RE2PECT: Why We Celebrate Derek Jeter...

Image Source: Nike.com

Image Source: Nike.com

Tonight, Derek Jeter's number 2 will be retired by the New York Yankees - it will be the last single digit number retired by the franchise. Having your number retired by such a storied franchise alongside legends like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig (and many more) is an incredible recognition, but it leaves so much on the table of what his career meant to the modern day professional athlete as the 'ultimate role model'.

Yes, Derek Jeter has first-ballot Hall of Fame stats - 3,465 hits (6th all time & most by any shortstop ever), a .310 batting average, 14 All-Star Selections, 5 Gold Gloves, 5 Silver Slugger Awards, 2 Hank Aaron Awards, 1 Roberto Clemente Award, and 5 World Championships. But those stats do not adequately articulate why we, even as non-Yankees fans (as I am not), still rooted for Derek Jeter.

  • 20 Years in One Uniform: Derek Jeter played 20 major league seasons for 1 franchise. Today, you'll be lucky to find a player with that type of longevity who hasn't played for 3-4 franchises. Jeter displayed a unique sense of loyalty that few players today care about. Was he paid well? Absolutely. But, all sports superstars are paid well, yet very few exhibit the loyalty of a Derek Jeter or even a Kobe Bryant.

    Those 20 years weren't always a bowl of cherries either - his 5 championships were split between two different regimes - the Joe Torre era and now the Joe Girardi era. And he played for a very hands-on owner that was not shy about blasting his own players and coaches in the media.
     
  • Scandal-Free Career: Derek Jeter entered the Major Leagues in 1996, which was sandwiched between the baseball strike that lost the sport many fans in 1994 and the now infamous 'artificially powered' home run derby year of 1998 where Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both broke the single-season home run record held by Roger Maris. He joined the league at a time when the media's coverage of athletes started to delve far beyond what they did on-the-field.

    Derek Jeter played his entire career during an era of scandal-after-scandal in professional sports - Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs), Adultery, Rape, Murders, Multi-million dollar contracts given to players whose playing abilities turned out to be worth nothing, and the list goes on. Yet, Derek Jeter was never so much as implicated in ANY scandal. Did he date a lot of women? Yes, but the difference between Jeter and so many other pro athletes when it comes to having flings with many women is that he was not married - a subtle but important distinction.
     
  • 'The Captain': The modern day sports locker room has become a reporter's paradise for information that is intended to send subtle, yet very public messages about players who can't get along with teammates. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to find a story where Jeter's name was mentioned in the context of negativity from a teammate, nor will you find a story where Jeter publicly criticized a teammate.

    Even when A-Rod was going through his steroids scandal, Jeter handled it very delicately by talking, but not taking aim - he provided his views on PEDs, but he did not take it to the point of criticizing A-Rod through public channels. Jeter was known as 'The Captain' for a reason - he was a consummate leader who worked hard at the game, and always let his play on the field do the talking.

It is hard to find really great role models in sports today who perform brilliantly and haven't been involved in some scandal or moved from team-to-team looking for better money. When history looks back at this era of sports, there will be one name that overwhelmingly takes the spotlight - Michael Jordan. And there's nothing wrong with that - Jordan was the most successful and dominant player who hit his peak at that perfect time when sports transcended the boundaries into media, entertainment, and business (e.g., Nike Air Jordan's). But, if Jordan had started his career in 1996 as opposed to 1984, I can guarantee you that his image would have been significantly tarnished by his off-the-field behavior. We saw a glimpse of it with the gambling, but let's face it, that was not Jordan's only vice. Derek Jeter will be as underappreciated 50 years from now as he is today. 

"Derek Jeter was not perfect, but if we put who he was into the context of this generation of professional athletes, he was about as close as it gets...and that's why we Celebrate and RE2PECT him."

What Does Boxing Have to Lose in 'Mayweather - McGregor'? Everything.

The once-ridiculous thought that the undefeated boxer, Floyd Mayweather, Jr., would come out of retirement to fight the UFC's reigning lightweight champion, Conor McGregor, is now looking like just a question of 'when?' not 'if?'. After all, Max Kellerman of ESPN and HBO, made a very good point: "Fighters don't truly retire until people stop handing them huge paychecks". And you can bet that Mayweather's manager, Al Haymon, is going to ensure that Floyd gets a very big check for this fight - I am convinced it will be well into the 9-figure range.

Staking the Actual Fight

So all the commentators and pundits on both sides (boxing and even the UFC) acknowledge that given the match will be fought under boxing rules, Floyd can't and won't lose. Most argue that for Mayweather to take his first loss, it would require some very awkward 'Sunday punch' from McGregor that catches Mayweather off-guard...and Mayweather's masterful defense just won't allow that to happen.

But there is question as to 'how' Mayweather will win. Mayweather is not a power puncher. In fact, if you take out the weird Victor Ortiz KO, Floyd hasn't scored a knockout since he floored the then-undefeated, Ricky Hatton, 10 years ago. Floyd is a finesse fighter who relies on his famous 'shoulder-roll' and his lightning quick reflexes to pot-shot opponents into virtual submission. Mayweather has taken a lot of criticism for his lack of an exciting style, but it's his superb defense that has enabled him to stay undefeated and not take punishment in the ring. He's never even been 'officially' knocked down (some would dispute this in the Judah fight).

  • Age: Floyd is now 40 years old - an age that was once considered ancient in boxing. But, both Floyd Mayweather and Bernard Hopkins have shown that a disciplined lifestyle (no alcohol, no weight fluctuations, etc.) can very much extend a boxer's prime long after his peers have retired. In any case, you have to take into account that Floyd is 40 and McGregor is 28 - the exact age that most consider an athlete to be at his physical peak.
     
