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.
Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.