Peace in the Middle East on May 12 at the Garden?
OK, while it’s not exactly President Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat coming together for the Camp David Accords, it’s still a pretty notable achievement that the bout between WBA lightweight titlist Jorge Linares and two-division champion Vasyl Lomachenko was eventually consummated for May 12 at the Madison Square Garden in New York.
This highly anticipated bout had once flatlined and looked like it would be another casualty of boxing politics and existing network alliances that have extinguished too many would-be fights in recent years. (Nonito Donaire-Abner Mares and Sergey Kovalev-Adonis Stevenson immediately come to mind.)
However Linares vs. Lomachenko sprung back to life, as a compromise was agreed upon, in which Golden Boy Promotions would allow Linares (whose last couple of fights had been on HBO, with whom they have had a close alliance) to fight on ESPN and Top Rank’s card if the start time of the show was moved up. In effect, this wouldn’t conflict with the HBO telecast that same night, featuring the replay of the Gennady Golovkin-Saul Alvarez II pay-per-view bout from the previous week and the live airing of Sadam Ali-Liam Smith.
All that was really needed – as most of the terms were agreed upon – were the two Stateside promoters to talk and eventually Golden Boy President Eric Gomez did hear from Top Rank but not Bob Arum.
“But I got something better – Todd (duBoef, president of Top Rank) called me. He was using Arum’s voice,” quipped Gomez, last week, as the deal was finalized but not announced to the public.
“Whenever you’re doing these fights and they’re good fights and two promoters that represent their guys, spent the time and invested in these guys and spent time and money in building them, it’s delicate. It’s not easy to make these fights. It’s not easy; it takes time,” said Gomez, whose company has regularly reached across the aisle to make big fights in recent years. “There are points you have to go through different things. We wanted the fight and ultimately it got done.
“Linares wanted it; Oscar (De La Hoya, the founder of GBP) wanted it; all of us at Golden Boy wanted it. Mr.(Akihiko) Honda (the head of Teiken Promotions, which co-promotes Linares) wanted it. So we kept working on it and never say never. But again, it shows the commitment, the commitment to making good fights and giving fans what they want.”
It helped matters that, like Top Rank, Golden Boy also does a series of fights on ESPN and its various platforms. Gomez, who came up with the idea of the network televising the fights earlier than usual on this evening, explained to UCNLive.com, “Just talking internally with Oscar and with David Tetrault, who runs our media and entertainment department, we talked about, ‘Hey, you think they would go with moving the time up?’ and the original thought was maybe they could do it doing the day or something.”
In the way was an SEC softball game (which aren’t quite as important to the “Worldwide Leader” as SEC football games).
“That was the initial thought internally and then we reached out to ESPN and we kind of started picking our brains a little bit and then we said, ‘Look, we just can’t have it interfere with what we’re doing. We have a commitment already that day with HBO. We can’t have it interfere with that.’ And we said, ‘Look, what if you just come on right before and the show ends right when HBO show is starting?’ And that’s how we went about it. It was just two conversations and bouncing ideas back and forth,” recalled Gomez.
DuBoef, who was the architect of Top Rank’s far-ranging deal with ESPN, says, “Look, you have two fighters that are fighters who want to fight the best out there and look up challengers and it starts with that and then have people that are reasonable people that had to come together to do that. Obviously, Mr. Honda and Golden Boy understood the interest in making the fight for Jorge and we understood it in making it for Vasyl and the common good of bringing it to the fans.
“Everyone came together for the common good and it’s great for the sport.”
Hopefully this will be the template moving forward, for the power brokers in the sport.
“Eric and I had a conversation yesterday, as we were going to contract,” said duBoef early last week. “We’re relatively like-minded in our theory. We want to make the boxing wave as big as possible and so we can all have a surfboard on it. We want to make a big wave and that’s the most important thing. The category becomes bigger, then everybody is going to prosper. The fighters are going to become more relevant.”
What could have become another example of what was wrong with the boxing industry, instead, became a potential watershed moment for the business.
“Like we said, when we moved to ESPN, we want to activate the sport to the lexicon of all these great radio hosts and TV hosts, getting everybody to talk about the sport,” continued duBoef. “I think when you have that commitment to it and not be so silo’d into one night – it allows the sport to be successful.”
One of the best match-ups in the sport, which, in years past, would have been on premium cable, is now on a platform that is in nearly 90 million homes and every sports bar and pub in the country.
“I would say that ESPN is a wonderful partnership that we have, different than anything that I’ve ever been apart of and it’s empowering for us,” stated duBoef. “We really have an alignment of interests, so it’s not like they’re against me. They’re like, ‘OK, let’s talk about the enterprise we’re doing for the long term and how we can use this and make it work for us.’
“That’s a really, really different perspective that we’ve been involved in. I appreciate it and they’ve been terrific partners and this is what I dreamed about when I first came here.”
When I asked duBoef if Linares-Lomachenko represented peace in the Middle East and if he was partly responsible, he cracked, “I think it was (Senior Adviser to and son-in-law of President Donald Trump) Jared Kushner; isn’t he our Middle East representative?”
As for the Camp David analogy, duBoef said, laughing, “C’mon, I have to be Begin! I’m the Jewish guy here!”
I’ll have more on this in an upcoming column but the Nevada State Athletic Commission has “temporarily suspended” Saul Alvarez for his positive drug test. He must now appear at an April 10 meeting with the Commission, according to the LA Times’ Lance Pugmire. But I still fully expect his May 5 rematch with Gennady Golovkin to take place…HBO’s coverage of the Dillian Whyte-Lucas Browne heavyweight bout from London begins today at 6 p.m. ET…ESPN reported that the Jeff Horn-Terence Crawford welterweight title bout has been re-scheduled for June 9…Love him or loathe him, undefeated junior lightweight prospect Ryan Garcia has a lot of buzz surrounding him. Look for him to appear on the Canelo-GGG II pay-per-view undercard…”9-1-1″ on FOX had an excellent first season…OK, so has the rain finally stopped for awhile?…I can be reached at email@example.com 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.