  • Style: Floyd is a defensive fighter who is elusive, doesn't allow opponents to 'cut off the ring' and is very 'surgical' in his punches - he lands at a very high percentage. I don't know much about McGregor, but apparently he is a solid boxer with a lot of power. The question will be about whether Conor can utilize head movement (he's not known to) to avoid Floyd pot-shotting him. Also, they will apparently be using boxing gloves (likely 10 oz), as compared to the typical MMA gloves of 4-6 oz., meaning McGregor's power will be somewhat mitigated by the padding.
     
  • Vulnerability: Floyd may be undefeated, but he's not immortal. He did not look particularly sharp in his last two fights against Berto and Pacquiao - he was never seriously hurt, but it looked like he had lost a tiny step. The one fight where he did get caught was in his first fight with Marcos Maidana in May-2014. Maidana was a brawler who threw shots from awkward angles, unleashed 80 - 100 punches per round and fought pretty dirty. That very well may be McGregor's game plan to exposing Floyd.

Likely Outcome: Floyd by lopsided Unanimous Decision. Floyd gives McGregor a boxing lesson, wins by luring McGregor into his notorious traps, and then pot-shots him to rack up the points, and releases from engagement upon scoring.

Why Boxing Has So Much on the Line...

It is boxing, not the UFC or even Mayweather, that has everything to lose in this fight. Since this fight will be under 'boxing rules', if McGregor was to somehow beat Mayweather, or even give him a competitive fight, it would hurt boxing in a very big way. Boxing has always disregarded MMA as basically an unskilled, tough man competition where the craziest guy wins the fight. Boxing regards itself as 'the sweet science' - a blend of the mind and the hands in skilled combat. So, if a UFC fighter, with no legitimate professional boxing experience, was able to beat or provide a close fight with arguably the greatest boxer of his generation, what does that say about boxing? 

On the flipside, if McGregor was to get annihilated, UFC fans will always be able to say, "McGregor is an MMA fighter, not a boxer" and the expectation was that he was no match for Floyd Mayweather from the outset.

But make no mistake, there are unintended consequences for the UFC if McGregor was to pull off the improbable. McGregor is going to take home the biggest paycheck in the history of the UFC for a fight with Floyd Mayweather and don't think for a second that other UFC fighters aren't going to see that. Dana White will start seeing a flood of UFC fighters wanting to go to battle in similar crossover fights for huge paydays. So, I think the potential effect of a strong McGregor performance in a fight with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. raises the biggest question of all: 

Will this fight represent ‘the beginning’ where combat sports begin to converge to expand the money pot for all involved?

Boxing vs. UFC: A Contrast in 'Control'

Boxing is a staple of world sports history - it is often referred to as 'the sweet science'; it is a brutal sport that feeds the public's insatiable desire for hand-to-hand combat at its very best. But, the days of Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Pryor, and Arguello are over. Boxing, to its detriment, has allowed the power of the sport to shift from the organizing bodies to the matchmakers and media executives. The most powerful people in boxing today are promoters / managers (Oscar De La Hoya - Golden Boy Promotions, Bob Arum - Top Rank, Al Haymon - Infamous manager of a disproportionate amount of boxing's top talent. including Floyd Mayweather Jr, etc.) and the executives at HBO and Showtime - they are the ones who make the fights happen and unfortunately, they work on a timetable predicated on money, rather than great fights. Today, there are a lot of great fights that are never made and it's not because the boxers don't want to get in the ring - it's because the promoters don't want to put their prized money-making assets at risk.

The lack of structure and ongoing free-for-all (from matchmaking to weight class distortion to judging) that has created the current landscape of boxing has enabled other forms of combat sports to emerge, and some would even say surpass, the very status that boxing held for decades. The biggest disruptor in combat sports is the UFC and to its credit, it has created a structure that enables what everybody wants - the best fights when fighters are at their peaks.

To understand the dynamics of why boxing has been damaged and in turn, yielded popularity to Mixed Martial Arts (the UFC), you have to look at the underlying structure (or lack thereof) of each sport. 

Independent Contractors vs. a League

  • Boxing: Boxing is made up of 'independent contractors' who do not have a central governing body that dictates how fights are made, how proceeds are distributed, or even what weights can be used to segment the different weight classes. Sure, boxing has 4 major sanctioning organizations (WBC, WBA, IBF & WBO), but these organizations have lost much clout in recent years. The value placed on the 'belts' given out by these organizations has been greatly diminished - can anybody name the belts that were at stake in the most lucrative boxing event in history (May-Pac in May 2015)? No, because nobody cared. Boxing is not how it used to be, where holding a title meant something. The new standard in boxing prowess is Pay-Per-View buys and the resulting money that comes with it.

    The great boxing analyst, Max Kellerman of ESPN and HBO, once said something very true about the structure of the sport of boxing: "Boxing is made up of independent contractors with the freedom to make as much money as possible, often at the detriment of the sport". He is 100% right. Mayweather-Pacquiao was a boring fight because it took place five years after it should have. If that fight would have taken place in 2010, I am convinced it would have been one of the all-time greats. But, by 2015, Floyd was still on top of his game and Pacquiao (shoulder injury or not) had slipped - he suffered a brutal knockout to Juan Manuel Marquez in December 2012 and some claim he has never been the same.
     
