When Somebody’s “0” Does Go

When Somebody’s “0” Does Go

With Kirkland, LeMieux, Berto, and Lopez All Losing Their Undefeated Records This Month, a Quick Look at the Potential Contractual Implications of Losing an Undefeated Record

In one of the most sensational months of professional boxing in recent history, the undefeated records of two of boxing’s hottest young contenders, middleweights James (Stone Cold) Kirkland and David LeMieux, and those of two of its mostly highly regarded young champions, Andre Berto and Juan Manuel (Juanma) Lopez, all came to an end in dramatic fashion. While it is widely perceived that a boxer’s “0”  makes them that much more marketable, the way in which the first loss is suffered and the implications of same are ultimately what makes the difference in the eyes of a boxer’s promoter or manager and the boxing public.  What kind of protections do boxing’s promoters and managers create for themselves in the event that the first loss makes them lose faith in their previously undefeated charges or alters their plans for them?  A quick look at the most standard types of contractual provisions to address a boxer’s first loss, and all other losses, follows.   


The Right to Terminate Following a Loss or Draw 

Is it not uncommon to see language in a boxing promotional or management agreement that empowers a manager or promoter to terminate the agreement, at his sole discretion, in the event that the boxer “shall fail to have been declared the winner” of one or two matches during the term of the agreement.  As it sounds, this provision means that if a boxer is either the recipient of a loss or a draw, he may soon be a free agent if his manager or promoter so decide.  While a boxer may view this provision as a right for manager or promoter to kick him when he is down, think of it from a manager or promoter’s point of view; do they want to continue to be contractually and financially obligated to someone that might reveal themselves as a dog in a given loss?

With the possible exception of Kirkland, who was steamrolled in one round by the underrated Nobuhiro Ishida, it would not appear that any of this month’s losers truly showed themselves to be unworthy of a continued relationship with their promoter or manager. Each of them lost after spirited efforts, and each of them is either a big enough draw or a proven enough entity to jump right back into the mix.   LeMieux may need some rehabilitation and confidence building fights, as he is young and was previously unproven at the top level of the sport, but he is a draw in his native Quebec and an explosive, TV-friendly puncher. Berto and Lopez were both top level young champions who had proven themselves and their worth on several occasions prior to their respective losses, and during their losing efforts themselves, and could jump right back into important bouts.  Even Kirkland was a popular, TV-friendly attraction who had blown through the middle and upper-middle echelon of the middleweight division in an explosive, Tyson-esque manner before being chinned by Ishida.  Therefore, provided that the aforementioned boxers’ teams all had termination provisions that could be activated by a boxer failing “to have been declared the winner” in their agreements, they all have to think long and hard before releasing such talent.


The Right to Re-Negotiate Terms Following a Loss or Draw

A promoter or manager who aware that he either may be taking on damaged, but marketable, goods at the start of a given agreement, or is simply cognizant of the fact that no one is unbeatable but believes every boxer deserves the chance to redeem themselves, may reserve the right to renegotiate certain terms of their agreements, such as the minimum number of guaranteed bouts, the amount of a monthly stipend, or the minimum purses, in the event that a boxer “failed to have been declared the winner” of a bout or two during the term.  While such a provision may result in the boxer having less activity or less income generated under a given management or promotional agreement going forward, it also means that he or she is not left out in the cold as a free agent after a loss or draw and will be given the opportunity to come back from his or her setback without a drastic change in the make-up of his or her team.  In sum, a renegotiation could be far better than nothing for a boxer who may otherwise have nowhere else to turn following the loss of his “0.”


The Right to Toll the Term of the Agreement

Perhaps a boxer is unable to fight for several months due to a medical suspension or decides he needs some time to re-evaluate his career and thus takes a year or two off following a loss or a draw.  Indeed, Kirkland, Lopez, and LeMieux were all likely placed on medical suspensions since they lost by knockout. One or all of them may wish to take some time off to reevaluate their careers and take inventory.  A tolling provision in a promotional or management agreement would cover such scenarios and allow a boxer’s team to continue to benefit from its agreements with him in times of uncertainty.  A typical tolling provision allows a promoter or manager to extend the term of their agreement with a boxer in the event of a postponement of a given fight, or in the event that the boxer becomes injured, suspended, or permanently/ partially disabled. This provision is placed in an agreement to help ensure that the promoter or manager has every opportunity to get a return on his investment in a boxer no matter what happens during the term of their relationship.  It can have advantages for the boxer too, as it makes certain that he has a promoter and/or manager to continue his career with following injuries, personal troubles, suspensions, and other events that keep him out of the ring for appreciable lengths of time.  


Sore Losers and the Morals Clause

What if, for example, Kirkland decided to go on an anti-Japanese diatribe, including derogatory remarks about the Japanese tsunami victims, following his loss to Ishida rather than just complaint about the stoppage? Or, per actual events, what if the promoter or manager of super middleweight contender Khoren Gevor decided that his attack of referee Manfred Kuechler following his tenth round disqualification loss to Robert Stieglitz on April 9, 2011 makes him more difficult to promote and was generally bad for business? Well, if there was a morals clause in any of Kirkland’s or Gevor’s agreements, the aforementioned antics following their losses could provide another ground for a promoter or manager to unload them.  A typical morals clause allows one or both parties to a given agreement the option of terminating the agreement in the event that the other party does something to either bring ill-repute to himself or otherwise does something to sully the other party’s name or image.  Anti-Japanese slurs and assaults on referees theoretically qualify as occurrences that would bring ill-repute to someone or sully a party’s name or image. A word to boxers who are virulently disappointed following a loss and cannot think of anything appropriate to either say or do: do your best to keep it to yourself until the press is outside of an earshot.  There is no need to put your contractual relationships at risk because of inappropriate words or actions in the ring following a loss. 

A smart manager would do his part to both negotiate these protections into his own agreement with a boxer and lessen the impact of any such protections when negotiating a boxer’s promotional agreement.  Likewise, a promoter would be smart to make the aforementioned protections as strong as he feels a particular situation warrants so that he is not compelled to carry any boxer perceived as dead weight following a bad loss or draw. With these protections available for both their management and promotional agreements, the boxers themselves are best served to simply do their part to show up for each of their bouts in the best mental and physical condition that they can be and give the best effort that can be expected of them.  Otherwise, when the 0, 1, or 2 goes, they will increasingly be at the mercy of the whims of those in charge of handling their professional careers. 

Originally published on 8 Count News.com on April 24, 2011.

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