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Al Haymon – Boxing’s Mystery Man

Michael McCarthy gives us an insight into the dealings of boxing’s mystery man; the powerful Al Haymon.

On Saturday night, the Barclay’s Centre in Brooklyn will play host to two of boxing’s most talented 140 pound fighters. Between them, Americans Danny Garcia and Lamont Peterson share a combined record of 60-2-1, as well as each owning a victory over Britain’s Amir Khan.

Garcia holds the WBC title whilst Peterson wears the IBF crown. A unification showdown between these two men would offer a glimpse at the future of the division and is one that fight fans are eager to see. But we’re not going to see it. At least, not next Saturday. Instead of facing each other, Peterson and Garcia will instead both appear on the same card against lesser opponents. And for that, we can thank Al Haymon.

“I’d like to thank Al Haymon” has become something of an inside joke for boxing fans. Even the most casual of fans will have come across his name mentioned in connection with a fighter or an upcoming fight. Haymon is to boxing interviews what God is to Oscars acceptance speeches, except God is easier to get in touch with. Watch any Floyd Mayweather press conference and chances are he’ll name drop Al Haymon at least once. And yet, how many fans could pick him out of a line up?

Few people know what Al Haymon looks like and fewer still know exactly what it is that he does.  He is most commonly described as an “advisor” and in the last few months, he has added big names like rejuvenated welterweight contender Amir Khan and light heavyweight superstar Adonis “Superman” Stevenson to the swelling ranks of fighters who are seemingly desperate for his advice.

What little we do know of Al Haymon is from his past life. Raised in Cleveland and Harvard educated, Haymon first found success as a concert promoter in the 1980’s before venturing into TV production. It is unclear when exactly he began his involvement with boxing but it is believed to be around the turn of the millennium.

Having initially dipped his toes in boxing’s murky waters with Vernon Forrest, Haymon’s current stable can be conservatively estimated to contain well over 40 fighters, including the jewel in the Haymon crown, boxing’s money man –  Floyd Mayweather.

There is little doubt that Haymon is one of the most influential people in the sport of boxing and yet we know so little about him or his business. The sport’s biggest star, Floyd Mayweather, describes him as “the ghost”. Al doesn’t do interviews or press conferences. He is involved in boxing deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars and yet his company doesn’t have a website. It has no public profile, no office for you to call. There is no email address available to the public. Even photographs of Haymon are incredibly rare, the same 3 or 4 images will accompany any mention of Haymon in the media. Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster could really learn a thing or two from Al Haymon about how to remain incognito.

The fighters he works with speak glowingly of Haymon. Mayweather calls him “one of the best men I have ever met in my life”. He appears to work wonders for their careers too. Haymon was believed to have been instrumental in brokering the record-breaking deal that took Mayweather from HBO to Showtime.

Another fighter who famously benefitted from Haymon’s “advice” was Andre Berto. Berto is notorious among boxing fans for receiving incredible exposure on HBO in fights against journeymen. This led many fans to question the influence Haymon had at the network. And it wasn’t just fans who were questioning things. HBO’s own presenter, Max Kellerman, famously voiced his suspicions after another Haymon-fuelled card of mismatches was televised on HBO.

Of course, it would be ridiculous to criticise Al Haymon for getting his fighters so much exposure. As an advisor or manager, surely this is simply evidence of him being good at his job? The real question is how he is getting such exposure for fighters while matching them against what Bob Arum described as “tomato cans”. Just how much power does he wield in the sport?

It should be noted that since Kellerman publicly questioned Al Haymon’s influence at HBO, Haymon’s fighters – including Mayweather – now fight exclusively on rival network Showtime. Again, this may merely be coincidence. But there remains the very real possibility that Haymon uses his influence over top-end talent to leverage increased exposure for lesser fighters in his stable. Whilst there is a long standing tradition in boxing of promising young fighters appearing on the undercard of recognised stars in the same promotional stable, Haymon appears to bypass building up his fighters. Many Haymon fighters move straight to televised bouts on major networks long before they have paid their dues and built their own following.

Since the dawn of the television era, the sport of boxing has been influenced by the battle between the TV networks and managers. A manager will generally want to get their fighter the most money possible for fighting the least challenging opponent – higher reward, lower risk. Networks on the other hand will look to match a fighter against the opponent with the highest level of public appeal, which in theory, is the most challenging opponent. If the balance of power in this relationship shifts too far to either side it has damaging consequences for the sport.

In the case of Al Haymon, critics claim he has gained too much power over networks and his influence is harming boxing. As 21st century philosopher Kanye West would say, “No one man should have all that power”.  Twentieth century relic and Top Rank promoter Bob Arum words it a little more colourfully. Recently he described an unnamed person in the boxing industry as:

“Some guy who used to be in the music business [that] raped HBO and hoodwinked the public.”

