It’s easy to despise Al Haymon, I suppose. The man comes across as rather disinterested in fans and shadowy in his dealings. But sometimes you have to step back and look at the big picture. I’m not saying Haymon isn’t doing harm to boxing. I’m just saying things have to be looked at objectively in order to arrive at such a conclusion fairly. Who knows? The guy may actually be doing some good.
First off, let’s take a look at the man himself. About four years ago, Greg Bishop of The New York Times did an impressive write-up on this most enigmatic of boxing’s players which was quite thorough, and it still makes for a fine source of reference.
Haymon is a product of Cleveland. He’s also a Harvard guy. That’s right, Al Haymon – like Bob Arum – has himself an Ivy League education. So much for boxing powerhouses being gangsters and dopes. Haymon first made his mark, however, in the field of concert and tour promotions. Eddie Murphy, MC Hammer, Whitney Houston: Haymon dealt with them all. In short, the guy wasn’t small time. Not by a long shot.
But Haymon was not a man content to put all of life’s eggs into one basket. He ended up being a television producer before finally working his way into boxing roughly 15 years ago. His first charge was welterweight champion Vernon Forrest.
“Starting with Forrest,” Bishop writes, “Haymon established his reputation as someone who maximized fighters’ incomes, often at the expense of promoters.” Sound familiar?
As Haymon’s power and stable grew, so did his reputation for being a mysterious, shadowy figure who may have acted as both a promoter as well as a manager, something clearly illegal in the U.S. thanks to the Muhammad Ali Reform Act. His also gained a reputation for giving highly paid fighters from his stable soft touches for lots of money.
Max Kellerman of HBO finally ended up voicing his frustrations with Haymon on the air, and needless to say, Haymon ended up going over to HBO’s main competitor, Showtime. Oh, and Haymon’s star client, one Floyd Mayweather Jr., made his way over to Showtime as well, for a humongous amount of money.
The Great Defection was such a massive move that it led to a huge Cold War between networks and promotional entities. And at first, it looked like the Haymon/Showtime camp was winning in a big way against HBO and rival entity Top Rank promotions. After all, Showtime had a massive and terrific year in 2013 with Mayweather vs Canelo and some great cable fights like Broner vs Maidana.
Things began to change, however, in 2014, when Haymon’s big stars engaged in less-than-stellar fights on Showtime. Indeed, some of the matches, like the Garcia vs Salka mismatch, were downright offensive. HBO meanwhile, presented a stellar lineup, topped off by Sergey Kovalev’s brilliant battle against the legendary Bernard Hopkins.
Yet 2015 was to bring massive changes to the fight game. Massive changes indeed. First off, Haymon was able to make enough peace with Top Rank’s Arum to finally make the long dreamed of Mayweather vs Pacquiao bout a reality. What’s more, Haymon put major boxing cards back on network and cable television with his Premiere Boxing Champions series. Good or bad, it appears 2015 is a watershed year for boxing.
So, what to make of Haymon? Frankly, it’s difficult to see precisely where the man is coming from since he speaks to the press about as much as Thomas Pynchon. What’s more, his fighters are loyal to the man to a fault. You won’t find much badmouthing from Haymon’s stable, if there’s any badmouthing at all.
Indeed, the loyalty Haymon inspires from his followers is – for lack of a better term –creepy. Is anyone worthy of the steady praise we hear these men sing about Haymon in bout after televised bout? Add this to the fact that some top Haymon fighters seem – on the surface at least – to shamelessly avoid serious competition, and there’s little wonder why Haymon is the subject of such suspicion and hostility.
Also worth noting is the fact that some wonder if Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions series is merely a cash grab. The broadcasts are based on a time-buy, after all, which means networks had to be paid in order for the product to see air time. With few truly top level bouts coming out, some are wondering if the hedge fund which paid for the series made a serious mistake.
And while we’re at it, what’s the deal with Showtime? The network, which is attached to Haymon at the hip, isn’t showing much boxing these days, not much at all. Is Showtime even interested in fights after the major cash flow that came from the record haul from the #MayPac pay-per-view numbers?
Lastly, there’s the lawsuits. Yup, Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank are both suing the Haymon Empire for doing just the sort of underhanded stuff it’s been accused of in the past. If Haymon ends up on the losing end of these battles, he may have to forfeit both a boatload of cash and a great deal of influence.
What’s all this mean for the fans, though? Nothing, for now. If Haymon loses in court, however…
As for the man’s influence on boxing, well, that’s tough to figure out. No one likes the fact that some Haymon fighters such as Garcia and Adonis Stevenson have gleefully taken on more cupcakes than a bakery, but everyone does like the fact that a good match like Thurman vs Guerrero or Santa Cruz vs Mares can now be seen without an added price tag to the monthly cable bill.
In the end, I suspect Haymon’s impact will be decided by the matches he allows to happen. The biggest draw of boxing, as I’ve stated before, is the question it asks of who is better than who. If fans pretty much know the answer already (ie., Mayweather vs Berto) then they’re going to watch UFC instead. But if Haymon decides to let the best fight the best with some regularity, then the man will become water to the bud which is current day boxing.
As always, time will tell the tale. — Sean Crose