Diaz's manager spurns Golden Boy, goes with King

Originally Published: September 18, 2006
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

So much for promises.

A week after Juan Diaz's manager Willie Savannah announced that the free-agent lightweight title holder was leaving Main Events and accepting a three-fight promotional contract from Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions, Savannah backed out of the deal.

Instead, in a surprising move, Savannah accepted a more lucrative offer for Diaz to sign with Don King.

On Monday, Diaz and Savannah were in New York where King introduced them at a press conference, announcing that the 23-year-old fighter would make his fifth title defense against an opponent to be determined Nov. 4 in Phoenix.

King said that the fight will open the Showtime-televised card headlined by heavyweight titlist Sergei Liakhovich, who makes his first defense against Shannon Briggs.

Savannah said he has a signed agreement for Diaz to fight Nov. 4 and that he and attorney Fred Levin would meet with King later this week in his Deerfield Beach, Fla., office to hammer out the paperwork for the rest of the promotional deal, which would run through 2007, according to Savannah.

"We've got a one-bout contract right now and we're going to finish the rest of it later this week," Savannah told ESPN.com. "We haven't got down to signing the actual promotional deal yet. We'll get it done later this week, unless something pops up out of the ordinary or a snake pops out of the closet."

Savannah said King promised Diaz a $550,000 signing bonus and minimum purses of $400,000 for each of the fights on the deal. Savannah had agreed to a $200,000 signing bonus from Golden Boy with purse minimums in the $300,000 range.

"This was strictly about the financial reward," Savannah said. "My first choice for Juan was to go to Golden Boy, but boxing is a short-lived thing. You get in that ring and you don't know what will happen. I wanted to get as much money up front for Juan as I possibly could."

Savannah said he felt bad about going back on his word to Golden Boy.

"You've got to do the best deal for the fighter," Savannah said. "We wanted to be with Golden Boy, but the offer King made was so much better financially. I told [Golden Boy's] Richard Schaefer that I had a better offer from King and I apologized to him. I agonized and I agonized, and what Richard said was, 'I can't believe you would do me like that.' I told him what King offered and I haven't heard from Richard since. He was talking about how he was disappointed. I still have butterflies over it. I wouldn't blame Richard for calling me a piece of [expletive]."

Schaefer said he has heard that Diaz is signing with King, but he has yet to hear it from Savannah and is disappointed that their deal went sour.

"In boxing you can't trust anyone," Schaefer said. "I haven't really heard anything from Willie. I did leave a message for Willie and he has not called me back. I hope he will call me back and give me at least that courtesy. I just spoke to Oscar and I told him what was going on, and his reaction was, 'I feel really bad for Juan Diaz.'"

De La Hoya was alluding to King's reputation for signing contracts he doesn't live up to. For example, former heavyweight titlist Chris Byrd signed a promotional deal under which King guaranteed him a $2.5 million minimum for title defenses and then battled with him before most of his fights because he was denied the minimum.

King couldn't be reached for comment.

Schaefer said he had a deal with Savannah.

"I know we had a deal because he was telling everyone we had one," Schaefer said. "He was telling [reporters]. He told me, he told Oscar, he told [Golden Boy adviser] Don Chargin. Willie's attorney was telling our attorney that there is absolutely zero chance that we will go with somebody else."

Diaz (30-0, 15 KOs), a soft-spoken Houston native who goes to college in addition to fighting, said his job is to fight and that Savannah's job is to get him the best deal.

"It's very exciting to be in this situation," Diaz told ESPN.com. "Last year I couldn't get a fight for nothing. Now all these promoters are trying to sign me up. My main job is to get ready to fight and leave the business to Mr. Savannah. Whatever deal Savannah does, I will be happy with that. I don't care who I ended up with as long as Savannah says it's the best deal and as long as I fight every three or four months."

Diaz was one of the most sought-after free agents to hit the market in years because undefeated world champions that young don't generally become available.

"I feel real confident as a champion right now," Diaz said. "I'm getting ready for a fight. It doesn't matter who it is or for what promoter."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.