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'You can't force an athlete to get into the ring' - Contract doesn't guarantee Taylor-Serrano showdown

Lou DiBella doesn’t believe Katie Taylor’s contentious victory was a symptom of corruption, but he also didn’t agree with it.

Amanda Serrano is set to face Katie Taylor in two fights' time, but she wants more money than she signed on for.
Amanda Serrano is set to face Katie Taylor in two fights' time, but she wants more money than she signed on for.
Image: Joel Plummer

BOXING PROMOTER LOU DiBella has confirmed that Amanda Serrano remains contractually bound to face Katie Taylor in the third bout of her current co-promotional deal with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom, but says the Puerto Rican-Brooklynite is intent on renegotiating her purse for the prospective bout and cannot be forced into the ring to fight her Irish rival.

The New York-based CEO of DiBella Entertainment also rejected claims that Taylor’s contentious undisputed title victory over Delfine Persoon was a symptom of boxing corruption, suggesting instead that a number of ‘institutional biases’ may have swung the bout in her favour.

DiBella, who along with Hearn signed Serrano to a three-fight broadcast deal with streaming platform DAZN — the third fight of which would be against Taylor — claims his fighter may first challenge her DiBella Entertainment stablemate and fellow Brooklyn resident Heather Hardy for the WBO World featherweight title before turning her attention towards a clash of the Brooklyn v Bray variety.

A showdown between undisputed lightweight champion Taylor and seven-weight beltholder Serrano, then, remains more a distinct possibility than a dead certainty for now — this despite Taylor’s manager Brian Peters insisting at a press conference last Thursday that ‘the deal was done’ as soon as Serrano signed the original, three-fight contract.

In legal terms, Peters was correct. But on several recent occasions, Serrano has herself confirmed on Twitter that she wishes to renegotiate the terms of that same contract before facing Taylor and fulfilling it, the goalposts of women’s pro boxing having shifted significantly with the financial impact of Taylor’s two bouts in the interim.

And speaking to The Explainer podcast by TheJournal.ie, promoter DiBella indicated the deal was still in place for Serrano to square off with Taylor, but that ‘The Real Deal’ would likely seek an amendment to her current one if she is to complete it at all.

“The deal that we struck with DAZN and Eddie Hearn was for two fights and then a Katie Taylor fight,” DiBella said. “Amanda has fought once under that agreement, so she needs to get back into the ring — she’s waiting for a date. I should be talking to Eddie about that date soon.

“After that, we’re open to the Katie Taylor fight.

“There’s not a dispute about the contract. I, as DiBella Entertainment, signed a three-fight agreement with Matchroom to provide the services of Amanda Serrano, with the third fight to be Amanda Serrano [v Katie Taylor]. That’s still the deal.

Amanda wants to discuss, and has issues with, the numbers that have been discussed for her purse [to fight] Katie Taylor because she’s learned since we did the contract — which was almost a year ago at this point, or eight months ago — that the other people Katie has fought [since] have been better compensated than the money that’s available right now to pay Amanda.

“So Amanda wants to have that discussion. But we’ve never said that we’re not fighting Katie in the third fight of that contract — that’s what’s in the contract.

Here’s the issue: you can’t force an athlete to get into the ring. I have an agreement, and under the agreement I can offer the fight, but I can’t force somebody’s participation.

Boxing 2019 - Amanda Serrano Defeats Eva Voraberger by 1st Round KO Amanda Serrano in action during the first fight of her three-fight deal with Matchroom. Source: Joel Plummer

“Here’s the other thing,” DiBella continued: “You saw in the ring the other night what happened to Delfine Persoon. Amanda’s brother-in-law is her manager, and he’s been her manager for her career. And his job is to make sure she’s treated fairly — including fighting with me, and fighting with Eddie if I have to deal with Eddie.

And I guess she [Serrano] believes, based on the numbers that have been reported that Delfine got paid and the previous champion [Rose Volante] got paid, Amanda wants to discuss being paid more money if she fights Katie — based upon the marketplace.

