By Scoop Malinowski
Al Haymon’s most defining contribution to boxing is his profound protective nature. His most treasured boxers are protected like a mother bear protects it’s baby cubs.
Whether it’s forcing a heavy puncher to wear “pillows”, issuing a $5m bonus to an opponent to play soft, refusing to do business with rival promoters or flat out avoiding certain dangerous but exciting fighters who could ruin his revenue generator, Al Haymon has been a blessing to his preferred fighters – but a disaster to boxing fans, the media and history.
So far Haymon has blocked many superfights to protect his key fighters, fights like: Stevenson vs Kovalev, Mayweather vs Williams, Mayweather vs Martinez, Stevenson vs Beterbiev, Mayweather vs unbeaten Cotto in 2008, Mayweather vs Margarito, Broner vs Pacquiao, Wilder vs Povetkin, Thurman vs Mayweather, Lomachenko vs Davis, Broner vs Bradley, Mayweather vs Golovkin. You get the picture.
It may be difficult for some ring observers to understand how Haymon’s formula of careful protection is damaging the integrity of the sport today. But imagining if Haymon was the advisor of Muhammad Ali’s illustrious career, it becomes much clearer.
If Haymon controlled Ali, Ali probably would have faced Sonny Liston and won the title. If Haymon had fear of Liston, his other option would have been to pay off Liston to throw both fights.
With the world heavyweight title under his control via his vehicle Muhammad Ali, Haymon’s thirst for more power and money would have increased.
It’s difficult to say if Haymon would have allowed Ali to take his political stand of refusing to fight in the Vietnam War, which cost Ali and his team millions of dollars in the prime of his career. Haymon is not known as a man who has ever rejected millions of dollars. Yes, Haymon did block Mayweather vs Pacquiao but he was in position to do that because he had the guaranteed six fight, $150 million dollar contract with Showtime. And one suspects Haymon’s master plan was to try to delay the Floyd vs Pacquiao fight and use it as leverage to sign another guaranteed, multi-fight contract with Showtime. However Les Moonves, of course, forced Haymon and Mayweather to fight Pacquiao as fight no. 5 on the Showtime deal.
Considering Haymon’s risk-averse nature, it’s impossible to imagine him allowing Ali to fight the dangerous Jerry Quarry, undefeated Joe Frazier, the devastating undefeated George Foreman, the awkward Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers, or even the tricky, stinker style of Jimmy Young. With Haymon calling the shots, considering the Haymon track record, it’s safe to assume Ali would have only fought safe opponents like Ron Stander, Jose Roman, Victor Galindez, Vito Antuofermo, or even Ivan Putski and Andre The Giant.
For those who find this analysis of Haymon to be overly negative, I ask you this: If Haymon refused to let Floyd face Margarito, Martinez, Pacquiao for six years, Cotto when he was undefeated and promoted by Bob Arum, Paul Williams, Golovkin, how on earth could anyone expect Haymon to let Ali fight Frazier, Foreman, Norton or Shavers?
Now let’s examine how boxing would be viewed by the public if Ali never became the global hero superstar that he did. Ali’s heroic fighting and personality inspired the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, and countless other great fighters of the 1980s. Ali made boxing the most exciting, thrilling, electrifying sport on Earth.
If Ali was limited by Haymon’s advices and only fought handpicked patsies, Ali would not have become the beloved global superstar hero that he still is today, a year after his passing. Chances are far more likely, Ali would be viewed by the public like Deontay Wilder is today. A big talking pretender who only fights handpicked stiffs, patsies and hired divers.
The Golden Eras of the 70s and 80s would have never happened if Ali was a carefully protected phony champion.
And one wonders what would have become of Mike Tyson, who has said he fell in love with boxing and became inspired to fight after seeing Ali speak at his detention home.
So do you see how destructive Al Haymon’s protection is to boxing as a sport? And the far-reaching consequences in-house, minor league WWF fights have on the integrity and honor of boxing?
One good thing that can be said of Haymon is that none of his fighters suffer serious injuries or health issues. And if Ali had a career of protected fights, he most likely would have not ended up with his health issues. And that would be a credit to Haymon. A major credit.
One thing is fairly certain though. Had Haymon controlled the career of Muhammad Ali, boxing and the overall sports landscape today would be very, very different.
(Ali and Cosell oil painting by Scoop Malinowski.)