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Articles of 2002

A GREAT BUSINESS CONCEPT –

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Looking through the business plan for Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing, one can't avoid encountering the continual references to the company's “integrity”. We won't bore you with any more than a few:

“SRL Boxing will increase consumer demand for boxing while returning respect and integrity to the sport”

“The Company believes it is the only player in the boxing industry solely dedicated and positioned to positively change the sport of boxing”

“SRL Boxing is dedicated to the integrity of the sport as strongly as it is to the business of the sport”

But since it sounds as if the company is attempting to leverage this with potential investors as another of its “unique selling propositions”, I think it's fair to explore SRL Boxing's standards in this regard, don't you?

And keeping in mind that the company, in this ambitious business plan, intended “implementing innovative marketing and promotional methods never before seen in the sport”, I can't help but wonder whether one of those promotional methods involved spreading the word of a blackout for the company's April 5 ESPN show from SUNY-Buffalo; a blackout that in fact did not exist from the beginning.

You may remember we did a column not too long ago about this.

I'll say one thing in Leonard's defense – I don't figure him to be the kind of guy who's sitting up in an office dreaming up deceitful and misleading ways to draw paying customers into live events.

As a result, that leaves us no one else to blame other than than Bjorn Rebney, president of SRL Boxing, and Michael “Full Of” Billoni, a PR man for “Team Mesi” who was simultaneously representing the “Buffalo Blast” promotion.

Billoni, who is rumored to have fudged attendance figures when he served as general manager of the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons baseball team, must have studied SRL's business plan rather diligently, because apparently he thought it might be a master stroke of “innovative marketing” to send out a press release stating, in effect, that unless you bought a ticket (prices $20-$100) for the April 5 show featuring local heavyweight Joe Mesi in the very, very suspect main event (as it turns out, against puffed-up Keith McKnight), you weren't seeing the show at all, because there was a blackout in effect for Buffalo and its environs.

As we told you in the previous column, that's a NO-NO. We have been told by a promoter who has done ESPN shows in the recent past that there is a standard requirement that the event is offered to the entire ESPN “footprint” – meaning the unauthorized announcement of a blackout is prohibited, though Bob Yalen, the executive in charge of ESPN's boxing programming, asserts that “There is no clause (in the contract), but they should not announce one (a blackout) if there is none.”

Indeed. And that was certainly the principle behind Tim Graham's April 5 story in the Buffalo News, where he cited that the SRL company had been advertising falsely about the status of the event, as a way of squeezing out ticket sales that might otherwise not have been there.

In response to Graham's story and our subsequent column, Rebney denied any wrongdoing whatsoever to the website BoxingTalk.net.

Having been caught pretty much red-handed, Rebney, who obviously catches on quickly, went into what can best be termed as “Standard Operating Procedure” for a boxing promoter, which is to say:

* He made the obligatory legal threat – “Let me say that our lawyers are considering taking legal action against the instigators of these rumors.”

* He used the “jealousy defense” – “Everytime you have something that goes really good like this promotion did, there is always something or someone to try and pull it down.”

* Then, he embellished his story, vehemently denying an accusation that, in fact, had never been made – “They are saying that we promoted this as a title fight, which is absolutely a bold face lie. We never advertised this fight as a championship fight…….” (we'll get to this in a minute)

* And of course, no retaliation would be complete without the “power play” – Rebney tried to get Graham fired. No dice there.

But you can't blame a guy for trying, I guess. One rule that's always held true in boxing is that when you sell out a show in an area that NEVER sells out a show, you have a tendency, in the immediate aftermath, to think you can walk on water. It's the kind of arrogance that pervades the business, and inasmuch as the Buffalo News was SRL Boxing's “promotional partner” on this fight card, Rebney must have thought he was standing on some pretty solid ground.

As part of Rebney's education, I suspect that at this point he was introduced to two words that didn't seem to make it into the SRL Boxing business plan – “journalism” and “union”.