  • UFC: The UFC is much more like a traditional league - think NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB. It has structure to it and a central figure (Dana White) that provides very strict rules and regulations over the sport. In the UFC, if there's a fight for the lightweight title, it's going to be at 155 lbs - no questions asked. That is in stark contrast to boxing where you'll see a 'middleweight' title fight (a middleweight is defined as 160 lbs) being fought at a catch-weight of 157 lbs. It is ridiculous.

    Given that the UFC is an official league that dictates the rules of the sport and its fighters, it means that fighters are not in control of their careers like they are in boxing - control is with the UFC. There are many implications of that lack of control for UFC fighters, including money. No UFC fighter could ever dream of taking home over $200 million for one fight like Floyd Mayweather did after beating Pacquiao. Like any other league, the UFC sets how much fighters will take home. As a result, the best fights in UFC are made when the UFC thinks they are ripe based on the fighters' maturation of talent.

Since boxing has no central organizing body that governs the sport, it is now largely an incentive-driven game. Sure, the top talents in boxing are making more than fighters of the past, but we are not getting anywhere near the level of fights that we once got. But, until people stop paying for fights on Pay-Per-View (May-Pac generated 4.6M PPV buys equating to $410 million), does the sport have any incentive to change? Absolutely not.

The End of an Era - "Mamba Out"

Kobe Bryant will play his last game on Wednesday.  It's hard to believe.  I still remember Kobe Bryant, the rookie who heaved up 3 air-balls as a rookie when the Lakers lost to the Jazz in the 1996 playoffs - a time when nobody else on the team wanted the responsibility or had the guts to take the last shot.

I still remember...

  • the 1998 All Star Game at Madison Square Garden where Kobe faced off with Jordan in an epic dual where everybody (including other players in the game) became fans just like the rest of us.
     
  • Game 7 of the 2000 Playoffs when the Lakers staged an epic comeback in the Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trailblazers, capped off by Kobe driving the lane and tossing up an alley-oop dunk to Shaq.
     
  • Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals where an injured Kobe took over after Shaq had fouled out to put the Lakers up 3-1 in what would turn out to be the first championship of a three-peat.
     
  • The 2001 playoffs where Kobe went of an absolute terror as the Lakers swept through the Portland Trailblazers, Sacramento Kings, and San Antonio Spurs to reach the NBA Finals, where they defeated the 76'ers 4-1 to cap a 15-1 playoff record.
     
  • The poise Kobe showed in Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals where the Lakers went to Sacramento and won a pivotal overtime game - a true classic.
     
  • The dismantlement of the Lakers following the 2003 NBA Western Conference Semi-Final defeat to the San Antonio Spurs, which started with the trading of Shaq to Miami.
     
  • Kobe Bryant - the accused rapist who lost control of himself and found himself a universally disliked player and person around the league.
     
  • Kobe hitting 2 near-impossible 3-pointers in the final game of the 2004 regular season against the Portland Trailblazers to secure the Lakers the #1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
     
  • The 'lost' years when Kobe was disgruntled with the team's inability to put adequate talent around him to give him a chance at another championship run.
     
  • The return of Phil Jackson to the Lakers - a move that Kobe would later candidly admit he was 'hesitant' about.
     
  • The re-birth of the Lakers' championship form with the acquisition of Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies - the Lakers would go on to the NBA Finals, only to fall to Boston Celtics in 6 games.
     
  • The two championships that the Lakers won in 2009 and 2010 with Kobe as true leader with Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher playing huge supporting roles.
     
  • Kobe Bryant - the wise and mature player who gave his heart (and his body) to the Lakers in what will now be seen as the 'twilight years'.

Kobe Bryant is an amazing athlete - one of the greatest to ever play the game. Ever since he announced his plans for retirement, we have seen just how much he is loved both by his peers and by fans worldwide.  The cocky kid from Philly turned us off, but he ended up captivating us with an incredible work ethic and a true passion for one thing: winning.  Was Kobe Bryant the next Michael Jordan?  No. He didn't have to be and he wasn't.  Kobe has created his own legacy and just as with Jordan, we'll always be searching for the next Kobe Bryant.

Kobe Bryant entertained and he will be missed.

Floyd Mayweather's Next Opponent Will Be....

18 days ago, Floyd Mayweather (aka 'Money') announced that he will indeed fight again on September 13, 2014. This would be consistent with his 2013 schedule where he fought in May (Robert Guerrero) and September (Canelo Alvarez).  However, Mayweather did not announce his future opponent and since then there have been a number of names thrown into the mix to be the 47th opponent for boxing's best pound-for-pound fighter. Here are a few names that are getting airtime:

Amir Khan

Amir "King" Khan raising his hand in victory - his eyes have long been on a showdown with Mayweather.

Khan believed he was going to get the May fight with Mayweather, and actually passed up a big fight with Devon Alexander in anticipation of the mega-fight. Unfortunately for Khan, Marcos Maidana's destruction of Adrien Broner (an undefeated champion and self-proclaimed heir to Mayweather's throne) combined with a strong Argentinian fan following made Maidana a much more desirable fight.  Khan actually fought on the undercard of the May 3rd Mayweather - Maidana card and thoroughly dominated Luis Collazo.  The issue with Khan getting the September 13th fight with Mayweather is his need to fast for Ramadan.  Boxers, especially at this level, need to be in tip-top physical shape in the months leading up to the fight (unless you're Ricky Hatton). Khan does enjoy a very loyal and strong British following, although probably not to-the-extent of Ricky Hatton, and many believe his speed and overall 'boxing' talent could give Mayweather problems. And let's not forget, Khan survived a very tough fight against Marcos Maidana to score a victory. But, he's also suffered two brutal knockouts. In the end, the Ramadan issue likely takes Khan out-of-the-running for the September 13th Mayweather fight.

