Meeting of influential promoters nets few answers for boxing's woes
The five promoters with fighters in the Super Six met Tuesday with media in NYC
Showtime's tournament will determine the WBA/WBC super middleweight champ
Most promoters agree it's not the rise of MMA that's hurt boxing; it's boxing itself
NEW YORK -- Those who love boxing are the ones hurting it the most. It's true. Just ask them.
On Tuesday afternoon, six of the most influential men in the sport -- promoters Lou DiBella, Dan Goossen, Gary Shaw, Kalle Sauerland and Mick Hennessy and Showtime exec Ken Hershman -- gathered with two dozen or so media members in a private room on the second floor of the Renaissance Hotel in Times Square. They were there to discuss the Super Six World Boxing Classic, Showtime's fledgling tournament that will eventually anoint the new face of the 168-pound weight class.
It began civilly enough. Hershman championed the competitiveness of the tournament thus far, a stretch punctuated by Andre Dirrell's controversial DQ win over former middleweight champ Arthur Abraham on Saturday. He cited the record viewership for Abraham-Dirrell (which was boosted by Showtime's free preview weekend, upping the number of available homes from 18 to 55 million) and the Congressional bill-thick stack of publicity for the tournament that sits on his desk.
"The interest," Hershman said, "is ratcheting up."
No discussion of the Super Six, however, can pass without talking about the health of the sport. And for the promoters, that's when the gloves came off.
Like wolves they attacked each other. Golden Boy was a particularly popular target. The promotional heavyweight -- which was not represented in the room -- was blasted for putting on the putrid Bernard Hopkins-Roy Jones Jr. card this Saturday, a $50 pay-per-view that isn't worth 50 cents. The fight was attacked. The undercard was attacked. The promoters were attacked.
"You expect people to tune in for three hours to watch that s---?" DiBella said.
"That undercard," Shaw said, "is a disgrace."
Even Hershman got his hands dirty. When asked about HBO's counterprogramming the Super Six with fights of its own, a visibly irritated Hershman called HBO's decision "intentional" and "regrettable" and said it was "unfortunate that [HBO] feels so threatened by this tournament that they think [counterprogramming] is their answer. Why don't you put on better fights instead of worrying about what we're doing?" HBO responded with a statement denying any counterprogramming, saying its goal was to "provide the best possible boxing matchups with the best fighters in the world."
But as their indignation grew, so did their hypocrisy. Because before any matchmaker can level accusations, each needs to take a long look in the mirror.
Consider: Sauerland Event and Top Rank blew the best middleweight title showdown in years when they nickel-and-dimed each other out of an Abraham-Kelly Pavlik match. More than 10,000 energized fans filled Newark's Prudential Center for Tomasz Adamek's win over Jason Estrada in February. So, of course, Adamek's next fight, against Goossen-controlled Chris Arreola, is 3,000 miles away in Ontario, California.
Then there is Don King, who could be the most subversive force in boxing today. DK has had a particularly unsettling stretch: He has buried prospect Devon Alexander, sabotaged a light heavyweight title fight between Glen Johnson and Tavoris Cloud, blown up an exciting cruiserweight match between Steve Cunningham and Matt Godfrey and priced lumbering heavyweight Nikolai Valuev right out of a fight with Vitali Klitschko, one of the only heavyweight fights out there that could generate any real interest.
In an effort to line their pockets with a little bit of extra change, promoters -- who have grown fat with the riches of casino money -- have hamstrung the sport with their own shortsightedness. It's not the rise of MMA that has hurt boxing, a thinking many have come to adopt. It's boxing itself.
"MMA didn't take boxing and put it in the shape that it's in," DiBella said. "We did. Sometimes I'm the first to mention MMA to other promoters and they say, 'Shut your mouth,' and they are right. We have to worry about our own sport. We have to make sure we are providing compelling entertainment. In our sport, we shove s--- down people's throats, and they are supposed to be interested in it?"
There are signs of progress. On April 10, DiBella will put on an HBO card headlined by explosive welterweight champion Andre Berto, who will defend his title against former titlist Carlos Quintana. A solid undercard featuring a matchup between former junior featherweight champion Celestino Cabellero and featherweight prospect Daud Yordan and a look at highly touted prospect Guillermo Rigondeaux strengthens the show. And as puzzling as the decision to move Adamek-Arreola out of New Jersey is, it's an explosive matchup between two quality heavyweights.
The Super Six will move forward, too. In April, Carl Froch will defend his title against Mikkel Kessler. And in June, Andre Ward will defend his belt against Allan Green.
You can't fill a crater with one shovelful of dirt. And as brilliant an idea as the Super Six is, it can't fill the hole boxing has dug by itself. It needs help. And the promoters are the only ones who can provide it. They talked a lot during the two-hour meeting in Manhattan. Now it's time to go out and back it up.