Rafael, The Wrinkliest Tyrant, and the State of Boxing Media

By Paul Magno on April 5, 2019
Rafael, The Wrinkliest Tyrant, and the State of Boxing Media
Climbing the boxing media ladder has always been a function of quid pro quo dynamics.

Arum, apparently, didn’t take kindly to this Twitter sideswipe and hit Rafael right where it hurts most—right in the ol’ press credentials…

Over the weekend on a Top Rank card broadcast on ESPN in Philadelphia, there was a power play drama going on to which few were privy.

According to someone with direct knowledge of the incident, veteran ESPN writer and TV commentator Dan Rafael had been banished for this event to the auxiliary press section—a most unaccommodating area, especially in a small venue like Saturday’s, reserved for lesser-known scribes and fringe websites.

The always status-conscious, seating-conscious Rafael balked at being seated amongst the riffraff of the lesser media, sans table for his laptop and, especially, sans the privilege of being front and center as an ESPN correspondent. He complained to ESPN people, who accommodated him by allowing him to sit in their production seats.

However, right before TV started, Top Rank bossman Bob Arum spotted Rafael in a production seat up front and issued the order to have Rafael sent back to the auxiliary press section.

Instead, the rotund Rafael, dragging along his bruised ego (and, presumably, a shopping cart full of snacks and soft drinks), went to the ESPN TV truck and reported on the card from there.

So, why was ESPN’s lead writer intentionally humbled at an ESPN show?

The only apparent answer is that Rafael displeased Arum with two unflattering recent tweets—one reporting on the dismal TV ratings for the Top Rank March 23 card headlined by Kubrat Pulev and the other taking a direct shot at Arum’s hypocrisy for the aged promoter’s public call for a Terence Crawford-Errol Spence bout.

“…Fights aren’t made on social media,” Rafael wrote via his verified Twitter account, “they’re made behind closed doors in private if sides actually want to make them…Top Rank has no top opponents for Crawford to fight, hence the apparent desperation.”

It was an unprecedented ballsy statement made by a man who got to the top of the boxing writing food chain by not making waves and by dutifully passing along promoter talking points via re-worded press releases made into news stories. Only Moe Howard could make a bigger case for being called “King Stooge.”

Arum, apparently, didn’t take kindly to this Twitter sideswipe and hit Rafael right where it hurts most—right in the ol’ press credentials, a holdover weak spot from when Rafael was just a regular scribe without a 5XL ESPN blazer and bigshot salary.

For those of us who ARE boxing media or who pay close enough attention to what the boxing media does, this Arum-Rafael anecdote is not surprising at all. It’s also not an isolated incident.

Promoters have owned the boxing media since, well, pretty much forever. And climbing the boxing media ladder has always been a function of quid pro quo dynamics. Bartering access to fighters, events, and strategically “leaked” insider info for positive, salable marketing content is part of the business. Those writers who play the game well get more traffic, greater name recognition, and the better gigs that go along with both. Those who ruffle feathers by refusing to play the game, on the other hand, get nothing but a hard time and a real battle to make a buck.

Only a handful of boxing writers make a living from boxing writing and in the absence of real money, access becomes the currency of the business. Just a gander at boxing writers’ social media pages and their proud displaying of laminated press credentials will tell you how important status symbols are in an industry where actual money is hard to find.

In this atmosphere, is it any wonder why the business is filled with apple-polishers, glad-handers, and fanboys who crave face time with their favorite fighters?

Back in 2015, when several boxing writing big shots were refused credentials for the Mayweather-Pacquiao mega-fight or forced to view the fight from auxiliary press seating, a huge hissy fit ensued. David Avila of The Sweet Science even penned a cringe-worthy “manifesto” vowing to never again cover “Mayweather Promotions or Premier Boxing Champions, and any events promoted by Floyd Mayweather or Al Haymon.”

The reasoning behind the mass media hysteria was that since the boxing media “made” Mayweather and Pacquiao stars by reporting on their exploits, they deserve to be treated well by these guys. But if this is all about delivering publicity for fighters via news coverage, as these guys suggest, then promoters are well within their rights to weed out the publicity they don’t want.

As I wrote in my piece on the subject, Revenge of the Nerds (Hell Hath No Fury…):

“If there’s a quid pro quo when it comes to boxing media coverage—and, obviously, there is—then what happens when the promoter decides that he simply doesn’t want a certain writer enjoying media privileges while shitting on all those involved in an event?

...I am 100% against promoters and fighter management using media credentials as a way to reward or punish media, but let’s not pretend that this is a game that doesn’t go both ways.

Promoters frequently cultivate cliques of friendly media sources who are rewarded with unfettered access to fighters and live events. Promoters even prop up certain websites with financial support in a wink-wink, unspoken barter for favorable coverage. Certain writers are wined and dined by industry people, taken on sightseeing junkets, and treated as semi-quasi-celebrities by glad-handing industry big shots. Sit down with any savvy boxing insider and they can draw you a flow chart of which writer is in which promoter’s pocket, which writers are openly searching for industry sugar daddies, and who is trying to parlay their reach and journalistic reputation into a back-end money deal for themselves.

…This is the world that the media created.

It’s a world where media members serve as publicists in exchange for favors and/or money and/or access and/or the type of support a writer needs to stay afloat in the business.

It looks absolutely ridiculous for this media to cry like prissy teenage girls when they suddenly find themselves excluded from the game they helped create.”

As for Rafael and this incident with Arum, specifically, the veteran scribe has yet to issue even the slightest peep of a comment about what happened with his subliminal dressing down in Philadelphia. He knows he messed up. He got the message. And, if he’s the same man he’s always been, he’ll make sure to not step out of line again.

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  1. Rick Hall 08:19pm, 04/13/2019

    Oh by the way, Dan is entirely unethical, has always hit up promoters for his precious programs & posters, which is the sort of thing that gets professional journalists fired—while he struts around like he’s Mr. Professional.

  2. Akin 04:09am, 04/08/2019

    Paul Magno!!! Gosh! You certainly are treading carefully. NOT! You’ve said it straight- I gotta respect that.

    We are all involved in the culture and politics that has been created within the boxing space. From the fickle fans to the fat cat promoters.

    We lay our beds; we lie in it.

  3. Koolz 02:20pm, 04/06/2019

    Let me have that Rafael for a couple weeks I will clean him out!
    https://www.organifishop.com
    Then I will Open his Psych, get him training, and in the Gym!
    He can confront Arum after that.
    Let’s not forget that Rafael got put in his place by miss stepping with GGG and when he is going to be coming back to fight.

  4. tlig 01:00pm, 04/06/2019

    Why do these journalists think we are interested in reading about their petty feuds? No one gives a .....

  5. Lucas McCain 10:54am, 04/06/2019

    Not sure whether to file this under “sports business” or “social anthropology.”

  6. Chooglin' On Down To New Orleans 06:21am, 04/06/2019

    “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” Or something like that. hehe. Nice quote but Voltaire didn’t say it contrary to what people have been led to believe. Might have been Peter Parker. teehee. Chasing down a hoodoo there.

  7. Kid Blast 10:44am, 04/05/2019

    I suspect Rafael could care less given the amount of money he makes. Just my opinion. One of his strength’s has been his thick skin.

  8. Chooglin' On Down To New Orleans 07:09am, 04/05/2019

    Hmm, sounds like the boxing media is no different than all the rest of the media. Me thinks that when people FINALLY WAKE UP long enough to pull back the curtain, they will discover that the Wizard behind the drapes is some dried up,  frail and frightened creature, and is nothing remotely like the manufactured image of the great and powerful Oz.  Keep On Chooglin’, bro.

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