Could Free Agency Work in Boxing?

By Paul Magno on March 24, 2019
Could Free Agency Work in Boxing?
There’s a downside to this free agency model. Fair market value is a double-edged sword.

Mayweather is like Curt Flood, who, through his own struggles, paved the way for major league baseball free agency in 1970…

Boxing is an old man’s sport with old man ideas. Even bleeding heart liberal fight scribes, whose social media pages push political agendas just slightly left of the UC Berkeley student newspaper, are surprisingly in line with “the man” when it comes to the sport they cover.

Floyd Mayweather—who is not a “good guy” by any stretch of the imagination and deserves plenty of bad press for an assortment of things—is really the Curt Flood of boxing in a lot of ways, showing the sport just how much money stays in the hands of the power brokers in the owners’ boxes and, by contrast, how much there is to earn if a fighter can control his own name, marketing, and promotion. And like Flood, who, through his own struggles, paved the way for major league baseball free agency in 1970, Mayweather made a lot of enemies in his pursuit of career self-determination. He’s still paying for bucking the system, at least in terms of the one thing the owner-friendly media can control—professional reputation and legacy.

Any fighter, actually, who bucks the old guard boxing business model or who swipes back at unfair terms of a contract, can expect fierce blowback from media lapdogs and those fans who align themselves with management-think.

WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder has embraced his kinda-sorta free agency in recent weeks, eventually turning down a nine-figure multi-fight deal from streaming service DAZN that would’ve included a pair of bouts with three-belt heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua.

The Joshua/DAZN deal-killers for Team Wilder, apparently, were the multi-fight contract Wilder would have to sign with the streaming service and the fact that they never got a good answer about what Joshua’s take would be.

But would free agency work in boxing—actual free agency where nobody but the fighter himself and the manager he chose to employ got to call any shots about his career?

A case could be made that free agency already exists in boxing and that every boxer starts his career as a freeman in deciding which manager to sign, which promoter to align with, and which broadcast outlet televises his fights. And when his particular contract is up, he’s free to sign elsewhere. Yeah, that’s technically true…but not really. These days especially, promoters have wrapped themselves around broadcasters looking for exclusive content and are using those ties to wrangle talent into multi-fight deals. This breeds an “if you want this money, this opportunity, we must own you” mentality when it comes to suits vs. athletes relations and you’d be naive to think that it’s not being exploited by promoters to lure fighters to their stable and establish greater control over their career.

But what if no multi-fight exclusive deals were allowed in boxing—not with promoters or networks? What if every fight was a one-and-done contract with terms to be hammered out between each deal?

Would that kill the sport, turning the money men against the idea of investing into the sport without some sort of long-term guarantee? Would it drive promoters, who often don’t see a return on their own investments in a fighter until much later in the fighter’s career, out of the game?

Maybe yes to all of the above. Most likely, no, though.

What would most likely happen is that a lot of old, tired promoters and half-assed network execs would suddenly get really serious about the sport. Promoters would have a vested interest in actually promoting their fighters beyond those fans reached by press releases and boxing website headlines. Networks would have to be interested in actually building boxing rather than using it to grab a few bucks as a niche sport with loyal fans conditioned to pay for everything. The fakers would be separated from those serious about the sport. Fair market value would determine how much is allocated per fight, per fighter and the emphasis would be on boosting market value rather than exploiting loyalty in the midst of declining market value, as is the case now.

But there’s a downside to this free agency model. Fair market value is a double-edged sword. Fully free agent fighters may be confronted by the disagreeable truth that many of them have been overpaid for years.

Maybe what SHOULD be in everyone’s best interest would only be in the interest of a small handful of stars—at least until the dust settles and boxing is rebuilt on firmer ground.

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  1. Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers 07:31am, 03/25/2019

    Just watched a YT vid on Flood titled, Curt Flood: The Athlete Who Made Lebron James Possible. The video starts out by describing Flood as baseball’s Bolshevik. hahahaha. Talk about dated bulldookie. This had to be made in the 1970s. One thing I did actually learn from this after the initial bulldookie about Bolshevism was that not only do MLB players owe Flood a debt of gratitude, but so do the NBA and NFL players as well. Interesting video.

  2. Coach K 05:52am, 03/25/2019

    While free agency certainly created a wider avenue for fighter revenue, the fans got murdered by mostly “A” side “Money” fights against a path of least resistance.

  3. Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers 08:07pm, 03/24/2019

    Oops, my bad. The Senators had their wining year in 1969 and not 1970. Poor Flood could catch anything on the diamond but couldn’t catch a break off it.

  4. Mau-Mauing The Flak Catchers 07:53pm, 03/24/2019

    Gawd, I hate when people use the tag “liberal” to describe leftists. I will bet you a twenty that you couldn’t find me 5 LEGIT “liberal” boxing journalists or any “liberal” journalist for that matter in this country.  Those so-called “liberal” scribes are in line with the man because they are the man. smh. Love the Curt Flood comparison. As a baseball fan I can dig that. Poor Curt sacrificed himself though, poor guy’s career was over after that.  I can’t blame the guy. No way in hell would I want to leave a baseball powerhouse ( at that time) like St. Louis and go to the hapless Philadelphia Phillies, one of the worst teams in baseball during that period. You have perhaps the best baseball fans in the country out in Da Lou, and then you have Philly. Flood would have caught hell in Philadelphia, they even booed Mike Schmidt. To add insult to injury, Flood would spend his last year with the Washington Senators who actually had a winning season in ‘70. Respect to Flood for putting himself out there when all the odds were against him.

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