Who is Al Haymon?

Who is Al Haymon? Declan Warrington profiled the mysterious but influential figure in boxing

This profile was originally published in Boxing News magazine as we ask who is Al Haymon?

IT perhaps says much about Al Haymon, and the mystery and shadows behind which he works, that Sam Watson is often wrongly believed to be him.

That, as yet, the recently established Haymon Sports has no official function. That in a sport where television and exposure is almost everything – where there is an embedded culture in which unnecessary figures and sycophants shamelessly vie for the briefest role in a ring-walk or appearance in the ring – Haymon is almost always nowhere to be seen.

In a world where hyperbole and bombast often entirely offset the absence of an actual talent, Haymon settles for silence, content as the omnipresent puller of so many significant strings, like a Roman emperor casually directing his people.

While elsewhere words are consistently offered, actions often absent and propaganda routine, Haymon – publicly at least – beyond engineering his latest fight or far-reaching ploy, continues – and will continue – to offer nothing. In the end, Watson was never the man they nickname “The Ghost” but just another of the masses following his lead; “The Ghost’s” power, and reputation, it seems, continues to increase.

At present Haymon – for the sake of clarification, officially a boxing manager – represents almost 40 significant fighters. Two of those, Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana, had the richest rivalry of 2014.

Within that diverse collection of world titlists and nationalities lies a microcosm for Haymon’s unique influence on the sport: no weight division appears too light or heavy, no fanbase or background – Beibut Shumenov of Kazakhstan is another in his stable – too extreme.

In the same way his manoeuvring of so many of the world’s finest fighters from HBO (once labelled “Haymon Boxing Organisation” by critics) to Showtime – one which effectively shifted boxing’s televisual balance of power overnight – showed him to be as influential as he is potentially political, Haymon continues to prove as unpredictable as can be.

For now, all it seems we know beyond doubt – and unless Haymon or a greater authority with an interest beyond boxing decides otherwise, this is how the reality is likely to remain – surrounds his immediate boxing interests and his particularly prosperous past.

The younger brother of welterweight journeyman Bobby, 21(9)-8(2)-1, Haymon grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and was intelligent enough – not that by now that was ever in doubt – to work his way into Harvard University where first he studied economics and then earned a masters degree in business administration.

It was there that perhaps the first indications of his entrepreneurial spirit, independent thought and inner conviction emerged: Haymon used his student loan to fund his first show in music, the first industry in which he would become such an impressively powerful player and wherein there lie so many parallels with his 14 years in boxing.

After graduating and then returning to Cleveland, his relationship with The O’Jays grew to such an extent that the lead vocalist Eddie Levert described Haymon as being “almost like blood”. Alongside another long-term ally in music, Phil Casey, Haymon built 14 businesses and alongside that same ally is estimated to have staged over 1,000 concerts while working with Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, Boyz II Men and more.

In what was traditionally considered a disorganised trade, according to Haymon himself from a highly-uncharacteristic interview dating back to 1992, he and Casey together grossed $60million (£35.53m) only one year previous.

“You could say the African-American concert world was divided in two camps: all the promoters who were trying to beat Al [Haymon], and him,” Jack Boyle, once the chairman of concert specialists SFX Entertainment’s live music group, told the New York Times in 2011 – a view, it could reasonably be argued, that reflects his position today.

Sam Watson has, since 1980, and to his benefit, been in the Haymon camp Boyle refers to having first met the power broker while employed by Motown Records. Before both became established in boxing by working with the late Vernon Forrest from around 2000, however (the exact date remains unclear), Haymon delved into television production and became credited as the producer of 10 programmes.

Logic suggests that without Forrest becoming the first fighter to work with Haymon – at the time the welterweight was not then a world champion though he became one by June the following year – it is possible Haymon may never have entered the sport he has so convincingly shaped but it is unthinkable that given his obvious drive – there are quotes attributed to him in which he claimed he “could run boxing if he wanted” ­­– he wouldn’t somehow have made his way.

Described by O’Jays singer Levert as a mummy’s boy, one obstacle may have arrived in his mother’s disapproval of the sport but he overcame this by sending his siblings to distract her during certain fights to hide his involvement. Despite Haymon’s intentions, his profile is such that that now wouldn’t be possible, and perhaps that’s partly because of him. Quite simply, he does well for his fighters: that’s largely why so many of the best – and where Mayweather is concerned, the very best – work with him.

What’s best for a fighter is, of course, often in conflict with what’s best for the sport as Adonis Stevenson’s move to Showtime from HBO and therefore away from a compelling shootout against Sergey Kovalev ably demonstrates, but if it means ensuring a fighter’s income is prioritised over that of the promoter, television network and Haymon himself – something as admirable as it is unusual – the open secret is that he is the best.

