Tuesday, April 18, 2017

DiBella on Building Brooklyn Boxing

Observing promoter Lou DiBella on a Brooklyn fight night is to see a man in his element. Checking on attendance figures, making last-minute phone calls, hobnobbing with fight personnel, sparring with media members, giving instructions to his staff, greeting locals at a neighborhood restaurant, DiBella is in constant action. 

DiBella, a former HBO executive, has been helping to promote shows in New York for more than 15 years but with the addition of Barclays Center to the regional landscape and the plethora of boxing talents fighting under the PBC banner, the time is right to expand boxing's landscape in the Big Apple, and beyond. 

For an event like the recent Thurman-Garcia fight, DiBella functioned as the lead promoter of record.  Throughout the promotion of the event and during fight week itself, DiBella assumed many roles. He served as master of ceremonies for the pre- and post-fight press conferences and was the main media liaison for the promotion. He helped set ticket prices and was instrumental in the overall pricing strategy for the event. DiBella placed a few of his fighters on the undercard and had to match those bouts. During fight week, he helped create media availabilities, interview opportunities and public events to expose Thurman and Garcia to additional audiences. 

DiBella's work for that promotion helped create a successful event. Thurman-Garcia was one of the biggest fights in PBC's three-year history. The fight drew a strong rating on CBS and set Barclays Center boxing records for attendance and live gate.

DiBella laughs at criticism that he is somehow a "sham promoter" for PBC events. Originally from the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, DiBella has put a lot of sweat equity into building the boxing program at Barclays Center (their next event will be Saturday's Berto-Porter card). Working with Al Haymon and Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark, DiBella has helped grow the Brooklyn boxing market. In just over two years of involvement with the PBC, DiBella has seen the fruits of his labor pay off. Attendance continues to increase; now boxing routinely tops 10,000 at Barclays. And as DiBella points out, those numbers aren't predicated on one particular fighter, but the overall Brooklyn Boxing brand. 

Currently, DiBella wears a number of hats in professional boxing. He promotes dozens of his own fighters, many of whom are up-and-coming prospects. As mentioned, he's the promoter of record for many of the PBC's largest shows, especially those that take place in New York. In addition, one of his big projects is pushing to elevate female professional boxing to a higher level of visibility. He's already placed Heather Hardy and Amanda Serrano on larger shows.   

DiBella, not necessarily known to be an optimist, truly believes that there are many positive signs for boxing in the U.S. and New York in particular. He thinks that the PBC is putting out its best product since its inception. He's also relishing his role in building boxing in his hometown. 

I talked with DiBella at several points throughout the Thurman-Garcia promotion and broke bread with him on fight night. In addition, I also followed up with him about Berto-Porter to gain some additional insight regarding the Brooklyn Boxing brand. 

"I don't want to get out of boxing," DiBella said. "I said I didn't want to be in it unless I was making a difference. Over the last 12 months, I see a corner being turned and I think I'm a part of something that's very interesting...I'm not fooling myself. I'm here for a while." 

In talking about the development of the PBC and his overall working relationship with Al Haymon, DiBella, who has known Haymon for well over a decade, believes that the PBC, although acknowledging a learning curve for the series, has the chance to change how fans interact with and are exposed to boxing.

"He [Haymon] told me years ago, when he initially approached me," DiBella said, "that he was trying to change the paradigm, and that I was going to be someone he was going to come to when he was ready to discuss it. I didn’t know exactly what was coming but I knew long before the first PBC show that he was working on something big."

DiBella also gives plenty of credit to Haymon and Yormark as well for boxing's growth in New York City.  

"I haven't had a bad show to promote here in a long time," he said. "Now, all the stuff here is top-notch. Frampton-Santa Cruz, Jack-DeGale, Thurman-Porter, the Coney Island show for Errol Spence coming out of the Olympics. Those were all big events...we're putting out a good product." 

When asked about the secret to growing boxing in Brooklyn, DiBella was blunt about why he is a differentiating factor in the marketplace. 

