Smaller boxing promoters explain struggle to stay afloat (2024)

The doors of New York’s famed Paramount Theater are closed, the venue darkened to boxing since a late February night when promoter Joe DeGuardia soaked in the cheers and roars from the 38th consecutive sellout crowd of his “Rocking Fights” series.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.

DeGuardia — and many others like him who run boxing’s midlevel and minor promotions — wasn’t optimistic about his company’s future. Unlike peers Bob Arum of Top Rank, Al Haymon of Premier Boxing Champions, Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn and Golden Boy Promotions’ Oscar De La Hoya, DeGuardia did not have a broadcast deal.


Lacking that financial backing and prohibited from drawing fans to support a live gate, the sport’s smaller promoters are now sounding alarms about a crisis of sidelined fighters and canceled bouts that they say threatens boxing to its core.

“You need to develop guys. The sport needs to expand — its fighters, its fan base — and all of that sprouts from these kinds of shows,” DeGuardia said. “The fans follow these fighters. Where will you get the fans if they’re not coming here? And where are you going to get the fighters if they’re not developing? It’s devastating.”

The pandemic has shuttered dozens of smaller scheduled shows across the nation, from New York to Boston, from Philadelphia to Southern California.

In a fall when fans have chafed over the $75 pay-per-view prices of the September doubleheader anchored by champion brothers Jermall and Jermell Charlo and last week’s Gervonta Davis-Leo Santa Cruz super-featherweight battle, midlevel promoter Ken Thompson dreamed up a summer pay-per-view at his stucco manufacturing plant in Corona, Calif., priced at $6.50.

No complaints about that price, right?

Yet, there were few buyers, and Thompson Boxing executive/matchmaker Alex Camponovo reported massive piracy of the show, estimating total losses in the five-figure range.

“The only way our sport is healthy is if everyone in the ecosystem is working, and right now, many of us can’t,” Camponovo said.

Smaller boxing promoters explain struggle to stay afloat (1)

Promoter Joe DeGuardia calls the current situation with smaller boxing promoters “devastating.” (Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile via Getty Images)

As the major promoters are absorbing expenses for pricey coronavirus testing and the security of bubbles to help ensure the health of the fighters and support staff, second-tier promoters can’t afford to take on those costs.

Veteran New York promoter Lou DiBella has observed some combat sports cards occur without testing — what he calls “desperado” shows. With a stable of 60 fighters, some of whom aspire to one day fight for a world title, engaging in that kind of operation would be reckless, he said.


So DiBella is left to angle his fighters toward openings on the major promoters’ cards, which happened when junior-welterweight Ivan Baranchyk engaged in the likely fight of the year last month against Arum fighter Jose Zepeda.

“I can’t sell tickets and I can’t afford a bubble, so I’m not selling shows right now,” DiBella said in reference to his Broadway Boxing series. “In fairness and credit to my fighters, I stay in touch with them and their managements, and most of them understand I can’t control the world as it exists right now. They know I’m busting my hump to get them opportunities, but to tell you the truth, I don’t know where I’ll be in boxing in 12 months. I don’t know how the world will be.”

DiBella lamented the plight of so many fighters connected to promoters like him, including his IBF super-lightweight women’s champion, Mary McGee of Indiana. She hasn’t fought since February and is left to earn an income, stay in shape and put her child through distance learning as a single mother.

It’s a frightening vulnerability, DiBella said, noting Broadway Boxing has developed an estimated 40 fighters who have won or participated in a world title bout.

“A lot of others — be it Thompson or Roy Englebrecht in Southern California to Joey DeGuardia in New York — are very much the development and grassroots of boxing,” he said, “and if there’s none of that … well, we are not in a great place.”

Before COVID-19 spread, smaller shows represented an opportunity for fans priced out from major cards at arenas and stadiums in Las Vegas, Texas and New York to attend live fights. It built the groundswell of public support boxing needs, with shows often serving as the springboard for prospects who’ve advanced toward national and worldwide prominence.

