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NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: IS PBC WINNING THE CULTURE WAR?

By Paul Magno | July 10, 2023
NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: IS PBC WINNING THE CULTURE WAR?

I got into boxing writing shortly after I plugged into the internet and began seeing the aggressively awful boxing coverage being offered up by the online media. It was 2007-ish and I was working in gyms down here in Mexico, nearly off the grid, training fighters and trying to manage them without being murdered by cartels, at the height of the Mexican cartel drug wars. The boxing media I saw when I finally used the internet for something other than email and porn was nauseatingly thick in prejudices, biases, and just general odd anti-fighter, pro-promoter sentiment. It was a bizarro world that I felt compelled to jump into and start an unwinnable fight for truth and perspective.

Little did I know at the time that the nastiness I saw was, in great part, due to Al Haymon’s presence in boxing. 

Haymon, a Harvard-educated African-American concert promoter, had already dabbled in the boxing business by the time he formed an alliance with Floyd Mayweather. But it was his work with Mayweather-- helping Floyd get out of his Top Rank contract and become a free agent who was able to keep the lion’s share of his own money and establish 100% autonomy-- that drew the ire of boxing businessmen and, in turn, the ire of the establishment boxing media who have historically served the needs of those businessmen. 

Establishing that blueprint for fighter independence made Haymon a forever-enemy of the boxing establishment. As Haymon’s roster of clients expanded, the animosity grew. And when the man launched his mega-ambitious Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) project in 2015, that animosity turned into full-on war in some quarters. 

In almost 50 years as a boxing observer, participant, semi-participant, and writer, I’d never seen the kind of focused attacks made on one particular boxing company. 

Many prominent boxing media voices alternated from rage to dismissal to derision. They predicted and publicized the end of the company, the failure of its efforts, its bankruptcy-- non-stop.

Some got especially nasty.

Steve Kim, then of Max Boxing and the failed UCN Live, once giddily declared in a 2011 video clip, since scrubbed from the internet, that “Anytime an Al Haymon fighter loses, it’s good for business, tee-hee” (I added the girly tee-hee). In a 2017 piece posted by BoxingNewsOnline.net, the man who once pushed N.W.A (Not With Al) t-shirts to discourage fighters from signing with Haymon, was quoted as calling PBC a “multi-million-dollar welfare system” that “caters to the lowest common denominator of society.” And that “lowest common denominator of society,” apparently, is the African-American consumer, who Kim frequently (and condescendingly) referred to as “the demographic.” 

Kim’s buddy, colleague, and facilitator Dougie Fischer, who is African-American and appears to be fully onboard with Kim’s sentiments, had gone nearly as deep as Kim, calling PBC supporters “racially biased African-American fans that are uninformed jerks.” Fischer now serves as Editor in Chief at the Oscar De La Hoya-owned Ring Magazine.

Kim and Fischer were far from the only antagonists, although they probably rated as the worst because of their reach at the time. I don’t need to remind readers who lived through it, just how hyper-focused a segment of the media was in bringing Haymon and PBC down. 

The rise of Premier Boxing Champions generated a blood orgy of “they’re ruining boxing...trying to take over boxing” laments from establishment media and fans foolish enough to accept the establishment media at face value. There was an obsession on the company’s finances like never before (and never since), almost as if they had a personal stake in the success or failure of the company. Some would go so far as to quote unsourced Reddit posts full of “financial info” to support their claims of PBC’s imminent collapse. 

Obviously, PBC has not gone out of business. 

At this point, I’ll toss in a disclosure that shouldn’t be that much of a disclosure. For the last couple years, I’ve done freelance fight previews for PBC. Now, here’s another disclosure, which should also not come as a surprise to those who’ve followed my work over the years-- I don’t give a flying fuck about screwing up a gig by running my mouth. My long history of intermittent financial ruin tells the tale of a man who has absolutely no qualms about burning bridges for the sake of something that needs to be said. 

Okay...that being said…

You have to be brimming with acidic hate to still be riding an anti-PBC agenda right about now. They’ve been crushing it this year. Fans are finally getting Spence vs. Crawford. Inoue vs. Fulton is happening. Tank vs. Garcia and Benavidez vs. Plant took place and were resounding successes. There’ve been more than a handful of Fight of the Year candidates off the 2023 schedule. Most recently, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez aligned himself with the company for a 3-fight partnership against a much deeper roster of potential foes than any other company could muster.

This is all good stuff for fans. I’m not a fan of the fact that much of the “good stuff” is behind pay-per-view paywalls, but I’m also not privy to the business realities of the sport that, maybe, necessitate moving everything to pay-per-view. All I can judge is the quality of the product and, yeah, it’s been really good. 

Since the very beginning, I supported the shift in the power structure that Haymon and PBC represented, from one were all the power and revenue flowed through the promoter to one where the power was decentralized and where fighters got more control over their own careers. For me, this represented the only realistic path to “real sport” legitimacy for boxing and, really, the only shot we had at the kind of reforms the sport needed.

The animosity PBC encountered seemed odd to me back then. They came into existence, working to bring to life everything media types had been saying the sport needed. It was a boxing company built on a real world corporate model, focused on getting fights on free network TV and, thereby, into the line of sight of the mainstream consumer. The roster was jam-packed with top American talent to appeal to the American fan. Unlike the old-guard boxing promoters, who ran everything on a shortsighted plan where, as Dana White famously said, “every event is a going out of business sale,” PBC seemed to have a long-term plan with growth in mind. 

Again, all of this was what every boxing media pundit said the sport so desperately needed. 

Except, clearly, the “wrong” person was in charge of it all. 

It can be debated how much PBC actually delivered on its promise. The effort, in my opinion, seemed like a positive one at the time. But, of course, I wasn’t a media guy whose entire financial existence was tied to the success and generosity of promoters. 

There’ve been rough patches, slow spots, and missteps over the course of PBC’s history, but there’s been more good than bad. This year, specifically, has been outstanding. And there are signs that this 2023 run could be the nail in the “PBC is dead/dying/going to die/hopefully will die” coffin. 

The establishment media has been comparatively positive during this latest run (as compared to their previous all-negativity, all-the-time coverage, of course). Even the Dougie Fischer-guided Ring Magazine has recently posted some PBC-related articles that spotlighted a previously untouched vein of positivity and didn’t end up with a “yeah, but…” downer. Fans will gripe, and they have a right to their gripes, but some of the dedicated cynics seemed to have quieted down a bit. 

For me, all these years later and after learning what I’ve learned about how things work, it's easy to see why shifting the paradigm and the power structure would bring out the rage from the old guard establishment, as well as that of the lapdog media and the fans who follow them. It’s even easier to see how the inherent racism and/or general nastiness in some people would find an escape valve through this boxing business squabble.  

But, apparently, all it took was a schedule of good, solid bouts with some blockbusters thrown in for good measure, to win the hearts and minds of the general public and to shut down some of the serial antagonists. It took about eight years to do it, but later is better than never. From the looks of things, now, PBC is finally NOT going out of business. 

Got something for Magno? Send it here: paulmagno@theboxingtribune.com

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