"You've got to be here," he said. "I walk into the restaurant here and everybody knows me. I walk around the neighborhood. I know people all around." 

DiBella singled out Yormark's commitment in particular. Unlike many arena executives around the country, DiBella believes that Yormark understands the value of boxing and its role in connecting with the surrounding community.

"What differentiates Brett Yormark is that he’s all about creating a brand, like it’s a team, like it's part of a league – Brooklyn Boxing. His work with the PBC is an attempt to build Brooklyn Boxing, a boxing program. He works with PBC because he wants the regularity of its product." 

This week, DiBella has been working on the finishing touches for Berto-Porter. Even though neither boxer is from New York or a nearby geographical region, DiBella is pleased to stage the fight at Barclays Center. He expects the lower bowl of the arena to be filled by Saturday night. In addition, he doesn't think that with big fights in consecutive months at the arena that there is any concern with oversaturating the market.

He said, "Not worried. Here’s why. I built Berto on Broadway Boxing [DiBella's club boxing series in New York]. I started his career. He fought in New York with regularity. He’s a well-known commodity here, almost as if he’s a New York kid. And Porter had the biggest fight of his career here. He’s fought at the Barclays Center and he’s also a known commodity. That’s an easy fight to promote here. It’s a really good fight. Saturate me with really good fights. I know what to do with them. I’m fine with that."

Looking at fighters from his own promotional stable, which features a number of prospects who are rising in the various rankings organizations, DiBella believes that with the right matchups, he could have several potential headliners in arenas such as Barclays Center in the near future.  

"Someday, I think a guy like Regis Prograis could headline an event here," he said. "He has the ability. He’s just not ready yet. [Sergiy] Derevyanchenko could be a main event here. I think [Ivan] Baranchyk a million percent could be a main event here. It’s got to be like a Gatti-Ward scenario. I think we could make some really great matchups with him. Hot Rod [Radivoje Kalajdzic] has the ability to fight here, not as the A-side, but he could fight in a main event here." 

One aspect that would help grow boxing in the greater New York region is the addition of a mid-size venue that could hold cards for 3,000-8,000 fans. Although the Theater at Madison Square Garden fits into that slot, the MSG owners only stage a couple of boxing cards a year there, and the cost for that venue can be prohibitively expensive. DiBella acknowledges that there's a void in the New York marketplace. Although Barclays Center can be scaled down somewhat, mid-level shows could help expand the frequency of the boxing product in New York. In addition, those shows could help break local, national and international fighters on a larger scale. 

But those concerns are for another day. For DiBella, the wheels keep turning. He's thinking about ways to expand his fighters' visibility and how to build bigger events. There are hands to shake and late-night call sessions. Soon, he will be working with Yormark to expand the Brooklyn Boxing brand into the new Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. DiBella finds himself in the thick of the action now; he's much closer to where he wants to be. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Opinions and Observations: The Lomachenko Card

A jab step. A foot feint. Quick side-to-side movement. A quarter-step back. A spin. A triple uppercut-left hook combination. Punches from all angles and trajectories raining down with heavy frequency. Jason Sosa couldn't adequately defend himself against Vasyl Lomachenko because he didn't know where or when to expect incoming fire. 

A specific sequence in the eighth round illustrated Lomachenko's singular brilliance in this area. Moving blindingly fast from the left side of Sosa's body to his right, Lomachenko successfully got Sosa turned around the wrong way. Lomachenko then unloaded a straight left hand that was completely undefended: the free shot the fighters dream about! Lomachenko detonated the blast and Sosa was rocked. Sensing an opportunity to end the fight, Lomachenko upped his attack with maximum ferocity. He followed up with a fuselage of power shots. Sosa stumbled around the ring, clinched, but somehow found his way out of the round. However, he wouldn't be long for the fight; his corner mercifully stopped the bout after the ninth. 

