Tuesday, October 14, 2014

On Al Haymon

News Item:  Deontay Wilder rejects a multi-fight agreement from Jay-Z's Roc Nation company, which would have paid him $2M in his first fight against heavyweight titleholder Bermane Stiverne. 

News Item: Middleweight titlist Peter Quillin relinquishes his belt and turns down $1.4M from Roc Nation instead of facing mandatory challenger Matt Korobov.

As reported by ESPN's Dan Rafael, Wilder was forced to reject Roc Nation's aggressive bid (10 times his highest purse to date) because his adviser, Al Haymon, refused to bless the agreement. Similarly, Quillin turned down a career-high payday earlier this year because Haymon wouldn't sanction it. 

Haymon instructed his fighters to refuse these offers without even giving them an immediate, face-saving opportunity. It wasn't as if Quillin was guaranteed a purse of $1.1 M to face another live body as a make-good gesture. No, Wilder and Quillin lost their biggest paydays and had to swallow that awful medicine on their own, resulting in money out the door, derision and a loss of respect within the boxing community. I believe that the lack of a face-saving maneuver on Haymon's part is an indictment of how he conducts business. Isn't the job of a manager or an adviser to maximize his fighter's worth? How is making a boxer an object of mockery helping his future earning potential?

These specific moves by Haymon were clearly designed to block Roc Nation's entrance into boxing promotion. With a huge bankroll, Jay-Z has been looking to make a splash in the sport. (It also has been widely speculated that there is some personal bad blood between Haymon and Jay-Z going back to Haymon's days in the R&B concert promotion business.) Haymon was wary of letting his boxers ply their trade under a well-heeled, new promotional shingle, one that might encroach upon his future plans in the sport. Give Wilder multi-millions for a fight and suddenly he might not be so amenable to the status quo under Haymon.

But let's examine these events in a broader context. Ultimately, a fighter signs with a manager so that he can have an advocate who maximizes his opportunities and earning potential while protecting his career. Whatever else a manager or an adviser does, money and fighter protection are his chief responsibilities. 

In both news items listed above, Haymon implored his boxers to reject life-altering financial opportunities for no apparent net gain to the boxers themselves. Remember, fighters have no pension plan after they retire. They face significant physical and mental risks in the sport. Boxers have a notoriously short life span; the need to maximize earnings at their peak is paramount. The sport is hard enough as it is but now these two fighters have to turn down life-changing money because of Haymon's personal pique? That doesn't sound like a good deal to me.

As Haymon has amassed an impressive roster of clients – including Floyd Mayweather, Adrien Broner, Danny Garcia, Keith Thurman, Amir Khan and many others – he has steadily shied away from matching his best against those whom he doesn't control. Thus, for Maidana and Matthysse to get big opportunities, they had to sign with him. Even a former titleholder like Khan, who has generated a lot of money without Haymon's support, felt obligated to align himself with Haymon to receive a realistic shot at Mayweather. 

The fruits of Haymon’s labor have produced a stellar bloc of exciting fighters – mostly between 140 and 154 lbs. – who have several world title belts and a network (Showtime) eating out of Haymon's hand to televise them. In fact, Haymon has generated so much leverage with Showtime that he has successfully earned dates from the network for unappetizing matchups like Danny Garcia-Rod Salka, Lamont Peterson-Edgar Santana and Keith Thurman-Julio Diaz. 

But these are not the only criticisms of Haymon, who has been in boxing for over a decade. Perhaps the most damning one is that he has yet to produce a bona fide superstar on his own. True, he has been instrumental in taking Floyd Mayweather from a pound-for-pound titlist to the highest earner in sports, but Mayweather was carefully developed into a champion under Top Rank's eye. 

Removing Mayweather from the equation, Haymon has exhibited a pattern of failing to develop his most prized fighters. Andre Berto's welterweight reign was ended by the first puncher that he faced. Haymon marched Adrien Broner from lightweight to welterweight and put him in with one of the division's most feared sluggers in just his second fight at the new weight (Maidana). Haymon secured a title shot for Gary Russell Jr. (who was completely untested in his development) and he was summarily beat down by one of the most accomplished amateur boxers of the modern era (Vasyl Lomachenko). Leo Santa Cruz has won two belts without meeting a top fighter. Who knows how good he really is? (Haymon had him turn down a fight against fellow titleholder Scott Quigg.) Now, Deontay Wilder has been set to fight for a title shot with scarcely beating a top-ten fighter. 

All of these boxers have not made it past the titleholder level and many have wilted when facing top opposition. They are not among the truly elite fighters in the sport even if they possess elite skills. The (lack of) development under Haymon can help explain why their careers have stalled out at the highest level of the sport. These are Olympians, prized amateurs and top prospects, yet they haven't reached the sport's pinnacle.

