The Soapbox: The Haymon Effect – Jan. 1, 2015
The latest installment of “The Soapbox” comes from one of the best boxing follows on Twitter, “The President,” Andrew V. Kennedy (@andrewvkennedy) who has a lot to get off his chest regarding one of 2014’s most talked about people in boxing: the all-powerful and reclusive Al Haymon, who became a reviled figure to fans as he impeded such fights as Adonis Stevenson-Sergey Kovalev.
As his influence grew in the sport and rumors of his power only growing in 2015 and beyond became louder and more prevalent, fans started to become increasingly uneasy with the direction of their beloved sport.
Mr. Kennedy, the floor is yours…
“The Haymon Effect
“First off, let me state that I am just a fan of boxing. I’m no ‘expert’ on the ‘Sweet Science’ or the boxing business. So of course, nothing I say here should be taken as ‘capital T’ true. What follows is simply my opinion based on my observations of the sport I love (and our culture at large). My devotion for the sport flows from its authenticity. The honesty required for a fighter’s preparation, the ‘realness’ of the fighters themselves and the ‘ultimate truth’ of their combat in the ring. Corrupt judging and PED use can undermine this authenticity, of course, yet there are certain developments in the boxing business itself which I believe pose a greater threat.
“Now from all the information that’s trickled out over the last year, it would seem as if Al Haymon has a desire to ‘take over’ boxing. He wants to be the Dana White of pugilism – and thereby eliminate all other relevant competition. In my view, this is bad for the sport – because I’m not really sure Haymon actually likes boxing. Whatever you might think of Dana White, the guy loves his sport. And whatever you might think of Don King or Bob Arum – those two have been in the ‘business of boxing.’ Haymon seems to be, quite simply, ‘in business’ (as Ken Miller pointed out on UCN’s ‘10 Count’). Now of course, he has every right to do as he pleases; however, that doesn’t mean it’s good for the ‘authenticity’ of the sport.
“This ‘Walmart’ approach to the sport has its merits; I suppose. As opposed to cheap, consolidated, and widely available goods – Haymon seems poised to provide more fights in one place at a better price. With the glut of pay-per-views, this can be seen as a great relief to fans tired of shelling out cash to their cable companies. However, the downside is lack of quality and authenticity. The emphasis is on the ‘business’; not the ‘products’ – the products are disposable. There’s no substance to what you’re selling because you’re selling a ‘brand.’ Now this is fine in consumer capitalism. But in the boxing world, the end result is Gary Russell Jr. getting shredded by Vasyl Lomachenko like cardboard in a wood chipper. Gary Russell Jr. is a typical Walmart product while Lomachenko is a hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind item. The great fighters have always beenhigh-quality items and they are the ones who’ve driven and carried the sport. I’m afraid Haymon will seek to establish quantity over quality going forward.
“This past year of boxing has been a down one in terms of quality. Many blame Haymon for this. There are also some that hold out the hope that Haymon has been holding back, so to speak, in an effort to maximize the impact of his future plans. Yet this also raises the question, ‘What exactly is Haymon ‘holding back’?’ Haymon fighters seem to all share some similar characteristics: loud mouths, lots of money, questionable fighting skills and thin resumes. Haymon’s ‘products’ are rather unremarkable – more ‘sizzle than steak.’ Now this fact provides great entertainment value when a Haymon fighter gets ‘exposed’ and folded by a non-Haymon fighter. But when Haymon decides to keep things in-house – the overall quality (and authenticity) of the sport suffers.
“It’s been said by Steve Kim and others that if you spoil a fighter, you kill his competitive spirit. Like it or not, boxing kind of depends on the competitive spirit of its fighters. This competitive spirit is not something you can really teach either; it must come from within. It is also fueled by circumstance. This is why you don’t see too many fighters from the upper-class of society – guys who don’t usually go into boxing if they don’t ‘need to.’ It’s also why you see Russian fighters having championship success; their competitive spirit has been forged by circumstance. To be a Haymon fighter means to be spoiled – highly compensated for less (and less risky) work. Now of course, who the hell wouldn’t want a deal like that? All of us who punch the clock would love to be paid more for less demanding output – its human nature. However, when you provide a fighter a certain level of comfort, all that’s left to fuel that competitive spirit must come from within them. And lets be honest; our flaky social media-driven, ‘Look at me’ culture isn’t exactly conducive to producing individuals with the inner drive of a Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Joe Frazier, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard or Thomas Hearns.