One of the few fighters to publicly criticise Al Haymon was Paulie Malignaggi. In the summer of 2013, Paulie took on much hyped Haymon product Adrien Broner. Before the bout, Malignaggi inferred that Haymon’s influence was not limited to television networks,

“After the gift decision Broner received against Daniel Ponce de Leon in front of a large Mexican crowd, I thought to myself, Al Haymon can manipulate anything.”

Malignaggi suggested that whatever Haymon wants, Haymon gets – such is his power within the sport. Some five months after that interview, Malignaggi signed on as Al’s newest client. Speaking about his decision to sign with Haymon, Paulie gave the impression the decision was based on an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy.

“He’s a guy (Haymon) who has a lot of power in the sport… it can very negative to be enemies with a guy like that.”

When an outspoken and intelligent guy like Malignaggi feels he needs to sign with Haymon, perhaps a head-over-heart decision, it highlights just how powerful the man has become within the sport.

The question though remains, is Al Haymon’s involvement in boxing good or bad for the sport? Boxing is the Wild West of sports – there is nobody in charge. Football fans are right to bemoan the fact that their sport is run by an organisation as corrupt as FIFA, but boxing fans would kill for a single governing body, even one like FIFA.

There remains the possibility of Al Haymon, together with former Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schafer and current PPV king Floyd Mayweather, uniting to form a new powerful entity in the sport. By hoovering up most of the sport’s brightest stars, they could create a situation whereby they essentially redefine how the sport is run.

The dominance of the UFC in mixed martial arts has proven to be a key factor in the growth of that sport. If you’re a star in MMA, you fight in the UFC. The multitude of promoters, networks and contracts involved in boxing complicates, and often prevents, the making of fights that fans want to see. This is undoubtedly harming the sport. Uniting the stars of the sport under an Al Haymon banner should, in theory at least, lead to more big name fights. The “best fighting the best” is essentially all that fans are asking for. But is that what Al Haymon wants?

Not if you ask Kathy Duva of Main Event promotions. They are currently suing Al Haymon (amongst others) for the collapse of a deal Duva thought Main Event had in place for an autumn showdown between light heavyweight stars Adonis Stevenson and Sergei Kovalev. A deal for the highly anticipated fight fell apart not long after Stevenson signed with Al Haymon, and Kathy did not hide her feelings on who was to blame:

“Who in the world is better at making sure the public doesn’t get to see the fight they really want to see than his new manager (Haymon)?”

This attitude is shared by a number of boxing insiders, however it must be noted that most are either rivals of Haymon or have lost fighters to his services. Is this simply the jealous sniping of rivals or is there a truth to the accusations?

On the evidence of the upcoming event in Brooklyn, it seems Duva and other Haymon critics may have a point. In a media conference call to promote the upcoming Brooklyn show, the main protagonists; Lamont Peterson, Danny Garcia and Golden Boy Promotions’ Oscar De La Hoya were all asked why the event was not being headlined by Danny Garcia vs. Lamont Peterson. Their answers said a lot. Peterson was adamant the Garcia fight was, in fact, the fight he had wanted. De La Hoya aired similar sentiments:

“We obviously did want to stage the fight that all of the media was suggesting – Peterson versus Garcia. It just wasn’t available, it couldn’t be made.”

The phrase “it couldn’t be made” does a good job of not placing the blame on any particular shoulders but Garcia shed a little more light on the subject. When asked why he was facing an unranked opponent instead of facing Peterson he replied:

“I don’t pick my opponents, my manager (Al Haymon) does. I just go out there and honour the decision.”

The optimist in me wants to believe that Haymon can be a force for good in the sport, a man who can create a dominant and unifying organisation in a sport fractured by rival networks, feuding promoters, disconnected sanctioning bodies and the alphabet soup of title holders. However, boxing is known as the sweet science, and scientific conclusions are always based on evidence.

Unfortunately, the evidence in this case suggests that Al Haymon has no intention of becoming the Dana White of boxing. But perhaps the most frightening reality is that we simply don’t know. We don’t know enough about Al Haymon to know what his intentions are. We do know he is a powerful force in the sport and that his influence appears to be growing but apart from that we are in the dark, a scary place to be.

Fear of the unknown is a powerful force. The classic Bryan Singer film, The Usual Suspects, portrays a group of criminals who all live in fear of an influential figure that none of them had met or even seen, a man whose intentions remained a mystery to them.  As a boxing fan, I sometimes feel I can empathise.

“Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that ever worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

Michael McCarthy, Pundit Arena.

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