Haymon rushes specific fighters towards title shots while others he treats with indifference. Danny Garcia was thrown to the wolves early in his career; he was supposed to lose to both Erik Morales and Amir Khan. Only after he started upsetting bigger names did Haymon seem to take an active interest in his career. Keith Thurman is one of boxing's most exciting young fighters and yet he has done nothing more than take on Julio Diaz in 2014. Lucas Matthysse is a truly ferocious puncher who galvanizes boxing fans yet he still appears on undercards. (He has been one of the few Haymon fighters who has been publicly critical of the way that he has been handled.) 

2014 has been a lost year for many of Haymon's fighters; in a number of instances Haymon is at fault. Broner has taken the year to consolidate his skills in a lower weight class. Thurman had a meaningless fight and then was on the shelf with an injury. According to him, he has received a clean bill of health and yet his next bout has not been scheduled. Garcia took a step back with an ineffectual performance against Mauricio Herrera and wasted time against an undeserving Rod Salka. Shawn Porter lost in the second defense of his title. Russell Jr. went down to Lomachenko and Haymon has nothing set up for him in the aftermath of the defeat. Matthysse has been marking time again B-level guys at 140. Guerrero had one outing against a semi-decent guy from Japan. Santa Cruz hasn't fought anyone live all year. Quillin's opponent was a joke.

Surely, a reason why many of these fighters haven't had impact bouts this year can be explained by the restrictions of Showtime, both in terms of available dates and dollars. With Haymon having so many television-friendly fighters and with only one place to put them (HBO kicked him off its network last year), there just hasn't been enough room in Showtime's schedule and budget to accommodate everyone. 

A further complication for Haymon and his stable this year has been the legal problems surrounding Golden Boy Promotions. After CEO Richard Schaefer "resigned," it remained unclear which fighters were actually promoted by Golden Boy and which were promotional free agents. Under the revamped Golden Boy, President Oscar de la Hoya has been loath to give featured A-side spots to boxers who don't have valid Golden Boy contracts (a reasonable position). Thus, many of Haymon's fighters are in holding patterns until the Golden Boy-Schaefer split is finalized. In short, Haymon needs more dates for his fighters. 

Reportedly, Haymon has been working on this problem by trying to set up a deal with NBC Sports Network. From Haymon's perspective, it makes sense not to lose any additional assets until the new agreement is in place. An undefeated heavyweight like Deontay Wilder has a lot of value to a network like NBC Sports; whereas, if he loses or if Haymon loses the power to control him, that star wattage is gone. 

All of this is fine and dandy but let it not obscure the essential point: a boxing manager is supposed to work for the fighter. He or she should not stand in the way of a career, and Haymon has been blocking opportunities for his fighters, a cardinal sin for a boxing manager. 

He has potential stars in Thurman, Garcia, Matthysse and Wilder but in 2014 he has refused to put them in contests worthy of their talent and stature. Not only do these fighters miss out on bigger paydays by appearing in lesser matchups, but they have also seen their respective statuses in the sport stall out. Haymon's actions have reduced demand for these fighters, as well as many others in his stable, ultimately suppressing their earnings – again, the number-one thing that a manager should not do. 

To date, with the exception of Mayweather or anyone who fights him, not one of Haymon's fighters is getting the really big money. Many are making comfortable six-figure purses for each fight (a few crack seven), but who else has been allowed to reach for the stars? Why wasn't Danny Garcia put in a huge fight to capitalize off of his Matthysse win? Why hasn't Thurman gotten a title shot? Why have Wilder and Matthysse been fighting on undercards? Are any of these fighters really maximizing their earning potential?

Right now Haymon is having his moment, but if enough fighters are forced to give up millions, his current modus operandi will be unsustainable. Someone will come along who offers more money, better guidance and more enticing opportunities. Don King generated billions in boxing and yet he was unable to maintain his stable as more equitable players came into the sport. As of now, Haymon has all the fighters he could ever hope for, but how many of them are truly happy with their careers?

This article has been updated to reflect the purse bid process. Language was removed that mischaracterized a certain feature of purse bids.  

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter
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  1. Really good article. Haymon is failing as a promoter (he is one even if he calls himself an advisor) by taking away big fights from his boxers and by keeping boxing fans from these fights. I think he will start losing momentum to end up doing what he did at the beginning.

  2. Great article...another example would be Haymon's handling of Adonis Stevenson....a pseudo mega-fight is happening at light heavyweight, and Stevenson has to watch from the sidelines...