If there is one flaw with Lomachenko, and this may or may not be of importance as his career continues, the sequence I noted above, although brilliant in execution, demonstrated it. With a free shot against a defenseless opponent, Lomachenko couldn't get the KO. He's just not a huge one-punch knockout artist. Credit Sosa's chin and determination but this instance was a perfect illustration of Lomachenko's power deficit. Yes, he inflicts damage and hurts opponents, but he lacks a true eraser. Again, this only might be a factor later in his career because a number of boxers who have ascended to the top of the sport weren't one-punch knockout guys. Mayweather rarely knocked anyone out at welterweight. Hopkins wasn't a KO guy during the latter part of his middleweight reign. Whitaker was never known for his power. Lomachenko's lack of a true knockout punch might hurt him in a fight down the road, but maybe he won't have to worry about it. 

However, let me back up for a moment. This potential flaw of Lomachenko's has already manifested. In the 12th round against Orlando Salido, Lomachenko had Salido badly hurt and in survival mode. The fight was neck-and-neck and if Lomachenko could land a finishing blow, surely he wouldn't have to sweat it out on the judges’ scorecards. But he couldn't end the fight; he would go on to lose a split decision. 

Salido was just Lomachenko's second pro opponent and surely Vasyl has gained experience and ring maturity since that March night in 2014. However, as Lomachenko continues to face better fighters and potentially at higher weights, it's certainly possible that he will find himself needing a knockdown or a knockout to cement a victory. 

But for now, let's just enjoy the ride. 

Watching Lomachenko in-person for the first time, I was amazed by his footwork. He moved with such grace and commanded the ring. His movement left Sosa confounded; Lomachenko looked like he could've been a dancer or a fencer. In fact, Lomachenko took years of dancing lessons in the Ukraine and that training certainly has paid off in his boxing career. Sosa, a hard-working, blue-collar fighter, lacked the foot speed or athleticism to find Lomachenko consistently, let alone compete with him. 

Sosa used his stablemate, Tevin Farmer, as a chief sparring partner for Lomachenko. Like Lomachenko, Farmer is a slick southpaw who is hard to hit cleanly. However, Farmer is essentially defensively minded and isn't the type of fighter to average upwards of 60 shots in a round. What separates Lomachenko from a boxer like Farmer, who is an incredibly talented fighter, is the offensive temperament that accompanies his strong defensive foundation. Yes, Sosa might be able to track a defensive cutie who only wants to throw 35 punches a round, but he doesn't have the defensive chops to remain on the front foot against a volume-puncher like Lomachenko. 

A fighter can't press Lomachenko if he's constantly in defensive mode. At points, Sosa landed on Lomachenko but he couldn't get much on his shots because he wasn't confident where Lomachenko would be. And unlike the Salido fight, Lomachenko wasn't compliantly standing in front of Sosa, giving him his body to pound. Lomachenko has learned a lot from the Salido loss and he seldom remained stationary on Saturday. He refused to provide Sosa with a way into the fight. 

Lomachenko is an elite talent who now remains in a holding pattern, waiting for tougher opponents to fight him. At this point, Lomachenko may not yet bring the money for prospective top fighters to face him. Hopefully, Top Rank and HBO continue to support Lomachenko and provide potential foes with attractive financial inducements. Lomachenko's current abilities are among the best in the sport. We wait with rapt anticipation for his opportunity to face greater talents. 


In the HBO opener, cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk won a competitive battle against Michael Hunter. Usyk, the 2008 heavyweight Olympic gold medalist, has moved fast as a pro, winning a world title belt in just his 10th fight. Hunter was himself a 2012 Olympian and although he was getting a title shot in only his 13th pro bout, he lacked Usyk's strong slate of developmental fights. He had defeated the previously unbeaten Isiah Thomas in 2016 but that was the only good fighter on his resume prior to Usyk. 

Hunter started on Saturday very confidently. Featuring a hard jab, clever footwork and quick combinations, he flummoxed Usyk for portions of the first four rounds. Hunter would step in with quick one-twos and deftly get out of the pocket. He displayed significant boxing skills and a true fighting spirit. Throughout the match, whenever he got roughed up, he refused to capitulate and continued to fire back. 

