- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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LAS VEGAS -- The best fight in boxing might not be anything inside the ring, but rather the fight over the future of the sport's leading promoter, Golden Boy Promotions.
For months, there has been an internal struggle for control over the direction of the company that has put on many of the biggest and best events in recent years. Chief executive Richard Schaefer, the driving force behind the firm since its 2001 founding, has one vision while president, co-founder and close friend Oscar De La Hoya, the retired 10-time world titleholder, has another.
De La Hoya has largely been a figurehead, only occasionally coming to the Los Angeles corporate offices or significantly participating in the company's promotions, including the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Marcos Maidana Showtime PPV event on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. He had not been seen at all this week during the promotion of his company's biggest event of the year -- while Schaefer was front and center, as usual, grinding away -- until De La Hoya showed up in the media center to address reporters during the undercard.
There are many in the industry who believe that the only reason there hasn't already been an announcement on what will happen with the company is so as not to disrupt the promotion.
Earlier this week, Schaefer was cornered by a handful of boxing writers, who pressed him on the rumors and issues, and he acknowledged the tensions between he and De La Hoya.
"I think Oscar and me, whether you say 'make' or 'made' a great team, have had great success but sometimes you have issues," Schaefer said. "We had issues a few years ago. We worked them out. Sometimes you work them out, sometimes you don't. Right now, I'm here. I'm representing Golden Boy in what is going to be another terrific event."
Said De La Hoya, "Obviously, there has been all these rumors and speculations. First of all, nobody talks for me. Unless you hear it from me, then it's either true or not. The fact of the matter is we, like Richard said, there's a few things that we are not agreeing on. But it's nothing that cannot be worked out, basically.
"Yes, he's the CEO of the company, and he's the CEO of the company on paper for a few more years. That's basically it."
It's worth noting that next week, De La Hoya -- not Schaefer -- will lead a four-city media tour to promote a July 12 Showtime PPV fight between Canelo Alvarez and Erislandy Lara. De La Hoya has never before led a media tour.
Also, when asked about what fights would be on the undercard, Schaefer told ESPN.com to "ask Oscar."
Schaefer said he and De La Hoya have not had a "meaningful" conversation in about a month. Schaefer also said that he did not have De La Hoya's new cell phone number. The tension was obvious at the company's April 26 Showtime event in Carson, Calif., when it was clear as day on television that when De La Hoya took his seat in the center of the front row during the undercard that he walked by Schaefer without so much as a glance. Whereas Schaefer and De La Hoya almost always would sit next to each other, they didn't that night.
"I'm doing my job, putting together great events, and, as they say, the show must go on," Schaefer said. "And until the day where I'm either going to be leaving, or I'm going to be fired or whatever the situation might be, I want to continue to do my job and I want to continue to do it to the best of my abilities. Hopefully, things can be worked out in a way that works for everybody."
De La Hoya said Schaefer won't be fired.
"First of all, nobody is going to dismiss Richard. He's not getting fired. I don't want him to leave! That's the bottom line. I don't want him to leave. There's negotiations of this going back and forth. I don't want him to leave. Nobody is telling him to leave. Look, we've been letting lawyers deal and handle with this situation. I think maybe it's time to extend that olive branch. You know?"
De La Hoya has also stayed away from the company for lengthy stretches while dealing with his many personal issues, including two stints in rehab for alcohol and drug dependency. During one of De La Hoya's drug binges, he made worldwide headlines when a Russian stripper took a slew of embarrassing photographs of De La Hoya in compromising poses while wearing a women's wig and fishnet stockings in a hotel room. De La Hoya sued and he and his attorney insisted the photos had been photoshopped until De La Hoya admitted they were real as he sought substance abuse help.
Now that De La Hoya's latest rehab stint has ended and he spent several months entirely out of the promotional picture, he wants back in and has slowly begun to make appearances.
One of the central issues between Schaefer and De La Hoya is that De La Hoya wants to start doing business again with longtime bitter rival Bob Arum of Top Rank, who used to promote De La Hoya but with whom he and Schaefer have had many ups and downs. Both sides have hurled insults and belittled each other over the years as the rivalry between companies intensified into boxing's "cold war" that has seen many entities take sides, including television networks, casinos and even beer sponsors.
Currently, De La Hoya and Arum are again getting cozy with De La Hoya, even spending time with him in Los Angeles in recent days.
"This is a business and all business aside I talked to Bob Arum and there is nothing wrong with that because Bob Arum was my promoter for many years and he helped me build my career to what it was. And I'm grateful for that," De La Hoya said. "And so our meeting was nothing to do with business. Our meeting was just to bury the hatchet, to discuss the old times, the great stories we shared together and that's it. But it doesn't necessary mean that down the road, down the line we can't have another meeting. And maybe it will be based on business. But who knows. Maybe I can lay my head on the pillow at night and know I apologized for what I said about Bob. As long as we are moving forward that's all that it's about for me."
Schaefer takes a different tone.
"That guy's a disgrace and I don't want to be associated with him," Schaefer said of Arum. "Then to have Oscar basically begging him for a hug -- and I am not making this sh-- up -- using the words, 'I love the guy, I want to give him a hug.' I don't know why he changed. Maybe it's part of the rehab program, where you forgive everyone. I don't know. I can appreciate that and I can understand that and I don't have a problem with it [But] if they want to make peace and make up and then start doing business together? That is not who I am.
