The Haymon Effect
This writing appeared on the boxing website ucnlive.com as a 'soapbox' submission to boxing writer Steve Kim.
First off let me state that I am just a fan of boxing. I’m no ‘expert’ on the sweet science or the boxing business. So of course nothing I say here should be taken as ‘capital T’ true. What follows is simply my opinion based on my observations of the sport I love (and our culture at large). My devotion for the sport flows from its authenticity. The honesty required for a fighters preparation, the ‘realness’ of the fighters themselves, and the ‘ultimate truth’ of their combat in the ring. Corrupt judging and PED use can undermine this authenticity of course. Yet there are certain developments in the boxing business itself which I believe pose a greater threat.
Now from all the information that’s trickled out over the last year; it would seem as if Al Haymon has a desire to ‘take over’ boxing. He wants to be the ‘Dana White’ of pugilism – and thereby eliminate all other relevant competition. In my view this is bad for the sport - because I’m not really sure Haymon actually likes boxing. Whatever you might think of Dana White, the guy loves his sport. And whatever you might think of Don King or Bob Arum – those two have been in the ‘business of boxing’. Haymon seems to be quite simply, ‘in business’ (as Ken Miller pointed out on UCN’s ‘10 Count’). Now of course he has every right to do as he pleases; however, that doesn’t mean it’s good for the ‘authenticity’ of the sport.
This ‘Wal-Mart’ approach to the sport has its merits I suppose. As opposed to cheap, consolidated, and widely available goods – Haymon seems poised to provide more fights in one place at a better price. With the glut of PPV’s this can be seen as a great relief to fans tired of shelling out cash to their cable company. However, the downside is quality and authenticity. The emphasis is on the ‘business’; not the ‘products’ – the products are disposable. There’s no substance to what you’re selling, because you’re selling a ‘brand’. Now this is fine in consumer capitalism. But in the boxing world the end result is Gary Russell Jr. getting shredded by Vasyl Lomachenko like cardboard in a wood chipper. For Gary Russell Jr. is a typical ‘Wal-Mart’ product; while Lomachenko is a hand crafted – one of a kind item. The great fighters have always been ‘high-quality’ items; and they are the ones who’ve driven and carried the sport. I’m afraid Haymon will seek to establish quantity over quality going forward.
This past year of boxing has been a down one in terms of ‘quality’. Many blame Haymon for this. There are also some that hold out the hope that Haymon has been ‘holding back’ so to speak – in an effort to maximize the impact of his future plans. Yet this also raises the question of what exactly is Haymon ‘holding back’? Haymon fighters seem to all share some similar characteristics: loud mouths, lots of money, questionable fighting skills, and thin resumes. Haymon’s ‘products’ are rather unremarkable – more ‘sizzle than steak’. Now this fact provides great entertainment value when a Haymon fighter gets ‘exposed’ and folded by a non Haymon fighter. But when Haymon decides to keep things ‘in-house’ – the overall quality (and authenticity) of the sport suffers.
It’s been said by Steve Kim and others that if you ‘spoil a fighter you kill their competitive spirit’. Like it or not; boxing kind of depends on the ‘competitive spirit’ of its fighters. This ‘competitive spirit’ is not something you can really teach either, it must come from within. It is also fueled by circumstance. This is why you don’t see too many fighters from the ‘upper class’ of society – guys don’t usually go into boxing if they don’t ‘need to’. It’s also why you see Russian fighters having championship success; their ‘competitive spirit’ has been forged by circumstance. To be a Haymon fighter means to be spoiled – highly compensated for less (and less risky) work. Now of course who the hell wouldn’t want a deal like that? All of us who punch the clock would love to be paid more for less demanding output – its human nature. However, when you provide a fighter a certain level of comfort – all that’s left to fuel that ‘competitive spirit’ must come from within them. And lets be honest – our flaky social media driven, ‘look at me’ culture isn’t exactly conducive to producing individuals with the ‘inner drive’ of a Hagler, Frazier, Duran, Leonard, or Hearns.
But who am I or anyone else to tell a fighter to take ‘more risks’ in the ring, or fight more than two times a year? And therein lies the conundrum. You can’t necessarily blame fighters for signing with Al Haymon; yet the overall quality of the sport suffers because of it. And if he truly has designs on a ‘boxing monopoly’ then one can envision a rather bleak future if he succeeds. As a ‘business man’ he will of course look to sell his products to the masses. And the masses have no idea that a ‘boxing league’ with the likes of Broner, Garcia, Quillin, Ortiz, and Berto isn’t exactly (shall we say) overfilling with ‘competitive spirit’. Will good fights happen? Yes, they will at times. But I fear the ‘realness’ of the sport will take a hit. This is the ‘Haymon Effect’ – the lowering of quality for distribution to the masses. And with Wal-Mart making 17 billion dollars last year; ‘Uncle Al’ might giving the public exactly what it wants.