Marcos Maidana

Maidana landing a huge blow on the face of Adrien Broner. Maidana's victory over Broner (aka 'little Floyd') set up his May-2014 brawl with Mayweather.

The fight that a lot of people want to see is the one they just saw - a rematch between Mayweather and Maidana. After the fight, there was much talk about a rematch, especially given the general perception that Maidana came the closest to dethroning Mayweather since Jose Luis Castillo in April-2002 (a controversial unanimous decision that many believed Castillo had won). A rematch with Maidana was looking promising up until the Pay-Per-View (PPV) numbers were finally confirmed for the May 3rd fight. The fight proved to be a huge disappointment coming in right around 900,000 buys. 900,000 PPV buys would be dazzling for nearly any other prize fighter, but for Mayweather and Showtime, it's simply not good enough. Last year, it was rumored that after Mayweather's fight with Robert Guerrero failed to dazzle with the PPV crowd (buys rumored to be between 900K and 1M), Showtime urged Mayweather to take on Canelo Alvarez - an undefeated champion that many saw as a 'risky' fight for Mayweather.  In the end, the Alvarez fight set the all-time PPV record (in terms of $ generated) with 2.2M buys and Mayweather thoroughly dominated Alvarez.  Showtime is likely singing the same tune this time around and urging Mayweather to take a fight that will generate a huge PPV number to 'even out' the year.

Miguel Cotto

Cotto speaking to the media before his fight with Antonio Margarito.  Even after several defeats, Cotto continues to garner a huge Puerto Rican following and commands the respect of every boxer that has ever stepped in the ring with him (including Mayweather).

Miguel Cotto is one of the most interesting fighters of the past decade - he's suffered a number of losses, but always commands an incredible amount of respect both from the media and other fighters. I've actually never heard another boxer say anything negative about Cotto; he is frequently referred to as "tough", "a warrior", and a "champion". Cotto built up an incredibly strong record, scoring 32 straight victories to start his career. He then lost a very controversial fight to Antonio Margarito - a brutal fight in which Margarito was likely aided by plaster blocks in his gloves, which was revealed right before the Margarito - Mosley fight in January 2009.  

Nonetheless, Cotto continues to be a very formidable box office draw. His Puerto Rican following is huge and likely exceeds that of which Felix Trinidad enjoyed in his prime. Cotto's home-turf is Madison Square Garden in New York where he enjoys the support of a raucous crowd. The other compelling aspect of Cotto is that he's already fought Mayweather (May-2012) and although he lost a unanimous decision, he battered Mayweather like nobody else we've ever seen - 'Pretty Boy' was not so pretty coming out of that fight. Mayweather admitted after the fight that Cotto was the toughest guy he's ever fought. Additionally, Mayweather points to the Cotto fight as the impetus to bring his father back to his corner - Floyd Mayweather Sr. is renowned for his 'defense-first' boxing strategy. The Cotto fight was Mayweather's last appearance on HBO before moving over to Showtime and generated a very healthy 1.5M PPV buys. Cotto will jump into the ring tonight against WBC middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, which likely would still give him enough of a rest for a September fight.

Mayweather's battered face during his May-2012 fight with Miguel Cotto - a fight that Mayweather would later say was  his toughest ever despite winning a unanimous decision.

The Likely Choice

A Miguel Cotto victory over Sergio Martinez tonight would all but solidify a rematch with Floyd Mayweather in September and perhaps his last huge payday. Additionally, there are ways that Showtime and 'The Money Team' could increase the appeal of the fight:

  • Weight: It would be very interesting for this fight to take place at the 160-lb middleweight limit. Mayweather fought Maidana at welterweight (147-lb), but we know that Mayweather can definitely get up to over 160 lbs. Additionally, Mayweather already holds a junior middleweight belt (154-lb). Cotto is a naturally bigger fighter so forcing Mayweather up to 160 could be very intriguing.
  • Venue: Mayweather has fought nearly all of his major fights at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Vegas.  He has often expressed a desire to fight in other places, but that's never materialized. Mayweather lives and trains in Vegas, so a fight at Madison Square Garden in front of what would be a very raucous Puerto Rican crowd could be another variable that would add to the public's appetite.

Should Cotto lose to Martinez tonight, I think he would likely lose the chance at the September Mayweather fight. People have already questioned whether the 33-year old Cotto is 'washed up' and way past his prime, which is ironic because Mayweather will be close to his 38th birthday in September. 

For what it's worth, I am hoping for a Mayweather - Cotto II at 160 lbs at Madison Square Garden. That would be a unique set of circumstances for boxing's biggest attraction. 

- T.C. Schiller

Comment

The Impact of Richard Schaefer's Departure from GBP

On Monday, Richard Schaefer officially resigned as CEO of Golden Boy Promotions (GBP) after leaving the banking industry (Credit Suisse) to build the company from the ground up along with its namesake (Oscar De La Hoya) over the past twelve years.  The announcement was anything but surprising as it became apparent during the Mayweather - Maidana promotion that Schaefer and De La Hoya had 'irreconcilable differences'.

Golden Boy Promotions' former CEO Richard Schaefer speaking to the media in-advance of the Mayweather - Maidana card.

Golden Boy Promotions' former CEO Richard Schaefer speaking to the media in-advance of the Mayweather - Maidana card.

The past year has been anything but harmonious at GBP with De La Hoya in-and-out of rehab as well as a heated feud between Schaefer and the other major boxing power - Top Rank's Bob Arum.  At one point, Schaefer claimed (and still stands by it) that he would never do business with Bob Arum again.  Schaefer's relationship with De La Hoya was further distanced and perhaps even severed when De La Hoya made peace with Bob Arum and then discussed the 'amends' in a very public forum - through the media. 