"You gonna suddenly do business with him and piss all over the relationships you have with the MGM, Corona, Showtime, CBS and so on? My entire life is built on relationships and I've done very well with that. Loyalty really means something in my book and I want to continue with that and whether that is going to be with Golden Boy or not with Golden Boy. I can't tell you."
Schaefer would ultimately be the one doing the heavy lifting on Golden Boy's end if the companies did business again and he wants no part of Arum after several failed tries to work together. It has been five years since the companies co-promoted a fight.
"He's the major shareholder in Golden Boy," Schaefer said of De La Hoya. "I have a significant stake in Golden Boy. But he has a different vision for the business than I do. His vision is something which I have tried many times, which was to make peace with Bob Arum. But I came to realize that Bob is the way he is. Like they say, a leopard never changes his spots. I tried it so many times. And I gave up because I think his entire career that is what Bob Arum tries [to d]) -- to have these feuds. It used to be with Don King for a long time and I just don't appreciate to be treated like this, where you're being called names and being disrespected and then at the turn of a light switch everything is fine.
"That just doesn't work for me and I don't like to be treated like that and I don't want to be working with somebody like that. I don't want to be associated with somebody like that and as I have said before I will never be working with Bob Arum again."
The Schaefer-De La Hoya fracture has led to industry-wide speculation that Schaefer will soon be out the door, perhaps to work with fledgling Mayweather Promotions or in some capacity with Al Haymon, Mayweather's powerful adviser who has dozens of top fighters in his stable. Most of Haymon's fighters box on Golden Boy cards, but without promotional contracts, because Haymon and Schaefer have a close replationship. That is also an issue between Schaefer and De La Hoya.
Based on that setup, it appears as though Haymon, at any time, could pull his fighters from Golden Boy, which would injure the company and leave its cupboard almost barren, save for a few other top fighters not with Haymon, such as Bernard Hopkins, Canelo Alvarez and Abner Mares.
"Obviously, I have to look out for me. Was I surprised? Absolutely. Of course," De La Hoya said. "Do I know how many fighters exactly are under contract with Golden Boy Promotions? There's quite a few. We have a big stable of fighters. I don't know the exact number, but like I said, I have to look out for myself. This is a business. This is a sport I love. And I have to protect myself."
Said Schaefer, "I feel very secure in myself and what I have accomplished and, who knows, maybe my next chapter is going to be with Golden Boy. Maybe it's not. And if it's not, do I believe I can be very successful again? I have no doubt."
Schaefer declined to address the particulars of a possible union with Mayweather and/or Haymon.
"Floyd and me are friends, we have a close relationship but truth be told, I haven't had any conversations with Floyd because I don't think that would be appropriate, because I have a job at Golden Boy and I'm gonna continue to do it. But once I do either stay or not stay, whatever the decision gonna be, then I will look at what opportunities are out there and, obviously, Floyd, whether I'm there or not there has a bright future," Schaefer said. "Al and me are friends. We work very well together. We have done good business together. He's a businessman I highly respect and regard. His accomplishments are not just in the sport of boxing. But I am not going to discuss my thoughts. I don't really think about what I'm gonna do next. I have a pretty good idea.
"I started Golden Boy from nothing and made it the No. 1 boxing promoter. When I came here in 1988 [from Switzerland] and joined Suisse Bank and later UBS there was no private banks. When I left it was the biggest private bank in the world. I didn't just go try to find wealthy people. I went to try to get the billionaires as my clients. And so if you reach for the stars, you get them. I believe in that. I believe in hard work and dedication, just like Floyd does."
Mayweather said that the only reason he works with Golden Boy, which has promoted his fights since 2007, is because of Schaefer. Mayweather and De La Hoya, whose 2007 fight is the all-time pay-per-view seller, can't stand each other.
"We like working with Richard Schaefer. Richard Schaefer is Golden Boy," Mayweather said. "He does all the day-to-day leg work. He works hard. He's up late on the phone with [Mayweather Promotions CEO] Leonard [Ellerbe], three, four in the morning, taking flights, and people that's putting work in like this you got to commend them.
"Richard always has a home over here. We would love to work with him hand in hand if he has any problems over there because we know it's a company Richard Schaefer built. We working hand in hand already. We would love to work with Richard. He's a great guy, a great father. Richard knows the door is always open. Richard Schaefer knows he's family."
Despite the uncertainties, Schaefer said he has no ill will toward De La Hoya.
"Oscar is a terrific guy and I wish him the best with his rehab. He's going through the program," he said. "I have nothing negative to say and really never want to. I think we have done a lot together and, who knows, maybe we will continue to do even more together. Sometimes you have different vision of what you want to do with the business. And it's not just about the Bob Arum thing. If I work somewhere and I'm the CEO the 'C' stands for chief. So I have my vision on how to build the business and how to grow the business and if that vision is different between the CEO and the major shareholder then you part ways. But it doesn't mean this has to be a nasty split. You have a difference of opinion, everyone moves on, no big deal."
Except in the boxing business this is a very big deal because what happens could change the landscape of the entire sport.