One of those fighters was light heavyweight Joe Smith Jr., a Long Island, N.Y., union laborer in DeGuardia’s stable whose Aug. 22 TKO victory over former world champion Eleider Alvarez in Arum’s Las Vegas bubble helped DeGuardia earn some resuscitative cash for his drowning business.


A boxing lifer whose father and uncle boxed professionally, DeGuardia considered staging bouts at drive-in movie theaters to allow for socially distant attendees, but it’s gotten too cold.

He said he won’t offer another card this year.

“I’m going into my pocket to sustain the company,” said DeGuardia, 57. “I liken it to being a fighter. I have to be resilient. You get hit, you deal with the blows. You get knocked down, you get up. This blow is one that’s lasted nine months so far … and there’s not an easy solution when our model is built upon having fans.

“It’s devastating. The sport needs to expand — its fighters and its fan base. All of that sprouts from these kinds of shows.”

Smaller boxing promoters explain struggle to stay afloat (2)

Joe Smith Jr., right, knocked out former world champion Eleider Alvarez in August in Las Vegas. (Mikey Williams / Top Rank)

Some are better equipped to endure the absence of this action than others.

Michelle Rosado, a protege of Hall of Fame Philadelphia promoter J. Russell Peltz, left a career in engineering for boxing and had just started a “Philly Special” series spotlighting fighters from the hometown of “Rocky” when health restrictions closed her down.

Rosado said COVID-19 testing of fighters, cornermen and officials was “going to add between $5,000-$8,000 to the bottom line. For us, that’s our profit.”

She does not have a card scheduled, either.

“I’m going to start getting worried in another few months,” Rosado said. “If I had to go back to engineering, I don’t know that I’d come back to my boxing. I gave up everything — my house, a relationship, having kids, stopped eating out — to get into boxing. I made that sacrifice once. If I have to walk away, I’ll be too heartbroken, and I don’t think I’ll come back.”

On principle, she said, she won’t ask her fighters to participate in “paid fights,” where the boxers need to pay for medicals, COVID-19 testing, travel, hotel and purses.

Rosado seeks to keep her blue-collar fighters encouraged, telling them to remain in shape, to jump rope, to keep running “because you never know if Top Rank will lose a fight and need to fill it.”


But down time and human nature make navigating the situation a tricky task for fighters. For example, she said, one of her boxers became 25 pounds overweight in recent months.

Rosado was eyeing a $100,000 live gate from her March “Philly Special” card that was expected to draw 1,500 fans to the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia. Then the public health crisis that has left more than 200,000 Americans dead struck.

“In boxing right now, it’s the haves and the have-nots, and there’s no one in between,” Rosado said. “We, as middle-class promoters, have nowhere to go because we rely on selling tickets and packing the house. I sell tickets by pounding the pavement hard, right out of my briefcase, or out of my house, or out of my car. I get local sponsors … we’re the hustlers.

“Overall, boxing’s middle class has been decimated over the recent years and this has just put the nail in the coffin. Everything looks shiny and glitzy on TV, but the back of the house? It’s bare.”

Another sucker punch arrived when negotiations to broadcast her series on the Impact network collapsed, she said.

“They had me put together a big budget for it and itemize everything … I didn’t hear back for a while before I got an email saying they were going in a different direction and the different direction was Don King,” Rosado said. “Here I am with this great story, this great show, this great series. And I get passed up in 2020 for (89-year-old) Don King?”

In Boston, meanwhile, Ken Casey, the bass guitarist and songwriter for the famed Irish band Dropkick Murphys, will have nearly all of his 10 scheduled Murphy’s Boxing shows wiped away this year.

Although he’s an advocate for social distancing and the precautions related to the pandemic, COVID-19 has hit him hard. The band was sidelined from live shows and five of his restaurants slowed or shut down.


“Unfortunately, all my careers are something involved with people needing to attend,” Casey said.

