Get the drums beating: On Garcia-Broner and the art of matchmaking

Team Mikey Garcia. Photo credit: Amanda Westcott/Showtime

 

The word Don Majeski tends to use to describe boxing promoting is “build,” as in, as he puts it: “You build towards a big fight. You start out from (a small fight) in the the beginning and you keep building and building until you get the one that draws 18,000 people.”

 

That sounds sensible enough. Then again, common sense has never really been germane to boxing.

 

On this slate-gray Saturday afternoon, Majeski is seated inside the Moonstruck Diner on 58th Street and 2nd Avenue. He apologizes for being late, blaming it on the increasingly unreliable subway rides that threaten to cripple the city. He quickly adds that he was feeling unwell earlier in the morning because of “something aggravating” but insists he is fine now. Of course, it doesn’t help that his cell phone died on him on the ride over and that, perhaps most portentously, he left his umbrella at home.“Every time I bring an umbrella, it doesn’t rain. Now I don’t have one and it looks like it will. It’s threatening.”

 

A waiter passes by his table twice without stopping. “Why doesn’t this guy serve us any drinks?” Majeski mutters. “Maybe we’re not important enough. Service is horrible.”

 

Like a field scientist with his ears pricked and wet fingers lifted to catch the wind, Don Majeski is as attuned, as any of his peers, to the pulse of the contemporary prizefighting business. But if you’re looking to grab hold of the fast-talking fight agent-cum-matchmaker from Queens to get the latest industry scoop – that is, when he’s not on the phone with Top Rank CEO Bob Arum recommending a new pursuit for one of his fighters or out on the road to attend an IBF purse bid in Springfield, New Jersey – you might be advised to sound out someone else. Majeski, an inveterate storyteller with a gift for deadpan humor, would prefer to regale you with anecdotes from boxing’s past, from its glory days, when fights were part of the daily cultural conversation and Madison Square Garden roosted atop the boxing food chain. It’s something of a gift that Majeski can talk so passionately about the past but remain completely unsentimental. (To that end, he’s neither a crank nor curmudgeon, two types common to the sport). As he soliloquizes about the ways boxing today could return to its more pragmatic roots, in which entertainment value and fiscal reward went hand-in-hand, it’s evident he is in possession of a more youthful – and hopeful – spirit.

 

“Basically,” Majeski states as he sips from his coffee, “as my mentor George Parnassus once told me, to put on a great fight, there are two questions that you have to ask the public: You have to answer ‘yes’ to one and ‘no’ to the other. First, do you know these guys? To that, you have to say ‘yes.’ Second, do you know who is going to win? You have to say ‘no.’ That’s going to be a great fight.”

 

Later that night, the textbook Mikey Garcia would decision the kitschy Adrien Broner in a 140-pound matchup in nearby Brooklyn. That matchup rightly met the Parnassus criteria for a great fight (although, in reality, it turned out to be nothing more than a decent one). Yet promoting, as Majeski recognizes it, is more about establishing momentum and “cohesiveness”, not just settling for the one-off.

 

“You gotta build a great fight,” Majeski explained. “You can’t just put two guys there and go, ‘Oh, this guy is 22-0 and that guy is 22-0.” That’s fine but if nobody knows who they are, that doesn’t matter. You have to get them to be known and get people talking about the match. That’s promoting.”

 

Despite their reputations as skilled prizefighters, that’s what Broner-Garcia felt like: two guys with undefeated records (remember, according to Broner, he is undefeated as a lightweight). The fight – a one-man show that was far from the two-way spectacle it promised – confirmed what most had already long suspected: Garcia is a world-class talent and Broner is closer to B-side material. But where does the winner go from here?

 

“Take Broner-Garcia. That’s a fun fight but it’s not gonna go anywhere. First of all, $950 for ringside tickets is a profanity. The winner of that fights who? What is the hottest match that you can make for the winner of this fight?”

 

WBC/WBO junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford? WBO junior lightweight titlist Vasyl Lomachenko?

 

“They’re with Arum, so that’s not going to happen. And you’re not gonna get (Manny) Pacquiao. Who else? You can’t think of any.” Majeski sighed. “The problem with the promotional rights is that it has turned boxing into a team sport. My team won’t fight your team unless it is an extraordinary amount of money. It’s not a team sport. It’s an individual sport. That was the greatness of boxing.”

 

So what should their handlers do?

 

“With Broner-Garcia, there should already be a next match in place. They should know at least, conceptually, who the next winner of that fight should be. ‘Oh, we’ll find somebody.’ That’s not good enough!” Majeski shook his head.

 

“The thing with the (Premier Boxing Champions), where they’re lacking – and who am I to tell a guy who invested half a billion dollars? – is the continuity of the promotions. At the Garden, they would use to announce that the winner of this fight will fight the winner of the next match.”

 

No doubt, the fight landscape today is a far cry from the Teddy Brenner-led days of MSG, when arenas were more than grubby landlords but adroit players actively shaping the direction of the sport. When it comes to building a big fight, Majeski likes to tell people about the story of Frank DePaula, an unheralded and unskilled Italian fighter from New Jersey, whose string of consecutive upset victories led – with guidance from the mob – to a showdown with Bob Foster at a packed Madison Square Garden. DePaula’s unlikely ascent began right after Dick Tiger’s light heavyweight defense against Foster in 1968 at Madison Square Garden. Foster knocked out Tiger early – in four rounds – and as the fight was on syndicated TV, the producers needed more time. They ushered in a walkout bout that pitted DePaula against club fighter Fred Williams in a rematch (Williams having won the first by unanimous decision).