If the soap opera couldn't get anymore complex, in the middle of all of this, you have Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and his management, which includes Leonard Ellerbe (CEO of Mayweather Promotions) and the 'infamous' Al Haymon.  When De La Hoya returned to his company following rehab, where he serves as President and is the majority shareholder, he learned that a lot of fighters fighting on GBP cards only had signed contracts with Al Haymon and were not contractually committed to GBP - a fact he admitted to the press that 'caught him off-guard'.

A future addition to the The Money Team?  Richard Schaefer in discussions with Mayweather Promotions' CEO, Leonard Ellerbe.

A future addition to the The Money Team?  Richard Schaefer in discussions with Mayweather Promotions' CEO, Leonard Ellerbe.

The boxing business is complex in that there are not strict regulations and oversight, unlike other major professional sports.  The so-called 'Ali Boxing Reform Act' was implemented in May-2000 and was designed to protect the fiscal interests of fighters (specifically from promoters like Don King). For example, under the Act, promoters are not supposed to serve as managers concurrently.  Many have long-believed that the 'man behind the curtain' (Haymon) serves as both for many of his fighters.  In any case, Ellerbe and Mayweather have publicly-sided with Schaefer, which leads into what I think is going to happen with Schaefer.

The Fallout

In comments to ESPN, it appears that Schaefer has no intentions of leaving the sport of boxing. It is likely that his GBP contract includes some type of non-compete clause in it.  However, as ESPN's Dan Rafael correctly points out, non-compete clauses in the state of California are about as 'loose as they get' and the enforcement of such provisions are often shot down.

Ellerbe and Mayweather have stated that Schaefer will always have a home in some capacity with their camp.  Additionally, Ellerbe stated that he has no intentions of working with GBP in-any-capacity in the future, which likely includes co-promoted cards.  The biggest question remains, which GBP fighters will defect and follow Schaefer?  After all, it has been Schaefer, not De La Hoya, that they have built relationships with.  The fact that a lot of supposed-GBP fighters do not have actual contracts with GBP does not bode well for De La Hoya.

I could see a scenario develop where Schaefer joins Ellerbe / Mayweather / Haymon making boxing a three-party race with Mayweather Promotions, Top Rank (Arum), and GBP (De La Hoya), all holding a number of reputable fighters.  I see it unlikely, but possible, that De La Hoya joins forces with Arum's Top Rank, which would consolidate the sport back to a two-horse race.

A full-circle reunion?  De La Hoya embracing his former promoter and current competitor - Top Rank's Bob Arum

A full-circle reunion?  De La Hoya embracing his former promoter and current competitor - Top Rank's Bob Arum

To top it off, you also have the 'network' effect whereas certain promoters have now exclusively aligned themselves with certain television networks - not a new phenomenon in boxing, but one that is certainly amplified with the sport's current global divide.  For example, GBP (under Schaefer) has been exclusively aligned with Showtime, which is also the driver behind Mayweather's historic six-fight deal.  On the other hand, Arum's Top Rank is aligned with HBO.  The disconnect and exclusivity of these fighters with the various networks is just another complication to get the best matches made while the respective fighters are still at the top of the game.

In any case, Schaefer's departure from GBP does not bode well for the possibility of better fight cards in the future.  I think we are going to see more "manufactured champions" like Adrien 'I have a problem with real fighters' Broner - guys who are built up and sold to the public as great fighters based on domination of weak opponents - the result of skillful match-making (e.g., the 'Haymon Effect').  With Schaefer / Ellerbe / Mayweather refusing to work with Arum's Top Rank and now with GBP, it leaves the sport in peril.  People need to look beyond just Mayweather - Pacquiao, there are a lot of other great potential fights out there - unfortunately for all of us, those fighters are rarely under the same promotional banner, which appears to be the greatest left-hook of all in destroying a deal.

Comment

Comment

The Universal Moniker for Unfulfilled Potential: "Darko"

It is pretty hard to feel bad for a guy who got paid millions of dollars to play in the NBA.  However, in the case of Darko Milicic (aka "Darko"), it's not that hard.  Over ten years ago, the Detroit Pistons used its 2nd overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft to select a guy who, by all measures, was a "no-brainer" selection.  In fact, it's likely that if Darko had been in any other NBA Draft in the 2000s when a guy named LeBron graduated from high school, he would have been the number one overall pick.  The scouts drooled over Darko (no joke) and would continuously point to a number of statistics and attributes, including:

  • Legitimate 7-footer
  • 7-foot 4-inch wingspan
  • Left-hander 
  • Soft-touch
  • Tremendous "potential"

Unfortunately for Darko (and the Pistons), that potential was never realized - not even close.  Even though Darko stayed around in the league for twelve seasons, he never was more than a 12th man "garbage time" player, finally retiring from the NBA at the end of the 2012-2013 season having averaged 6.0 points and 1.3 blocks for his career.

Darko Milicic posing with his new Detroit Pistons uniform after being selected number two overall in the 2003 NBA Draft.

What about Kwame Brown or Sam Bowie?