Boxing promotion is a labor of love, and Casey has worked diligently to generate impressive prior exposure for the sport and his fighters. He’s staged bouts drawing up to 4,000 fans at the MGM Casino in Springfield, Mass., the New Hampshire Encore Casino on Boston Harbor and an annual St. Patrick’s Day festival where his band plays.

“It’s a hard-enough battle for a midlevel promoter, anyway, so to say, ‘You can’t have fans,’ the numbers don’t add up,” Casey said. “Promoters like myself can be equated to a farm team, where we ultimately partner with our fighters as they’re built up. … If midlevel promoters don’t exist, where are these people going to get the fights to grow their career? It slows down the whole process of a fighter’s development.”

One broadcast option for the promoters debuts Nov. 19 when NBC Sports Network airs the first “Ring City USA” card with DiBella fighter O’Shaquie Foster (17-2, 10 KOs) meeting Mickey Roman (62-13, 47 KOs) in a likely 10-round slugfest at Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood.

The promoter-agnostic series is planning more cards Dec. 3, headlined by unbeaten top-10 super-welterweight Serhii Bohachuk (18-0, 18 KOs) and Dec. 17, and 14 more cards in 2021.

“That’s a tremendous amount of opportunity for ‘Ring City,’ to work with promoters of all levels as they aim to develop their fighters,” said Ring City USA CEO Frank Samuel. “In the process, we can fulfill our goal of putting on competitive, exciting fights for fans.”

DiBella is grateful for the spot after Foster was dropped off a scrapped Matchroom card in April on DAZN headlined by the canceled Regis Prograis-Maurice Hooker fight. Hearn offered a chance to return but with a pay cut, DiBella said.


“O’Shaquie’s high-rated, a bitch to beat, a guy with a couple losses,” DiBella said before the Ring City USA opportunity came. “No one needs to fight him, and he’s sitting there waiting. A guy who’s really good like him is really f*cked because they’re asking champions and good contenders to take pay cuts. You want to take a pay cut for a guy who might beat you? No, so none of these guys want to fight him.”

Smaller boxing promoters explain struggle to stay afloat (3)

Veteran promoter Lou DiBella says “I can’t sell tickets and I can’t afford a bubble, so I’m not selling shows right now.” (James Chance / Getty Images)

DeGuardia is hopeful — but not expecting — that the major promoters will work to help keep the mid- and minor-level promoters’ fighters busier than they’ve been.

“We don’t have anyone in the sport looking out for the future of boxing,” he said. “If they were, you’d have someone saying, ‘We’ve got to work together to make this thrive.’ I develop guys. I can get a guy from 13-0 to 17-0, and now he can fight your guy.”

Bohachuk’s promoter, Tom Loeffler, had to scrap his “Hollywood Fight Nights” series at the Avalon Theater in California. He also scrambled to secure fights for his boxers, sending Bohachuk to Mexico in September after he was in the ring five times last year.

“That’s why I’ve always tried to keep a good relationship with the other promoters, and that’s what’s allowed me to keep the guys busy here,” Loeffler said. “Anytime there’s a new platform (like Ring City USA), it raises the sport, and the thing that’s great is it’ll bring attention to a great fighter like Bohachuk.

“It’s been very challenging on us. In my 30 years in boxing — yes, you have ups and downs — but we’ve never seen the whole sport shutting down until now … and hopefully, by 2021, we can get back into business.”

(Top photo: Courtesy of Michelle Rosado)

Smaller boxing promoters explain struggle to stay afloat (2024)


Why does boxing need promoters? ›

The Promoter's Role in Revenue Generation

Ticket sales, pay-per-view revenue, sponsorships—these are the strings a promoter deftly pulls to ensure a profitable event. It's a high-stakes game where the financial well-being of fighters and the sustainability of the sport are on the line.

Is it hard to be a boxing promoter? ›

Boxing promoters are responsible for organizing and marketing a boxing match. Becoming a boxing promoter is a complicated and often expensive journey that involves compliance with strict state laws.

