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Boxing / Earl Gustkey : Some Really Big Numbers on Way

Think the $34.5-million purse for the 91-second fight between Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks was a big number?

How about $75 or $100 million?

It may be closer than you think.

Bob Arum was throwing around some cable TV numbers the other day, while hyping his Nov. 4 triple title fight card at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel.

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He was pointing out that the swift rise in the number of addressable cable TV households--those that can receive pay-per-view telecasts--has quickly changed the marketing of televised boxing.

“For the Leonard-Hagler fight (April, 1987), there were only about 3 million addressable households,” Arum said. “Today, there are 11.8 million. By late 1989, there will be 21 million.”

The significance is that shortly, the custom of going to theaters and arenas to view closed-circuit telecasts of boxing shows, which dates back to the 1950s, will have faded into history.

Said Arum: “Leonard-Hagler was weighted heavily toward closed circuit. There were only 3 million pay-per-view homes then. For the Nov. 4 show, I’ll be shocked if the telecast goes into any arena in the country with more than a thousand seats.

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“No one is going to go to an 18,000-seat building to watch a fight telecast when they can watch it at home. When an area gets an addressable cable TV system, it kills the closed-circuit market.”

Doug Stewart of Denver-based United Media Entertainment, Inc., said the rapid increase in addressable homes means that boxing purses will not only become astronomic but that other sports may soon be appearing on pay-per-view as well.

“It’s simple arithmetic,” Stewart said Friday.

“Let’s say you have 25 million addressable households, which will be the case in about four years, maybe sooner. Then let’s say a boxing show does a 10% penetration in that market. Tyson-Spinks did 12%.

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“So let’s say you have 2 1/2 million buys, at $30 per household. That’s $75 million right there.

“We (the cable TV industry) are very quickly reaching the point where we will begin bidding competitively with the networks on a lot of other sports, too.

“An increasing number of people are willing to pay X amount of dollars to watch, say, the U.S. Open tennis championships, and not put up with the nuisance of commercials.”

Meldrick Taylor, who will fight Buddy McGirt today in Atlantic City for the International Boxing Federation’s junior welterweight championship, can become the fifth member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic team to become a pro champion.

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Taylor, the youngest member of the ’84 team at 17, was one of the more interesting stories among the nine U.S. gold medalists.

As did heavyweight Ray Mercer on this year’s Olympic team, Taylor came from nowhere in 1984. Practically before anyone on the Olympic staff knew who he was, he was beating varsity Cubans.

In early 1984, Taylor’s international experience was zero. The Olympic staff needed to learn quickly just how good he was, so they threw him in against some Cubans.

In February, 1984, five months before the Olympics, Taylor arrived in Reno for a U.S.-Cuba dual meet. On the afternoon before the show, Executive Director Jim Fox of the USA Amateur Boxing Federation spotted Taylor walking across a hotel lobby.

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“There goes your 1984 Olympic champion at featherweight,” he said, pointing at Taylor.

“Taylor?” a bystander said, startled. “How can you say that? He’s never had an international bout.”

“Just watch,” Fox said.

Talk about calling your shot!

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Taylor upset 28-year-old Adolfo Horta the next day, made the Olympic team and not only won the gold medal, but stopped one opponent and ran up four 5-0 decisions on the way.

His progress as a pro has been slower. He is unbeaten in 20 fights, but he had a draw in 1986 with 1976 Olympic gold medalist Howard Davis.

Reports have had it that he’s not exactly a gym rat. Once, trainer Lou Duva caught him eating a pizza an hour before a fight.

If he becomes a champion today, he’ll join Evander Holyfield, Virgil Hill, Mark Breland and Frank Tate as ’84 Olympians who became pro champions.

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Two more footnotes to the death of Rico Velazquez, the Baldwin Park lightweight boxer who died shortly after a bout in San Jose with David Gonzales Aug. 20:

--Hank Groschadl, boxing publicist for the Forum, said Velazquez’s father-manager, Jesus, wanted the bout with Gonzales at the Forum.

“He came to us for the bout, and Antonio Curtis, our matchmaker, told him: ‘No way--it’s a mismatch.’ ”

Velazquez had fought four times on Forum cards, winning three.

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Said Groschadl: “Antonio saw Rico as a prospect, but still in the developing stage. Gonzales is a real rough guy. . . . Antonio thought he was head and shoulders above Rico.”

--Marty Denkin, assistant executive officer of the California Athletic Commission, points out that in all of California’s last three ring deaths--Velazquez, Kiko Bejines in 1983 and Johnny Owen in 1980--fathers were working the corners of the fighters who died.

Boxing Notes

Tyrell Biggs, 15-1 and fighting for the first time since he was badly beaten by Mike Tyson last October, meets Francesco Damiani, 21-0, at Milan, Italy, Sept. 10 on ESPN. The bout is a rematch of the 1984 Olympic gold-medal bout, won by Biggs on a decision. . . . A USA/ABF boxing tournament is scheduled for today and Sunday at Veterans Memorial Park Gym at City of Commerce, with competition for age-group and open boxers. . . . Former California heavyweight champion Mike White meets Mark Wills at the Irvine Marriott Sept. 29. . . . Bally’s Casino Resort in Las Vegas (formerly the MGM Grand) has scheduled six boxing shows through Dec. 16. . . . The heir apparent to Teofilo Stevenson, Cuba’s retired triple Olympic boxing champion, is 18-year-old Leonardo Martinez Fiss, a 6-5, 211-pounder whose record is 90-0.

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