Monday, July 26, 2021

Matchroom Should Buy Golden Boy

I. How We Got Here

In May of 2018 Matchroom Boxing and the DAZN streaming service announced an eight-year deal worth a potential billion dollars to enter the United States boxing market. A new entity was created as a result of the deal, Matchroom Boxing USA, a joint venture between Matchroom and DAZN. As part of the deal Eddie Hearn of Matchroom would be the figurehead and de facto leader of the new venture with the goal of signing and promoting top U.S.-based boxers and for them to fight on DAZN.

Just a few months after the original announcement, the initial U.S. boxing framework for DAZN changed as they entered into a long-term agreement with Golden Boy Promotions and with that deal, DAZN gained access to the number-one boxing star in North America, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez. Whereas Hearn had originally been the exclusive promoter for DAZN-based events in the U.S., now he had to compete with Golden Boy for dates on the platform. And although Hearn quickly emerged as the lead promoter on DAZN, Golden Boy was able to establish a presence on the streaming service.  

Flash forward three years later and it's safe to say that the three-pronged relationship in the U.S. between DAZN, Matchroom and Golden Boy hasn't cohered smoothly. Golden Boy has often struggled to get commitments and dates from DAZN for their non-Alvarez broadcasts (Canelo has subsequent left Golden Boy). And when they were able to get dates, they were often assigned a lesser broadcast team and the production values on their shows often trailed those that were provided for Matchroom USA's broadcasts. 

Matchroom's Eddie Hearn
Photo courtesy of Ed Mulholland

Although armed with a wave of publicity and backed by buckets of money, Hearn has only had mixed results in recruiting American talent to his stable. Throughout the last three years, his roster has included fighters such as Demetrius Andrade, Jessie Vargas, Tevin Farmer (co-promoted with DiBella Entertainment), Danny Roman (co-promoted with Thompson Boxing), Daniel Jacobs, Mikey Garcia (on a short-term deal) and Devin Haney. Hearn was able to sign or co-promote several capable fighters, but few who moved the needle in the North American boxing market.  

In 2019 Gennadiy Golovkin made a deal with DAZN and started working with Hearn. However, that relationship has yet to produce the mega-fights envisioned when the signing was announced. Hearn currently does have a working relationship with Canelo, but his stable of marketable fighters within the U.S. remains thin. 

II. The Current Scenario

Over the last three years DAZN's priorities have shifted. The service was able to survive the pandemic despite burning through loads of cash. They closed their New York offices, leaving behind just a skeleton staff. Among the layoffs in the DAZN/Matchrook USA retraction was matchmaker Eric Bottjer. Public relations guru Greg Domino left to join a position with Showtime. 

The network launched their global service in December of 2020. Earlier this year they announced a new deal with Matchroom for DAZN to become their exclusive provider of boxing content in the U.K and Ireland (the deal didn't include Anthony Joshua or Dillian Whyte). 

But what will become of DAZN's investment in America? 

After the formation of Matchroom USA, Hearn signed a number of North American amateurs, including Diego Pacheco, Austin "Ammo" Williams, Marc Castro, Nakita Ababiy, Raymond Ford and Otha Jones III. Almost all of these fighters still remain singed to the company. 

As of publication, there is not one Matchroom card officially scheduled for the USA. Certainly, there are plans in the works and there was a rumor circulating that Dillian Whyte would headline a U.S. show in August, but still, for a company that had grand designs on conquering the American market, their recent actions demonstrate a retrenchment, or at the very least a recalibration of their efforts.  

Despite losing Canelo, Golden Boy continues to promote shows in the U.S. on DAZN. With emerging stars such as Ryan Garcia and Vergil Ortiz, the company has two eminently promotable figures for the next few years. But still, dates seem hard to come by and from the outside, it still doesn't seem as if Golden Boy has the full weight of DAZN behind them. For now they seem to be tolerated, but I'm not sure if they are thought of us as a long-term strategic partner for the future of DAZN the way that Matchroom is. 

