By Chris Mannix
August 09, 2010

For the last nine decades, Madison Square Garden has earned the label of the Mecca of Boxing. Home to historic fights like Joe Louis-Rocky Marciano, Emile Griffith-Benny Paret and Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier, the Garden has been the destination for fighters and promoters wishing to make a name for themselves in New York City.

In 2012, MSG will get some serious competition. That's because Brooklyn's Barclays Center -- the future home of the New Jersey Nets -- is getting into the boxing business. Last month, Barclays Center officials announced they would be partnering with Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions to put on 12 shows per year at the new arena. The 18,000-seat venue (easily accessible by 10 different subway lines) will be available for bigger shows while a curtain system -- designed to give a cozier feeling, much like the Garden's WaMu Theatre -- will be dropped down over the lower bowl for smaller shows, reducing the capacity to around 8,000.

"For me, everything is about gut," said Brett Yormark, president and CEO of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment. "I thought that [Golden Boy and BSE] shared the same vision. They want to grow the sport in Brooklyn. They had visions of going global. We do too. They were willing to make a commitment to us, help us grow this franchise."

The three-year deal represents a major move for Golden Boy, a Los Angeles-based promotional company that has been searching for years for a foothold on the East Coast. De La Hoya's company has had marginal success signing young fighters from the Northeast -- recently exposed middleweight Danny Jacobs is its top prospect from the area -- and Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer says GBP plans to open an office in the Barclays Center staffed with both marketing and operational people to try to tap into the deep well of talent in the New York area.

"We really want to make our presence felt," Schaefer said. "New York is an important market that has been relatively untapped. There are fighters all over from different weight classes and a diverse market of Italian, Russians and Latinos in greater New York."

The decision to carve out an exclusive agreement with Golden Boy, however, has rankled other promoters, several of whom don't understand why operators of the new building would make such an investment in one company. Cedric Kushner, president of Gotham Boxing, said it was "peculiar" and "strange" that BSE would make that kind of commitment for a building two years from opening. Joe DeGuardia, president of Star Boxing, believes reps for the Barclays Center would have been better off negotiating a deal with the recently formed Boxing Promoters Association, which would have increased the exposure of fighters in multiple companies.

"We would be able to have quality control," DeGuardia said. "We could monitor things with the goal being what's best for the sport, not just individual development of promoter."

The most vocal opponent of the deal, however, has been Lou DiBella, a powerful New York-based promoter who regularly puts on between six and eight shows per year in the area.

"Why would [BSE] go exclusive with anyone?" DiBella asked. "I grew up in Brooklyn, a stone's throw away [from the arena]. Ten years I've spent trying to build boxing in New York. This deal makes the playing field completely uneven."

Yormark contends that DiBella never believed the Barclays Center project, which has endured countless delays over the last few years, would ever get completed and was therefore not proactive in getting involved.

"Lou is irate because he is waiting for a phone call he never got," Yormark said. "He's a naysayer who never thought the Barclays Center would ever happen. Right or wrong, he stood on principle waiting for a phone call. Golden Boy saw the opportunity and seized it."

Said Schaefer: "Sometimes people cry too much about something. Grow up. If I would have been from Brooklyn and knew there was going to be an arena, I would have gone and met with them. It takes hard work. I work 24/7."

DiBella scoffs at the suggestion that he should have been more proactive in negotiating with BSE.

"Who would have thought they would commit to one [company]?" DiBella said. "It's like a building being open to Lady Gaga and not the Rolling Stones. I didn't even know who [Yormark] was. He was the one who went to Golden Boy and Top Rank from the start."

Several industry sources have questioned the role of HBO, which has a close relationship with Golden Boy. Some sources have suggested that HBO was involved with brokering the deal with the Barclays Center.

Both HBO and Yormark emphatically deny the network's involvement.

"Absolutely not," Yormark said. "I have some friends at HBO that date back a long way. But they never brokered [a deal] or interfered in it."

An HBO spokesman told that "in no way did anyone at HBO Sports suggest or recommend to Mr. Yormark what promotional company he should contact, nor did Mr. Yormark indicate that he intended to approach any promoter as a potential exclusive partner or sponsor. Yes, one of our executives had lunch with Mr. Yormark once in the past year, but the conversation was general and no recommendations or endorsements were made."

Yormark and Schaefer say they are willing to work with other promoters, emphasizing that the goal will be to put on the best shows possible.

"We're not trying to push them out of something," Schaefer said. "If they want to come to L.A., they can come to L.A. as well. These cities are not exclusive to one promoter. We feel secure in our abilities. The notion in boxing that there is an East Coast or West Coast [fighter] shouldn't be the case. Fight fans don't look at it like that. A good fighter is a good fighter, irrespective of where they come from. I do think that there is tremendous talent on the East Coast. We have some time. We're going put together and implement our plan."

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