How to promote yourself as a boxer? ›

Seek Media Exposure: Reach out to local sports journalists, bloggers, and podcasters to share your story and arrange interviews. Offer yourself as a resource for expert commentary on boxing-related topics. By appearing in media outlets, you can increase your visibility and credibility as an upcoming boxer.

Can you box without a promoter? ›

Without a promoter, you'll likely fight a bunch of easy fights and then jump multiple levels to a fight that you can't win, but your record makes it easy to sell the fight, not only to the networks but also to the state athletic commission for approval.

Do boxers pay their promoters? ›

Here's a breakdown of the fighter's crew and their respective take rates: Promoter - 20% to 25% of the fight night purse, with a max of up to 33% in the USA. Manager - 15% and 20% of all professional earnings (purse, ads, commercials, PPVs, live gate, etc.) Boxing trainer - 10% to 20% of fight night purse.

Do boxers get paid if they lose? ›

Boxers, on the other hand, typically receive payment for their bouts, regardless of the outcome, unless the contract includes specific provisions.

How hard is it to become a promoter? ›

To be an independent sales promoter, you don't need specialized training but rather a high school diploma and sales experience. If you want to work for an agency, you likely need a bachelor's degree in marketing or sales. Creating a sample advertising campaign can also help showcase your skills.

Is 25 too old to start a boxing career? ›

What age is too late to start boxing? The short answer is that it's never too late to start boxing.

Is it hard to turn pro in boxing? ›

The path to becoming a pro boxer is very difficult. You'll need to train hard to develop your strength, repeatedly win at the amateur level and keep your body in excellent physical condition. The majority of your professional life will be spent in the boxing gym.

How do you get ripped like a boxer? ›

Boxers perform resistance training to build overall strength. Incorporate compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and pull-ups into your routine. These exercises increase muscle mass and enhance your body's ability to generate power.

Can I be a self taught boxer? ›

Boxing without formal training is technically possible but not advised. Boxing needs skill, conditioning, and ring experience. Without a trainer or coach, competitive boxing abilities and ring experience are difficult to develop. Boxing without training is risky for both parties.

Should I lift if I box? ›

Is weight lifting training good or bad for boxers? Yes, weight lifting training is a good practice for boxers to use. This is because it can build up additional power, strength, speed and muscle at whatever weight category you are at.

Do you have to be strong to box? ›

Core strength is important to a forceful punch because it links the lower and upper body in the Kinetic Chain. The Kinetic Chain is a term used to describe how force is transferred through different parts of the body to produce movement. In punching, force is transferred from the lower-body through to the first.

How do promoters make money? ›

Stock promoters may raise money for a company by offering investment vehicles other than traditional stocks and bonds, such as limited partnerships and direct investment activities. Often, promoters are paid in company stock, or they receive a percentage of the capital raised.

Is Jake Paul a boxing promoter? ›

In February 2023, Paul lost to Tommy Fury via split decision in his first fight with an active professional boxer. In 2021, Paul founded "Most Valuable Promotions," a boxing promotion alongside his adviser Nakisa Bidarian, and founded Anti Fund, a venture capital firm with Geoffrey Woo.

Why do boxers need testosterone? ›

... Testosterone is the key hormone for combat sports, due to its impact on muscle properties, power, assertiveness, competitiveness, and aggressiveness, as a mechanism inherited from the very first humans.

What is the difference between a manager and a promoter? ›

While the role of promoters or founders cannot be undermined in a corporate entity, the professional managers have an equal or a bigger stake in the operations. They are professionally qualified and trained to run and turn around business, which acumen and knowledge the promoters may be lacking.

Is a boxing manager and promoter the same? ›

The difference between a skilled boxer you've never heard of and a skilled boxer named Muhammad Ali is often a really good promoter. A promoter is not a manager. There's huge difference between the two. The manager's job is to look out for the interests of the boxer.

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