III. A Possible Solution for all Parties

There is no doubt that cracking the American boxing market is an uphill battle for a new company. Top Rank has been at it for over 40 years, Golden Boy for 20 and Al Haymon has been intimately involved in the U.S. boxing scene for 15 or so. The hardest part isn't getting network distribution or even signing fighters, it's creating an infrastructure to succeed. Professional boxing is built on relationships. It's connections with managers, trainers, talent scouts, gyms, amateur coaches and sponsors. The successful company knows that talent can come from anywhere and only by having multiple avenues available can companies acquire and cultivate a collection of fighters that can sustain a company. 

Matchroom USA has only been in the U.S. market for three years. It's unreasonable to suggest that they should have been able to build a sustainable infrastructure in just that short of a time. But still, I'm not sure that the right kind of progress has been made. Yes, Hearn has definitely established a beachhead in America, but I'm sure both he and DAZN expected more by this point. They wanted to dominate, not just be a player.  

Golden Boy's Oscar de la Hoya
Photo Courtesy of Stacey M. Snider

Despite staging several fantastic boxing cards in the U.S. over the past three years, Matchroom has not been able to assemble a roster that has many top attractions. In addition, its pipeline of prospects has been less than advertised. Jones has already lost, Ford has been spotty, Williams has had out-of-the ring difficulties. There doesn't seem to be a next wave coming. And one can't be a long-term player in the U.S. market without a developmental pipeline. It's too difficult and exceedingly expensive to have a long-term business strategy tied to poaching available veteran fighters. 

And while it's clear that DAZN has refocused its priorities on international territories and markets, it seems unlikely that the organization would abandon the U.S. market outright. There's too much money to be made for big fights. In addition, for a company that wants to have a worldwide presence in the sport, the U.S. market can't be ignored. Plus, American boxing fans have been conditioned for generations to pay hefty fees for boxing, whether for pay per views or network subscriptions. There are lots of potential paying customers in the U.S. 

There is a simple solution for the Matchroom USA conundrum: buy Golden Boy.  

For as much drama that occurs within Golden Boy, and let's face it, that organization is one of the best soap operas in the sport, their ability to identify, sign and develop talent is fantastic. With deep connections in the number-one boxing market in the U.S., Southern California, Golden Boy has been able to replenish and restock its roster despite notable defections. And for all of the out-of-the-ring difficulties that Oscar de la Hoya has faced over the past decade, he still retains a significant amount of goodwill. When he's right he's a major asset for the sport of boxing. 

For Matchroom USA to sustain a presence in America, it needs infrastructure and a developmental pipeline for success. Say what you want about Oscar or Eric Gomez, but they continue to sign talented fighters year after year. Roberto Diaz is fantastic at developing fighters. He will know which ones can fight, which ones need time, who are the good "B-sides" to sign, and who should go to the scrap pile. 

I'm sure that there would be significant cultural differences to bridge between Matchroom and Golden Boy, but there could be real areas for synergy. Although Golden Boy can sign and develop fighters, they struggle to promote more than their top couple of guys and a hot prospect or two. There are a lot of talented fighters on their roster who have not gotten the attention that they should. Matchroom's excellent creative team and their digital P.R. assets could certainly help provide additional exposure for several under-the-radar fighters. Fans need to find out about these boxers and Matchroom can help. 

Golden Boy may also be running a little too lean. Too many fighters have complained about their treatment or communication issues with the company. With additional corporate resources to play with, some strategic new hires can be made to create more stability within the organization. 

For this deal to work, all parties (Matchroom, Golden Boy and DAZN) will have to swallow some bitter medicine. Hearn will have to realize that despite his considerable promotional skills, more is needed to build a sustainable boxing organization in America. The guys at Golden Boy know talent and they can provide the fighters needed to make Matchroom USA a success for many years to come. For Golden Boy, they need to acknowledge that they're never going to have long-term sustainability as long as they are a junior partner. Golden Boy's expertise isn't running a finely-oiled machine. They have had too many peaks and valleys throughout their history. If they want their instability to end, Matchroom USA could be a great way to achieve that goal. 