Many will point to others like Kwame Brown (#1 overall selection of the Washington Wizards in the 2001 NBA draft) and Sam Bowie (#2 overall selection of the Portland Trailblazers in the 1984 NBA draft and one pick ahead of Michael Jordan) as bigger "busts".  Brown has been in the NBA for 13 seasons now and has had a 'semblance' of an NBA career.  By no means has he ever lived up to being the #1 overall pick of 2001, but he has stayed around and at times, been a contributor for the teams he played for.  Even Bowie stuck around for a decade and averaged a very respectable 11 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

The Universal Moniker for Unfulfilled Potential

In many ways, Darko's hype and ultimate failure has made him a universal moniker for "so much becoming so little" and I'm not sure that I would ever want to carry such a legacy.  Just for perspective, there were a few guys who were drafted after Darko in the 2003 NBA draft that have gone on to have fairly decent NBA careers - Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and David West to name a few.  Those picks, in-and-of-themselves, point to how much potential Darko had.  He was drafted above a kid like Carmelo Anthony who was just coming off leading Syracuse to a National Championship as a freshman.  Similarly, Dwyane Wade had just led his Marquette team to the Final Four - a once-storied program that was stuck in idle for years.  While the NBA Draft is often more indicative of potential than accomplishment (e.g., Dwight Howard picked over Emeka Okafor), it's hard to imagine somebody looking at both Anthony and Wade, and not seeing a load of potential there.

Darko's NBA legacy is that of a 'cautionary tale' - an NBA GM's worst nightmare.  It's made every team's scouts work that much harder - and that's a good thing.  You can't judge a lot of these kids on YouTube videos alone - you have to go and see them play, see how they react to adversity, see the potential in-person.  In a sense, Darko was and remains the poster-child for the 'freak-of-nature' physical characteristics being downgraded to the question of..."the stats and potential are great, but how does this really translate into production?"  Darko may have single-handedly cast a dark shadow on the foreign player who everybody has heard about, but nobody has really ever seen play.  There have certainly been others - Nikoloz Tskitishvili, for example, came out a year before Darko and was drafted number five overall - one could make a strong argument that Tskitishvili had a significantly worse career than Darko (if that is even possible).  But other Europeans have flourished in the NBA - Dirk Nowitzki, Manu Ginobili, Andrea Bargnani, and Peja Stojakovic to name a few.

Darko's all-too-familiar place on the Detroit Pistons roster - so far down on the depth chart that he didn't even get a chair.

The Unanswered Questions    

Like most recruiting and scouting, either in sports, corporations, or other talent-driven initiatives, the sad tale of Darko raises many more questions than it will ever answer:

  • Everybody knew Darko was 'very raw' coming to the NBA - did the Detroit Pistons spend adequate time developing him?  The answer is probably 'no', since the Pistons went on to win the NBA Championship a year later - there wasn't a lot of free playing time to hand out for a kid to experiment with.
  • Was Darko just another 'head-case'?  There are plenty of examples throughout sports of kids who just can't handle the pressures of the next level - Ryan Leaf, JaMarcus Russell, Michael Beasley, etc. etc.
  • Was Darko really what everybody thought he was going into the 2003 NBA Draft?  In the cases of Ryan Leaf and Michael Beasley, there's no question these kids had tremendous talent and had both displayed it at the highest levels of collegiate athletics, they just fell into the shadows of the spotlight.
  • How is one supposed to differentiate between the next Darko and the next Dirk [Nowitzki]?

The answer to most of the aforementioned questions comes down to one factor - maturity.  By-in-large, the kids who go from tremendous potential to massive production in professional athletics are the ones that exhibit a high level of personal maturity - the willingness to learn, the patience / understanding to 'ride-the-pine', and most importantly, the ability to surround themselves with people / mentors that are going to make sure that they don't get caught up in the pitfalls of professional sports.   

He's Not the Last One

There will undoubtedly be many more Darko's in the years to come in all major sports.  After all,  one of the best recipes for implosion is youth, hype, and money - the mentality bestowed upon these kids of "you can do no wrong and here's millions of dollars to prove it".  The NFL seems to be placing increased scrutiny on character and intelligence (e.g., the "Wonderlic" test).  However, everybody is continually drawn to the kid with a lot of raw potential in the slim hopes that he turns into the next Kobe Bryant, which means that many are destined to be the "next Darko".  However, if scouts look deep and are honest to themselves, they'll understand that there were dozens of reasons why Kobe became Kobe, none of which were related to his undeniable talent, extraordinary potential and physical attributes. 

Kobe Bryant posing with then Lakers' General Manager, Jerry West and former head coach, Del Harris, after the Lakers acquired his rights during the 1996 NBA Draft from the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for center Vlade Divac. 

- T.C. Schiller

Comment

Comment

The Economics of 'Money'

Over the past twelve months, Floyd Mayweather Jr. (aka TBE aka TMT aka Money) has done the unthinkable - he has passed The Golden Boy (Oscar De La Hoya) in terms of economic value in the sport of boxing. Oscar De La Hoya was the box office star for the majority of his illustrious career, during a time that saw the Welterweight / Super-Welterweight / Junior-Middleweight weight classes overtake the Heavyweight division in terms of overall appeal. The 1999 De La Hoya - Trinidad showdown, to-this-day, is one fight that I will remember forever. There was an energy about that fight that seemed almost mythical - it was not only a clash of two undefeated champions, but it was also a clash of cultures - Trinidad was (and still is) Puerto Rico's favorite son. De La Hoya was a 'tweener' that straddled both his Mexican ancestry and American (East Los Angeles) upbringing.

Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad posing before their highly-anticipated 1999 showdown.

Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad posing before their highly-anticipated 1999 showdown.

