Longtime rivals Top Rank, Golden Boy working together again
There will be a fight in Atlantic City on Saturday night. And it should be a good one. Yuriorkis Gamboa (20-0, 16 KOs), a quick and powerful Cuban with a pair of the fastest hands in the sport will put his undefeated record on the line against Daniel Ponce de Leon (41-3, 34 KOs), a heavy-handed veteran who has stared down a long list of big names at 130 pounds and under. It's a good fight, and a relevant one: the winner will be in line for featherweight cash cow Juan Manuel Lopez or long-reigning division king Chris John.
The fight is secondary, however, to an even bigger story: Gamboa is a Top Rank fighter. Ponce de Leon is promoted by Golden Boy. Two bitter rivals are working together again.
It has been two-and-a-half years since boxing's biggest promotional companies have worked together. Accusations of defamation of character against Manny Pacquaio, friction between Top Rank CEO Bob Arum and his former fighter turned Golden Boy founder Oscar De La Hoya, and general dislike for each other were key factors in the standoff. The only fights that took place between the two sides were through the media. Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer has called Arum a bitter and angry old man. Arum has publicly wondered what a former Swiss banker like Schaefer really knows about boxing.
The feud wasn't good for the companies, both of which wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees. It was even worse for boxing. Quality fights weren't happening. The pool of opponents gets pretty shallow when a sizeable chunk of candidates are unavailable.
The thaw came last May. With a push from a court-appointed mediator, Schaefer and De La Hoya issued a public apology to Pacquiao for suggesting he might be taking performance enhancing drugs. In turn, Pacquiao dropped his lawsuit. During that mediation Schaefer and Arum ironed out their remaining issues -- "took less than a day," said Schaefer -- and suddenly, the two biggest boys on the block were back in business.
"It's significant that we have opened up the communications," Schaefer said. "The [Gamboa-Ponce de Leon] fight is what it is. It's not like one of those mega promotions where Bob and me are working daily together with constant updates. But Rome wasn't built overnight and this is definitely a step in the right direction."
Indeed it is. Arum and Schaefer are already discussing future fights between the companies, including an All-Mexican war between Julio Cesar Chavez and Saul Alvarez and a junior middleweight matchup between Alfredo Angulo and Vanes Martirosyan. Fights between Victor Ortiz and Brandon Rios, Mike Alvarado and Danny Garcia, and Rios and Marcos Maidana could come up down the road.
The hatchet, Schaefer said, has been buried.
"Now it's only about putting great fights together and maximizing revenues for all the fighters," Schaefer said. "You know, even though with Bob there was that nastiness, I think there always was some sort of pretty good relationship. Even though we were at each other's throats, I think there was always a mutual respect. Honestly, I enjoy being with Bob. I was fortunate when I stared boxing I was able to learn alongside Bob for quite awhile. And I learned a lot."
Will there be a lasting peace? That's questionable. The two sides nearly threw down last March, when Nonito Donaire walked away from Top Rank and signed with Golden Boy. An arbitrator ruled that Donaire still had a valid contract with Top Rank and enjoined Golden Boy from promoting him. On a recent conference call to promote Gamboa-Ponce de Leon, Arum took a shot at top prospect Gary Russell Jr., who has been fighting with Golden Boy, calling Russell "another Al Haymon creation." Schaefer, who was on the same call, didn't take the bait.
Someday he will, of course. Death, taxes and a combustible relationship between Golden Boy and Top Rank are three things you can always count on. One of these days Arum, Schaefer or De La Hoya will say or do something that will start the cold war all over again. Until then, enjoy the peace while it lasts.