De La Hoya ‘Ticked Off’; Merchant Explains HBO Comments

By Loretta Hunt Jan 28, 2009
You probably don’t want to make Oscar De La Hoya mad. But veteran boxing commentator Larry Merchant has managed to tick off the legendary pugilist over comments he made after De La Hoya chose to attend last Saturday’s Affliction M-1 Global “Day of Reckoning” instead of a boxing event the same night.

Merchant noted De La Hoya’s absence during an HBO broadcast last Saturday of the Antonio Margarito-Shane Mosley championship fight at the Staples Center, and said the iconic boxer and his Golden Boy Promotions company had accepted a $5 million dollar fee in exchange for the prize fighter’s presence in Anaheim, Calif.

De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions co-produced the event with Affliction, M-1 Global and the Trump Organization, while Mosley is repped by Golden Boy as well.

“Oscar De La Hoya … is in nearby Anaheim where his company got a five-million dollar fee from a T-shirt maker so that he can be personally involved in the promotion of a mixed martial art show,” said Merchant during the HBO telecast. “It would take that much to get me to go to one of those things.”

According to initial estimates, “Day of Reckoning” drew 13,225 spectators to the Honda Center, where’s No. 1-ranked Fedor Emelianenko knocked out No. 2 Andrei Arlovski with a stunning overhead right in the first round. Official receipt and fighter purse numbers are still unavailable, though Yahoo Sports reported Tuesday that the paid attendance for the event was 8,946 for a gate just over $1.5 million. In addition, reported Saturday that Affliction doled out some $3.3 million in reported purse pay.

Though healthy pay-per-view sales could greatly help to offset those expenses, an additional $5 million thrown in De La Hoya’s direction would not seem prudent for a promotion trying to find its legs.

Merchant, who contacted late Monday, said he’d been told by Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer that De La Hoya was fulfilling his end of an agreement to attend in return for a “$5 million sponsorship fee.”

Schaefer said he’d told Merchant that Affliction had invested $5 million in Saturday’s event, not that Golden Boy had or would receive that amount for De La Hoya and his boxing promotion’s participation.

“Larry had asked me at the weigh-ins why Oscar was not coming [to the boxing event], and I told him, ‘Look our partners at Affliction made an over $5 million commitment to the event and it wouldn't be right if Oscar just dumped it.’ I think he took that and put the Merchant twist on it and it came out the way it came out.”

Though Schaefer graciously called the situation a case of miscommunication, Merchant’s comments misled both sports’ masses.

“I know Larry and he is a nice guy and I’m sure he didn’t want to cause any issues,” said Schaefer. “The fact is Oscar is now really ticked off, because Oscar didn’t make a penny, and, in fact, paid for his own expenses [to attend the show].”

“Money has not exchanged hands,” added Golden Boy’s Chief Marketing Officer Bruce Binkow on Tuesday. “We’re partners in the deal. We get paid as the promotion gets paid. We’re tied in with the revenue side. There was a misunderstanding about five million bucks.”

Schaefer said an agreement was hashed out in November where Affliction would underwrite all costs for a hybrid boxing-MMA event on Jan. 24; while Golden Boy would be responsible for the operations, including fighter contracts, interaction with the athletic commission, cutting pay-per-view and additional distribution deals, and marketing. Even when the two entities opted not to cross-promote the two sports and the Jan. 24 event morphed into a MMA-only attraction, Golden Boy still pledged its support as a business partner.

“In return for Affliction underwriting the financial risk, they, of course, wanted to make sure that Golden Boy was going to put their full support behind the event,” said Schaefer. “With Oscar being the ‘king of pay-per-view’ they wanted to make sure that he would be there to help promote the event.”

Merchant said that, at the time, he believed he was reporting exactly what had been told to him.

“The $5 million was the number thrown out,” Merchant told on Tuesday. “There was not a discussion on how that precisely was allocated or how it was branded. Is it a little bit glib or short-handed to say that Golden Boy got $5 million and Oscar had to be there? Yeah. Yeah. I’m on television and I’m trying to tell a story as tightly as I can.”

Merchant was later informed that Affliction was the actual promoter of the event and not just a sponsor courting De La Hoya as he had earlier ascertained from his conversation with Schaefer.

“… This is hard for someone with my experience to compute. When somebody says ‘$5 million sponsorship,’ I have a different interpretation,” said Merchant. “This never even occurred to me that Affliction was the guys behind this and that Golden Boy was just putting its brand on it and was not taking any risk and would make money on the end. This is a whole new financial model from what I’ve known in boxing.”

Merchant has become a target in MMA circles for his and co-commentator Jim Lampley’s tongue-lashing dialogues against the burgeoning sport. Merchant said he had never brought up MMA directly on his own in telecasts until last Saturday, and that he was only taking a playful jab at it.

“I’m a libertarian in this regard,” he said. “Anybody’s allowed put up their own tent and bring in people in and if they want to come in and watch, that’s America. I have no problem with that. I don’t know if there’s any conflict between [MMA] and boxing. Boxing had a great night on Saturday night and I don’t know what the MMA event did and I really don’t care. To me, it’s another game and if they can make it, good for them… The game itself is something I’m just not interested in.”

Luckily, De La Hoya and company do not share Merchant’s views.

“I actually saw Oscar later on that night and we compared notes,” said Schaefer. “He was so excited. He said, ‘The atmosphere, the venue, the fights were all great fights –- it was just amazing. I’m an MMA fan.’”

Schaefer also said preliminary pay-per-view buy numbers look promising.

“When I saw them, I was very, very positively surprised. And so that looks very good,” he said. “So, I think at the end of the day, Affliction is going to be able to recuperate most of their expenses.”

Schaefer said himself and Binkow met Tuesday to begin initial plans for another event. Affliction Vice-President Tom Atencio said Saturday that the next show could take place in May or June.

“We are planning on doing exactly what we do in boxing, where we really revolutionized the sport where we empowered fighters… we made the commitment to the athlete that they will make the most money with us,” said Schaefer. “Monopolies are here to be broken up and we will take them on.”

Schaefer and Binkow are trying to put “T-shirt Gate” -- as it’s jokingly called around Golden Boy’s offices –- behind them.

“I think it, frankly, was an unnecessary, uncalled-for comment one way or the other,” said Schaefer. “I guess what I’ve learned is I’m going to have to be very careful what I tell Larry Merchant because if he twists things like that, that’s just not fair.”

And if Merchant wants to make amends, maybe he can attend their next Affliction event.

Merchant, who said last Saturday that $5 million wouldn’t be enough to get him to an MMA show, has since come down in his asking price.

“For $100,000, yes, I’ll come,” he said. “If you can get Affliction to put up the sponsorship fee, you’ve got me.”
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