However, as the fight progressed, Hunter's lack of experience led to his undoing. In the second half of the bout, he ceded control of the ring generalship battle. Hunter got dragged into Usyk's fight and he didn't have the experience or ring IQ to regain control of the match. When Hunter should've clinched or left the pocket, he was too game and instead decided to exchange. Lacking a big punch, Hunter couldn't match Usyk's power. In addition, Usyk's constant pressure and high-volume attack started to wear him down. 

Usyk had huge offensive rounds in the 10th and 12th, tattooing Hunter with right uppercuts, right hooks and straight left hands. In fact, the fight should've been stopped at several points but referee Bill Clancy – a sadist if I've ever seen one – permitted Hunter to take an unnecessary beating. Yes, Hunter had won a few early rounds but the fight wasn't in the balance in the bout's final third. By the end, Hunter was cooked and only his pride, his fighting instincts and Clancy's cruelty permitted him to hear the final bell. 

Since turning pro, Usyk has developed a rabid, cult-like following among many in boxing's cognoscenti. With his considerable boxing skills, constant pressure and offensive temperament, Usyk possesses traits that many observers believe could lead to an elite boxing career. More than a few have suggested that Usyk ultimately could become a genuine heavyweight contender. 

I won't say that Usyk disappointed on Saturday. He beat a determined and talented foe who offered the type of tricky angles, hand speed and footwork that can make many fighters look ordinary. However, Usyk's defense just wasn't good enough on Saturday to make heavyweights start to worry. Usyk had little defense for Hunter's jab. Usyk couldn't effectively counter it and featured little head movement. In addition, he struggled with Hunter's rhythm. Stepping in and out of range, Hunter landed frequently. Now, imagine those same shots from a much bigger puncher. 

If you haven't noticed, the heavyweight division is changing over. Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder are not the plodders of yesteryear. They use their feet and move around the ring. Usyk could fair well against a stationary fighter but if he decides to move up, he'll have to beat an athletic, powerful heavyweight to emerge as the top guy in that division. At this point, his defense is too porous and his straight-line movements won't help matters. 

Usyk, whom many regard as the best cruiserweight in the world at the present moment, still has unfinished business in the division. Fellow titleholders like Murat Gassiev and Mairis Briedis could present some difficulties for him. Usyk is 30 and his prime is now but if he truly wants to become an elite heavyweight, he should use his current division as a finishing school. Let's see his defense against Gassiev's power bombs. Can he overcome Briedis' boxing fluidity? If he emerges from those contests unscathed, he will be ready for tougher fights at heavyweight, but for now, he still needs some refinement. 


Oleksandr Gvozdyk dazzled on Saturday with a third-round knockout of rugged Yunieski Gonzalez. Gvozdyk, like his fellow countrymen Lomachenko and Usyk, also was an Olympic medalist, and although he might not engender the same effusive praise in boxing circles that his compatriots do, he certainly provided some indelible moments on Saturday. 

In the third round, he had a masterful sequence that led to the first knockdown. Connecting with a powerful combination, Gvozdyk then took a half step back to avoid Gonzalez's counter. After allowing Gonzalez to miss wildly, Gvozdyk stepped back into the pocket and unleashed a peach of a left hook that shook Gonzalez to his foundation. Within moments, Gonzalez was on the canvas. Later in the round, Gvozdyk uncorked a massive overhand right that ended the fight. Earlier in his career, Gonzalez had taken some huge shots from Jean Pascal and Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, but he was unable to withstand Gvozdyk's combination of intelligence, power and timing. 

Gvozdyk continues to improve. In July of last year, he was dropped by trial horse Tommy Karpency. Although Karpency isn't a big puncher, he caught Gvozdyk in an overconfident moment with his hands down. Gvozdyk subsequently finished off Karpency but he had learned his lesson. Gvozdyk pounded out a win later in 2016 against Isaac Chilemba, a fighter who makes opponents look terrible. However, Gvozdyk maintained his composure and work rate and continued to win rounds. Ultimately, Chilemba's corner decided to end the fight. 

