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NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: SELLING OUT TO THE SAUDIS

By Paul Magno | April 29, 2024
NOTES FROM THE BOXING UNDERGROUND: SELLING OUT TO THE SAUDIS

Make no mistake about it, boxing businessmen are whores. And they’re not even the classy, “high-end escort, turning one trick a week for exclusive clientele,” type of whore.  They’re more like the “‘You got twenty bucks? Let’s do it,’ desperately chasing your car down the side street of an abandoned industrial neighborhood, with tattered hot pants around their ankles” kind of whore. 

So, it comes to nobody’s surprise that promoters are twisting themselves into knots to scoop up Saudi Arabian paydays offered by Turki Alalshikh, Chairman of the Saudi Royal Family’s General Entertainment Authority and Grand Poobah of sportwashing the blood off the Saudi landscape. 

It should also come as no surprise that many fans and media are fine with all of this, just as long as they get some “good fights” out of the arrangement (and media gets some bucks possibly thrown their way). As a matter of fact, some have been absolutely gushing over Alalshikh (aka “His Excellency” to the cuck-inclined) and his efforts to “save boxing.”

The grovelling and tongue bathing got amped up a few notches this past week when the Saudis’ first US fight card was announced. 

Slated for August 3 at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles, the card features these main stage bouts: Israil Madrimov vs. Terence Crawford, Isaac ‘Pitbull’ Cruz vs. Jose ‘Rayo’ Valenzuela, Andy Ruiz vs. Jarrell Miller, David Morrell vs. Radivoje Kalajdzic, and Andy Cruz vs. Antonio Moran. Since the initial press conference, Tim Tszyu vs. Vergil Ortiz Jr. has reportedly been added to the card. 

There are lots of names-- and, make no mistake about it, some fights are better than no fights-- but nothing fans have been clamoring for (Tszyu-Ortiz, though, should be the Fight of the Year “we wanted it, but didn’t know we wanted it” exception) and definitely not in line with the whole “His Excellency is giving us the fights we want” narrative blown around social media like White Castle onion farts on a mid-summer subway car. 

It’s typically not all that difficult to influence the fancies of boxing fans, to sell them on what they’re getting being what they’ve always wanted. And with a boxing media hungry for Saudi money and Saudi favors, we know there will be a continued hard sell of all things “kingdom” related.

On the surface, there’s the temptation to blow off this Saudi boxing movement like it was just another money man blowing through loot to stage some vanity boxing events and/or get a foot in the door to establish market presence. Fighters get paid, promoters get paid, fans get fights. No harm, no foul.

But nobody thought to utter a cross word 40-plus years ago, either, when boxing promoters similarly grasped at easy money from premium cable outlets, essentially signing over the entire sport to be put behind paywalls and gradually distanced from the mainstream sports fan. 

Of course, HBO and Showtime never beheaded and butchered dissidents and they were never alleged sponsors of global terrorism. And whoever was running the HBO/Showtime sports efforts at the time never once participated in a coup, as “His Excellency” has, reportedly holding then-Saudi Arabia crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef against his will, denying him his medications, and allegedly making threats against his family until he bowed at the feet of his cousin Mohammed bin Salman on TV to abdicate his leadership. 

But I’m sure “His Excellency” is otherwise a swell guy...and such a boxing fan!

The Saudis have already arrived in America touting a “partnership” with the WBA that teeters on the illegal and rests firmly in the unethical. In any other “real” sport, having the organization sanctioning rankings, matchups, and championships playing enforcer for the entity selling the events would be a major no-no, a serious conflict of interest. In boxing, it’s “good for the sport!”

And if getting some fights trump morals and ethics (which is very likely the case with many, if not most), there’s also the practical problem of investing such an increasing amount of your product and infrastructure into something so inherently unstable, where a bad decision or the perceived crossing of one powerful person could result in the guy in charge suddenly disappearing. 

There are many reasons the Saudis might not be the best business partners, despite their surplus of filthy lucre. But it’s pure fantasy to think that boxing’s bossmen aren’t going to line their pockets while they can, tossing aside practical concerns of long-term sustainability and growth.

It is funny, though, that Alalshikh’s much-lauded boxing business model is almost identical to that of Premier Boxing Champions (PBC)-- incorporating fighters from various promoters in events, without forcing them into a binding contract or exclusivity deal, competing under what is, essentially, a “league” or “broadcast brand” structure. The only difference being that Premier Boxing Champions’ brand is “PBC” and Alalshikh’s is “Saudi Arabia”-- a brand that just happens to impose life sentences on Twitter users who criticize the Royal Family. The irony is lost on serial PBC critics who’ve lamented endlessly over the dangers of PBC overpaying fighters and tinkering with the sport’s power structure by minimizing the role of the promoter-- all things “His Excellency” is doing to “save boxing.”

At the very least, this LA Saudi card will be on at a time American fight fans can watch and in a place where they can attend. It probably won’t be a dreadfully-paced all-day DMV visit of a fight card, like the shows in Saudi Arabia tend to be. America has also yet to lustfully ship off nearly their entire product, like UK promoters have done.  

Still, all of this Saudi involvement only provides an illusion of “helping.” When all is said and done, everyone will see that this was just another case of money-grubbing boxing people selling out the sport for short-term gain. None of boxing’s problems will be solved or even addressed. As a matter of fact, things may even be worse after the Saudis move on and boxing faces the reality that they’ve distanced themselves even further from fans at home by catering to semi-interested observers on the other side of the planet. 

But boxing businessmen only care about money and boxing fans only care about getting fights. That is irrefutable truth. And, ultimately, that's why both only get a fraction of what they would be getting if they cared enough to do things right.

Got something for Magno? Send it here: paulmagno@theboxingtribune.com

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