DAZN also has to utilize Hearn and Golden Boy more strategically. Together they could make for a winning entity. But the current model is a half measure. Hearn hasn't been able to sign enough of the fighters that he needs and Golden Boy can't necessarily capitalize on many of the talented ones that are part of their organization. They both bring different skills to the table and an entity that reflects that would be far stronger than the status quo.

I have no doubt that a merger/buyout has already been discussed. It makes too much sense for all parties for it not to have been broached by now. But, like all deals, it's about terms. What should be done with De la Hoya? Clearly, he has a lot of value, but he's too unreliable to be at the top. Would he accept a board position? Could there be a non-executive (but lucrative) role that doesn't embarrass him and acknowledges his importance? What might that be? What to do with Roberto Diaz? Should he be bumped up to head matchmaker for the entire Matchroom operations? And would Hearn be deployed best as the head of the Matchroom USA/Golden Boy entity or are there other more strategic priorities for him around the globe. Maybe he becomes President of the Board and they hire a new CEO who will be solely focused on the American market.  

These are fascinating scenarios to contemplate. But however it could wind up, there's a strong business case for it to happen. The move will create a much stronger entity in the U.S., one with deep pockets and expertise in the market. It can sell young fighters not just on the promotional savvy of Hearn and the business opportunities presented by DAZN, but the developmental talent of Roberto Diaz, Eric Gomez and crew. Fighters will know that they will be seen, but more importantly, that they will be developed properly. 

Of course, this is boxing, where the smart move isn't always the one that is made. I hope that the parties can come together and explore a merger in good faith. Maybe it happens and maybe it doesn't, but it's worth looking into. I think that DAZN, Matchroom and the principals at Golden Boy can all emerge on stronger footing with a deal.  

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

In this week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast, Brandon and I dove into Charlo-Castano and its entertaining undercard. We previewed Joyce-Takam, ShoBox and gave our early thoughts on Joshua-Usyk and Canelo-Plant. To listen to the podcast, click on the links below: 

Apple podcast link:

Spotify link:

I heart radio link:

Stitcher link:

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Opinions and Observations: Charlo-Castano

The air of illegitimacy has plagued professional boxing since its inception. Corrupt or incompetent officials, fighters frozen out of opportunities, bribery, money laundering, thrown fights, unscrupulous promoters and managers, biases toward popular fighters or champions, there's been a litany of reasons for well over a century as to why boxing has been referred to as sport's "red-light district."

So, after Saturday's 154-lb. undisputed title fight between Jermell Charlo and Brian Castano, where Nelson Vazquez turned in a ludicrous 117-111 scorecard in favor of Charlo (the fight was ruled a draw), boxing again faces a consistent and familiar thorn in its side. Too many boxing judges fail the smell test, and their unprofessionalism (let's use that euphemism) ruins the legitimacy of the contest. Instead of celebrating the combatants and their performances, Vazquez and his ilk offer reminders that the sport's unseemly side is alive and kicking. And we have watched this movie too many times. 

Rarely do these officials face consequences. Commissions and sanctioning bodies are reluctant to take out the garbage, partly because then they would have to take themselves out as well. The powers that be in the sport would prefer for these controversies to flame themselves out. Hey, the next big fight is only a week or two away. The regulators in the sport, and I use "regulator" loosely, count on the short memory of boxing fans and the industry as a whole. They don't want to interfere with their respective patronage systems within the sport unless they absolutely have to. And let's face it, robbing Floyd Mayweather is a problem; robbing Brian Castano is a regular Saturday night. 

Charlo (left) landing his counter left hook
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Showtime

Castano entered Saturday's fight as a titlist, but he owned only one of the four belts compared to Charlo's three. He's from Argentina, doesn't have a huge fanbase and even though he is represented by the PBC, it isn't like they have invested much sweat equity in him. They let him win his title on another promoter's show with few eyeballs watching and have never minded if he wanted to fight in Europe, even though the company doesn't have a footprint there. Charlo was fighting in his home state of Texas. The crowd was there for him. He had been one of the emerging faces of boxing over the last few years. Charlo was the money side of the fight. It certainly was better for "boxing" if Charlo won. As I said, we have all seen this movie before. 