According to SRL's head man, the announcements of a blackout had nothing at all to do with the level of ticket sales, which far surpassed anything Mesi had been able to do before in his hometown.

Rebney – “We had originally talked to ESPN about having a blackout. When the campaign started the only thing that even mentioned the blackout was on the radio promotion. It was not in any of the print media at all. Then ESPN contacted us and told us that the blackout was not going to be possible and at this time the radio had only ran the promotion for three days. On top of that it was a full 5-1/2 weeks before the event. As soon as ESPN contacted us we pulled the radio promotion. At this point there were only 800 tickets sold, so for anyone to say that the success of this fight is due to the three-day radio promo is absurd.”

That's what we call a lie of omission.

Nothing in the print media at all? I just happen to sitting here in front of the press release for that show (which I'd be happy to forward to any interested party), in addition to a story that ran March 31 in the Buffalo News that was NOT written by Tim Graham.

Let me take a DIRECT passage from the release, dated February 27 (indeed, less than five weeks before the show) –

“Mesi will headline a six-bout card. Mesi's opponent and the undercard will be announced by SRL Boxing and ESPN2 soon. The event will be held April 5 at UB's Alumni Arena with the first bell at 7:00 p.m. The fight will be televised live on ESPN2's Friday Night Fights. IT WILL BE BLACKED OUT IN THE BUFFALO REGION (I used the caps).”

At the bottom of the release, the contact names listed for the promotion – Mike Billoni and Bjorn Rebney.

Rebney inferred that the blackout news was just a misunderstanding, and that all “blackout promotion” had ended 5-1/2 weeks out from the show, yet according to this line from a story written by Buffalo News reporter Rodney McKissic on March 31 (five days before the show), the promotion was still perpetuating the blackout hoax:

“Because promoters are expecting a capacity crowd, a local blackout could be lifted before Friday, said Michael J. Billoni, the media liaison for Team Mesi and Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing, which is promoting the fight.”

Hey – maybe these guys were in the April Fool's spirit. I can empathize (hahaha).

It is important to note that when confronted later by Graham, Billoni did not deny making the quote to McKissic, and McKissic affirms this with us as well.

“The story is just as I wrote it,” says McKissic. “I interviewed Mike (Billoni) on March 29 and he told me about the 'blackout' which one of our reporters, Tim Graham, later found out to be not true.”

McKissic adds that Billoni was the operative of SRL Boxing who was authorized to deal with the press – “Mike was the media contact for the Buffalo Blast project. I did meet someone from SRL Boxing but I forgot his name and, to be honest, I really didn't need

him. In terms of what I needed for the event, Mike was the point man.”

What is so interesting, and so bizarre, about this whole thing, is that McKissic penned a story on Leonard entitled “Leonard Aims for Honesty as Promoter”, which appeared in the News on April 2 – after such time as Leonard's organization had done its continuous and systematic lying to the public.

This of course came in the midst of a PR campaign propagated by SRL Boxing and bought into by the Buffalo News (an acknowledged “promotional partner” in the event), in which my belief is that McKissic's editors took advantage of the fact that, prior to this event, he had not written a boxing story since 1988. Quite obviously, there was a reason McKissic was chosen to write most of the pre-fight features in lieu of Graham, one of the best boxing writers in the country. And this is no slight toward McKissic, an excellent reporter, but I don't think it would be unfair to say he might not have had enough recent experience with boxing to cast a critical eye toward what was happening.

Now let's get to another lie.

I don't know of anyone in the press who accused this promotion of trying to falsely peddle a title fight, so Rebney's own INTIMATION of that allegation is a lie in and of itself. Once again, a case of attempting to manufacture and manipulate a situation out of what can best be described as pure arrogance.