On Saturday, Gvozdyk successfully neutralized Gonzalez's overhand right. Instead of getting caught with punches, like he had in the past, Gvozdyk avoided punishment and inflicted his own. Gvozdyk has considerable offensive skills and packs a big punch. If he remains committed to defensive responsibility, he could emerge as a major player in the light heavyweight division. At the very least, with Saturday's performance, he’s now on the map.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.      

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Lomachenko -- Is "Great" Good Enough?

By any measure, Vasyl Lomachenko is one of the most talented fighters in contemporary boxing. He amassed two gold medals for Ukraine in the Olympics and an amateur record of 396-1 (that's not a typo). In just eight professional fights, he's won titles in two different weight classes. He almost captured a belt in his second pro fight, losing via a split decision with the deck stacked against him (Orlando Salido badly missed weight and the ref failed to penalize Salido for repeated, egregious low blows). In only his third professional contest, he successfully won a championship belt against undefeated Gary Russell, Jr. 

And that's where the facts end and the superlatives begin. More than a few boxing historians rate him as one of the best amateurs of all time. Bob Arum, Lomachenko's promoter, has proclaimed him the best fighter since Ali. Roy Jones, the former pound-for-pound champ and current HBO commentator, believes that Lomachenko is the top fighter in boxing. Almost all credible ranking organizations rate Lomachenko among the best in the sport. 

Top Rank, Arum's company, has accelerated Lomachenko’s development far beyond its standard operating procedure. The company secured a title shot for him in just his second fight (unheard of in modern boxing) and placed him on the Mayweather-Pacquiao card, the highest-profile boxing event of the century to this point. He was also further exposed on a Pacquiao pay per view in Macau. By Lomachenko's seventh fight, he was already headlining a card on HBO. He's now become one of the network's core fighters.

Lomachenko has enraptured many hardcore boxing fans with his dazzling display of athleticism, footwork, punch placement and creativity. He finds angles to land shots that few could even imagine, let alone attempt and execute to perfection. His footwork astounds. He can spin an opponent and come from behind his foe to land a legal shot (a personal favorite). He seemingly works both sides of an opponent simultaneously, using quick lateral movement to initiate offense as he chooses. He's also an extremely talented combination puncher, throwing every punch in the book with frightening accuracy and hand speed. And he's not just a pitty-pat puncher. His knockout of multi-divisional champ Roman Martinez was truly devastating. 

On Saturday, Lomachenko will fight Jason Sosa in another HBO headlining appearance. The bout will take place at the MGM National Harbor outside of Washington, D.C. The venue seats only 3,000 or so but the card was a virtual sell-out within a week of tickets going on sale. 

Although it's clear that Lomachenko has a base of support, the question must be asked if it will grow, or will he remain just a cult-like figure among the sport's aficionados? Does he have the ability to expand his fan base beyond boxing most devout supporters? Will he ever fill large arenas? Might he one day become a pay per view star or one of the top draws in boxing? 

HBO and Top Rank have clearly been ahead of the general boxing public when it comes to Lomachenko. Through this point in his career, Lomachenko has drawn middling TV ratings and he's yet to become a top ticket seller. And while he is supremely talented, are HBO and Top Rank force-feeding him to the boxing public, or might they see their investment pay off with repeated exposure?

Unfortunately for Top Rank and HBO, both organizations face significant hurdles in their plans to make a star out of Lomachenko. As for Top Rank, after Sosa, they have pretty much run out of potential opponents from their own promotional stable (they co-promote Sosa with Peltz Boxing). They have given Lomachenko a crack at Salido, Martinez and Nicholas Walters – all good fighters but none that are elite. And the current landscape at junior lightweight lacks a truly worthy test of Lomachenko. 

The opponents that may be able to take Lomachenko to the next level of popularity are a division above, at lightweight (Jorge Linares, Mikey Garcia), and are signed to/aligned with other promoters. Linares could be a possibility in that Arum will work with Golden Boy Promotions but Mikey Garcia, who is aligned with Richard Schaefer, seems far less likely. (Garcia sued Top Rank to gain his promotional independence). Top Rank also rarely works with Al Haymon and his stable of fighters, which includes current 135-lb. champ Robert Easter, Jr. 

