Putting the 'prize' back into prizefighting

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
1:28
PM ET
Whether you bought a ticket to the Madison Square Garden Theater in New York or just sacked out on the couch to watch Nonito Donaire's bantamweight title defense against Omar Narvaez on HBO -- or on any of the numerous overseas networks that showed the Oct. 22 fight around the world -- the end result must have been disgust.

While Donaire fought like a professional, Narvaez, a two-division titleholder who moved up to challenge for two 118-pound belts, did not. All Narvaez seemed interested in doing was surviving 12 rounds, taking his check and going home.

It was a miserable display, a stinker of a fight and a huge disappointment for all -- except maybe Narvaez, who despite taking his first loss, survived without taking much punishment and had the audacity to raise his arms in victory after the pathetic performance. He left New York knowing he could simply return to junior bantamweight, where he still holds a title.

Other than maybe Donaire, who apologized profusely after the fight even though the wretchedness of it all wasn't his fault, nobody was more upset than Top Rank president Todd duBoef, whose company promoted the fight.

"I felt like I was robbed, like the guy took my money and didn't fight, and it was infuriating," duBoef told me recently. "And the worst thing was that after the 12th round, he jumped on the ropes and raised his arms like he won the fight, and he did it right in front of me. I wanted to pull him off the damn ropes, I was so mad. It was incredibly frustrating."

DuBoef and his staff did a tremendous job promoting Donaire's East Coast debut. The Theater was only about 300 tickets short of a sellout. The energy in the arena throughout the undercard was terrific and the crowd was psyched for a good main event.

I was there covering the fight, and duBoef was not exaggerating when he said, "It was electric. The crowd was great and they wanted to root for something. Then Narvaez didn't fight. It was a total energy deflator. You invest in a product, in bringing action to the fans, and one of the participants lays an egg, doesn't even try. It was just so disappointing."

Narvaez's side was paid, according to duBoef, in excess of $250,000 for the non-effort.

All duBoef said he could do on his flight home to Las Vegas was think about what he could do to ensure it doesn't happen again.

He came up with an idea that just might work -- if he can persuade the fighters and their managers to buy into it.

What duBoef would like to do is guarantee each fighter his purse, which might be a little smaller than it has been. But to make up the difference he wants to leave a big pot of bonus money for the winner of the fight. He is toying with the idea of an extra $100,000 to go to the winner, which would, theoretically, incentivize both fighters to not just show up, but to try to win.

He wants to get back to prizefighting and wants to start it with Donaire's next fight, which could take place as a pay-per-view headliner in February. (The reason for a possible pay-per-view is because duBoef wants to begin planning for Donaire's move up to junior featherweight in the coming weeks, but neither HBO nor Showtime has scheduled any 2012 events while they deal with the massive changes to their boxing departments brought on by Ken Hershman's departure from Showtime to take over HBO Sports beginning Jan. 9.)

"I want to get back to the principle of prizefighting," duBoef said. "This is trying to correct our business model. We got dysfunctional, and I want to fix it in some way. The way the dynamics work now is to guarantee a lot of money for the fighters to show up -- basically an appearance fee -- but not necessarily more money if they win.

"I felt terrible about the fight and it's hit a nerve with me. I paid for Narvaez's best effort, but he didn't give that. You pay for a prizefight, you want to see a prizefight. You don't want to see a waltz."

DuBoef made a great analogy when he compared the way boxing is structured to other sports.

"If you participate in a golf tournament and you win, you get a pot of gold," he said. "If you win the U.S. Open, you get more money than if you finish second. If you win the Daytona 500 or Wimbledon, you get more money. You get the pot of gold, not just an appearance fee.

"The pot of gold in our business, for the athletes, is usually related to the success of the promotion, not the success of their actions in the ring. I think it's always been something I've thought about, but after that [Donaire-Narvaez] fight, I just think I have to do something.

"It's easy for everybody to blame us for terrible matchmaking or getting the wrong guy for Nonito to fight, but if Narvaez shows up the way he has shown up for his entire career, it's a hell of an entertaining fight."

DuBoef, who said Donaire's team was warm to the idea, wants to implement the bonus idea in other fights and wants to start with Donaire's next bout.

"On Nonito's next fight, my intention is to structure the deal so there's maybe a $100,000 pot for the winner on top of the guarantee," duBoef said. "Let's see if it invigorates the opponent to try to win, and then maybe we implement it across the board."

Here's hoping duBoef sets his plan in motion. I think it could create more interest in some fights for fans knowing that the fighters were fighting for an extra prize. It certainly would be a significant carrot for fighters to chase if they know they can add an extra $100,000 to their purse.

I'm with duBoef on this one. Anything to put the "prize" back in "prizefighting" is worth a shot.

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