The Keith McKnight thing may be somewhat minor, but it's a lie nonetheless, followed up by yet another lie in the way of explanation. Rebney's rationale as to why his promotional materials falsely represented McKnight as a “WBF Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion” is that FightFax, the source that they referenced for McKnight's career record, had him listed that way. Not true. FightFax does not do those things. What FightFax does is list every fight for the boxer, and when appropriate, indicates when a title was at stake in a fight. It was clear that the last WBF fight McKnight won was almost three years ago.

I've got a novel idea, in retrospect – if there was any question about McKnight's status, why didn't they just bother to ask McKnight? MAYBE because McKnight told them the truth, or would have? According to the April 5 story by Graham, McKnight said “They're just using it to push ticket sales.”

Why couldn't they have contacted the World Boxing Federation? Or more to the point, why DIDN'T they?

Or why didn't they ask their own matchmaker? Ron Katz, who makes the matches for SRL, knew full well that McKnight's last three fights were against notorious losers who had an average age of 44 and a composite record of 26-232-7. I don't care how bad the organization is, those fights are not title fights. I can almost guarantee you ESPN knew that as well. In fact, they had serious reservations about McKnight as an opponent because of his recent ring history.

Yeah, I know – you're a fan and you're sitting there saying to yourself, “Gee, Sugar Ray Leonard was such a great fighter. He was so famous. How could anyone criticize him like this? All I care about is seeing a boxing show. What do I care about this?”

First of all, while we concede that this most likely has very little to do with any idea that might have had its genesis with Sugar Ray Leonard, the fact is that he fronts the company and his name is being used as leverage in marketing and promoting the company's shows. So he bears some responsibility.

Although the techniques are not something that are seen everyday, the overall pattern is not all that unusual – just another group of guys around a promotion who thought they could “sneak one by” in order to get those ticket sales really jumping. And figuring everyone was just too dumb to look. Surprise!

Think about it this way – as the average fan, how would you like for a promoter to tell you the only way you could see a fight was by ponying up $24.95 for pay-per-view, when secretly it was available for viewing on basic cable the entire time? Wouldn't you feel lied to, and just a little bit ripped off? Unless you're being disingenuous about it, of course you would.

What you may NOT know about is that there IS some recourse. We'll talk about that in the next chapter.

fightpage@totalaction.com

Copyright 2002 Total Action Inc.

Articles of 2002

$*%@#!

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Walk the dog, stroll through the park, have a picnic at the lake.
There are safer things for IBF cruiserweight champ Vassily Jirov to do this month than defend his title against James “Lights Out” Toney.
Barbecue, play softball, fish, visit the zoo. Thank his lucky stars.
Jirov, who lives in California, won’t be fighting Toney on HBO on Jan. 25.
Something to do with his insides.
Ask Toney why Jirov pulled out of their fight and he’ll tell you it was Jirov’s heart that let him down, his backbone that went soft, not his banged-up ribs. Ask Toney and he’ll tell you about heartbreak and lies and revenge and fighting anybody in the universe if it means another title. Jirov claims he suffered the damage while sparring. Maybe. But it’s the fourth time Jirov has found a reason not to fight Toney. How many times you got to be told to go home before you realize the guy doesn’t want to come outside and play? How many times you got to be bit by the same dog before you realize it wants to be left alone? Jirov has more excuses than a politician caught with a hooker on his lap.
In his own eloquent way, Toney recently described how disappointed he was in the cancellation of their title fight on the undercard of the Vernon Forrest – Ricardo Mayorga welterweight title fight.
“The @#%$%*&#@,’’ Toney said after learning of the postponement on Christmas Eve. “Jirov can @&%$#% and then he can @%$#@#$. He’s nothing but a #$%#@#.’’ That said, it doesn’t brighten up the New Year in the Toney household.
“I’m done with it,’’ said Toney, sounding like a guy who finally gets tried of being stood up by the same girl.
As of Dec. 30, there was still no word of an opponent for Toney, though he’s still making regular trips to the gym.
Merry Christmas, James. Have a Happy New Year.
“Bah, humbug,’’ said Toney’s promoter Dan Goossen. “We didn’t have much of a Christmas. I got the news on Christmas Eve. But you just have to bounce back.’’ Funny thing about fighters. Some make excuses, some fight through them. You get the feeling Toney could have cracked five ribs and his right tibia and still climbed into the ring against Jirov.
It raises a lot of questions. What’s Jirov got against fighting? After a busy 2001, he hasn’t fought since last February. How do you hold a title after you’ve gone into retirement? Just who is this guy and why does he like to hide? Is there really a Vassily Jirov out there, or is he a creation of the IBF, a shadowy figure who won the title and decided it was too big a risk to keep defending it? The bottom line is, Toney may be left with a lot of unexpected free time on his hands if they don’t find him another fight, though he knew better than to mark the date on his calendar in ink. There are no promises in boxing. When dealing with a guy like Jirov, all bets are off. But Toney can still hope. The name O’Neil Bell – the WBC’s No. 1 challenger – has been knocked around, and Toney said he doesn’t care what contender or champion he knocks out on Jan. 25. “#@#$%$#,’’ Toney said.
You can say that again.

