Simply put, not since Don King has a black man incited the ire of the boxing public like Al Haymon.
His enigmatic persona both perplexes his competitors while stupefying the sleuth media who are deciding what to make of the talented Mr. Haymon.
The adoration espoused by his fighters has never been witnessed before and an exuberant “Thank you to Al Haymon” is always heard immediately after an acknowledgement to God after any of the 170 fighters he advises wins their bout. King never received such acclaim; instead receiving jeers and touts that he robbed and manipulated athletes, evoking a sinister cloud that has hung heavily over his legacy in the sport.
Haymon, however, is constantly credited for the enormous wealth and purse amounts for his biggest client Floyd Mayweather while making young millionaires out of today’s top boxing stars. So why is it that America’s newest black promoting sensation, who has made seemingly little personal waves, perceived as a Machiavellian figure?
Last Tuesday, Al Haymon exerted his growing dominance over the boxing industry with the latest announcement of a multi-year deal that brings his Premier Boxing Champions to CBS and the CBS owned cable network Showtime.
Within the last two months Haymon has managed to shuffle the boxing world with the cunning of a poker dealer, rearranging the way folks will see today’s champions battle on television with seemingly relative ease.
The CBS deal is his third major announcement since announcing a time-buy deal with NBC Sports and Spike TV that gives him 73 events across the networks, with some airing during primetime through 2017.
Harken back to 1974 when Don King, after a 5-week delay, orchestrated the biggest boxing event of the time in Zaire with ‘The Rumble in The Jungle.’ Both Muhammad Ali and then Heavyweight Champion George Foreman were paid $5 million, twice what any previous fighter had earned at the time. The fight saw Ali regain his title via the rope-a-dope and made King very wealthy.
The fight set up one of the greatest battles of all time in ‘The Thrilla in Manila” and solidified King’s reputation as boxing’s shrewdest promoter. However, King’s reputation as a swindler prompted FBI investigations and eventually led to the Muhammad Ali Boxing Act, which was passed in 2000 to reform perceived loopholes in the sport that weren't punishable before its passing.
Fast-forward to Haymon’s detractors like Main Events head, Kathy Duva who claims Haymon interfered with her initial proposed bout of Adonis Stevenson versus Sergey Kovalev last year. Duva claims Haymon’s ambiguous role as fighter advisor, and now promoter, is against the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act. Duva had a deal with NBC Sports since 2011, which expired when Haymon took over the reins.
With undefeated greats like Floyd Mayweather, Danny Garcia and Leo Santa Cruz among his numerous clients, Haymon has clout that extends beyond each individual fighter’s win record because he can bargain collectively for all of them. Rumors are that Haymon’s new ventures are a precursor to a bigger goal of building a bigger fan base for his athletes via network TV, while still satiating the current cable subscription base, to ultimately place all his fighters on his own network, thus eliminating, and hampering, the traditional pay-per-view model.
Why Haymon’s ambition is viewed as potentially sinister could be attributed to a mental reminder of the past indiscretions committed by Don King, where too much power corrupts the progenitor. However, Haymon’s athletes all claim that wealth has abounded since they have been in business with him, which is in direct conflict with any perceived Don King allusions or accusations.
Haymon is less a doppelganger of King and more a new breed of promoter never seen before. Boxing can only grow, and benefit, if people challenge the status quo and push it to the borders of broadcast insanity to incubate future growth. Mayweather has two fights left on his Showtime contract and the future of boxing would be firmly in Haymon’s hands when he decides to put the gloves down. Holding many of boxing’s champions and undefeated athletes allows Haymon to steer the fans towards any distribution outlet he wants, and as the deals keep being announced, he clearly recognizes, understands how to wield, that power.
We all have to wait and see if the talented Mr. Haymon is more emancipator of the sport and less an Orwellian force that signals its doom like other promoters think.
In the meantime, America will have to accept the fact that yet another black man is shaping the scope of the boxing deal and succeeding at it.