Counting on millions of dollars for a site fee from an upcoming heavyweight title fight at Staples Center, boxing promoter Gary Shaw sought immediate gratification by adding a new car to his collection.
But two weeks before Shaw’s fighter Lennox Lewis was to defend his title, opponent Kirk Johnson partially tore a chest muscle and was pulled out of the 2003 bout.
Tim Leiweke, president of AEG and Staples Center, then scratched the $3.4-million site-fee payment to Shaw and offered a new deal in which the promoter would collect money based only on how many fight tickets could be sold for a different Lewis matchup.
Millions gone, a lesson learned.
“If you’re counting on money, don’t pre-spend it on something personal,” Shaw said. “You never spend a penny until the bell rings in the first round.”
Boxing history is full of bouts that were suddenly postponed or canceled, resulting in costly problems for fighters, trainers and promoters.
Fight fans were looking forward to the Feb. 11 world welterweight title rematch between champion Andre Berto and Victor Ortiz, but 12 days before the bout Berto was injured sparring, suffering a torn left biceps. Both fighters were guaranteed purses of $1 million-plus.
Instead, Ortiz has turned his attention to training to run in the Los Angeles Marathon in March while waiting for the Berto bout, tentatively rescheduled for June 23 at Staples Center.
The delay has been a costly one for Berto’s promoter, Lou DiBella.
“I have no control over injuries,” DiBella said. “This is devastating. I’m barely getting by [financially] as it is, so this is horrible. I have seven employees I need to pay and that’s now coming out of my personal account. And you won’t have a personal account for long if you have to operate through many of these postponements.”
Another boxing veteran who just emerged from a similar nightmare is Dan Goossen, the Sherman Oaks-based promoter of Andre Ward.
The unbeaten Ward was preparing for the showcase fight of his career Oct. 29 in the finale of Showtime’s “Super Six” super-middleweight tournament against England’s Carl Froch. Then Ward sustained a cut above an eyebrow that required stitches.
“We had a tremendous amount of steam for the fight on Oct. 29,” Goossen said. “With $600,000 worth of tickets sold six weeks out, we felt we’d be over $1 million in sales.”
Ward needed time to heal, but Showtime wanted the tournament over by the end of 2011, so Goossen had little choice but to accept the less appealing fight date of Dec. 17.
“A week before Christmas, you’ve got office parties, family parties and vacations, the last Saturday night of Christmas shopping,” Goossen said. “You knew the [television] ratings wouldn’t be as strong.…
“We reworked the deal; it cost me some money.”
Ward beat Froch by decision. But the Dec. 17 live-gate sales fell to $600,000, in part because some British fight fans had bought nonrefundable flights for the Oct. 29 date, Showtime’s fight footage for its “Fight Camp 360" was stale and the publicity expenses of a second promotional tour spiraled.
“The hardest part of boxing is the day-in, day-out sacrifices during training camp. The best part is the fight. You may get cut in a fight, but at least you get to play to a big audience and collect a big paycheck,” Goossen said.
And when a main event is scrapped or put on hold, the trickle-down effect extends to fighters on the undercard. Transportation expenses for those fighters, the costs of mandatory medical examinations and venue fees can add up, promoter Shaw said.
For instance, when Shaw’s fighter Diego Corrales was overweight the day before a 2005 main event, his opponent, Jose Luis Castillo, refused to fight him. Shaw said he was then told by the Las Vegas venue to either accept a different purse that would cost Shaw about $200,000, or they would cancel the entire card.
So Shaw quickly put together a lesser main event headlined by a different boxer.
“You can’t take anything for granted,” Shaw said.
The stakes increase if the scrapped boxing main event is a pay-per-view card. A postponement means the new date has to be approved by satellite and cable providers. “The logistics are a nightmare,” veteran fight promoter Bob Arum said.
Arum said his worst experience was winning a purse bid to stage a 2005 heavyweight title fight between Hasim Rahman and Vitali Klitschko. A week before the first bell, Klitschko injured his knee and pulled out of the fight.
“I would’ve made around $5 million,” Arum said.
Arum instead staged a 2006 bout for then-champion Rahman against Oleg Maskaev in Las Vegas that “bombed” at the gate and “cost me $2 million,” Arum said. “I lost [plenty], plus Rahman got knocked out. Just terrible.”
It’s why the shaken Shaw says, “I won’t even plan a vacation before a fight now.”