Let the real games begin
So now that the 2016 Olympics from Rio de Janeiro have concluded, the real games can begin for those in professional boxing. As the best known and most illustrious amateur tournament concludes, many boxers will now embark on their professional aspirations and – don’t kid yourself – the process of hooking up with professional entities began long before the Olympic torch made its way to Brazil.
Many of the usual suspects were on the lookout to sign various prospects over the past couple of weeks.
After not garnering a single medal in 2012, the American team (well, the fellas, at least) rebounded to take a silver and bronze, courtesy of Shakur Stevenson and Nico Hernandez, respectively. And Stevenson is considered the bluest of the blue-chip prospects, among the American boxers who will come with the highest price tag.
Now, if you’re looking for a scouting report from this reporter, well, admittedly I’m the wrong guy since I didn’t watch much (really, any) of the Olympics. The guy whose opinion you should seek is our very own Rian Scalia, who has an incredibly deep knowledge of the worldwide amateur scene (he can be found on Twitter at @rian5ca).
But Stevenson is someone who’s been on the radar for at least a few years and, coming into the Games, was considered America’s best amateur for at least a couple of years. Word is this young man from Newark, New Jersey was being targeted by Al Haymon, Roc Nation Sports (one source in Brazil told me RNS was offering “crazy money”) and one Floyd Mayweather Jr. The scuttlebutt is Mayweather, who has likened Stevenson to a “young Floyd Mayweather,” has offered him a package in the neighborhood of $3 million, that includes houses and a luxury vehicle. Talk about being on the money team.
While Stevenson is considered America’s best prospect, coming out of the Games, the question is: Just how good is he? Many love his overall skill set and talent but some question if his style will translate to the next level and some wonder just how promotable an African-American junior featherweight could be.
I asked an amateur coach, with extensive knowledge of these boxers, his thoughts on Stevenson. He responded via text:
“Very smart in making adjustments. Very high boxing IQ for being young. He is not all finesse. He will take it in the pocket if he has to. Has that strong will to win. Doesn’t like to lose. Very well-poised and composed. Needs to polish his inside game offensively. Sharp stingy puncher, not a big puncher. His range and distance game is as good as it gets for an amateur or pro. This is my assessment following the kid last 3 years. He fought a bad fight yesterday but barely lost to a vastly more experienced Cuban. But he shows that rare ability, like (Terence) Crawford, (Andre) Ward, Mayweather.”
He then added later, “I forgot to tell you something else about him. He wants to get a big fat signing bonus and he don’t give a shit who gives it to him.”
(This coach said of lightweight Carlos Balderas, who did not medal, “He is No. 1, in terms of talent and marketability. Top Rank (Promotions)’s top target, I hear.”)
That said, if it’s all about the money, then the offer from Mayweather seems to be the only way to go. It seems like a Godfather offer (if true) – one you can’t refuse.
But a word of advice to young boxers and their handlers: A signing bonus can be spent over a few years. Who do you trust to develop an actual career and cultivate you into a true attraction?
And while its intoxicating to take a selfie with your favorite rapper or R&B singer, if that group can tell you about the multitude of platinum albums they have produced but not one world champion, you might want to pay heed to your second thoughts. You really want to put your career (and life) in the hands of someone who treats boxing as a hobby or tax write-off?
Do some research on the true stars and elite boxers over the past 30 or so years and then go deeper and look up the ones who did the work in the background as managers and promoters. The track record speaks for itself. There’s a reason it involves the same group of people over and over again after every Olympic cycle. Developing and nurturing a boxer from a four-round novice to a champion is more art than science and it’s no accident why the same people keep churning them out.
So when one signs with a promoter, it’s not just the guy with the name on the banner who matters. You better consider who they employ as matchmakers – the unsung heartbeat of any promotional company – and just as importantly how many dates/cards they have per year (and having a television deal helps too). Also consider that certain promoters are a better fit than others, based on geography and ethnicity.
Remember this: As soon as you cash that signing bonus check, you still have a career ahead of you.
Speaking of signing bonuses, it reminds me of a story told to me years ago by trainer John Bray, who, many moons ago, was a standout amateur. Bray told me he believed too much money spoiled young boxers and took away their hunger and motivation, which is so paramount to this sport.
“I had signed with these guys, who had promised me, like, $400,000 as a signing bonus. So they were supposed to wire that money on the day I was supposed to start training for my pro debut. Well, the money comes in and that morning, my alarm clock goes off at like 5 o’clock and I just hit the snooze button and said, ‘Why the hell do I need to run? I got $400,000 in my bank account,'” he recalled with a laugh and perhaps more than a tinge of regret.
“Looking back on it,” Bray continued, “honestly, that’s when my career ended. Right then and there. It kinda ruined me.”
So whomever signs Stevenson had better hope, for their sake, he has enough character to be worth this upfront investment.
A promoter – who has no horse in the Stevenson race – but has known the 19-year-old for years, says of him, “This kid, from a great athlete point of view, he’s like the Floyd Mayweathers, the Manny Pacquiaos and the Michael Jordans. He’s the first guy in the gym, last guy to leave. He has the work ethic to be great. It’s not an accident he’s been the top amateur at a young age because of his work ethic, coupled with his talent.
“The issue is going to be is that he’s not a puncher and I don’t know if he has a chin.”
Well, we’ll soon find out.
SIGNING BONUS FLURRIES
OK, two weeks and counting and still no official announcement on the venue for Sergey Kovalev-Andre Ward…So yeah, Gervonta Davis and Floyd Mayweather Jr. aren’t simpatico nowadays?…Heavyweight Luis Ortiz and Golden Boy Promotions have parted ways. Arias will soon sign with a new promoter and GBP will get seven figures for its troubles…So just one more episode of HBO’s “The Night of.” This saddens me…Poor Mikey Donovan…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.