LAS VEGAS — There were no fights of significance on Thursday, but the date will go down as one of the biggest days in recent boxing history in the aftermath of the stunning news that Triller Fight Club bought the rights to promote the Teofimo Lopez-George Kambosos lightweight title fight for the staggering sum of $6.018 million.
That is more than Matchroom Sport and Top Rank bid for the fight combined. Matchroom, led by Eddie Hearn with DAZN’s backing, bid $3.506 million. Top Rank, which has Lopez under a long-term promotional contract, bid $2.315 million.
Triller, which promoted the Mike Tyson-Roy Jones heavyweight boxing exhibition in November that sold 1.9 million on pay-per-view, won the right to promote the bout at what is known as a purse bid. When Top Rank couldn’t come to a deal with Lopez to put the mandatory defense against Kambosos together, the IBF solicited sealed bids from interested parties.
Lopez will get 65 percent of the winning bid as champion, so he’ll make $3.9 million. He’ll owe Top Rank 20 percent, so he’ll have to pay them $782,000. And Kambosos will make $2.1 million, minus the approximately $500,000 that he owes promoter Lou DiBella.
It’s a massive windfall for Lopez, who balked at the idea of accepting his contract minimum, $1.25 million, for the fight after his career-defining victory in October over Vasiliy Lomachenko. He wound up grossing more than three times that amount by standing his guns and refusing to accept his minimum on the heels of his greatest win.
In the process, Lopez gained leverage on Top Rank that the promoter clearly did not think he’d have by way of the arcane purse bid process. Lopez has belts in each of the four sanctioning body organizations, the IBF, the WBA, the WBC and the WBO.
Top Rank still has more than three years left on its contract with Lopez, and Top Rank founder Bob Arum angrily threatened to make him sit after the results of the purse bid were made public. But a champion with multiple belts can make the purse bid process work to his advantage.
So, let’s say for the sake of argument that Lopez beats Kambosos and Top Rank wants to stage a voluntary defense against Ryan Garcia. Garcia, who won the interim WBC lightweight title in January by knocking out Luke Campbell, is one of the sport’s rising stars.
So if Arum offers Lopez $2 million to fight Garcia, Lopez will demand $5 million to $6 million. If Top Rank meets that offer, then Lopez gets a huge fight. If it doesn’t, he’ll accept the next mandatory that is up and have this process repeat itself.
And so even if Triller isn’t involved in the next purse bid, Matchroom, Hearn and DAZN will bid. DAZN was prepared to pay almost $10 million to make a Jermall Charlo-Demetrius Andrade fight, so it would without question make a bid at least similar to the one it did Thursday.
If it does, 65 percent of that would be $2.279 for Lopez, minus the 20 percent he’d owe Top Rank. So even with the roughly $450,000 he’d owe Top Rank off the top, he’d still net over $1.8 million for another mandatory.
And while Top Rank talks about its deal with Lopez, that paper is suddenly worth a lot less. Boxing is a relationship business and it’s obvious to all that Lopez’s relationship with Top Rank is not in a good place.
Lopez said during a podcast on The Athletic that he’d miss Top Rank, but quickly added he’d miss “more so ESPN.” Then he made comments about Top Rank president Todd duBoef which can be interpreted many ways.
One of them, though, was a shot at duBoef for what Lopez perceived as him botching the situation.
“Todd duBoef is the man,” Lopez told The Athletic. “He knows what he’s doing, right? So we have to give kudos to Todd duBoef for distributing and working on his fighters very well. So congratulations, Todd duBoef, you just lost your best fighter from your stable.”
Top Rank’s woes will be worsened if Triller is able to make the Lopez fight a big seller. The number that Triller did with the Tyson-Jones fight is one of the five best in the history of the sport, and was so as a result of multiple factors.
The first, of course, is that Tyson is the biggest star ever in pay-per-view and the public still was interested in him even as he was moving through his 50s.
But the fight was promoted to a young and urban market that traditional boxing promoters largely aren’t reaching these days. Putting YouTube star Jake Paul on the card gave it a third base of fans to market the event toward.
Tyson is likely going to fight another exhibition, this time against long-time rival Evander Holyfield. If Lopez-Kambosos ended up on that card, Lopez will get exposure like he has rarely received. Tyson-Holyfield would be massive even with two balding and out-of-shape boxing writers going at it in the co-main event, let alone with a budding superstar with power and charisma like Lopez in that spot.
Can Top Rank mend relationship with Teofimo Lopez?
Top Rank may have Lopez under contract, but it doesn’t have his heart and it no longer has his mind. It’s a sensitive time for the company, which has a lucrative TV output deal with ESPN for which it is paid around $90 million a year. But it’s already at odds with one of its other top fighters, WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford. Arum suggested when Crawford fought last year he was sick of losing money on Crawford’s fights and might let him go when his contract is up this year.
Both Crawford and Lopez have done big ratings for ESPN, which can’t be happy that fighters they’ve devoted a lot of time and money to building are simply going to walk away because its partner doesn’t want to pay them market value. In the case of the Triller deal, it’s market value plus plus, but even without Triller, Top Rank’s offer badly lagged behind Hearn’s.
Arum is without question a genius, and if anyone can think his way out of the problem, it’s him.
But he’s also 89 and ornery and irascible and without whatever small filter he once possessed. He says what he thinks always, often loudly, and never worries about the consequences.
This deal clearly shook him. He was prepared to be outbid, because he’s sick of losing money on mandatory fights. He was willing to sit Lopez-Kambosos out and let someone else lose the money and then resume with Lopez after it was over. Triller’s bid changes that.
Lopez did nothing wrong but came under attack from the company he signed with out of the 2016 Olympics.
It’s going to take a lot of work to rebuild this, and it may be wishful thinking at this stage to believe it even can be done.
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