 

“It’s a wild fight,” Majeski begins. “Everyone is about to get up from their seat and get ready to go home but DePaula knocks Williams down in the first round and everyone gets up. Then Williams gets up and knocks DePaula down. Everybody sits down. Second round, DePaula knocks Williams down. Everybody gets up. Third round, he knocks DePaula down. In the sixth round, DePaula throws one left hook and knocks the guy cold. Everybody in the arena leaves and they’re talking about DePaula’s sixth round fight, May of ’68.”

 

The Garden would bring DePaula back into the ring in July, against Juan Carlos “Rocky” Rivero. It was another brawl, with DePaula surviving Rivero’s early onslaught to end matters in the sixth round with a crisp left hook.

 

Two months later, DePaula opens the Felt Forum to a sold-out crowd against Jimmy McDermott, an Irish fighter from Worcester, Massachusetts. DePaula knocks McDermott out in the fourth round. Now DePaula gets Dick Tiger in what amounts to a light heavyweight eliminator. Winner gets Bob Foster.

 

“They fight 10 rounds, 10,000 people, (THE RING Magazine’s) ‘Fight of the Year.’ Same thing. Four knockdowns in the first four rounds and, after that, Tiger pulls away and wins a decision.”

 

By this point, Garden authority knows that they have a bona fide ticket in DePaula. Tiger may have won but DePaula, everyone knew, was the better moneymaker. “So they make up some story: Tiger has gone to Africa; we can’t find him – whatever.

 

“Finally it’s announced in Jersey City that they’re going to make Frank DePaula and Bob Foster. Teddy Brenner was the Garden matchmaker and the boss of the Garden was a guy named Irving Mitchell Felt. He says, ‘Hey Teddy, what is this I’m reading about in the paper that they’re making Frank DePaula and Bob Foster in Jersey City? Why aren’t we making that fight? Brenner says, ‘Because it’s a mismatch.’ Felt asks, ‘How do you mean?’ Brenner replies, ‘The final will draw 18,000 people and Frank DePaula will get knocked out in one round.” Felt says, ‘Teddy, we’re in the business to make money. Make the match!’ So they put it in the Garden, January 1969. Bob Foster knocked out Frankie DePaula in one round in front of 18,000 people.

 

“What’s the story? Frank DePaula went from a six-rounder in May to the world title match drawing 18,000 people because he fought and won and they brought him back. They brought him back until they built up a big fight.”

 

In other words:

 

“The weakness of the PBC,” Majeski states, pivoting from the 20th century, “is that the promotions don’t lead to one another. Each fight leads to the next one. January leads to February; February leads to March. And they haven’t done that.

 

“You want any dessert?”

 

There was no announcement after Saturday night’s main event to help shepherd it into future significance. During the post-press conference, a roomful of the night’s orchestrators could not begin to tell you what was next for Garcia. This was not out of habitual caginess. Simply nobody had any idea what was next – even, of course, the fighter himself.

 

“I’m willing work with anyone.

 

“Those promoters know who they are to reach out to me. I’m not chasing anyone.

 

“We can mention anybody (we want to face) but, if a fight is not going to happen, it’s just for publicity.

 

“If you’re serious about it, let (Lomachenko) come, give us a phone call. We can bring him onto Showtime.”

 

Garcia may fashion himself as the sport’s premier free agent but that is a status that not even the sport’s cash cows in Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Saul Alvarez currently occupy. While the idea of free agency is rooted in the absence of a contract, thus allowing a fighter to hopscotch from fight to fight rather than hop aboard a promoter’s gravy train, Garcia still enlists the managerial services of Al Haymon. So long as that’s the case, we can reasonably expect Garcia’s career to continue to follow in the tradition of PBC one-offs.

 

When a reporter asked former IBF junior middleweight titlist Jermall Charlo, who stopped Jorge Sebastian Heiland earlier in the night on the same card, whom he felt Garcia should face next, he responded, “I don’t know. I have no clue.”

 

When UCNLive.com asked Lou DiBella, the evening’s promoter of record, his thoughts on potential big-name opponents for Garcia, he replied, “You think Arum is gonna put one of his guys with Mikey? After all that happened?”

 

When UCNLive.com asked trainer Robert Garcia to offer some names as possible opponents for his brother, he said, “(WBA lightweight champion Jorge) Linares is fighting in September, so he won’t find Mikey at the end of the year. Let’s count him out.”

 

But you’re also not going to get Crawford…so?

 

“Exactly, so it’s up to Showtime or whoever they offer Mikey. Our best option might be at welterweight.”

 

Speaking of Showtime, Executive Vice President and General Manager Stephen Espinoza made sure to add his two cents to the conversation. “(Mikey) makes his own decisions. That’s why he waited for two-and-a-half long years to do. So, at this point, we will all sit down and whoever Mikey wants to fight, he’ll fight.”

 

As Majeski says, at some point, “You gotta get the drum beating.” Everything else is malarkey.

 

 

Sean Nam is a contributor to The Cruelest Sport and UCNLive. He also writes about film for Slant Magazine and Mubi Notebook.

 

 

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