However the fight, in-retrospect, was vastly overrated and neither fighter really ever overcame the disappointment of what transpired on that September night. De La Hoya dominated early and then ran, losing a close majority decision. De La Hoya went on to many big fights beating the likes of Vargas and Mayorga, but lost to Hopkins, Mayweather, Mosley (twice), and finally Pacquiao. Trinidad would be knocked out by Bernard Hopkins in late 2001 and was never really the same after that. The fight did an extraordinary 1.4M Pay-Per-View (PPV) buys but never saw a rematch in-large-part because the public didn't demand it.

Floyd Mayweather ironically built his early career in Bob Arum's Top Rank camp and largely in the shadows of De La Hoya. After splitting with Arum, Mayweather went off on his own and the rest is, as they say, is history. On September 14, 2013, Mayweather stepped into the ring with Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez and made financial history. The 'Money' making by-the-numbers:

  • 2.2M PPV buys generating $150 million
  • Over 16,100 in attendance generating gate proceeds of $18.4 million
  • Other revenue (foreign, closed circuit, merchandise) generating an additional $40.0 million
  • Total revenue exceeding $200 million (Mayweather's take: Over $40 million)
Showtime's All Access Pre-Fight Promotion

Showtime's All Access Pre-Fight Promotion

The Mayweather - Alvarez fight was not the most exciting fight I've ever seen. It was ruled a split decision - the one judge who scored it a draw (C.J. Ross) was also the same moron who scored the first Pacquiao - Bradley fight in favor of Bradley. To the delight of everyone associated with the sport, she has since relinquished her license to judge boxing in Nevada. It was a good fight, but it wasn't a great fight - Mayweather even at age 36, was simply too fast for the 23 year-old Alvarez. To put it nicely, he made Alvarez (a seasoned champion in his own right) look like an amateur.

Floyd Mayweather and Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez before their September-2013 fight.

Floyd Mayweather and Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez before their September-2013 fight.

Whatever that September night lacked in boxing skill parity, it more than made up for in the spectacle that has become a Floyd Mayweather fight. Many other fighters, including the aforementioned De La Hoya, have had mainstream crossover appeal with the ability to draw celebrities and fans from all walks-of-life, but none have quite mastered it like 'Money'. The guy walks to the ring with Justin Bieber on one side and Lil Wayne on the other. He's done 'ring walks' with his Dancing of the Stars competitors before - Wayne Newton, Helio Castroneves, and Heidi Klum.

The Money Team - Lil Wayne, Floyd Mayweather, Justin Bieber

The Money Team - Lil Wayne, Floyd Mayweather, Justin Bieber

Mayweather talks a lot of smack and that turns off a lot of people. But, the guy who walked to the ring to fight Maidana earlier this month is very different than the guy who fought De La Hoya in May 2007. He sees boxing much more like a business today and much less like a playground. He uses his fights as a celebration of sport - a means of entertainment to satisfy fans. He has mastered the idea of sport as a delicate balance between art and war. To his credit, Mayweather lives a 'clean' life - he is a workout monster, doesn't smoke, doesn't drink, and certainly doesn't party like he used to. So while many others before him have flamed out long before the age of 37, he's still 'Money'.

- T.C. Schiller

Comment

Comment

The 'Keyser Soze' of Boxing

For those familiar with the Kevin Spacey thriller, The Usual Suspects, the name 'Keyser Soze' should ring a bell. Soze is a seemingly mythical character working behind-the-scenes whose 'ruthlessness and influence have acquired a legendary, even mythical status.' He is never truly seen and those who work for him follow his directions like puppets hung from strings.

Al Haymon - boxing's "Power-Broker"

Over the past ten years, the boxing world has seen the rise of its own 'Keyser Soze', in the form of a boxing manager / promoter named Al Haymon. Haymon is a Harvard graduate, and was long known as a music promoter prior to his entry into the sport of boxing. The parallels between Haymon and Soze run large, in the sense that he is a 'behind-the-scenes' guy who wields a disproportionate amount of power in boxing - for example, he's able to get fighters that would generally not be considered Pay-Per-View (PPV) fighters onto PPV cards. He's built up fighters like Adrien Broner with mediocre / above-average boxing talent into superstars.

Known as boxing's 'power-broker', Haymon has been able to build a stable of fighters under-contract that represent the best-and-brightest that the sport has to offer. Unfortunately for all of us, he wields his power in a way that protects his fighters from the best fights that can be made by way of blocking potential blockbuster showdowns. Haymon fighters have little-to-no say in the fights they engage in and thus, we are often left with lopsided victories, 'paper champions', and general mediocrity.

Adrien "The Problem" Broner is perhaps the best manifestation of Haymon, the puppet-master. Broner is a cocky, flashy young fighter coined 'the next Mayweather' (he even refers to Floyd as 'big-brother'). And for a while, everybody had no reason to doubt this kid - he looked tremendous moving his way up the various divisions and becoming a three-time world champion. This was all working great until Broner had to fight a real fighter - Marcos Maidana - yes, the same Maidana that Mayweather just beat. Not only did Maidana put Broner on the canvas twice, he exposed what many had long-suspected, Broner is a fraud. Broner's post-fight interview after his one-sided victory against a 'nobody' on Saturday's Mayweather under-card fight demonstrated a kid who is not "the problem", but rather "a problem", and luckily for all of us, the WBC agreed and has suspended Broner for the comments.

Like Soze, Haymon is rarely seen in public and uses his right-hand man, Sam Watson, as his public representative - analogous to the role of 'Kobayashi' in The Usual Suspects. Haymon's role in the sport is continuing to grow - he has strong alliances with Floyd Mayweather Jr., Leonard Ellerbe and perhaps most-troubling, Golden Boy Promotion's (GBP) CEO, Richard Schaefer. Schaefer has been engaged in a very public dispute with GBP's majority shareholder and namesake, Oscar De La Hoya. Additionally, Schaefer has publicly declared that he will not deal with Bob Arum / Top Rank - boxing's other main promoter who handles Manny Pacquiao, Timothy Bradley, and a host of other top talent.