“And again, I made an agreement with Matchroom but I can’t compel he fighter to participate. And I also don’t think it’s unreasonable if she wants to have that discussion. I’m sure Eddie and I will have that discussion with Amanda and her people, but Eddie has to get back to me so we can do that.

The other thing is Amanda has [another] fight under the contract with DAZN, and Amanda against Heather Hardy would be a very big fight for Heather Hardy’s 126-pound title in New York. And that’s a fight we would like to do on DAZN with Matchroom before we do the Katie Taylor fight.

Boxing - Madison Square Garden Delfine Persoon lands a right hand on Katie Taylor. Source: Nick Potts

DiBella, an outspoken critic of the internal politics which have blighted modern boxing to the precipice of irrelevance, disagreed with the decision which saw the Irish icon become undisputed champion at Madison Square Garden two Saturdays ago.

The promoter, however, does not believe Taylor’s razor-tight victory was born of corruption or anything “nefarious”, but rather a culture within the professional sport which rewards bigger names and more lucrative boxers.

“Katie was supposed to win,” DiBella said. “Katie was the superstar. I don’t think it was corrupt, I don’t think they paid anybody off. But do I think there was institutional bias?

She’s a star, she’s a great fighter, she’s a lovely lady. She’s the complete package. She generates money for the television networks that televise her, the promoter who promotes her, the venue that hosts her; she generates money from tourism in the city she fights. The A-side fighter, the star fighter, has a lot of innate advantages. It doesn’t mean it’s corruption, it doesn’t mean anyone’s paying anyone off.

“There’s a room full of adoring people there also,” DiBella added. “Any time Katie moved in a positive direction or threw any punch or landed anything, there was a room full of loving people that were screaming for her. The poor girl from Belgium who’s not the superstar didn’t have the same kind of support.

“And there was also a million institutional reasons — in general in boxing — which give the edge to the star fighter. That’s not so much nefarious. If you watch American football, people complain all the time about the edge [given] to the New England Patriots by the referees in a major game, or the edge to the Dallas Cowboys when a game’s in Dallas. There’s a reason why in gambling, in most sports, there’s a home-field or home-court advantage. And in boxing in particular, and in all sports to a degree, it’s not just home-court advantage, it’s the advantage to the athlete who is the primary money generator.

Sanctioning bodies who give out the belts — they make their money on sanctioning fees. The sanctioning fees are on the promoter whose fighter is champion. They’re also based upon the fighter’s purses. And Katie Taylor’s fights generate big purses — for Katie and the people she fights.

“But you can’t just point at Katie Taylor and that particular fight. Every title fight where there’s a star fighter involved is an example.

“When you look at the other night… I love Katie Taylor, it was not a completely one-sided fight. She boxed pretty effectively early in the fight, but she didn’t win the fight.

“I would have been really happy with a draw. It was a close fight.

“Delfine who’s an older fighter, who rose to the occasion, who’s been a great, great champion, who’s held unified belts… She deserved a fair shake, too. And I don’t think losing that fight was a fair shake. I mean, if they both left retaining their belts, it wouldn’t have troubled me.”

Taylor Persoon Boxing Many felt Delfine Person was unfortunate not to get the nod at MSG. Source: Frank Franklin II

Asked if the institutional bias to which he alluded tends to influence judges into scoring a contest towards the A-side fighter, DiBella replied:

“Of course it does! Because the judges are also associated with the sanctioning bodies, and the sanctioning bodies know who the superstars are.

“Judges should have nothing to do with ratings organisations [sanctioning bodies]. Judges should be completely independent. And by the way, the majority of judges are good and fair, it’s the decisions that aren’t. And [bad decisions] tend to happen often in the biggest fights because those are the most economically significant.

There is no standardised accommodations or air fares for judges. The judges are appointed, and if a promoter wants to treat a judge like he’s aristocracy, that’s not barred by anybody. And if you do that, might that judge not be more predisposed toward the person putting him in the Ritz-Carlton as opposed to the person putting him in the Motel 6? Maybe!

“The whole system has to be changed.”

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