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Lou DiBella’s dilemma

Lou DiBella
James Chance/Getty Images
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Lou DiBella is facing a difficult decision if he wants to remain in the sport and the World Boxing Organisation make an interesting move on social media, writes George Gigney in his media review

SPEAKING on the SI Boxing Podcast, veteran boxing promoter Lou DiBella cast some light on the struggles he and his company are facing in the age of exclusive broadcast deals. Based in New York, DiBella has been a prominent figure in the sport for well over a decade and in that time has seen boxing undergo many changes. Now, with his influence no longer what it once was, DiBella has been outlining why he is frustrated with his current situation. “I would like to be hired by another substantial network that is not in the sport right now,” he said. “Or [work with] one of those three [Top Rank, Premier Boxing Champions, Matchroom] if they elect to remove themselves from exclusivity and open up to the entire world of boxing in an attempt to make the best fights happen.

“I really wouldn’t potentially want to work for any one of them. I really wouldn’t unless they changed. If ESPN said, ‘I’m going to do a deal with [Top Rank CEO Bob] Arum, and Arum is going to have x amount of the budget, but I’m opening up to the rest of the boxing world’ then that would probably be my choice.”

DiBella explained that he has numerous exciting talents in his stable, including Olympic gold medallist Bakhodir Jalolov, who may struggle to feature on major networks and shows because Lou would have to relinquish most, if not all, of his promotional control over those fighters. As a former executive at HBO Sports, DiBella is able to see both sides of the coin here and makes some valid points. Smaller promoters are struggling to break through to larger audiences simply because networks and streaming services don’t see the need to work with them; they’ve already got deals in place with more established outfits. Now, promoters being aligned to particular networks is nothing new in boxing and it’s been a point of contention for as long as it’s been happening. It makes it difficult to create some of the sport’s best fights (for example Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao), and it also establishes a rather strict hierarchy within the sport. That being said, there’s no clear incentive for networks to allocate some of their budget away from the promoter they hold a contract with to spend it on lesser-known rosters – there would be an obvious risk to doing that. So, promoters like DiBella face a tough choice; shop their best fighters out to big networks and bigger promoters and potentially compromise their relationship with said fighter, or keep the boxer away from those avenues and possibly stifle their growth in the sport.

It’s not fair, but it’s business. DiBella adopted that role as a de-facto promoter for a larger entity for a few years while working with Al Haymon’s PBC, and he said on the podcast that he would never do anything like that again, though suggested that’s more of a personal issue because he’s “not great at working for other people”. Some will say DiBella should move with the times, others will empathise with his points and further lament the exclusivity of broadcast deals. It’s certainly a discussion worth continuing.

Websites

In a surprisingly transparent move from one of the sport’s sanctioning bodies, the WBO will livestream a purse bid for a major fight. They previously ordered their welterweight belt-holder Terence Crawford (No.2 in the world) to fight Shawn Porter (No.3) and, after a deal couldn’t be reached, the fight is now going to purse bids next week.

The WBO have decided to stream the entire process on their Facebook page, meaning anyone with a stable internet connection will be able to watch. Now, this won’t be one of the most thrilling things you’ll ever see, but for those interested in the machinations of boxing this is an interesting opportunity to see how the sausage is made.

Purse bids often go as expected though they can also throw up some surprises. The marketability of Crawford has been a topic of discussion for a few years now so, with this livestream, fans and followers will be able to see in real time just how valuable promoters and broadcasters view him as. Of course, the two sides could reach an agreement before then and there’s a strong chance they will; there’s nothing like the looming threat of a purse bid to get everyone onto the same page.

Speaking of which, it now appears Amir Khan and Kell Brook are ready to see eye-to-eye in order for a fight to be agreed between the pair. Eddie Hearn told The Sun that both men are now doing everything they can to make it happen. “Both guys see this as their last fight so whoever pays the most money will get the fight. DAZN has an idea of what we think the fight is worth, I think Sky would just put it on pay-per-view and that could be risky,” he said.

He also described the situation as literally an “auction” with Khan and Brook looking to squeeze as much money out of this as possible. That isn’t a bad thing – they’re prizefighters after all – but it does quite obviously hint at the motivations behind making a bout that should have happened years ago. It also sounds as though Hearn is aware the fight is more likely to go to Sky, with whom he no longer works, which might explain why he doesn’t sound too hot on the idea. Either way, there’s still some interest in the fight but it is nowhere near what it once was. It also makes a lot of sense for both men; they’re at the end of their careers and there are no other big names they could each face to secure a significant payday.

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