At worst Castano won five rounds of the fight and it's more likely that he won eight of them than five. Except for the clear Charlo rounds, in my opinion 2, 10, 11, and 12, Castano was consistently out-throwing and out-landing Charlo. And he wasn't scoring with pitty-pat jabs. Almost all his shots were power punches. But it goes well beyond punch counting. Let's take ring generalship and effective aggression. Castano was the one coming forward, cornering Charlo along the ropes and fighting in his preferred style. He was the one dictating the terms of the fight throughout the majority of the action. He was clearly the better fighter in the majority of rounds using those two scoring criteria (in addition to clean, effective punching). 

Castano should have won via a competitive decision, but I wouldn't characterize his performance as dominant. He got hurt badly in the second and tenth rounds, both from counter left hooks. In the tenth round especially, he spent much of it in survival mode. To his credit, he showed a veteran's ability to buy time, but he wasn't trying to steal the round back. He needed all of his energy to stay on his feet. 

Overall, it was a disappointing performance from Charlo. His trainer, Derrick James, implored him throughout the bout to take the fight to the center of the ring, but Charlo would only intermittently listen to that advice. Instead, he hoped that the magic of the Tony Harrison rematch and the Jeison Rosario fight would return. In both of those matches, his power punching at close range led to knockdowns and eventual stoppages. After hurting Castano with a counter left hook against the ropes in second round, he kept looking for that shot, even as he gave up many rounds to Castano's pressure, volume and refined inside fighting skills. 

Charlo fought Saturday's match like a gunfighter who only had two bullets in his six-shooter. He seemed only comfortable throwing jabs and counter left hooks to the head. Where was his uppercut (left or right), where was the body punching, where were his lead right hands and where were the hooks downstairs? After Charlo had Castano hurt, he unfurled several right hands, but except for those moments, he was left-hand dominant. 

Castano deserves credit for Charlo's holstered weapons. By not falling into repeated attacking patterns, Charlo couldn't consistently land the types of hard counters he wanted. And Castano kept Charlo thinking all night. He'd come in behind wide left hooks, tighter hooks, looping right hands, throwaway jabs, straight rights, and from all sorts of punching angles. Despite working in close quarters, he didn't smother his work or lean over his front foot too much, which would have given Charlo easier countering opportunities. He knew how to operate in tight spaces and he was clearly superior when the fight was in that geography. 

Castano getting some work done inside
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Showtime

Let's remember that Jermell Charlo started his career as one of the best jabbers in the sport. Many of his early victories under then-trainer Ronnie Shields were won with his jab and legs. He was more comfortable leading than countering and he dominated the center of the ring. 

Under Derrick James, Charlo has morphed into a counterpunching knockout artist. He's gifted at it, but some of his old skills under Shields would have come in handy against Castano. Charlo didn't have to go to the ropes as much as he did, but he was convinced that his power would rule the day. Even after being told to go back to the center, he would make only half-hearted attempts to do so. It's almost as if he had lost confidence in his ability to box his way to a victory. 

I enjoyed Saturday's fight. Both fighters showed why they have been successful professionals. But there are two issues that disturb me upon reflection. Most obviously, Vazquez's scorecard prohibited Castano from getting a fair hearing in the fight. And that's an awful feeling in watching a sport that's supposedly on the up-and-up. In addition, I don't think that was Jermell Charlo at his best. Yes, Castano deserves his share of credit for this, but Charlo helped beat himself to a degree. His trainer was giving him the right advice. He had the tools to make it an easier fight than it was, but he just wanted to do it his way. 

I hope that Saturday's fight will spur Charlo to do some reflection. Fighters pay their cornermen to guide them through rough moments. James' advice was sound and within Charlo's capabilities. But Charlo decided to freelance. Yes, he came back into the fight, but it didn't have to get to that point. 

Jermell needs to remember that he can't knock out everyone in the sport and that he has far more weapons than he showed on Saturday. If he can look at himself in the mirror honestly, he will know that he has much more to offer. He was once a boxer, a damn good one too, and while knockouts are sexy and fun, they are only part of what is required at the highest level of the sport. His coach knew that, but it's not a lesson that Charlo was ready to accept, at least not yet. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.