Commentary

Oscar De La Hoya barges into Brooklyn

Golden Boy's grand plans for Barclays don't exactly promote goodwill from competitors

Updated: September 29, 2010, 5:37 PM ET
By Michael Woods | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- The new home for the Nets, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, has barely broken ground and is slated to open its doors in July 2012. So it might seem a tad early for Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions to bang the drums for the deal which will put at least 12 boxing events in the new building, a $900 million project seven years in the making.

But there was De La Hoya at Gleason's, the iconic bucket-of-blood gym, on Tuesday afternoon, a coast away from his home base of California, presiding over a youth boxing clinic and promising to bring boxing back to Brooklyn with a flourish.

Judging by the squirming mosh pit of photographers who jockeyed each other for a shot of De La Hoya and Brooklyn hitters Paulie Malignaggi -- who signed with Golden Boy on Tuesday -- and prospect Danny Jacobs, the degree of interest in the De La Hoya-Barclays deal is high.

"I feel that Brooklyn deserves the opportunity to create champions," De La Hoya said, as youths dripping from pounding on the heavy bags and skipping rope pictured themselves wearing a jewel-crusted belt. "To have all these kids training at such an iconic gym, I can see the passion in their eyes. I feel we can create the next stars of boxing, from Brooklyn."

De La Hoya -- who recently was chided by his CEO, Richard Schaefer, for not being as present and invested in the promotional side as he was in the active boxing side of Golden Boy -- came off as engaged, just a day after his remarks to Broadcasting & Cable stirred up buzz among his fellow promoters.

[+] EnlargeOscar De La Hoya
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesMake no mistake, Oscar De La Hoya aims to be No. 1.

In the piece, the former six-division champion said graybeards Don King and Bob Arum have "had a chokehold on this sport for 40 years" and pronounced them yesterday's news. He lauded the UFC business plan and its status as the only real player in the MMA space. "We need to sign all the talent and get all the TV dates," said the 38-year-old, who hung up the gloves after absorbing a bad beating at the hands of Manny Pacquiao in December 2008.

Arum responded to the comments by calling De La Hoya "dumb."

New York-based promoter Lou DiBella has made no secret that he's not pleased with how the Golden Boy-Barclays deal went down. He's been putting on shows at the Manhattan Center and BB King's since leaving HBO's employ in 2000, and would've seemed a natural, being a Brooklyn native, to get a foothold at Barclays. But the Barclays people were wined and dined by Golden Boy, and agreed to an exclusive deal, with an option to co-promote, in July. DiBella asked then what "a Swiss banker [Schaefer] and a kid from East L.A. know about Brooklyn and boxing."

DiBella sounded more resigned than steamed when he spoke to ESPNNewYork.com on Tuesday: "I'm not surprised by Oscar's comments about how they want to take over. Their behavior has made it apparent what they want to do."

Other area promoters, like Joe DeGuardia and Gary Shaw, and some Golden Boy critics have grumbled that Golden Boy seems to land sweetheart deals, that it gets the lion's share of HBO money, that it poaches prospects and lacks acumen and skill in growing its own stars.

At Gleason's, Schaefer seemed to revel in the pushback from competitors. "I do a lot of deals," he said, "and the outrage that is out there on Golden Boy going to New York, I knew we were on to something good. It's how you know you made a good deal -- everyone is up in arms. I take Lou's comments as a compliment."

The question remains whether this pugnacity among promoters will be helpful for the sport, for fans yearning to see the best fight the best, for encouraging a cutback on intrapromotional bouts (like the Nov. 13 Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito all-Top Rank tussle) which make fiscal sense for the house promoter, but discourage the most desired bouts being made.

Gleason's owner Bruce Silverglade was in silver-lining mode when he weighed in to ESPNNewYork. He certainly isn't seeing the Golden Boy move to NYC as an incursion, as part of a hostile takeover by a "greed is good" cabal intent on building and maintaining a pugilistic monopoly.

"Look at all the press here," said Silverglade, smiling as he pondered the potential for growth for his gym. "We'll be the gym closest to Barclays, and this will grow the talent pool in the amateur ranks. Also, this is going to embarrass Madison Square Garden, and get them into action, get them back to doing more boxing. This'll be a thorn in their side. And this will cause Lou and Joe and others to step up the pace. It'll be good for all in the long run. It'll get kids back in the gym."

New York State Athletic Commission chair Melvina Lathan told ESPNNewYork she sees only upside to the Barclays-Golden Boy hookup. "This shows that boxing isn't dead," she said. "This dispels the myth that boxing is on the downside. And as for the promoters competing, it's all good for boxing. It's all healthy."

Yes, everyone, save for those pit bull photogs, was in play-nice mode at Gleason's, including Barclays Center helmer Bruce Ratner. The developer, who grew up in Ohio, told ESPNNewYork that he is a fight fan, and recalls going to see Muhammad Ali bouts on closed circuit.

He said that there is room for all the fight-game players: "We can coexist with Madison Square Garden. But we want to be a leader in boxing, and in sports."

Asked if he feels it is wisest to throw all in with a single promoter, he didn't hint at any unease. "I don't think it's a bad idea to go with one. We go with the company that we think will get the job done," Ratner said. "Oscar was a great fighter, he's a great person, and his company is very transparent."

In the Q&A with Broadcasting & Cable, De La Hoya was asked if he planned to take over boxing. While kids clustered around De La Hoya in a ring on Tuesday, asking for pointers on how to hook off the jab, Schaefer was also asked if this move to New York is part of a Golden Boy takeover attempt.

"Takeover is not the right word," he said. "It just means we will aggressively pursue all available free agents."

He minimized Oscar's stated intention to have Golden Boy be the be-all, end-all in boxing, like the UFC is. "I use Golden Boy as the model, not UFC," Schaefer said. "We don't want to do our own production. We're not in the production business, we're in the talent business."

Golden Boy is, make no mistake, in the money-making business. The ex-Swiss banker Schaefer has hooked De La Hoya up with deep-pocketed investors who have bought into the entity he created in 2001. It wouldn't shock anyone if Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, the 39th-richest man in the world, put some cash into Golden Boy and gave it a bigger stack of cash to buy up talent.

Maybe some of that cash would be used to pay the lawyers from Golden Boy, who on Sept. 21 announced a lawsuit alleging racketeering and fraud by Arum and Top Rank, stemming they say from monies owed to them from three Pacquiao fights. Golden Boy owns a tiny percentage of Pacquiao's contract.

If the boxers who glove up at Barclays show half the drive and pugnacity these promoters have been putting on display, fight fans will likely be more than satisfied.

Michael Woods is a contributor to ESPNNewYork.com and ESPN The Magazine and editor of TheSweetScience.com.

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Michael Woods, a member of the board of the Boxing Writers Association of America, has been covering boxing since 1991. He writes about boxing for ESPN The Magazine and is the news editor for TheSweetScience.com.

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