paid every time he steps into the ring. (Salido) is right at the end of his career and has delivered so many times on every card he has ever been on. This is the kind of fight that would really be a gift to the fans who are already paying good money for the card. A Salido fight is always a great fight – Any fight is a great fight, if Salido is in there. It is such a natural fit for this card. It tells the fans that we want to always give you the best card possible. Salido should be on this card. It’s such a no-brainer. I mean, adding him to the card just says to the fans that, “We want to give you the best product we can, at all times.” A Salido fight should be locked up for that card. I’m very frustrated about that right now.
BT: You got your start building club-level fighters throughout the Midwest. Did you ever envision working in Las Vegas with some of the very best in boxing?
SG: Working in Vegas? I never envisioned I’d be working in boxing (laughs). I was 10 years old and I went and saw Sean O’Grady fight Danny “Little Red” Lopez. I thought, “That was cool,” didn’t think a whole lot about it. I’ll jump ahead to July of ’85. Just done my second year of college. Pat O’Grady asks me to come out to help with one of his fighters, Jerry “Wimpy” Halstead. Get him to the gym, work with him a bit. Anyway, September of 1985, I hit the road to drive 20 hours to Kemmerer, Wyoming for my first card that I’m involved with. I’d never been to a town with no 7-11 or a McDonald’s. I was freaked out (laughs). I thought it was pretty cool. I was intrigued a bit, thought I’d hang around and see about working some more shows. Well, 30 years later, I’m still riding the rails (laughs). So, kept busy with that from ’85 until about 1988. Then Pat O’Grady gets sick and sadly passes. Anyway, I decide to promote my first show of my own on June 7th of 1988. I lost all of my money, all 500 dollars or whatever. Anyway, I think, this isn’t going to go anywhere good fast and I’m wondering where to go next. Then the phone rings and it’s a guy named Pete Susens….(yells), “God has spoken and I’m saved!” (laughs) Anyway, July of that year, we do a show and just kind of started going from there. Pete was supplying fighters from his stable of guys, paying for the fights. I’m thinking, “This is great!” working with this guy. Harold Brazier, Tim Tomashek, Danny Morgan, the list goes on and on. So, we’re off and running, a knucklehead for life! Doing two shows a month at the Central Plaza in Oklahoma City. I’d go to Indiana; Pete would bring guys to me. We were having a ball, not making any money but staying busy, learning the game and having fun. In between, we’d be off to fights in Germany, England; you name it. And, in the late ’80s, I also met Bruce Trampler. Yeah, ’89-’97 we just crushed it in the Midwest. Then about ’97, things in the Midwest got stupid. So, it was Viva Las Vegas, baby (laughs). I packed up the car with Valerie and the two kids; it was like the Beverly Hillbillies. Got an apartment out there; opportunity was knocking and I was hoping to answer (laughs). I go to work under the great Bruce Trampler and the greatest site coordinator ever, Jay Edson. I did that until 2004 when the FBI came knocking and it was time for a career change. Again, another beauty of an investigation that amounted to absolutely nothing. But, around that time, I started working with other promoters.
BT: Working the club shows for years must have taught you a lot about dealing with just about every possible scenario, both good and bad, that can come up in boxing.
SG: We did just about everything there was to do for a show, promotion, managing, matchmaking; whatever needed to be done, we did it. We did a lot of shows, so you see just about every possible scenario that can arise and you learn to deal with it, handle it and let the show go on.
BT: You worked with some very good fighters over the years. Does any one fighter come to mind that you really wished could have done more with his career than he did, for whatever reason?
SG: You know, I think Buck Smith could have really won a world title, if he’d been fighting in different circumstances. Billy, this guy had a left hook that would knock you right into next week. He would lay you out with that hammer but we’re talking about a guy who is training in his garage in Oklahoma, not getting the sparring he needed to really take it to that next level, in terms of preparation for the big, big fights. But he is a guy that comes to mind.
BT: When you look at building a fighter from ground zero to pay-per-view attraction, what is the “it” factor they just have to possess?
SG: Well, it can really be a combination of things. They have to be able to take a punch. They have to have that. You can’t teach a chin. At some point, you are going to get hit and you have to be able to take it. They have to have some punch and they have to know their trade, learn their skill. They have to put in the time to learn how to really fight, if you are going to make it to the top level of guys. And you have to have heart. If the guy doesn’t have heart, he’ll get exposed quickly. No matter what else is there, or isn’t there, if the fighter doesn’t have any heart, forget it.
BT: What do you see that is better about the game today?