If Bob Arum has grand designs on growing Lomachenko in the sport, he's most likely going to have to hold his nose and make deals with those whom he doesn't like. I guess it's possible that Terence Crawford (a Top Rank fighter) could fight Lomachenko at 140, but Crawford has already talked about moving up to 147 and it's unlikely that the money would be available for that matchup (more on that in a little). In short, Bob needs to deal with Richard or Al if he really wants Lomachenko to develop into a larger attraction. This could mean contentious negotiations, network disagreements, venue disputes and media battles; he's going to have to cede some control. 

At 85, Arum has lived a full life and has made his millions. But at 29, and in the prime of his career, Lomachenko has yet to earn big money. If Arum thinks that Lomachenko is a generational talent, what's stopping him from matching his fighter tougher? Why not give Lomachenko the chance to earn more?

HBO has a different set of issues. The network hasn't exactly been breaking the bank in 2017. HBO has continued a trend to move more fights to pay per view, away from their monthly boxing subscribers. The network couldn't afford to put Golovkin-Jacobs on its HBO Championship Boxing platform even though the purse for the main event was less than $5M (for instance, Taylor-Wright was on HBO and that had a similar price tag). In actual dollars, HBO's boxing budget is not what it was in previous decades and this disparity is even more striking when accounting for inflation. Furthermore, AT&T is in the process of attempting to acquire Time Warner (the corporate parent of HBO). There's no certainly that the deal goes through or how the potential new owners will regard boxing. From the outside, it seems that HBO Boxing has refused to make bold or expensive moves during this period of uncertainty. 

All of this matters because it's unclear if HBO will even have the largess to support Lomachenko in more substantial boxing endeavors. As Golovkin-Jacobs and Kovalev-Ward proved, the pay per view market isn't exactly on fire right now. And each of those fights would seem to do better on paper than any matchup that Lomachenko might be involved in (a fight against a cashed-out Manny Pacquiao notwithstanding). 

Lomachenko needs to be on a network and if HBO can't shell out real dollars for bigger opponents, Lomachenko's growth in the sport may plateau. Top Rank could always dig into its war chest to help defray HBO's costs for a fight or two, but ultimately, Top Rank is in business to make money. Established network starts aren't loss leaders; that's what prospects are for. Veteran boxers should be net-positive for a promotional company (or neutral, at worst); that's how the model has always worked. 

With all of these external factors acting as potential headwinds for his growth in the sport, Lomachenko has to do his part to create demand. Lomachenko has had few competitive fights. Sometimes he starts off aggressively (Roman Martinez) but there are other times where he seems content to get rounds in (Romulo Koasicha, Gamalier Rodriguez). Lomachenko can help himself by laying waste to lesser talents in quick fashion – like Golovkin and Kovalev did. Let's face it, fast knockouts are sexy. They leave fans wanting more. And it isn't like Lomachenko doesn't have the power or ability to do that; however, it may be a question of temperament for him. 

As Lomachenko readies for his 2017 debut, he enters the ring as an HBO headliner and one of Top Rank's featured fighters. But will he end the year as something more? Will his in-ring exploits lead to headlining positions in larger venues? Will he face even tougher competition? Will Top Rank and HBO pony up to ensure that better fights happen? Will Lomachenko endear himself to more casual boxing fans? 

It isn't easy to create boxing stars in the U.S. market. The sport has helped marginalize itself with some bad decision making. Even excepting boxing's self-inflicted wounds, ad-supported TV networks don't like to trouble themselves selling the sport to its sponsors, despite boxing often doing better ratings than other network programming. (Unfortunately, not enough suits believe that boxing can be a valuable part of a larger sports and entertainment portfolio.)

With the potential roadblocks facing Top Rank and HBO, Lomachenko, foreign-born and not a traditional one-punch knockout artist, will most likely have difficulty making the jump to the next level of visibility in boxing, to say nothing of the larger sporting world. He may very well wind up being the singular fighter of his era, but how many will notice? 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.