THE DINOSAURS COME HOME TO ROOST
By Eddie Goldman
Two dinosaurs walk into a bar. The TV is playing HBO boxing.
"Let's get the hell out of here," said one dinosaur.
"Why?" asked the other.
"Because this place is too old school."
Apparently a similar scene occurred all across America for the August 12 WBC heavyweight title fight between then-champion Hasim Rahman and Oleg Maskaev. This HBO pay-per-view was reportedly ordered in only about 60,000 or so households. You could get more showing Butterbean fighting a midget (which I think is actually on this weekend).
This historically dismal number of buys demonstrates not only the lack of drawing power of Rahman. The fight was billed by all the experts involved as "America's Last Line of Defense" since his opponent was born in Kazakhstan and served in the old Soviet military. Plus, the three other "major" heavyweight belts are also held by fighters born in the former USSR: IBF champ Wladimir Klitschko of Ukraine, WBO champ Serguei Lyakhovich of Belarus, and WBA champ Nikolai Valuev of Russia. That Maskaev is an American citizen living in Staten Island and moving to Sacramento, and that Lyakhovich lives in Arizona, somehow didn't make it to the posters or the commercials on the barker channels.
And it all went over about as well as a contemporary movement to draft Sen. Joe McCarthy for president.
Memo to HBO: Read some news on the Internet and even watch Time Warner's dreadful CNN sometime. The Soviet Union collapsed back in 1991. Someone who is 18 years old today was only three then, and only one when the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989. The Red Scare is over, at least on TV if not on HBO. Obsolete Cold War clichés no longer work. If you can't sell a fight and make fans interested in the fighters without descending to a crude nationalism angle, just get out of the boxing business altogether.
Back in 1991, the fighter of the year was an undefeated middleweight named James Toney, who stopped the previously-unbeaten Michael Nunn to seal that honor. (Now, ironically or not, Toney is a heavyweight and fighting on Showtime Sept. 2 against Samuel Peter.) The winner of the World Series that year was the Minnesota Twins (including the late Kirby Puckett), who are now in third place in the American League Central. Super Bowl XXV, held January 27, 1991, was won by the New York Giants, led by running back Ottis Anderson, over the Buffalo Bills by a score of 20-19, after Buffalo's kicker Scott Norwood missed what would have likely been the game-winning field goal. And some of the boxing world champions of the day included Thomas Hearns, Edwin Rosario, Buddy McGirt, Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, and Joey Gamache.
Interestingly enough, 1991 was not a bad year for boxing pay-per-views. Holyfield-Foreman in April on TVKO (HBO PPV's previous name) drew 1.36 million buys, while two Tyson fights on SET (Showtime's pay-per-view arm) did well: Tyson-Ruddock 2 in June got 1.23 million buys and Tyson-Ruddock 1 in March got 960,000 buys. (Maybe HBO can run some rematches.)
But in 2006, the year it says on my calendars, these old school ways are failing. A week before the Maskaev-Rahman rematch, the August 5 show at the Theater at Madison Square Garden was a box office disappointment. The two top matches were not bad, featuring former welterweight champions Ike Quartey and Vernon Forrest in a junior middleweight affair, and New York's then-unbeaten junior middleweight Sechew Powell against former champ Kassim Ouma. The undercard also featured several up-and-coming New York-area fighters. But attendance was so-so, at just 3,012 fans.
True, the two top fights were shown live on HBO for no additional charge, Showtime was airing the Marquez brothers' fights live at the same time, and it was unbearably hot in New York during the week leading up to this card. The show was also the third in as many weeks in midtown Manhattan.
But New York is also still a big fight town. All someone has to do is mention that I am a boxing journalist and all of a sudden fight fans come out of the closet in droves, offering up their opinions and analyses freely and enthusiastically.
This show was build up in the traditional way. A press conference luncheon was held, with the few remaining newspaper boxing writers placed in the front and the rest of us put in the rear. The major New York newspapers ran articles about the fight, albeit squeezed between endless pages about the pennant chases of the Bronx Dopers and the New York Metabolics. Only a dinosaur would not notice that something new and different was needed.
The post fight DiBella Entertainment gathering was at the glitzy bar of the Affinia Hotel near the Garden, Niles. The DiBella crew had been staying at this hotel. So after the show, this was the place to be, even for us professional curmudgeons covering the fight.
Inside the bar sat DiBella, obviously still unhappy with the decision in the main event where his fighter, Quartey, had lost to Forrest in a unanimous if controversial ten-round decision. Quartey and his supporters were also in the bar, not exactly celebrating but also not as distraught and shocked as they were when the verdict was first announced.
DiBella was buying everyone a round of drinks. I had just arrived in the bar with the three talented and lovely ladies who have become known as the MySpace Queens of the boxing world: Bernadette Robinson, Keisha Morrisey, and Katrina Walters. All three have been assisting fighters in getting their stories out to the public via the Internet, and especially through MySpace, the incredibly popular social networking site with over 100 million members, most of them young. The dinosaurs, of course, remain clueless about all this.
Before the first beer settled in, I decided to come right out and ask DiBella: "Why don't you get on MySpace?" We talked a bit about it, he thought about it for a moment, and then, somewhat to my surprise, he readily agreed to have a profile for his company, DiBella Entertainment, created. Since they were already in the house, it was quickly arranged for Bernadette and Keisha to contact DiBella's office the following Monday to work out the details.
The DiBella Entertainment profile on MySpace is now up. It can be seen at http://www.myspace.com/dibellaentertainment. The significance is that DiBella Entertainment has become the first major nationwide boxing promotional company to set up shop on MySpace.
What's more, his next card, a taping of two editions of the Broadway Boxing series on September 20 at the Hammerstein Ballroom at the Manhattan Center, about a block from Madison Square Garden, features two fighters in the show's two separate main event fights who are already both actively on MySpace: junior welterweight prospects Edgar Santana (18-2, 12 KOs) and Dmitriy Salita (25-0-1, 15 KOs).
Both fighters spoke highly of their experiences on MySpace.
Santana, whose profile is at http://www.myspace.com/santanaboxing, said at a prefight press conference on August 17, "MySpace is another way to get your name out there." He noted how it can be used for "people to actually know you as a fighter and a person." And he advised, "If you’re not on it, you should. I have a lot more fans because of MySpace."
Salita, whose profile is at http://www.myspace.com/dsalita, agreed. "Everybody is on MySpace," he said with a smile. "I think MySpace is a tremendous, tremendous tool. It's great to get in contact with so many people."
While the Harvard Law alumnus DiBella described himself as a little technologically "challenged," he said, "Even I go on MySpace." He continued, "We got to bring boxing to as many people as we possibly can." And he added, "We got to bring young fans to boxing."
It would be hard to imagine a better viral marketing plan than this, and especially for reaching those most neglected by boxing, the young people who live and breathe the Internet and regard getting information from offline sources as antiquated, untimely, clumsy, inefficient, uncool, and even absurd (sentiments shared by this formerly young writer).
So Don, Bob, Oscar, Gary, Dan, Kathy, Frank, Frank, Glenn and Scott, Cedric, Rodney, Leon, and even Klaus-Peter, Wilfried, and the rest of you around the world: Why don't you get on MySpace? "Jurassic Park" was fiction, a genre where professional boxing may have to move shortly unless something radical is done.
No Holds Barred blog http://nhbnews.blogspot.com/8-25-06
No Holds Barred podcast http://nhbnews.podomatic.com/
No Holds Barred on MySpace.com
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