SG: Nothing! I mean, this sport has become so bureaucratic and over-regulated by these stupid commissions. Seriously, these guys who have never, ever been hit in their life by anything resembling a boxing glove making up rules left and right, and always for the health and safety of the fighters (mocking tone). Meanwhile their ridiculous regulations have made the sport impossible to build a fighter, shut down club boxing – and more dangerous than ever. With no club boxing, the amateurs suffer because, unless you are a top, top amateur, there is nowhere to turn pro and learn your craft at the pro level. These commissioners create more and more rules that do nothing but guarantee their jobs but put more and more promoters, and fighters, out of work. These commissions have worked hard to destroy boxing and, because of their over-regulating, there is less and less boxing all the time. There was a lovely, 136-page investigation into Pete and I, years back in the day, that amounted to absolutely nothing. Zero. Why? Because there was nothing to find. What a waste of time and money for the taxpayer. This is such a great sport but I’d give anything for it to be 20 years ago.
BT: You have a reputation as a very hard worker, a very energetic guy, always on the move. But I have to say, you – like me – must marvel at the work ethic of (Top Rank Promotions CEO) Bob Arum. As a man in his 80s, the guy is incredible.
SG: Billy, the greatest promoter who ever lived and ever will live. Period. When he’s gone – and I hope that is not for a long, long time – people will look back and appreciate what an incredible boxing guy this man was. There have been other good promoters but Bob leaves them all in the dust – always thinking, always dreaming. And Bob was always about fighters and the sport, not about Bob. He always saw the bigger picture about what was best for the fighter and the sport, in the long run. Creative. An unbelievable ability to build a fighter and a work ethic like no other. Simply the best Billy. Period. Don King had a good run, at one time, but he was always promoting Don first. Not Bob, he was always about building the fighters and boxing first.
BT: You have had the pleasure of working with some great matchmakers over the years at Top Rank.
SG: You know, the guys that I owe everything to are, of course, Pat O’Grady, whom I really got introduced to boxing through. But Pete Susens, Bruce Trampler, Brad Goodman, Tom Brown and, of course, Mr. Bob Arum. Everything I have in my career I can connect to those guys. Learning from them, watching them, how they do things, build fighters, do match-ups. Brad (Goodman) used to do the shows for years at the Orleans in Vegas and it was great to watch him. He was just fantastic. What a sensational job he did! When I first got to Vegas and got to work alongside the great Mr. Bruce, you can learn so much from just being around a guy like that. I have been very blessed to be around many great people in the sport – Ron Katz, John Beninati, but if someone said, who do you think of…those are the names that come to mind, without question.
BT: You have a phenomenal energy about you, very positive. The glass is always half-full.
SG: Well, I work hard. I didn’t come into this sport with a silver spoon in my mouth or anything. Everything I have, I had to work for. I drove a lotta miles in a Honda Civic; believe me (laughs). I promoted over 200 shows. Well, you are who you are. God has blessed me. Listen, Billy, the Lord has blessed me in so many ways. I mean, I just spent a week traveling around with the two most popular fighters in Mexico, great fighters. I’m working with great people, flying around on a private jet. I get to work in a great sport, around great athletes. What do I have to be unhappy about? But, in all honesty, I just wanna wake up everyday thankful where God has put me and make enough money to take care of my family. The only one who can judge me is God. Character, loyalty and things like that, they are the things that I admire and make me happy in life. When I can help someone, do something for someone who isn’t as blessed as I am, that is what makes me happy. Family, friends, loyalty and character, those things mean a lot. Pete and I used to say, “We came in with our friends and we’ll leave with our friends.”
BT: There is talk of Manny Pacquiao-Amir Khan in April. Is this Manny’s last year in boxing?
SG: I don’t know. I think Manny still has lots of life left in him but it is a matter of him fighting the right guys, getting the right opponents. I think Bob has the right idea with him doing a world tour. I mean, let the guy do a victory lap and then he can be done. He doesn’t have anything left to prove, so put him in with the right guys. Get him over to Australia; get him to Europe, wherever. Let him a do a world tour, in the right fights with the right opponents, and then he can move into the next chapter of his life. The guy will probably be the President of the Philippines one day. He doesn’t need to be going into wars at this stage and leaving on his back. Let him do a world tour in the right fights with the right opponents.
BT: I saw where you were recently attending Floyd Mayweather Jr’s 40th birthday with (son) Brendan. Do we see “Money” back in the ring? And if it’s (UFC lightweight champion) Conor McGregor, does that even count as a 50th win? Personally, I’d be surprised if McGregor lands a punch on him. What are your thoughts on that fight?
SG: It was good to see Floyd the other night. I’ve known him for years, since his days with Top Rank. Whenever you run into him, if he knows you from the old days. He is very gracious and humble and always very kind. I think he is probably through with boxing but who knows? If he and McGregor can make it happen, create a great event for the fans, and have fun with it, and make a pile of dough, why not? People have paid to watch stranger things (laughs). And, yeah, if it’s a sanctioned boxing match and (Mayweather) wins, then yeah, it’s his 50th win in boxing.
BT: Thanks for the chat. Let’s do this again. Give “Vegas Valerie” a hug for me and all my best to your boys.
SG: Absolutely, I’m here for you any time. Viva Billy. Viva UCNLive.