Allow me to begin with my apologies to the few decent boxing promoters out there; you know who you are; it’s not like there are a lot of you, lol. I am not a fan of boxing promoters as a whole. In fact, while I love boxing, the sport, the fans, and boxers and trainers, I have little use for the business of boxing. The nature of the sport attracts shysters, sycophants, and out-and-out mobsters. Boxers generally make easy targets for these men. The vast majority of boxers come from tough, tough backgrounds. Abusive homes, criminality, abject poverty and hunger; these are the hallmarks of most boxers’ life stories. Makes sense, really; you must have had a hard scrabble life to believe that your way out is to step into a ring with another bloke with the same hard knock story as you, then try to bash each other’s brains out for maybe a few hundred dollars.
Recently, the compensation of boxers has had a bit more light shone on it than usual stemming from something that happened with former Heavyweight Champion Deontay Wilder. In one of his most recent fights, Wilder sold 12,000 seats in a 14,000-seat arena. Anthony Joshua, his next purported opponent, just sold out an 80,000-seat facility*; with many being turned away at the gate. AJ is certainly the bigger draw of the two. Despite this, Wilder and his people are insisting on a 50/50 split of the purse. Now, there are a variety of reasons being put forth by Wilder & Co. for this – some legitimate, some, not so much so.
The Wilder camp argues that, as an American, Wilder will draw from the most monied fan base in boxing; the USA. They suggest that were Wilder an Austrian or Nigerian, or anything other than an American, the fight wouldn’t be as big a draw for PPV. As much as it pains me to admit it, he has a point. It’s awfully difficult to get people from my homeland of Trinidad and Tobago to shell out the rough equivalent of $700 T&T currency, to watch a fight. The money just isn’t there; and, with a population of a little over 1-million, neither is the fan base. Big-time boxing needs the Benjamin’s from the good, old “USofA;” there’s really no denying it.
Wilder’s camp also argues that from a personality standpoint, Wilder is the bigger draw. His wild costumes, crude, but exciting style, and conscious obnoxiousness/bravado (depends on your point of view), make him a “love him or hate him” kind of fighter. It’s not much different really from the days of Mike Tyson. Half the fans hated him. Half the fans loved him. They were either there to see him win big, or lose big. Regardless, he put paying bottoms in the seats. Again, I have to agree that Wilder has a point.
The purists see this quite differently. In simplest terms, Joshua is the champion; Wilder is the challenger; ergo, AJ gets the lion’s share of the purse. That’s how it’s always been done. That’s how it should stay. But here’s the problem with that. Were it not for the fact that he would be fighting Wilder, Joshua would never make the kind of money he will from stepping into the ring with Deontay. Wilder’s last fight didn’t draw poorly because of Wilder. It drew poorly because of his opponent. In fact, his last few couple of fights haven’t exactly set the box office on fire. That’s because there was no real mystery in them. Dominic Brezeale wasn’t a serious challenge and Deontay had already iced Ortiz once before.
Additionally, the advent and ever-growing popularity of PPV has sort of made live box office numbers irrelevant. The vast majority of revenue – out of which the boxers are paid – is generated from PPV buys, not box office sales. No country comes even close to the United States for PPV buys. In summation, Wilder’s people have some excellent arguments on their side for at least an even split of the proceedings.
But that brings me to the part that just sticks in my throat. With all that’s already been said, the fact is that these two men; much like any other two top notch boxers; will only be splitting about 25% of the total revenue. That is criminal. It is their blood, sweat, and tears that stain the canvas after a fight. How in the name of all that is sacred, can we reasonably argue that they are only entitled to a quarter of the evening’s proceeds? Here’s what’s even worse. 25% is actually considered a big share for the boxers. Lesser lights in the game settle for splitting 15%. Club fighters and fringe contenders rarely see more than a low, 5-figure payday. And at the lowest echelon of the game, fighters have been known to carry each other for the entire duration of the fight because they were both being paid so much a round. (I actually experienced this in my own career, so I know for a fact that this happens.) Six rounds of hell for $120!
Now, one of my father’s favourite sayings is that there are three kinds of liars; liars, damned liars, and statistics. A competent statistician can make numbers say whatever he or she wants them to. So, when I read that the average purse for boxers selling their craft in the USA between 2018 and 2019 was about $68,000 US, I was instantly suspicious. I consulted the work of a writer I truly respect, John Nash. I knew he had done some work on this topic and I wanted to study his research. This is what I found. While the average purse was indeed about $68,000 US for the time period in question, it was horribly thrown off because of some giant purses paid to people like Saul Alvarez ($35,000,000 US). Think about it like this. If you have a soccer team of 11 players, with an average pay of say, $30,000 US per year, you would say that they weren’t doing very well at all. But then you sign a superstar and you’re paying him $10,000,000 US yearly; all of a sudden, the average pay is now $860,000 per annum. Looks great, but it’s misleading as hell. The much better marker would be to find the median purse. Median is that point in a series where there are as many numbers above as there are below. When using that measure, Nash discovered that the average median purse was only $2000 US! $2000! That’s what the typical boxer is being paid in a sport where he might be able to fight a maximum of 8 times per year. All that work, all that blood and sweat and tears; for what? $16,000 per year. That’s obscene!
Here’s an even more startling stat. If you add up all the purses in boxing, and then subtract the top portion that goes to the top fighters; you find that fully 70% of boxers have to share only 2% of the entire purse pie. I don’t need to expand on that for anyone to see the gross inequity of this. I don’t want to turn this into an academic exercise as this isn’t the forum, but I am including a link to Nash’s article. It’s a fascinating read. When you have time, I strongly recommend you give it a look (here).
But you know who is getting paid? Yep, you guessed it. The promoters. They get paid no matter what. In fact, they deduct their cut before the boxers see a cent of their blood money. You see, boxing promoters regularly “double dip”, meaning they hold the card under their name and take a cut from both fighters – usually about 20 to 25%. In the case of the big fights, that percentage includes a portion of the PPV buys revenue. Now promoters will say that they are the ones taking all the risks. To this I say, “Bollocks!” While they may be taking some financial risks in any promotion, the real risk is taken by the fighters who literally put their lives on the line for their money. It’s unconscionable. We’ve all heard of Don King and his unsavory reputation. But I wondered just how bad he really was. Did some research and, well, read the following for your answer.
This case is quite the opposite of someone like Don King. The infamous character was known for making fighters purses disappear. While he promoted several of the biggest names in boxing such as Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes he also conned and swindled every one of his fighters out of millions of dollars and was sued by almost every one of his fighters.
In 1998, Tyson sued King for $100 million, alleging that the boxing promoter had cheated him out of millions over more than a decade.
This was not just a case with Mike Tyson, oh no, almost all of his fighters claim Don King stole millions from them over their careers. Some notable court cases against Don King
- In 1982 he was sued by Muhammad Ali for underpaying him $1.1 million for a fight
- Holmes sued King claiming he was underpaid by $2 to $3 million.
- In 1987 Witherspoon sued King for $25 million
- In 1998, Tyson sued King for $100 million
- In 2003, King was sued by Lennox Lewis for $385 million
- In 2006, Chris Byrd sued Don King for breach of contract
Don King’s Net worth is estimated at around the $150 Million mark. *
Yeah, you read that right. He’s worth $150 million. Never had a boxing match in his life! And you wonder why Tim Witherspoon would have nothing to do with him and why Mike Tyson whupped that ass…
Next Week: A Different Model for Purse Splits
*Combat Sports Events Websites