LAS VEGAS – For years, wherever Floyd Mayweather went, Leonard Ellerbe was always nearby. Press conferences? Ellerbe was there. Weigh-ins? Ellerbe was there. Mayweather’s corner? Ellerbe was there. In and out of the ring, Ellerbe—officially the CEO of Mayweather Promotions—has been the one constant in Mayweather’s tumultuous life.
That could be changing. In an interview with fighthype.com this week, Mayweather stated that he and Ellerbe were “outgrowing each other” and expressed frustration over the way some of the aspects of last weekend’s rematch with Marcos Maidana were handled, including the decision to put Mayweather’s 147- and 154-pound titles on the line. “I'm not mad at him,” Mayweather said. “There's no hard feelings, like I hate the guy. Not at all. No hard feelings whatsoever. People just outgrow one another, just like when people get a divorce. They're no longer on the same page mentally.”
Mayweather’s issue with putting his titles on the line has merit. During fight week, Ellerbe championed the two-weight-class title fight as a historic event. “It’s only been done one other time in the sport,” Ellerbe said. “When Sugar Ray Leonard fought Danny Lalonde [in 1988].” Only Mayweather—the WBA and WBC champion at welterweight and junior middleweight—was taking all the risk. If he lost, Maidana would get all four titles. If Mayweather won, he wouldn’t pick up any. Mayweather’s popularity has little to do with titles, of course, but it did seem like an unnecessary risk.
But there could be another reason for the rift: Mayweather Promotions, specifically the weakness of the stable that Ellerbe has been tasked to build. According to its website, Mayweather Promotions has 12 fighters under contract. Earlier this month, the company announced the signing of two more. Besides Mayweather, only lightweight Mickey Bey, who won the IBF belt in an ugly win over Miguel Vazquez last Saturday, is a world champion. The rest of the roster is a mix of fringe prospects (J’Leon Love, Badou Jack) and journeymen (Ashley Theophane, Ishe Smith).
For a fighter with Mayweather’s power in the industry, it’s a startlingly weak crop.
It’s a far cry from the success achieved by Oscar De La Hoya, who preceded Mayweather as boxing’s top attraction. In the early 2000’s, De La Hoya, with help from a savvy Swiss banker named Richard Schaefer, freed himself from his promotional contract with Top Rank and started Golden Boy Promotions, which has gone on to become one of the most powerful companies in the world. Schaefer leveraged De La Hoya’s popularity to cut an output deal with HBO, guaranteeing Golden Boy coveted dates on the network that, in turn, helped lure fighters to the company.
Mayweather Promotions has not achieved a fraction of that success. Since its inception in 2007, Mayweather Promotions has appeared to be little more than a shell company. It has leaned heavily on Golden Boy to co-promote most of its shows -- Mayweather Promotions just received licenses to promote in New York and Nevada this year -- delegating much of the heavy lifting to De La Hoya’s staff. Rival promoters snicker at the slow growth of the company (“It’s a Mom and Pop oufit,” said one) and marvel that a fighter of Mayweather’s stature has not been able to firmly establish his company as a promotional player.
Indeed, Mayweather remains boxing’s most influential fighter. But he has not parlayed that influence into a competitive company. Mayweather’s six-fight, 30-month deal with Showtime came with guaranteed dates for Mayweather promoted fighters. Those dates -- along with the undercards of recent Mayweather pay per views -- have been filled by recycled names like Love, Jack and Smith and have not been enough to lure any high profile prospects or established names to the company.
As CEO, that falls on Ellerbe. Ellerbe has never been a traditional boxing promoter. His focus has long been on Mayweather, who has evolved Ellerbe’s role from strength coach to trusted advisor to the head of Mayweather Promotions. Ellerbe was heavily involved in Mayweather’s pursuit of the urban markets and deserves credit for helping Mayweather cultivate the villainous 'Money Mayweather' persona. But Mayweather Promotions may have paid the price. Part of a boxing promoter’s job is to be proactive with the media; Schaefer, Bob Arum, Lou DiBella and others routinely push fighters and fights, often aggressively. Ellerbe does not. The entire Mayweather Promotions stable is largely anonymous.
Could Mayweather be aware of this? Maybe. And if he is, he could see a solution. Schaefer has been out of work since resigning his position at Golden Boy in June. Schaefer and Mayweather have a strong relationship -- Schaefer sat ringside on Saturday -- and Mayweather has often gone out of his way to compliment Schaefer for the work he has done at Golden Boy. If Ellerbe is forced out, Schaefer would be a natural replacement.
The obstacle there is De La Hoya, who slapped Schaefer with a $50 million arbitration claim in June and has stated repeatedly that Schaefer is under contract until 2018. And De La Hoya may be inclined to keep Schaefer on the sidelines until long after Mayweather is retired, depriving Mayweather of the one man who may know how to harness his popularity before it is too late.