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Thursday, March 21, 2013
50 Cent answers the bell

By Tim Struby
ESPN The Magazine

50 Cent
Already involved in boxing, 50 Cent is now venturing into NASCAR.

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THIS WASN'T HOW he wanted his big weekend to go. Late on March 1, 50 Cent (ne Curtis James Jackson III) walked to the ring at Foxwoods casino's MGM Grand Theater, delighting the capacity crowd with an impromptu rendition of "New Day." A few hours later, as co-promoter of his first boxing card, he took one square on the chin, watching his fighter Billy Dib lose the main event, and his IBF featherweight title, in a split decision to Evgeny Gradovich.

It's never a good night when a promoter performs better than his boxer, so Jackson canceled a postfight club appearance. Just don't expect him to stay down for long. Three days earlier, while holding court at Brooklyn's Judah Brothers Community Gym with fighters in his stable, he was already sizing up the resilience he'd need to crack the boxing game, the same way he cracked the rapping one. "With a true champion, you never count how many times they get knocked down," he said. "You count the times they get up."

Jackson, of course, has gotten up countless times: after being shot nine times in a 2000 incident, after various hip-hop beefs and most recently after a public split with friend Floyd Mayweather Jr. In July 2012, the two icons said they would launch TMT (The Money Team) Promotions. The company, as Jackson explained at the time, would give fighters more control over their careers, and it would put on cards designed to attract young fans.

But it fell apart before a single punch was thrown. While Mayweather spent last summer in a cell for misdemeanor domestic battery, Jackson says he made a surprising discovery: TMT hadn't obtained a promoter's license or signed fighters. "It was just a name," says Jackson.

So the 37-year-old rapper put up nearly $2 million for a promoter's license and to secure fighters' rights. He signed four talented fighters: Dib, super middleweight contender Andre Dirrell, former WBA featherweight champ Celestino Caballero and undefeated super featherweight Yuriorkis Gamboa. He thought he was laying the groundwork for a business.

But when Mayweather was released in August, Jackson asserts his partner refused to put up his half of the cash. "There was no discussion, no sit-down," he says. "All communication was shot down." (Mayweather and his camp did not return calls for this story.) Jackson politely refers to the fallout as "a learning experience," but in reality he felt betrayed both professionally and personally.

By November, following a highly publicized Twitter spat, their partnership was over. Now in the aftermath of Dib's loss, Jackson has to figure out the boxing game on his own with his own company, SMS Promotions. While he thinks his experience in the music business might help, boxing is a different beast. Talent is only part of the equation.

Successful promoters need a trustworthy team of lawyers, matchmakers and staffers. They have to deal with other promoters, managers, fighters, officials, regulations and egos. It's countless headaches of epic proportions, and far more promoters have been knocked down than gotten rich, including Sugar Ray Leonard, ex-referee Mills Lane and former music promoter Cedric Kushner.

Then there's the fallout from the Mayweather spat. Underscoring the distance between the two, while Jackson was promoting his first card, shown on ESPN's Friday Night Fights, Mayweather was finalizing his six-fight pay-per-view deal with Showtime that could be worth upward of $200 million to him. Moreover, in severing ties with the sport's biggest draw, Jackson also separated himself from Al Haymon, Mayweather's adviser and one of boxing's most powerful players. Haymon controls a host of other superstars, most notably WBC lightweight champ Adrien Broner, who has been mentioned as a possible Gamboa opponent.

Ultimately Jackson needs to deal with Mayweather's camp more than it needs to deal with him -- and he knows it. "I'm gonna have to deal with the guys who have the best opponents," he says. "So I'm gonna work with Richard Schaefer at Golden Boy and with Top Rank and even with Al Haymon."

Jackson already has shown glimmers of savvy. While negotiating with Top Rank for the rights to Gamboa's contract, he landed the junior lightweight a televised slot on the undercard of the promotion's Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez PPV event in December. Gamboa dominated on the way to a unanimous decision over Michael Farenas. "He's not a guy coming into the sport with $10 million and thinking he's smarter than everyone else," says Lou DiBella, one of boxing's most successful promoters and Jackson's partner on the Foxwoods card. "He knows what he doesn't know, which is essential for this investment in his future."

Jackson's fighters are all talented, but not many people outside of boxing have heard of them. So now he has to draw on the marketing genius that made him a millionaire in hip-hop, apparel and even flavored water. He's making certain that Gamboa, a Cuban defector, learns English. He's scheming up a TV reality show, a la The Ultimate Fighter. He also intends to change the current fight card paradigm. "I want to do away with the main event," he says. "I want the entire card itself to be the main event. Not just the last fight."

Another thing he gets: the power of his own Q rating. "Due to the competitive nature of hip-hop, there are people who want to see 50 Cent fail," he says. "So those people will tune in to see if Billy Dib loses -- and that's a vital connection through pop culture."

In other words, he wins even when he loses.

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