“But who am I – or anyone else – to tell a fighter to take more risks in the ring or fight more than two times a year? And therein lies the conundrum. You can’t necessarily blame fighters for signing with Al Haymon yet the overall quality of the sport suffers because of it. And if he truly has designs on a boxing monopoly, then one can envision a rather bleak future if he succeeds. As a businessman, he will, of course, look to sell his products to the masses. And the masses have no idea that a ‘boxing league’ with the likes of Adrien Broner, Danny Garcia, Peter Quillin, Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto isn’t exactly (shall we say) overfilling with ‘competitive spirit.’ Will good fights happen? Yes, they will at times but I fear the ‘realness’ of the sport will take a hit. This is the ‘Haymon Effect’ – the lowering of quality for distribution to the masses. And with Walmart making 17 billion dollars last year, ‘Uncle Al’ might giving the public exactly what it wants.
Andrew, well done and I don’t know if I can add anymore to what you stated. But it’s very simple coming into this New Year: If Haymon is part of the process that delivers attractive match-ups, then all’s good with Al. If he keeps playing his role as – what Kathy Duva called him last year – an ‘obstructionist,’ then he’ll be Public Enemy Number One (and I’m not talking about Chuck D). Say what you want about the likes of Don King or Bob Arum in the past but they made historic and legendary fights throughout their history (and yeah, I’m insinuating that Haymon is more than just an adviser or manager).
Look, I get why boxers sign with this guy. Hey, you give me an opportunity to make more than I’m really worth and do less work – sign me up. But fans like Andrew, you guys aren’t getting a cut of the action, which has always made me curious as to why a certain segment of fans seem to defend him so vigorously and make him into a martyr of sorts. Regardless of this gig, I was – and remain – a fan of the sport. I now cover the business but the fights are what attract me the most. And yeah, I perfectly understand the “risk-versus-reward” dynamic but when boxing becomes only about business, well, then it stops becoming a sport.
And I couldn’t agree more; the vast majority of Haymon fighters seem to have this odd sense of entitlement as they are insulated from the hard realities of the sport that forged the truly great fighters of the past (by the way, Andrew, your one-man campaign against the ever-increasing lunacy of one Peter Quillin is pound-for-pound worthy. If you readers don’t believe me, go and check out his Twitter timeline).
Moving forward, there is no doubt Haymon would like to change the paradigm of this business, which, on the surface, wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. But as you stated, at what cost? The night of Aug. 9 on Showtime was a particular low point in the business in 2014 and now the hope is that Haymon was putting all his “good” fights on layaway for his new “league,” which will be showcased on the likes of NBC, NBC Sports and perhaps even an outlet like Spike, along with Showtime. This would all be part of his grand plan to take over the sport (hey, there’s a reason Haymon has signed over 150 fighters – even “no-hopers” and journeymen. You have to even monopolize the tomato cans if that’s your racket).
So can this actually be done?
Who knows? One insider told me a few months ago, “He’s going to try and monopolize the business and fail but make everyone’s lives in the business miserable in the process.” Yeah,that should be a fun time for boxing, right?
As for the future, well, let’s see what it holds. Speaking of which, all those Haymon boxers you mentioned…uh, does anyone know when they’ll be back in action? I mean, no one genuinely seems to know. Not even the fighters, their trainers, co-managers/fathers or promoters can give you a real answer. What I’m being told now is that the much-talked-about NBC deal has been backed up from the early part of February to March for whatever reason and the fighters and their handlers are getting orders from Master Haymon to be ready during this period of time.
So till then, just hold on and hope for the best.