- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Saying that he just wasn't enjoying himself anymore, Shelly Finkel, one of the most powerful managers in boxing for the past 30-plus years, is leaving behind management in a surprising move and returning to music promotion, which is where he got his start.
Finkel has approximately 20 fighters under contract, but said Wednesday that he has begun divesting himself of those agreements after accepting a three-year deal to become chief executive of The Empire Sports and Entertainment, effective July 1. Under United States federal law, it is illegal to manage and promote fighters simultaneously, although it is common practice overseas.
"I think it's the right time and I was offered a very good situation," said Finkel, who turns 66 on Sunday. "I still love boxing, but more and more the politics of it I don't like. This wasn't about finances so much. [Managing] just wasn't enjoyable anymore."
Finkel said he has had his deal in place for a couple of weeks, but wanted to wait to make the announcement until after his June 13 induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
"Shelly Finkel has signed on as our CEO and will bring his sharp eye for talent and razor-sharp business acumen to our daily operations," said Greg Cohen, founder and president of The Empire. "This is a game changer for The Empire. Shelly has the drive, the clout and the connections to bring this company to an unprecedented level in boxing. His history proves he's a step ahead of everyone and a true visionary in this industry and [company chairman] Barry Honig and I are honored to have him come aboard our team.
"Adding Shelly is a huge piece of the puzzle for us and he and I have already been speaking about all the innovative and, in many cases, blockbuster deals The Empire will be coming out with in the near future."
Finkel began managing in 1977 and is a two-time Boxing Writers Association of America manager of the year. He earned his place in the Canastota, N.Y., Hall of Fame for guiding a litany of champions at various stages of their careers, including some of the boxing's biggest stars: Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Manny Pacquiao, Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, Michael Moorer, Fernando Vargas, Vinny Pazienza and Mike McCallum.
Among the active fighters Finkel manages are Robert Guerrero, Victor Ortiz, Rocky Juarez, Vanes Martirosyan, Erislandy Lara, Danny Garcia and Deontay Wilder, the 2008 U.S. Olympic heavyweight bronze medalist.
While Finkel will shed his management contracts, he said he would continue to act in an advisory role to heavyweight champions Wladimir Klitschko and Vitali Klitschko, with whom he has worked for several years.
The Empire, which is based in New York, where Finkel is from, is involved in boxing promotion, including working with former heavyweight champions Hasim Rahman and Shannon Briggs. While it will continue to promote boxing events, Finkel said The Empire's focus will be more on the music and entertainment business.
"We'll be doing some boxing, but not a lot," he said. "We'll be geared mostly toward music, promoting concerts and festivals. Also, we'll be working on pay-per-view events outside of sports."
When asked for his best and worst moments as a boxing manager, Finkel didn't hesitate to answer. The high: Holyfield knocking out James "Buster" Douglas to win the heavyweight championship in 1990.
The two most memorable lows: Taylor being stopped with two seconds remaining in his junior welterweight unification fight with Julio Cesar Chavez in 1990, one of the most controversial endings in boxing history; and seeing Mark Breland, with whom Finkel remains close, losing his welterweight title when Marlon Starling knocked him out in the 11th round in 1987.
Before managing fighters, Finkel worked in the music business. He started by running the Action House nightclub, where bands such as Cream and The Doors performed in the 1960s. In 1973, Finkel co-promoted the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, N.Y., a rock festival which drew a then-record crowd of approximately 600,000 to see the Allman Brothers Band, The Band and the Grateful Dead perform. Finkel also promoted concerts for artists such as KISS, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and Elton John.
Now, Finkel is returning to that arena.
"It is our intent to become a leading media and entertainment company known for promoting the best events in concerts, music festivals, pay-per-view specials and sporting events around the world," Finkel said.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
56mMichael C. Wright