Roc Nation Sports kicks off with Miguel Cotto
While Roc Nation Sports’ inaugural show took place on the night of Jan. 9 at the Theater of Madison Square Garden, they’ve promoted subsequent cards. You could argue that the true kickoff for this company takes place this Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. where Miguel Cotto defends his WBC middleweight championship versus Daniel Geale on HBO (10:30 p.m. ET).
Yeah, promotions that are broadcast on mediums like FOX Sports 1 are essential to developing talent; the game’s biggest and most lucrative platforms are networks like HBO.
“Well, obviously it’s a huge event. It’s our first huge event,” said the COO of Boxing for Roc Nation Sports, Dave Itskowitch, at the Wild Card Boxing Club last week, where a media day was held for the Puerto Rican star. “I guess you could call it a kickoff for us. Our January 9th event was really our coming-out party but this is an important event, obviously.”
Roc Nation Sports came into this business with a lot of hype and hoopla last summer but it’s been a turbulent start for Jay Z’s company in the boxing realm. There were numerous failed attempts to sign fighters who were advised by Al Haymon; Gary Shaw and his stable of boxers were brought in and then just as quickly departed and Andre Ward – their other marquee signing – is somehow on BET and not HBO.
But Itskowitch states, “People say that; they say that we’ve had growing pains. The division has only been around since August. We promote Miguel Cotto, Andre Ward and a stable of young fighters. We’ve done some cable shows already; we got an HBO show coming up. We have a show on BET coming up – we have a deal with them. To say that we’ve had growing pains, I think, is a little unfair, considering all that we’ve accomplished in the short months this company has been in existence.”
Itskowitch, who first cut his teeth in the business with DiBella Entertainment and then Golden Boy Promotions, finds himself as the general in charge of the troops for the first time.
“I don’t like to think of myself as a general,” he says. “I’m part of a team at Roc Nation Sports. It’s a collaborative team, yeah; I am given some freedoms to mold and make. It’s a great opportunity for me. I’m having a lot of fun with it. I’m proud of what we’ve done so far. We’ve accomplished some great things and I’m excited about what the future holds.”
The bottom line is Roc Nation Sports will need to make Ward relevant once again, get Cotto into a lucrative fight in the near future (and perhaps that will be against Saul Alvarez in the fall) and then develop their young talent into viable entities. It doesn’t matter how much money you come into this racket with or how many platinum albums “Hova” has to his credit; to make it in this business, you need attractions who fight consistently, win and either put asses in seats or draw television ratings.
Many entities – such as America Presents – have come into the industry with deep pockets, lofty promises and…well, leave with a tombstone a few years later.
Maybe there was a time when Roc Nation Sports could have had a much smoother integration into the boxing business but this is a turbulent time, especially with Haymon and the PBC dominating the airwaves with their mass signings of talent.
So what was the effect of the PBC on Roc Nation Sports?
Itskowitch answered, “There were rumors circulating around back when we started as to what Al was doing and the way it changed the market. There are fewer television outlets available to other promoters. That’s how he’s changed the market. So we’ve gotten creative; we did a deal with BET. We’re adapting and Al’s going to do his things; we’re going to do our thing and that’s what it is.”
Currently, you’re either with the PBC or on the other side of the fence, with HBO and its group of promoters (that includes the likes of Top Rank Promotions, Golden Boy, K2 Promotions, Main Events, Banner Promotions and Gary Shaw Productions). During his days at Golden Boy, Itskowitch saw the Cold War that was waged between them and Top Rank up close and personal. Is this – as Yogi Berra said as only he could – deja vu all over again?
“It is and it isn’t,” stated Itskowitch. “I think you obviously have PBC and PBC is PBC and you have everybody else. There’s a fracturing there but there’s also a willingness of everybody else to work together now and make the best fights possible and I think we’re seeing it.”
And with the way Roc Nation attempted to poach the likes of Keith Thurman, Deontay Wilder and Adrien Broner, it’s clear they have an adversarial attitude toward Haymon and may not break bread with him anytime soon. But Itskowitch says, “I’ve always said we’re open to doing business with anybody and we’ll work with anybody. So I don’t want to say we’re on the opposite end from anybody. We’re willing to work with anybody out there and if people choose not to work with us or only work with themselves, that’s their prerogative.”
Less than a year in, despite some of their early struggles, Itskowitch remains upbeat about the company’s future. If experience has taught him anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.
“As long as I’ve been in boxing, I don’t think anything surprises me anymore,” says the University of Wisconsin graduate. “There have been some things that have happened that I’ve had to scratch my head about but nothing surprises me in this business anymore.”
There is growing concern and speculation that Geale may not be able to make the 157-pound catchweight instituted by Cotto for this upcoming bout, which led Cotto’s trainer, Freddie Roach, to proclaim they had back-up boxers warming up in the bullpen.
Yeah, I don’t believe that for one second.
First of all, I have a hard time believing HBO is on board with such a thing (and would these supposed fighters even be approved by the network?) and this event is already having problems selling tickets. The last thing you need heading into the home stretch is a possible replacement for Geale. Short of reviving Terry Norris or Winky Wright with a hot tub time machine, this just doesn’t add up. Even if this were true, what viable 154…uh, I mean 157-pounder is available, realistically?
Personally, I think Roach is bluffing here.
Gary Shaw says there is no financial penalty for not hitting 157 pounds and the WBC has made it clear that anything between 155 and 160 pounds will be considered a middleweight bout. So now what you have is one side stating it may not make weight and the other saying, unless they do, there wont be a fight.
This is a game of chicken being played.
OK, let’s say Cotto takes care of business this weekend versus Geale. Does he move ahead to face Saul Alvarez in the fall?
“That’s the fight I think everybody wants. I think it’s a fight Miguel wants. It’s a fight Golden Boy and ‘Canelo’ want as far as I know,” says Itskowitch. “It’s a fight that fans want. It’s the biggest fight that can be made in boxing right now.”
Worst case scenario: Let’s say Geale tips the scales north of 157 and Cotto walks from the fight. Does that mean Cotto’s agreement with HBO to face Alvarez evaporates?
ROC NATION FLURRIES
Golden Boy announced on Wednesday that on June 20, FOX Sports 2 and FOX Deportes will televise the bout between David Lemieux and Hassan N’Dam from Montreal, Quebec, Canada…Itskowitch says Roc Nation Sports’ deal with BET (which starts on June 20 with Andre Ward in Oakland) will see them share nine events over 18 months, with most of the shows taking place on Saturday nights….It looks like HBO will go with just one fight on June 27 from the StubHub Center. There was some talk of adding featherweight prospect Oscar Valdez but nothing transpired…Saw “Revenge of the Nerds” again recently. Yeah, that’s an American classic that stands the test of time. Bernie Casey as UN Jefferson should’ve been up for an Academy Award…Is Periscope worth downloading?…Does boxing still need Dana White?…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.