Regardless, it shouldn’t be overlooked that a fighter runs the risk of being left in the wilderness if he chooses to work elsewhere – to again cite Mayweather as an example, it’s almost inevitable he will be matched only with Haymon-managed fighters unless he unexpectedly demands otherwise – but the fact remains as unchanged now as it did from his time in music: he delivers.

Then it was inverting the formula so that musical acts took the majority of the income their performances generated when previously the music promoters did, and now it’s the same for boxing.

That SFX paid him millions when they bought out Al Haymon Enterprises between 1999 and 2010 will have contributed to that – unlike with other promoters, money isn’t the overwhelming motivation – though it just as easily could stem from his roots.

Perhaps the reason Haymon’s mother opposes boxing is because another of her sons left the sport with so little reward. In Bobby Haymon’s last fight he was matched with Sugar Ray Leonard, then only in his second year as a professional, in front of a crowd of 15,272, and left with only a controversial stoppage defeat and the minority of the money. That memory may remain with and motivate Haymon, twice the Boxing Writers Association of America’s (BWAA) Manager of the Year, when he’s counting the cash today.

Virtuous as that seems, there is a reason – beyond basic jealousy – that others criticise Haymon’s work, even if it wouldn’t benefit them to join Top Rank’s Bob Arum, who once called him “a Machiavellian SOB”, in publicly doing so.

The Muhammad Ali Act, a 14-year-old federal law, was established both to protect modern fighters and, in theory at least, to structure a sport in which there is often chaos, partly with the intention of separating promoters and managers (there is no such legislation in the UK). While licensed in Nevada as the latter – a manager’s role is to work for the fighter and a promoter’s interests are his own – Haymon’s work should strictly recognise that but it is the opinion of many that he is a hybrid in all except name.

Schaefer through Golden Boy long appeared one major ally – Lou DiBella, Gary Shaw and Dan Goosen have looked others – as Haymon, his critics contend, uses others as promoters on paper while he consistently has control behind the scenes.

That control could yet be rivalled by another if Mayweather – the only other fight figure who can realistically be considered to share or even exceed Haymon’s influence – were to seek another manager but that remains as likely as him conceding the majority of a fight’s purse. The welterweight, after all, once said: “If I would have had Al Haymon from the beginning, I probably would be a billionaire right now.”

By boxing’s context of probabilities, Mayweather seems certain to have each of his last fights under Haymon, meaning the only other imaginable disruption to his control would come via an intervention from the law.

There was the arbitration between Golden Boy and Schaefer in which Haymon’s role was crucial, and a lawsuit from Bad Dog Productions against him that alleges tortuous interference with contract.

Lou DiBella, who has been both HBO’s major boxing player and a promoter within the sport, supports Haymon’s model. “Take a look at all the rules that govern boxing,” he told Boxing News. “When I first got out of HBO, my thought process was I was gonna make the television deals, be an advisor, negotiate with the various revenue streams, and use the promoter to do what a promoter needs to do.

“I didn’t believe that that was against any law. Now, I was stopped from doing that. But I still believe that what I intended to do back then should have been permissible, and when I look at the laws now I’m not sure at all that there’s anything wrong with how Al’s operating.

“For all of these people squawking about everything that Al’s doing that’s wrong, when I look at the laws I don’t see much of an issue. Here’s the most important thing: the Ali Act was designed to protect fighters. Most of the laws governing boxing are designed to avoid the exploitation of fighters. I have not heard one fighter – not one – I haven’t heard one person in the industry allege that Al Haymon exploits his fighters. Frankly, I can’t think of a manager or an advisor that has more loyalty from his fighters than Al Haymon.

“From a promoter’s point of view, he’s not easy to negotiate with. He understands the economics of the industry. He understands that promoters have to make money too but at the same time, he wants the majority of the money to be paid to the fighters, and he can be hard on the promoter in terms of the promoter’s profit. But no promoter is forced to do business with him.

“To single out Al for making shitty matches [such as Danny Garcia v Rod Salka] is a joke, because shitty matches have been made for generations.

“A manager’s job is to get his fighter the most money for the least risk. That’s just a fact.”

As with music, Haymon partly made his way in boxing because there are so few obstacles to entry. There remains no effective vetting process surrounding a fighter’s representatives and as such anyone can be called an advisor. In the boxing world before the turn of the millennium, Haymon was once barely known so in that respect that also applied to him – the only difference is that others entering the business needed to make a success of boxing and for him that was never the case.

Now he’s “The Ghost”, a figure absent in vision but never in deed, one the world’s leading fighters are guided by, the puller of so many significant strings.

“The stars are the fighters and, personally, I think it takes away from the sport when managers and promoters steal away attention from these talented young men, who do something very dangerous for a living,” Haymon said in 2005 when he was first named the BWAA’s Manager of the Year, and he’s barely uttered a word in public since.

In almost all industries, you can defeat the competition with greater resources, a superior business plan or by outsmarting your biggest rivals but Haymon? How do you compete with someone you can’t predict or even see?

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