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Articles of 2002

New Year's Resolutions

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A new year is upon us, which means it's time for new years resolutions. Yeah, never mind that most resolutions are broken, oh, around the third week of January; everybody still makes them.

Here are my resolutions that I'd make for some of the luminaries in the sport of boxing.

* Floyd Mayweather: No more excuses. Anyone else sick of listening to 'the Pretty Boy' whine about what ailments he came into the fight with? Whether it's his fragile hands, a bum shoulder or his squabbles with his promoter Bob Arum, he always has an alibi. Hey Floyd, nobody cares, you get paid plenty to perform and those that buy tickets don't care that you might have a hangnail; they want nothing but the best effort out of you.

Mayweather reminds me of former Los Angeles Dodger slugger Mike Marshall, who's second home seemed to be the disabled list. The bottom line is this guy is lucky to be a boxer where he only has to perform once every 6 months- he simply couldn't handle the rigors of an NBA, NFL or baseball season. Ask any athlete if they are ever 100-percent healthy after the first day of training camp or spring training and they'll laugh at you.

Injuries and ailments are a part of the job, overcoming them is what makes a true professional. Mayweather still hasn't grasped that concept.

* Jim Gray: Respect. I guess this little weasel is whom Aretha Franklin was talking about in her song. Think about it, have you ever seen a guy be so disrespectful to fighters in post-fight interviews like this guy. Don't even mention HBO's Larry Merchant- he isn't afraid to ask the tough questions like a true journalist and he's consistent. Gray looks at boxing as a secondary gig and looks down on boxers in general.

Don't believe me? Just compare and contrast his softball interviews that he does for NBC and the hatchet jobs he does on Showtime.

* Max Kellerman: No more over-hyping New York boxers. Look, I get along and respect Max, but when you look up the term 'East Coast Bias' in Webster's, his picture may be used as the definition of it. From Zab Judah to James Butler and to Tokumbo Olajide, he'll have you enshrined in Canastota if you come out of the Big Apple.

What's worse are the excuses he'll come up with for his New Yorkers when they fall on their faces. Max is great for boxing but he's gotta realize New York hasn't been a player on the boxing scene for at least 20 years.

* Crocodile: A new catchphrase. You know Crocodile, right? He was Mike Tyson's hype-man for all these years…the guy with the menacing shades and the army fatigues who used to scream, “GUERILLA WARFARE” at the top of his lungs over and over again.

I've heard that enough and it's about as played out as 'Whoop, there it is' and it's time he came up with a new one. All the great ones can add to their repertoire.

* HBO: Admit they acknowledge the titles. Stop being the Hypocritical Boxing Organization and just stop saying that you don't recognize these organizations. The latest example of their double-talk? Well, for years they dogged John Ruiz and his WBA title, suddenly Roy Jones challenges Ruiz and HBO is hyping this up as some sort of historic challenge of a light heavyweight trying to capture a heavyweight title.
Yeah, the same title they had basically trashed for years.

