By now, most of you are aware of the collapse of MTK Global, a Dubai-based firm that managed fighters and promoted boxing cards. The party officially stopped for them when The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Daniel Kinahan and placed a $5M bounty for his arrest. Kinahan, an Irish national alleged to be involved in a pan-national narcotics operation, had been intimately involved in advising fighters and played an essential role in the formation of MTK Global (formerly MGM).
The extent of Kinahan's recent involvement in the operations of MTK Global remains unsettled, at least in an official capacity, but over the last few years he has been pictured with an array of fighters, he recently met with Mauricio Sulaiman (the head of the WBC), and Top Rank head Bob Arum admitted to an Irish newspaper that he had paid Kinahan millions in advisory fees for delivering four Tyson Fury fights. Clearly, Kinahan retained some degree of influence in the current fight scene, and most likely not a negligible one.
A little more than a week after the U.S. sanctions were announced, MTK Global ceased operations, admitting that their existing business partners (promoters, TV networks, etc.) no longer would associate with them. Although MTK was not officially sanctioned by the U.S., several other businesses aligned with Kinahan were, and the historical connections between Kinahan and MTK Global had been too rampant for plausible deniability to remain.
There are intrepid government officials, reporters, members of law enforcement, and perhaps a friendly whistle blower or two who have helped set these wheels in motion. Kinahan had been in exile from Ireland for many years, with arrests warrants out for his capture, but even that didn't thwart his involvement in boxing. However, when the U.S. feds got involved, certain inconvenient facts could no longer be overlooked by many in the sport.
Boxing has forever attracted unsavory elements. From organized crime, to corrupt commissions, officials and organizations, to fixed fights, to rating scandals, to bookies and gambling rings, to bribes, to money launderers, to authoritarian regimes using the sport to project power; the sport has often been infected or infiltrated by members of the criminal class, or those who have resorted to criminality to arrive at a certain outcome. In other words, I'm not naive to boxing's sordid history. The Kinahans of the world will not be the first or last member of the underground economy to try their hand in professional boxing.
But two things about this saga continue to interest me: 1. The astounding rise of MTK and Kinahan in just a decade. 2. The void that they filled.
What follows may be uncomfortable for some and I realize that I may risk upsetting several existing relationships that I have cultivated in my time covering the sport, but this isn't an issue in which to sit on the sidelines.
In ten years, Kinahan and his tentacle organizations went from being relative unknowns in the sport to having a hand in representing a number of the biggest fighters in boxing, including Tyson Fury, Josh Taylor and Terence Crawford. Fighters he personally advised, or through MTK, had promotional contracts with Matchroom Boxing, Queensberry Promotions, Top Rank and Golden Boy (four of the biggest players in the sport). MTK had a television contract with ESPN, a Disney company (home of Mickey Mouse!). Kinahan's fighters also regularly appeared on SKY and BT Sport. SKY and ESPN in particular are part of large public companies with shareholders who we could assume wouldn't want their companies associating with elements of the international narcotics trade: yet, there they were for the whole world to see.
The allure of money swings both ways in boxing. Criminals use the sport to clean their money, or for starfucking purposes, or to exploit another racket in their existing portfolios. But those in boxing need new sources of money, especially for big fights. There are promoters in the sport – solid, stable ones – who have willingly accepted the financial largesse of authoritarian regimes with less than stellar records on human rights. In other words, amorality has often played a large role within the sport, even for those who have managed to remain on the right side of the law.
In the weeks and months ahead, we will see many involved in boxing put their head in the sand, feign ignorance and tap dance their way around their recent behavior. Quietly, many will work their channels to find the next big source of cash. And you could bet that these potential new players won't all represent all that is right and good in the world. In short, the music will continue even though the song won't sound exactly the same. Maybe it will be a cover version of an old familiar tune.
MTK became a factor in the sport with its money spread to all sorts of major players. That money was accepted directly by certain parties and tolerated by others. It became the new cost of doing business for many entities in the sport. And the growth of MTK reaffirmed a moral rot in boxing that rears its head every so often, and that rot extended far beyond just fighters or promoters. Representatives of billion-dollar companies played their part as well, either through action or silence.
And as repulsive as certain elements of the money behind MTK may have been, we also must accept another truth that the company exposed: there was a major void in fighter representation. Starting with boxers based in the British Isles and then moving around the globe, Kinahan and Co. were able to penetrate the sport not just because they could help get big fights made, but because they had boxers willing to sign on the dotted line for them. And not just boxers at the top. They invested in the grassroots of the sport. They set up gyms, they established relationships with amateurs and they gave some lesser talents a shot at a real career. MTK staged cards giving several relatively unknown fighters a chance to be seen and make a future for themselves. MTK was able to convince scores of fighters that their financial futures could be more lucrative and that their existing representation didn't have their best interest as a paramount consideration.
This is where the current state of boxing had been failing too many fighters. Now it's certainly possible that MTK fighters were lied to. Maybe MTK's promises were unrealistic; maybe the fighters were sheep believing in fanciful fables. But maybe they were also right not to believe that the status quo was serving them well. Let's also not forget that many MTK fighters liked how they were being treated under new management.
Fighters getting shafted over money and mistreated by the existing power structure...well, that's as old as the sport itself, and it's one of the most unsavory aspects of boxing's history. Over time, the split between promoter and fighter and manager and fighter has shifted more favorably to the boxer. 50/50 contracts are from a bygone era. But maybe those percentages need to shift even more.
And maybe it's not even just about the money anymore. Perhaps fighters crave better communication, to be treated as adults and real people, not as "product" by a patriarchal figure or organization. Maybe they want more transparency about options in the marketplace, more agency in their own careers. There’s a saying in the sport that sometimes the fighters are the last to know, and in my experience, I have found that to be true on several occasions. Deals are often still negotiated in secret. Not all options are presented to fighters. Managers and promoters have their angles. TV networks get in the way. Clearly what the MTK saga demonstrated was that many fighters didn't believe that existing representation structures were working for them.
I shed no tears for the dissolution of MTK Global. Theirs is not a sob story. At best, the company was far too casual around elements of criminality. At worst, well...it's much worse. A cleaner sport is a better sport to me. And I don't see a gray area here.
I am pro-fighter though and I hope that more can have their needs met. One day there will be a person or entity who will offer additional services to fighters that will be game-changers: such as medical coverage for fighters' families and retirement investment vehicles. If this sounds like a pipe dream, maybe it is, but I know that the sport can get there. Someone will come around with that pitch, and it will be an attractive one.
This sport, full of beauty and repulsiveness, will continue unabated, and I will be here for it. And hopefully out of this MTK debacle, a further push to the good will continue. Although I don't expect this to happen immediately, I'm also hopeful that the right people will start to realize that the fighter representation void can be filled. Boxers can be taken care of far better than they are currently, and the one who figures this out will have much to gain. We don't need more MTKs, but we do need those who put fighters first. The fighters are the sport. They are its future. They deserve to have their families put in a better place because of what they do in the ring. And the fact that so many were willing to align with an obvious criminal element to meet their needs is a damning reflection on how the sport of boxing was failing them.