Haymon with two of his fighters - Floyd Mayweather and Andre Berto

Given these dynamics, it is unlikely that we will see any Arum fighters face any Haymon fighters, which includes any possibility of a Mayweather / Pacquiao showdown - we all lose. Additionally, there is a very real possibility that Schaefer pulls the carpet out from underneath De La Hoya and defects to build a new company with Haymon, Mayweather, and Ellerbe. If that were to happen, I see no other outcome than for De La Hoya to join forces with Arum (whom he recently reconciled with). Such a development would only further divide the current landscape of boxing and allow for the creation of more 'Adrien Broners' - mediocre fighters handed disproportionate and unearned opportunities.

But like what we've seen happen with Broner, there is only so much protection you can afford these fighters. Eventually, they are going to have to fight real talent and the cream will rise to the top.

"The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist. And like that...he is gone."

Kevin Spacey playing the role of Roger "Verbal" Kint / Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects

- T.C. Schiller

Comment

Comment

He is a "9-Figure Guy"

May 3rd saw one of the most exciting fights over the past year and eclipsed Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s previous two fights against Canelo Alvarez and Robert Guerrero. Ironically, Mayweather entered the ring as a 10-1 favorite to defeat the Argentine 'warrior' known as El Chino for his brawling tactics. It's the same guy who humiliated Mayweather's protege Adrien Broner last December, knocking the big-mouthed welterweight down twice before cruising to a unanimous decision.

Mayweather on the defensive to counter the brawling Maidana.

Mayweather's seemingly "controversial" decision over Marcos Maidana was a great fight any way you look at it - one that the public is already demanding to see again. For the second straight fight, Mayweather was not granted a unanimous decision. The final scorecards were as follows:

  • 114 - 114 (Even)
  • 117 - 111 (Mayweather 9/3)
  • 116 - 112 (Mayweather 8/4)

Source: ESPN (Jorge Eduardo Sanchez)

While the 9/3 scorecard (117 - 111) didn't give Maidana credit for what he was able to do in the fight, the 6/6 scorecard (114 - 114) didn't give Floyd credit for his resilience and his ability to adjust to one of the most awkward fighters I've seen in a while. Another issue that Floyd faced was being cut for the first time in his career, and dealing with an inability to see out of one eye for two rounds. But make no mistake about it, Floyd was cut by an accidental head-butt and not a punch.

Has Mayweather Lost a Step?

For years now, boxing commentators, fellow fighters and-the-like have all commented on the Floyd Mayweather of today looking very much like the Floyd Mayweather of seven or eight years ago. Let's face it, Mayweather is 37 years old now. He's no longer "the kid" we saw take the bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics nor the guy who taunted the sport's beloved Oscar De La Hoya in the May-2007 mega-fight. But for whatever he's lost physically, he's more than made up for it mentally. He's a smarter fighter that is more patient, more relaxed, and shows a level of boxing-IQ that you don't see in the young fighters of today. Last night was perhaps the greatest testament to that. A 29 year-old Mayweather likely would have done something last night to cost himself a victory - whether it be lose his composure based on the blood dripping in his eye, or simply panicked opening himself up for a big punch. I have to say that, in-person, Mayweather did not look like he's lost a step as many have since mentioned. His hand speed is simply incredible - the best in the business.

My favorite fighter of all-time is another Jr. - Roy Jones Jr. that is. There's actually a lot of commonalities between the two fighters that go far beyond their inherited namesakes. They both were trained from the crib to be champion fighters and both endured strained relationships with their fathers, only to reconcile the relationships in later years. For years, everybody wondered if Roy could take a punch. One could argue that between 1994 and 2003, Roy never took a real punch - a true testament to his athleticism. But when he finally did take a punch (from Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson), we learned that he really couldn't. Floyd's different - for all of his speed and athleticism, Mayweather has been in some brawls and he has taken some big punches - Shane Mosley rocked him in the second round in May-2010.

He Simply is a Star

I have only recently become a Mayweather fan. Like many, his antics of the past were childish, flamboyant and plain ridiculous. However, his maturity over the years has shown both inside and outside the ropes. He's developed into the type of fighter that draws non-fight fans to the sport - the type of guy that can draw 12,000 people to the weigh-in (yes, the weigh-in). He's a 9-figure guy, no doubt about it. His two fights with Oscar De La Hoya and Canelo Alvarez hold the Pay-Per-View (PPV) record, racking up 2.4M and 2.2M buys, respectively. Prior to joining Showtime, his nine HBO fights racked up a total 9.6M PPV buys and over $540M for the network.

Mayweather - Maidana Weigh-In (May 2, 2014)

In early 2013, Mayweather signed on with Showtime for his six-fight "farewell" tour - a deal that guarantees him $200M and likely in upwards of $300M with incentives based on PPV buys. The deal has been called "the richest individual athlete deal in all of sports". Based on that deal, he has three fights left in his career and one can only hope that we will see a compromise on the "business barriers" to allow for a Mayweather - Pacquiao showdown, which would likely be the richest boxing match in the history of the sport.

So while you may not like Mayweather, you have to respect the promotion that he brings, which brings stars from all walks-of-life ringside every time he enters the ring. He turns fights into "events" - must-see attractions. Few fighters have transcended the "sweet science" and captured the attention of the world, but those that have are all 9-figure guys.

-T.C. Schiller 

Comment