* Joe Cortez: No more over-officiating. His line is that,' He's firm but he's fair'. I'd argue about that the last couple of years but my biggest gripe with him is that he seems to make himself waaaaay too visible during fights and gets too involved. Nobody is there to watch him and he should just let the fighters fight.
Too often I see these fights with Cortez lose their flow as Cortez continually interrupts the action with his admonishments and warnings. Joe, take a step back and let us watch what we came to see.

* Don Turner: Stop living off of Holyfield-Tyson I- If you ever talk to this guy, he'll talk as though he invented boxing. And his big coup was co-training Evander Holyfield against Mike Tyson. 'The Real Deal' upset Tyson and suddenly Turner was being hailed as the new Chappie Blackburn and he became a media darling.

My question is this, did he suddenly teach Holyfield how to fight 35 fights into his career? Also, I contend that my mother and I could work Holyfield's corner and he would whip Tyson everyday of the week and twice on Sunday. And ask yourself this, when was the last time he was in the winning corner for a big fight?

* Newspaper writers: Start crediting the Internet. Ok, this is a sore subject with me, but too many times I've seen stories from the major newspaper scribes who amazingly have stories that are eerily similar to stories that I've read on the internet (or that I've written myself) and use quotes that I got in one-on-one interviews and they don't attribute their sources- the internet.

When I take quotes or info from a story I make a point to give credit where it's due. Now, I just wish these guys would do the same.

* Roy Jones: no more hip-hop entrances. Roy, you're a magnificently gifted prizefighter, you can also play just a bit of hoops, but your rhyming skills are that of Shaquille O'Neal. In other words, you're doing street nursery rhymes not Nas.

Please, oh please, stop embarrassing yourself and the sport with your cheesy as nacho's attempt to become a hip-hop performer. His last entrance/performance reminded me of one of those really bad Sir-Mix-Alot videos of the early 90's.

* Panama Lewis: an exit out of the game. You remember Lewis right, the guy who gave Aaron Pryor the mysterious white bottle before the 14th round of his bout against Alexis Arguello, which seemed to give 'the Hawk' a sudden burst of energy that enabled Pryor to brutally KO Arguello. Afterwards, Pryor would skip out on his post-fight drug test.

Then there was the fight with Luis Resto, where he would tamper with his gloves between rounds, and bearing the brunt of this tomfoolery was Billy Collins who's faced was turned into a bloody mess. Collins, in the aftermath of this brutality committed suicide. For this, Lewis was banned permanently from working a corner. But that doesn't mean that he can't go into the gym and train fighters and even attend fights.

The bottom line is simple, this man has no place in the game of boxing and boxing shouldn't tolerate him in any way.

* Cedric Kushner: no more gimmicks. This guy has tried everything from the disastrous 'ThunderBox' to one-day $100,000 heavyweight tournaments- and all have failed miserably.

He can put on a boxing version of 'Survivor' or 'Real World' if he wants but the reality is, boxing fans want good fights and interesting fighters, nothing more, nothing less.

Stop with the shenanigans and stop with the junk.

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Articles of 2002

Dream Fights of 2003

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Hey, we can all dream, right? Isn't it our God-given right as boxing fans to think about fights that should happen – but often times don't?

And not just fights that have the highest profile or the biggest names – because sometimes those fights, like Lewis vs. Tyson – are nothing more than high-profile mismatches. I'm talking about fights that are evenly matched between the game's best and are the most intriguing inside the ring.

Here are some fights I'd pay to see in the upcoming year; full well knowing that most of these fights are pipe dreams as the business end of the sport would bog these fights down quickly. But hey, we can dream right?

* Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Erik Morales or Marco Antonio Barrera: Name me another fighter that has never won a world title belt that is better than Marquez? You can't and this guys been ducked and dodged long enough. On February 1st he takes on Manuel Medina for the vacant IBF featherweight title and it says here that he should face one of the game's best known 126-pounders, either Morales or Barrera. Marquez is a master boxer with great counter-punching skills and his hand-speed would give either one of his Mexican compatriots fits. There are some in the industry who have been saying for a while that Marquez is already the game's premiere featherweight; I'm not inclined to disagree that strongly.

CHANCES OF HAPPENING?: With Barrera, not good, as Ricardo Maldonado sees no real upside in this match-up and would most likely take an easier fight on HBO for about the same amount of money he could make facing Marquez.

With Morales, the logistics are much less complicated. Both of them are promoted by Bob Arum and there is some talk that they could face each other in May if a Morales-Barrera III isn't made.

* Bernard Hopkins vs. Roy Jones: Not only because it's a match-up of two of the very premiere fighters in the world, but Hopkins needs to resume his career with some meaningful fights and Jones should be fighting guys like 'the Executioner' instead of participating in novelty acts like his proposed bout with John Ruiz.

And don't think for one minute that this would be a blowout. Jones couldn't blowout a green Hopkins in 1993 and won't be able to do it now. Hopkins, unlike most of Jones' opponents, isn't in total awe of Pensacola's finest.

CHANCES OF HAPPENING?: Not good, Sharon and Arafat will find a common ground regarding the Middle East before these two proud and stubborn men find one in contract negotiations.

* Oscar De La Hoya vs. Vernon Forrest: For fans of pure boxing and strategy this is a fight that can't be missed. Both men have strong jabs and match-up well physically. 'The Golden Boy' has the better left hook and 'The Viper' has a more effective right hand. Between these two well-schooled boxers you can expect a tense and tight boxing match with subtle momentum swings round by round.

CHANCES OF HAPPENING?: For 2003, not very good because it looks like Oscar will be fighting once in the upcoming year – a September rematch against Shane Mosley – and Bob Arum has stated that Forrest simply brings nothing to the table promotionally. This can be interpreted as another way of saying that he's not Latin, too dangerous or just another black fighter who can't sell a ticket. The bottom line seems to be that unless Forrest raises his profile in the upcoming years, De La Hoya will be facing guys that make economic sense.

* Floyd Mayweather vs. Kostya Tszyu: This would be a face off of the sport's premier lightweight against the game's best jr. welterweight. 'The Pretty Boy' would bring speed, quickness and boxing ability to the dance. While Tszyu would bring a decided edge in strength, size and punching power. They say styles make fights and you have two contrasting ones here.

CHANCES OF HAPPENING?: Not likely. This is for a couple of reasons. First, Vlad Wharton who promotes Tszyu, is seemingly deathly afraid to take any risks with Tszyu, who's basically his cash cow. Secondly, Mayweather got a reality check from his two bouts with Jose Luis Castillo, who at 135 pounds was able to muscle him throughout their 24 rounds they fought in 2002. And Tszyu is faster, sharper and just as strong as Castillo. I'm not sure Mayweather is in any rush to make the move up to 140-pounds.

* Lennox Lewis vs. Wladimir Klitschko: The industry is always better off when there is action in the heavyweight division. So why even mess around by having Lewis take on 'the other' Klitschko or knock out Tyson again; getting right in there with the man most pundits are claiming is the heir to his throne in Wlad Klitschko?

The time is now, Lewis is getting up there in age and really doesn't have that much left in his gas tank anyway and it would be prudent for him to face Klitschko now before he gets any better. Remember, that's the tact they took in facing Michael Grant when they did – but it has to be noted that Klitschko is much better than Grant.

Lewis would have the advantages in experience and savvy, but for one of the few times in his career he would be facing a disadvantage in size and perhaps power. The two best big men on the planet squaring off, what else could you ask for?

CHANCES OF HAPPENING: Actually pretty good, since Lewis himself has stated his plans to take on both Klitschkos in between his rematch with Tyson. But with Don King now making a full court press to garner the services of Lewis, who knows what direction he goes to now.

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